Corner Member Close Up: Masoud Harati

In our continuing photographer interview series "Corner Member Close Up" where we meet photographers that call the Corner their photographic home on the web, we meet a Photograph of the Year winner in Masoud Harati. Masoud took the grand prize in the 2008 Photograph of the Year contest, then followed that up with an 8th place finish in 2009. A fantastic interview below, along with 30 of his favorite photographs - Enjoy!

Name: Masoud Harati
Username: masoud
Website(s): www.masoudharati.com

Introduction


Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Masoud Harati, currently living in Vancouver (aka best city on earth). I have a MSc. in Computer Science from SFU, but I have done photography professionally after graduating and now I'm working my way towards a mix of both.




What does your username mean?

My username is my first name, and my name means "someone with a good future" or "someone with a good present". If the definition of "Masoud" applies to whoever carries this name, one might think he has a good life. However, the definition is a bit tricky: The latter definition cannot be true, because every person has "bad" or "down" moments and therefore it can't be that someone always has a good "present". However, if the former meaning is taken, 'future' is not 'now'; 'Future' will come at some point, but at any given specific moment, 'future' hasn't come yet.




How old were you when you took your first picture with a camera; any camera? Was it any good?

I was about 8 years old, I took 2 rolls with a 16mm analog camera that I got as a birthday present from a relative. After having the rolls developed, it turned out that the camera's shutter wouldn't open, so all my "photos" turned out white (negatives were black, i.e unexposed). The camera was never fixed and I never took another photo until many years later, in the digital age.




What was it about photography that made you want to become a photographer? Why do you take photographs?

Capturing beauty, being creative and remembering moments; I like beauty, being creative and I have a bad memory. A camera is the right instrument for someone like me. Recording movies has the same benefits/characteristics, however when I started photography, the quality of digital camcorders considering their size/cost was not that good. Also, photos can be printed (for books/exhibitions/etc.) and have a slightly different feel to them. Having said that, with the new enhanced and more compact cameras than can record high definition movies, I'm slowly getting into taking movies as well.




How long has photography been a passion for you? When, where and how did it start?

It's been about 6 years now since the first time I took my first digital photo (and as opposed to the analog one I took as a kid, it actually did result in a photo right away!). It was with a good friend's camera, a Canon G2




What is your background/training in photography?

I've learned photography on my own, by reading articles, thinking and experimenting.







Equipment


What was your very first camera?

The first camera I owned was a Canon S50 with which I've taken some good photos that I've used some in exhibitions or in my first book. I still have that camera. In fact, it broke: the shutter wouldn't open, exactly like the first analog camera I owned. However, this time, I did fix the camera and I hope I'll be able to keep it alive for a long time.




What equipment is in your camera bag now? What pieces of equipment will be added to the collection next?

It depends on what I'm taking photos of and/or where I'm going. If I take one camera, I take my Canon 5d II




You are asked to choose one lens from the following group: 14mm wide angle, 50mm prime, 200mm telephoto, 105mm macro. You could only use one of these for the rest of your photographic life. Which would you choose and why?

Although a 50mm prime sounds more general-purpose, I'll probably choose between a 14mm wide angle or a 105mm macro. Most probably a 105mm macro cause it's both good for portraits and for macro shots and on a full frame it won't be too tele either (compared to a 200mm).







Bonus Questions


Tell us your set-up, thoughts and tips/tricks of a particular photo.

In a nice Autumn day, I went to Stanley Park in Vancouver (the largest urban park in the province of British Columbia, Canada) to take photos of the colorful leaves/trees. After a while of walking around and taking photos, I noticed an interesting-looking gravestone among the trees. Since I'm generally interested in cemeteries and gravestones for their diversity (representing human diversity in a way) and mystical melancholiness vibe that make you contemplate about life, I stopped to try to take a good photo of that scene. Since it was beside the road, a few cars passed by right then and it came to my mind that it'd be interesting to show a ghosty look of the passing cars in front of that gravestone. So I setup my tripod and took a few shots and in one of them a school bus passed and I liked this shot more than the others. What this photo means or can imply, is left to the viewer, anyone can have their own interpretation, maybe no interpretation at all!




