What do you do when you get bored with photography? How do you funnel your creative energy when photography leaves your creative soul empty? Do you move on to something new or do you combine photography with something else?
About seven years ago John Wilhelm of John Wilhelm is a Photoholic was facing a creative crisis and asking those very same questions. He was tired of shooting the same standard photographs. Wilhelm was thinking the same thing many of us think to ourselves, “I’m shooting the same thing that has been shot billion of times.” So he started photographing more interesting subjects from different perspectives, which highlighted different details of the subjects. Wilhelm then packaged his photos in a Polaroid format, called them “ipolas” and marketed them at Polarize.
While Polrize gave Wilhelm a new outlet for his creative drive it was his next endeavor that caught my attention a few weeks ago. I was instantly attracted to Wilhelm’s latest work since there’s a dark corner of my mind that imagines similar types of images, especially around Christmas time when my wife says we need a family photo for the Christmas card. Wilhelm takes photos of his lovely family and turns them into an image that is rooted in everyday life but injected with several doses of humor. When asked where the humor comes from he says “Well humor in any form, comics, movies, books are always important in my life and is part of me.” I noticed his humor when I asked him what type of photography he might have done seven years ago and he responded “For example doing weddings (or funerals),” and include an emoji indicating wedding and funerals could be considered one in the same.
So seven years ago with a dying interest in straight-up photography, a sense of humor, and being a self-proclaimed nerd, Wilhelm started off on his journey to learn Photoshop as a creative outlet. With only a very basic understanding of Photoshop, he needed to expand his knowledge of the program so he could create the images he envisioned. I’m always interested in how people learn Photoshop and the numerous approaches to achieving the final image. With some many formal training and informal videos available one can quickly become overwhelmed and give up in frustration.
I wondered if he concentrated on one particular skill until he mastered that skill or if it was more of a “learn what you need now” type of approach. “I could never learn something just for the plain reason to have that in my ‘skill library.' If I play around with a new technique I try to come up with an idea where I can use this new technic.” To me, that means just have fun and experiment. Play with the different tools and learn like a child would instead of a formal approach.
Wilhelm mentioned that he uses several programs now to create his images such as Photoshop, but also Lightroom, Cinema4D with Octane Render, and ZBruzh. Of course, he didn’t start off with all these programs. In the early years he mostly focused on Photoshop and would watch tutorials from Uli Staiger to learn compositing technics, painting shadows, making selections, and how to seamlessly bring elements together. He also followed Calvin Hollywood for retouching skills. The skills didn’t come overnight. Wilhelm told me “I guess it took three to four years to reach a somewhat higher level.”
He also stretched his skills during the early stages by experimenting with 3D tools but, as expected this skill set took a lot longer to master than Photoshop. “3D became more and more interesting. I watched lots of tutorials about sculpting, modeling, rendering, texturing, etc. but it took so much longer to become a little better.” With the inclusion of 3D in Wilhelm’s work it takes his images to a higher level. “The combination of photography, 3D, and Photoshop retouching is what I love today. To bring this all together is such a wonderful way of living my creativity and there are just no limits but your own fantasy and four children and a full-time job.” Wilhelm again shows his humor.
Wilhelm’s comment about four children is very important and probably noticeable in his images. His images tend to focus on his four beautiful children. He says the children are excited about the images and come up with their own ideas for him to create. However, with age comes a little less willingness to participate he says. With the recent addition of his son, I think he will have subjects for years to come.
Now that he is proficient with the various programs I wondered if he had developed his own actions and presets for the various programs. “I’m sure I could be much more effective with customized actions, but I compensate this with [very] high click-speed.” Again with the humor.
As for the future, Wilhelm says that his focus is on his family. He is still interested in learning and experimenting with new stuff but at a slow pace. He says he’s fine with creating an image every one to two weeks and isn’t interested in accelerating the growth of his social media channels. I think he has found the cure for his boredom of straight up photography and does want to overdose on the cure. That sounds like some good wisdom to me.
