Zen Zielke a 19 year old Los Angeles based photographer has been under the radar in the scene, but has slowly been making rounds in the circuit. With clientele in all aspects of the art world ranging from fashion to music, he is definitely someone to keep an eye on. With several projects coming up and a couple of zines in future publication, he is here today to answer a couple of questions so we can get to know the man behind the camera a little better.
- Starting off, a lot of what goes into being a photographer and more precisely a good photographer isn’t exactly what happens on the shoot, but rather what happens outside. So to begin can you tell me about your life outside photography?
Outside of photography I tend to fill my time with either school or some other form of art. I’m currently a 3rd year in college studying Advertising and International Relations. My time usually ends up being consumed by a lot of the work that goes into academia. While not as frequent as before, my free time is spent either expressing myself in another outlet or traveling. I believe that in whatever medium that you chose self-expression is vital in finding out who you are as a person and finding out what makes you… you. Traveling has also been at the top of my to-do list recently. I really do wish that I could travel more than I do now. I do feel grateful though of everything around me, and everything there is to experience in such a close vicinity.
Growing up my dad always had photos hung up on every wall and piles of boxes and books filled up to the brim with photographs. I think I can credit my dad to a lot of what I have done in my life in regards to photography. I grew up admiring the work that he had done and would always obsess over the process of whatever it was that he was doing. I’d say that environment pushed me into my passion of photography and shaped who I am today.
- What was the first camera that you used?
When I was a lot younger I used to play around with a lot of old film cameras but never remembered what they were. The first camera I do remember however was a digital camera that my dad had bought. This was a Canon T4i, which is how I got into shooting back in high school. I used to take that camera around with me everywhere and would shoot everyone and everything. That Canon definitely has seen some wear and tear, but I still have it and occasionally use it from time to time.
- Over the years, did you ever encounter anyone or anything that you really wanted to shoot, but haven’t yet?
I don’t think that there are any exact moments that I can think of where I really lusted for a photo that I never got. When I look back at photos of old family trips and vacations I do wish that I would’ve brought a camera or at least have the knowledge that I have now to capture some of the moments and the beauty that lies in those trips.
- Have you had any awkward shoots you wanted to just end?
I can’t say that I’ve ever had any exceptionally awkward shoots that made me want to just end them. I’ve had the pleasure to work with people that were always professional when they had to be. Of course there are first time models that take time to figure out who they are and what they want to express in front of a camera, but overall I’ve had a pretty outstanding experience with the people that I worked with.
- How much do you research either your subjects or locations before photographing them?
This varies a lot from photographer to photographer and with each subject to subject. Some people swear to either jumping in blind or doing weeks of research beforehand. For me, I feel like it all depends on the situation. When I travel I tend to quickly browse or try to have a general idea of what I’m going to see, but ultimately I like to be surprised by my surroundings. With subjects or people it usually depends on the person, but I like talking to whoever I’m shooting and capturing the elements of getting to know someone. I feel like it adds to the essence of capturing a moment of fleeting time. You can time everything up and do as much research as you want, but at the end of the day you have to be in the moment and take your shot.
- How do you find shooting different scenes ranging from landscapes to people?
Everyone has something that they prefer shooting and some style that they tend to gravitate towards. Before you can settle down on what you like the most, I feel like it’s best to explore every other form of shooting first. When I started off I took a lot of nature photos due to the amount of greenery around me, but as I grew older I tended to shoot more people. Concert photography was an exciting period coming out of high school and that came right after portraits. Since then I’ve taken a bit of a step back and began looking at pictures as a whole and the idea of capturing fleeting moments of time. I take my time now with how I compose what I shoot and have been really enjoying shooting a mixture of landscapes, documentary style photographs, and people when they have something to tell.
- Are you very hands on with the process of what happens to your photos right after you shoot them?
I would say so. If I’m shooting digital I’m the only one that sees what I shoot until everything is edited and I’m ready to show what I captured. With film, I have an excellent lab that I work with close to where I’m living at the moment. I usually handle a lot of what I take with the lab and they deal with me and everything that I’ve thrown at them.
- How do you feel about film versus digital?
They both serve their own purposes and at the end of the day it all comes down to preference. I started off shooting digital and since then have drifted over to side of the film. One thing to be said with film is that an already expensive hobby can become a whole lot more expensive.
- Do you have any tips for an aspiring photographer who’s picking up a camera for the first time?
There is only one tip that matters when people want to get into photography. That expert piece of advice that has been handed down to me through the generations is to just go out and shoot. Shoot every day, everything, everyone, whenever you can. You will only ever get better by going out and doing it, so just go out and do it. The camera is an extension of you and the quicker you learn how to utilize it, the better.