Have you ever Photoshoped/edited a photo but told others you haven't?

This is one of those topics that I've thought about quite a bit in different circumstances, having heard different and usually opposing viewpoints about it. This question could mean a lot more if we were talking about analog photography, knowing that there are/were relatively limited number of different films available. But with the different brands of digital cameras and different censors and different settings that the cameras can have, this question loses its meaning a bit. When someoone takes a photo with their digital camera, the photo is edited right there, right from the beginning. Depending on what saturation/contrast/brightness/etc. settings you have, whether you have noise reduction, what kind of censor and coloring system (e.g Nikon vs Canon) or color space (e.g different RGBs vs other spaces) the camera uses, what color temperature you've set for the camera and other setttings, the photo that comes out of the camera can be very different. The same effect that you can achieve by using an external editor like Photoshop, can sometimes be achieved inside the camera (e.g BW conversion). So, which one of these two photos, one right from the camera and the other changed in an editing program, will you call "edited"?

Now, some effects are much harder to achieve from inside the camera at the time of taking the photo (like Photoshop brush effects), although I'm sure if there's enough demand for it, they will be easily implemented inside the cameras as well (like the currently-implemented selective-coloring effects). So, the question of "Have you edited this photo?" can only be meaningful if it implies "drastic edits" (which is again very subjective) or that it can only be asked to see how honest an individual is in terms of telling the truth about whether or not s/he has used an editing program or not (in which case the answer is not very informative photography-wise). Another usage of this question is to see how much of an expert the person is in terms of knowing exactly how his/her camera's settings work to be able to achieve what s/he wants right from the camera without any extra tweaks.

Even more, I would also argue that edits such as 'healing' or 'cloning' used in cases such as removing a person from in front of a monument, to show the full monument, should not always be counted as "edits." I think whether something is an "edit" or not can depend on what it was used for. It's a tricky discussion and subject to a lot of sophistries.

I personally "edit" almost all my photos. I take photos with relatively neutral settings (if they're not in raw format) to be able to fine-tune them later as much as possible. Therefore, usually the minimum post-processing I do is one or a combination of cropping/contrast/saturation/sharpening adjustments or similar basic edits. So if someone asks this question, the answer would technically be a "yes", but since these kinds of "edits", as I discussed, are the most basic edits and subject to the discussion of being counted as "edits" or not, the answer could at the same time be a "no" as well, depending on your definitions.




Do you like your photos most of the time or dislike them most of the time? Why do you think that is?

I like them most of the time, cause I rarely take random photos and for each shot, I usually think and frame it as accurately as I can. Therefore, after going through the photos I've taken during a day, most of them have already passed a few stages of my inner critical judgment. Of course whether "I" like them or not is very different from whether someone else likes them or not. Also, eventhough I might like them, it doesn't mean they're very good, it just means that I keep them and I can find some usage for them, but as expected, only a small percentage of them become my favorites.




Have you ever taken the EXIF/exposure info from any of the critiques and tried it yourself?

Not exactly. However whenever provided, I do look at that info and I think about it and try to keep it in mind just in case. I find the EXIF info to be very helpful, specially when it comes to creative shots or shots taken in extreme situations.




Do you think that photographers take photos because they can't paint; or do painters paint because they aren't good photographers?

I don't think this can be generalized and/or necessarily true. It's like asking "Do you think guitar players play the guitar because they can't play the violin?". Specially nowadays, there are many painters who take photos and vice versa. Having said that, I do think that the learning curve for photography is steeper and specially with the help of digital cameras, there's less expertise needed to take regular photos, whereas, you need to practice quite a bit even to paint regular paintings. However, doing something unique that stands out is hard in both, as is the case in every other field.




What are your favorite places/subjects to photograph? Why?

Mostly people, landscapes preferrably with an added element of "people" and also staged, conceptual shots. Humans are the most interesting species on the planet and capturing their moods/actions is quite challenging and at the same time rewarding.




Who are your biggest photographic influences? Why? What about their work influences your work?