So after interviewing Wilhelm, I started to think about the various ways we learn not only Photoshop skills but all photography and imaging skills. Are you the type of person who enjoys learning in a more structured approach where you learn and master one skill? Or do you prefer to learn by jumping in and seeing what happens next? Is your approach different when it comes to camera skills versus skills related to Lightroom and Photoshop? I think I’m going to learn some new photoshop skills by playing around with some family photos for this year’s Christmas card. It won’t be a John Wilhelm level Christmas card but neither were his seven years ago.
Love this. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you. The photos make me smile.
LOVE his work. He is just incredible. The colors, the scenes, just everything!
Fantastic work! Got my smiles for the week! Now, how about a slight redo on the snail - the moment the tooth flies out of her mouth with the front of the snail rearing up against the pressure of the rope just as the tooth is flying out from her mouth! ;-) His daughter is so expressive with her face too! Should have interviewed her as well! ;-)
Sorry but seems to me this guy is a dead rip off of Adrian Sommeling, who's much more polished. Decide for yourself if you don't know him. https://www.instagram.com/adrian_sommeling/
That's who I originally thought this was about when I saw the article. I wonder who started with this style first?
Reminds me of old school Dave Hill.
I think they're similar, but ripoff? Not at all! Both are similar but Wilhelm's work is far more playful and amusing. I don't see any direct ripoffs (maybe I didn't dig deep enough, but...) and I'm sure that if we looked enough, we could find more photographers doing similar work. The style is uncommon and both do a great job with it.
Yep, was my first thought when I saw that thumbnail.
Shock horror, a photographer does something that has been done before. Or did you just want to show off that you know who Adrian Sommeling is?
I think the word "ripoff" is too much. They are not the only ones doing such style of photography. And most of all, it's not a competition.
Well Justin thanks a lot for your precious feedback. Actually I'm doing this for quite a time now and Aad and myself are good friends meanwhile. We appreciate each others work and had never an argument about an image, an idea, a style or everything. If you closely examine ours style you'll see many differences and you will encouter images where he was "more polished" and some images where I was "more polished". But that's just a boring question aiming at a non existing competition. Many many many Photoshoppers are doing funny and not so funny things with their children... so where's the problem? How many landscape photographers have shot the same subjects and the same postprocessing style? Just check 500px... but who cares... if the images are nice and people are happy about them it's fine... believe me: I I was always influenced in an eclectic way but I did never ever copy directly anybody... that's something I can say with absolutely no blushing! But actually I'm tired of answering such comments... well... I did it now any I hate me for the minutes sacrified!
you still rock john. i'm jealous.
The work is different. Yours has a glow and polish; his has a patina that is lovely. I like both. The fact that your children participate is great; twenty years from now you can pull out an image and all of you will giggle until you fall over.
Of course you were influenced by others: that's how all art works. In turn you influence others. Justin is, of course, jealous.
Fstoppers is filled with heavily retouched "photos" and most of the different styles look pretty much the same.
This is great.
Are people really commissioned for funerals? Honestly had no idea that was a thing.
I think he meant that some people would consider a wedding to be like a funeral. The death of freedom perhaps.
One of my first assignments, when I was 18 was to photograph a woman in her casket. When I arrived (this was in 1973) at the Methodist Church, I walked in the front door of the chapel and to my surprise... there were about 30 African American family members at the pre-services viewing. This was a black church, it was 1973 and I was the whitest 18 year-old in town CASPER the friendly photographer was I. I cannot tell you the emotion that was in the eyes of everyone in the chapel, as I walked slowly toward the open casket, stepped up on the alter and stood on my tip toes to attempt to get a photo, as much of a portrait implication as possible, before my weight on the casket caused the rack to collapse. There was no digital, no Chimping, so to be sure, I bracketed exposures, shot three shots with the Singer Graflex XL 120 roll film camera I was using, then turned to see what looked like a wall of eyeballs squinting in disgust, confusion and in some cases, that look when you really want to hurt someone... BAD! But, I was hired by the children of the deceased mother. They did not have a photo of her in life, outside of some fading Polaroids, so they chose me to photograph her in death. I had to get it right... there were no BE BACKS. So, yes... people do hire photographers to photograph open caskets and funerals.
