My name is Aakaash Bali. I am a New York native, born and raised in NYC. I currently live in Long Island, NY, and I create most of my pieces there.
How long have you been taking pictures?
I’ve definitely been shooting for some time now. I’m 28 years old, though it all started sometime around the age of 12 or 13. I can’t quite pinpoint it, but that’s around when I first picked up a camera.
When did you get into photography and why?
Growing up, my father always took out his old Minolta 35mm camera and took pictures of my family, snapshots around the neighbourhood, or family trips. At some point, I became curious as to what he was doing. I then ultimately was able to obtain a camera of my own with the help of my parents, and photography has stuck with me since. It’s become my method of expressing myself, a method of dealing with anxiety, and ultimately became my career.
What would you say your style is and has it changed throughout the years? If so why?
To be honest, I’m still trying to figure that part out. Through the years, my style seems to have evolved into what I’d call a “middle ground” between photography and cinema. Something on the cinematic end, perhaps the storytelling end. I used to shoot lots of traditional portraiture and bright, happy images, but seem to have gravitated towards conceptual, emotionally-driven images that usually involve some kind of meaning or storyline. At times, I’ll even storyboard out a sequence of photographs that lead into each other, then integrate them together with a written narrative. I consider myself a cinematic portrait artist.
Lately, I’ve started shooting cinematic night scenes that typically don’t involve a person as a subject. This style of photography has become therapeutic for me. It’s calming and quite fulfilling to roam around at night shooting old buildings, industrial streets, or places with neon/bright lights. I’ve started appreciating the quietness of night time photography. I dabble with astrophotography as well.
How do you approach a shoot? Do you pre-plan or is it a click and run? I’m really, really bad at improvising. I did “run and gun” shoot in the past, but over the last 2 years I’ve spent much more time planning everything. I usually storyboard each session down to the pose, coordinate colours on wardrobe and location, and pre-plan a set’s final colour grade and mood. I generally start with a location first, then build a story around it. Afterwards, I usually spend anywhere from 2-4 hours retouching and fine-tuning each photograph, Sometimes, I’ll spend days making an image look how I’d like it to.
Is there an end goal you’re trying to achieve with your images, be it an aesthetic or story?
Storytelling, something that evokes a certain emotion, and an aesthetic that somewhat mimics films and paintings when it comes to light and colour.
Do you have an influences you can share?
I’m heavily influenced by movies, television, and other artists that shoot within my niche. I spend quite some time studying and taking notes on how movies were lit, composed, and coloured. I’ve come to the point where I study cinematography more than I do photography.
What inspires you?
Lately, I’ve been really inspired by film (Mudbound, Dunkirk, to name a couple), as well as television (The Handmaid’s Tale, The Night Of, Game Of Thrones, Stranger Things, to name a few).
In terms of other artists, I’ve been really fond of the work by Gregory Crewdson, Kate Woodman, Nicky Hamilton, Mario Olvera, Robert Cornelius, Erik Almas, Erik Johansson, and Dmitry Rogozhkin.
Is there such a thing as a bad photograph?
I believe that beauty is subjective, and a bad photograph to one person may not be a bad photograph to someone else.
Are you looking for a career in photography or are you just having fun?
Currently, I do shoot and retouch full-time. However, I do enjoy working on my own passion projects for fun and fulfilment.
Which social media platforms do you use and why?
I primarily use Instagram and to a degree, Facebook. I love the community I’ve had the opportunity to become involved with on Instagram, as well as all the incredible art I’ve discovered on the platform. I tend to share my non-portrait work on Facebook primarily, however I plan on rolling it out on Instagram via a second account soon.
Which photographers do you mainly follow on social media?
To name a few: @katewoodman_photo, @hobopeeba, @crewdsonstudio, @thomasbrownphoto, @vonwong, @jaycoyphoto, @choralemiles, @justinsphotog, and lots of others. Sorry if I missed anyone!
What are your thoughts on mobile photography versus DSLR / mirrorless?
The tool you shoot with is just that. It’s a tool. If you use a smartphone for photography, and you’re happy with the results, it doesn’t make you any less of a photographer than someone that uses a DSLR. However, I do believe that higher-end equipment can certainly help you deliver cleaner, more polished images, provided that you learn how to fully take advantage of that equipment. It’s sort of why some artists choose to use a medium-format system, such as Phase One or Hasselblad.
What’s your main go to camera, lenses and how did you make that choice?
Presently, I shoot primarily with a Sony A7RIII body, a Sony-Zeiss 50mm 1.4, a Sigma Art 35mm 1.4 (E-Mount), a Sony 24-70GM, and a Laowa 12mm Zero-D + shift adapter. I plan on adding an 85mm to my kit soon. I chose the Sony system because of the sheer amount of technology available inside those compact bodies. I enjoy the dynamic range, the iso-less nature, and the resolution of the camera I use. The in-body stabilization always comes in handy as I shoot in dark environments. I also enjoy being able to adapt any lens onto this camera and use it fully. Prior to switching to Sony two years ago, I shot Canon for most of my life. I could, with confidence, say that I’d be happy with either system. It’s just a tool.
What is your dream location to shoot at?
The Faroe Islands, Isle of Skye, the abandoned castles throughout Italy and France, and Antarctica. The last one I just want to visit, just to visit. It’s kind of a bucket list thing.
Describe your favourite picture and how you captured it?
The image is a 3-shot composite, shot with my 24-70GM lens at 24mm mounted on a tripod. I took one frame of just the room (an abandoned house on a creepy, rainy day), one frame with an assistant (@justinsphotog) holding a bare speed light in the room towards the back, and a last frame with him holding the flash pointed through a small diffuser in front of the television, pointed at my awesome models (@mollie_anne_, @haley__valentine, and @thelexfiles_).
I made all my necessary raw adjustments (flattening and base colouring) in Capture One Pro, and then I blended the three exposures together in Photoshop using the pen tool, masks, and some low-flow brush strokes to even out edges. I composited in white noise and a silhouette of a person into the television, then painted in atmospheric elements such as a glow, dust, and localized colouring. I painted in a rim light onto the model on the far right and matched it to the colour inside the back room.
After cleaning up clutter and distracting elements using healing + cloning, I tweaked my final contrast ratios, adjusted localized colours, selectively sharpened, and print-prepped my final image.
In three words how would you describe your photography?
Cinematic, emotional, storytelling.
How do you feel about better quality cameras being put into smartphones?
Don’t get me wrong. I love using a proper camera, but I also love having a great camera in my pocket for those quick shots. The camera on the Galaxy Note 9 hasn’t disappointed me once. What are your thoughts on expensive cameras? Do you think they create better images?
Technically, yes. Artistically, maybe not. It’s hard to argue with the fact that a Phase One Trichromatic system creates technically better, more flexible images than a full-frame DSLR. However, the equipment doesn’t make the artist, it only serves as a tool.