Can Ahtam is a professional photographer based in Los Angeles who shoots portraits, landscapes, fashion, products and more. Here, he shares how a life-long interest in photography turned into a passion and career.
1. Where are you based?
I’m based in Los Angeles, California, but I’m originally from Istanbul, Turkey.
2. How did you get started photography?
When I was studying to earn my bachelor’s degree in Business Administration (Marketing & Management dual-focuses) in Istanbul, Turkey; I wanted to approach marketing from different angles by taking courses such as psychology, sociology and photography (as a means for visual communications). I’ve always had an ongoing interest in photography, more as a hobby, since I was a 3-year-old kid, running around with my mom’s film camera, traveling around the world with the family and documenting moments I found to be different from my usual life.
During college, I took photography so that I can communicate, visualize concepts and briefs in campaigns and convey proper messaging with the various departments. My photography professor at the time, however, wasn’t the most encouraging educator out there and instead decided to harshly critique my work in front of the entire class. I didn’t let her discourage me, so I ended up taking my portfolio at the time to a renowned photographer named Ara Guler in Istanbul. I was fortunate enough to sit with him at his small and humble cafe in Taksim district of Istanbul and share my story with him.
As he looked through my portfolio, Mr. Guler asked me, “Does taking photos make you happy?” to which I’ve answered “Yes! I truly enjoy every moment of it.” He then followed my answer with “Then s***w what your professor says and keep doing what makes you happy.” That was the moment when I truly devoted myself to the world of photography and began bringing my vision across other people’s eyes, whether they liked it or not. I still remember Mr. Guler with every shutter sound I make and every moment I capture.
3. How long have you been an active photographer?
I’ve been professionally shooting photos for 10 years now.
4. Do you consider yourself a professional photographer or a hobbyist?
I consider myself a professional photographer.
5. How would you describe your photographic style?
I’d like to consider my style as simple and easy to read. What you see is what you get. Frankly, I don’t enjoy the complexity of the world we have created and live in. Why can’t we get back to simplicity and make things less complicated to begin with? I don’t want anyone to struggle while they’re processing the visual I’m presenting to them. A photo can convey any emotion or situation, but nobody should have any difficulties reading and processing what takes place in that moment captured. I guess that’s the marketer in me kicking in as shorter and simpler information are easier to be processed at highly digital times we’re living in when you account for people’s buying habits and distraction.
6. What inspires you creatively?
It has become an industry practice to create mood boards and showcase references for inspiration, but although social media has connected us more than ever before, it also comes with some challenges to deal with; one being copying each other’s work. I try to steer clear of that as much as possible because that’s clearly not creativity if others are also copying your work.
I enjoy a creative process where a brand, a model, sometimes even a hair and make-up artist or a stylist likes to pitch in their thoughts and we form this unified vision together in that moment that gives us the excitement and motivation to create together.
7. Which photographic subjects do you focus on?
I try to be a jack-of-all-trades in photography because to me a photographer has to know, first and foremost, the control and manipulation of light. Once you ace that, everything is fun to shoot photos of. I’ve been shooting portraits, landscapes, fashion, products, etc., because it takes away from photography being a task and you get to diversify your portfolio and become more versatile.
8. What’s in your camera bag?
What’s not in my camera bag probably would have been a better question. Obviously, I’d like to equip myself based on where I’m going and what I’ll be intending on shooting. I hate missing a piece of equipment when I’m already at my destination, so I don’t mind being over-prepared at times.
I always like to bring two to three camera bodies with multiple batteries and memory cards. My primary camera is a Canon 5D Mark III and the other cameras I use are Canon EOS 70D, Fujifilm X-T2 and Light L16. I own all Canon mount lenses ranging from 10mm to 600mm, but the most favorite lens of mine is the Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art DG HSM lens. Aside from that, I always carry a large tripod and a small tripod, a remote, a few filters and a fill-in flash.
9. What’s a bit of photography advice you wish you had when starting out?
Be patient. With the rise of social media, I see so many individuals rushing into the photography scene, buying the most expensive gear in the marketplace and not having a single clue how to use them. When I started, for a while, I had that mindset too. You want to get to places and show the world what you’re capable of. Rather than investing in the most expensive camera body, I instead invested in upward compatible quality lenses for my Canon Rebel T1i so that as I progressed, grew my skill set and made more income to advance I grew my business. In time, with the right amount of dedication, you’ll get to where you want to be and for that, you don’t need the state-of-the-art equipment to begin with. Just a waste of money for those who don’t know how to use them, where to use them and when to use them.
10. Which trends in photography excite you most?
I just enjoy following the technological advancements on photography and how so many companies are trying to outdo one another in the marketplace as they’re bringing quality photography tools to our lives. The simplest example to give would be in the smartphone marketplace with corporate giants such as Apple and Samsung leading the global standards and other international brands such as Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo, Nokia, etc., are pushing the boundaries with out-of-the-box thinking.