Thank you very much for this Jon!!!!
I admire the work, but it's the thought process that creates these wonders that fascinates me. Great images!
This is a great combination of incredible creativity and the mastery of photography and photoshop
Stunning work. Thank you for sharing the photos... your kids are adorable, and pro- kid models/Actors they way they are going. :) Congratulations!
Did this artist really need another article on Fstoppers? I mean, 3 is more than enough right?
Crystal, I might suggest your comment says more about you, than it does about FStoppers allowing this creative artist to appear more than once. Most of the greatest jewels of life have nothing to do with "NEED" Crystal. Inhale! Exhale slowly... you'll be okay!
Not really, no. It shows how stagnate Fstoppers is with new creative works from different artists. Same goes for their POTD with the same photographers being named. When a company continually supplies the same content a dozen times over, and does not bring in new work , it starts become a bore.
I do my best to spread out features (with PotD and Instagram) from one person by at least one month. It's a conscious effort, but this is all based on my memory though so some might be featured more often than I mean to. But I think I got it down pretty good.
I will also say that I select four features every single day. 1 PotD and 3 Instagram features. So that's like 120 — hopefully unique people — a month. I'm sorry if it seems like the same names are popping up all the time, but I just want to let you know that I do try to spread it around.
I thought so and that's why I wrote the article. If you notice this article was the first that actually interviewed John. One of the other articles that I found wasn't really about John but rather about a magazine that interviewed the artist and had them reply with images. The other article was more of a gallery showcasing John's work. Like with photographing a subject, there are many different ways to shoot that subject, to see it in different ways. Just like the articles about John and his work.
I think you miss my point entirely. This guy is pretty damn awesome, but he's been in the limelight a few times, and not just here. I'm not suggesting that he doesn't deserve it, but just like Fstoppers awarding the same photographers over and over for their POTD, it's discouraging to see the same 'faces' recognized when there are a plethora of amazing artists out there in this industry that are being overlooked. Kind of how you see tons of articles(not just here) about some 'big' named photographers but next to none about someone like Erik Alms who is an amazing photographer and digital artist.
I don't think anyone missed your point Crystal. Such is life, imagine all of the uber talented musicians that are out there in middle America and the hamlets and villages of the world who are being overlooked, because they may not be selected to appear on camera, interviewed of their work fully and duly appreciated. Far more of them out there than photographers, I assure you. Life is like that, we all have reasons why we tend to give voice to Talent A or Talent B, when Talent C is equally as gifted, perhaps moreso. Often it is niche' or clique-based, sometimes as much about personalities as it is the physical art or craft produced. Ten thousand reasons, why some get recognized and so many do not. Did someone tell you life was fair? Balanced? Equality existed? At 64, having lived a great life, seen and experienced more than most, I can tell you... Someone lied to you! Some will always get more attention than others, once again... SUCH IS LIFE!
Fantastic Stuff! I love it!
more than 3 years ago. Can't sell me that that guy doesn't know Adrian Sommeling...
Actually WE KNOW EACH OTHER! But send me just one single shot where we are copying each other... we have the same subject and sometimes a similar style... ideas etc. are different... he's got no girls ;)
Love these! They’re like Von Wong, but way more fun, and the photographer doesn’t seek to draw all the attention on himself ;-)
this is art and creativity. very very nice.
Love the ideas, style, and appreciate the work gone into these. Only critic is the eyes are over processed. Take that a step back and these are spectacular.
I think art like this is amazing, enchanting and displays more skill than I'll probably ever have. With that being said, these images also give me an intense "uncanny valley" reaction which makes me really curious how much is done to "animate" the kids photographed. Either way though, amazing.
Excellent work!! Very well done.
love it so much god bless
I actually started with 3D work and found it interesting to see photographers asking for images to composite into photos.
Seems he wondered into it by accident but compositing is a CG hallmark. He executes it well with his own style.
It takes much longer to learn 3d apps vs photoshop and lightroom. The technical know how can be overwhelming.
Not overly keen on composites, but I think these are very well done. I'd be very proud if I had produced any of these.
These are fantastic! Well done!