It's very difficult to pick one person as the biggest influence these days. With the exponential usage of digital cameras and online publishing, one learns a bit from everyone. Therefore, as opposed to being influenced greatly by one specific person, it's usually the case that one is influenced a bit but by many, as has been my case.




What are your goals for your photography?

To create something no one else has created. I think if someone wants to be remembered as an artist, that'd be their main goal. Now, "creating something no one else has created," can mean creating something technically so perfect that no one has reached that level before, or to bring to life a new concept or idea. I aim at both, although the second one is more appealing to me.




What photo did you take that you are the most proud of up to this point in your photographic journey?

There hasn't been a single photo that ranks the highest. I'm definitely proud of the photo of the two girls (called "Shy and Curious" - pictured above) that brought me the PotY award here, specially that it was shot at the right moment in a remote place. I'm also very happy about my old man and cow photo called "True Love" (pictured below), cause I've been told that it's quite unique and again, it was shot at the right moment in relatively bad lighting conditions (this photo won the gold medal from the Canadian Association of Photographic Art (CAPA) in 2009). In terms of the conceptual photos I've taken (whether published or not), I need more time to decide which one is the best one.




What was your most embarrassing moment while taking pictures?

I don't think I've ever been embarrassed deep down, only because I've taken a photo; A photographer's mission is to capture moments. But if as a photographer you promise someone not to take photos (for very logical reasons), but you still do, then there's some room for embarrassment depending on the details of the specific situation. Also, if you're not supposed to publish a photo and you do, then that's what you should be mostly embarrassed (and ashamed) about (again, there's room for different moral interpretations) and I've never done that, although I've had chances.




What do you do with your photographs?

I do everything mentioned above. I've had exhibitions, I've sold photos (digitally and in prints), I've published calendars, post cards and I've used some in my first book called "Ponder In Photos". I also use some for personal use, I use them to remember, to help others remember, to communicate with others through them and to satisfy my creative needs. As part of my PoyY 2008 first prize, I won a lifetime SmugMug pro account and after using it a bit, I've liked the features that SmugMug provides quite a lot. I'm slowly, but surely, getting more and more into using its features (that continue to improve) for online presentation/selling of my photos and I'm linking my photolog to this account as well.







The Corner


What initially drew you into Corner?

I was looking for a place with other photographers around to learn and share.




What keeps your hanging around the Corner?

Seeing good photos, learning from others and the contests. Overall, it's a very friendly place where you can learn and share your viewpoints and the contests and potm's make it more interesting and rewarding. I think the Corner owes its friendly vibe to the moderators and specially Tim, with his first warm welcome. This in turn creates a friendly and productive atmosphere among the users.




What section of the Corner is your most frequented or favorite?

Critiques Corner and the different contests (PotM, PotY, Contest Corner).




What advice would you give other members of PhotographyCorner?

To share more, but in sharing, be more selective of your work. And to try to learn from others by observing the ideas, the specific camera settings and reading the constructive feedbacks.




If you could meet any member of the Corner, but could ask them only one question, who would you want to meet and what would that question be?

Tim. I would ask "How/why did you start the PhotographyCorner?", if that's not counted as two questions :) If it is, then just the "why" part. I think it's about time Tim did one of these interviews himself, cause I'm sure many members are wondering what his story is :)







Closing


What thing about yourself as an artist do you want to be remembered for?

Creativity. I do like people to enjoy what I create, whether it's because it makes them think or that they just enjoy looking at it. But to me, I value ideas and I hope I'll be able to come up with something very unique and execute it nicely. So far, I've had some ideas that I've been able to capture them in photos, most of which have not been published anywhere for different reasons. But more than the ones that I've made photos of, are ideas that are only in the written-on-paper stage and hopefully one day will come to reality.




If you knew it were your last day with your equipment, whether it be by choice or not, what would you photograph and why?

I will have to choose between photographing someone I love/admire or taking photos using one of the creative ideas I've had in mind as the subject. If I can combine both, that'd be the perfect scenario.

Posted by Tim L. Walker on Fri, 2011–05–13 17:38