Today, Robert G Allen Photography interviews Nikon photographer Maria Evans. I’m not sure how many years ago I stumbled upon Maria's website. I do know that it was at least 10 or so years ago. I was impressed with her nighttime photography and of course, the fact that she uses Nikon equipment! Let’s get started.
Nikon Df photoNikon Df DSLR photo
Wan Chai, Hong Kong, 2015, Nikon Df, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, ƒ/7.1, 14.0 mm, 0.8 sec, ISO 125
1) How and when did you get started in photography?
I guess I was always taking photos since I can remember. I remember having a little 110 camera when I was just a kid, just taking photos in the backyard, then I moved on to a pastel pink Disc camera by high school (haha). I remember taking a class trip to Disney World for Grad Nite my senior year of high school, then I lost my mind when the photo lab lost half my rolls of photos lol, so taking photos was always important to me. They'd be a mix of snapshots of friends and what I thought were "arty" architecture shots at the time. I just remember everyone wanted copies of my photos when we got back from our trips together.
2) Do you look to other photographers for inspiration? If so, who would they be?
Definitely. Instagram gets a bad rap for all the influencers, but it's a treasure trove of inspiration. There are too many great photographers on there to name just a few. I really feel like the medium has raised everyone's game, just seeing what others are doing, what others are capable of. It keeps you pushing your skill set forward and to keep trying new artistic ideas. Our styles may be completely different, but nothing makes me want to pick up my camera more than seeing a stunning image by someone else. Back in the day, you thought just a select handful had the eye. It's amazing to see just how many people out there are putting something beautiful into the world. Herb Ritts is my all-time favorite photographer, though. He shot fashion and portraiture and was just a master of light and shadow. Even though that's not my focus, his images are so inspiring even years after his passing that I will see one and will get the urge to go shoot something.
The Louvre, Paris, 2007, Nikon D70sThe Louvre, Paris, 2007, Nikon D70s camera
The Louvre, Paris, 2007, Nikon D70s, Tokina 12-24mm f/4, ƒ/4.0, 14.0 mm, 1/5 sec, ISO 1600
3) I see you shoot a lot at night. What attracts you to night-time photography?
I think it's partially because I'm a night owl and get most of my creative ideas late at night. Last night I started a fix-it project before bed; that's just what I do. There's nothing like the cobalt-blue sky of blue hour, and when the lights really get low, the colors of a city really seem to blaze to life. A place like Hong Kong may be drab and gray during the day, but it's a cacophony of color and life by night. Also, the technical challenges of shooting a low-noise, clean, sharp image at night challenge the engineer in me. It's getting easier over the years to shoot quality low-light images, but they'll always be more of a technical challenge than daylight shots, and I'm drawn to that.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, 2017, Nikon DfSheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, 2017, Nikon Df camera
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, 2017, Nikon Df, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, ƒ/22.0, 14.0 mm, 1/320 sec, ISO 80
4) Out of your extensive portfolio, do you have one image that is your favourite or a few that rise to the top?
There are a handful that come to mind that just sort of happened by pure dumb luck and some good gear. Of course I wish I could reshoot some of the older ones with better gear with less noise, but there's one I shot in front of the Louvre at sunset back in 2007 that I always think of. I'd been sitting in that spot for maybe 15-20 minutes, and the way the clouds rolled in, they just fortuitously aligned to form a "V" with one side of the Louvre pyramid. I could've been there every night for years and not had that happen again.
So many of the images I shot in the desert of the United Arab Emirates in 2017 felt magic to me, just the blazing orange of the desert sands contrasted with the pastel skies—what a beautiful place. I never feel more alive than when I'm in Hong Kong, and one night a co-worker took me aboard the Ding Ding Tram to grab some night shots of the city. The tram in front of us was going roughly the same speed we were as we whizzed across Hong Kong Island. I just held my breath, focused on the back of that tram and hoped I got a shot without blur, and one of them became a favorite of mine. Anything I get with light trails on the Tower Bridge of London ends up being a favorite. It's probably my favorite spot to shoot in my favorite city on earth.
Tower Bridge, London, 2018, Nikon DfTower Bridge, London, 2018, Nikon Df camera Tower Bridge, London, 2019, Nikon Df, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, ƒ/22.0, 14.0 mm, 5 sec, ISO 800
5) As for equipment, what photography gear are you currently using?
I recently upgraded from a Nikon Df to a Nikon D5 body and am looking forward to exploring that next quantum leap in night-time light sensitivity. My two most-used lenses are the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, which is absolutely awesome for architecture and interior shots, and the super-versatile Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8. The 14-24 is just a game-changer. The expanse of the British Museum atrium in one wide shot or just being able to hold it vertically and get both the ceiling and the floor of Notre Dame in the same shot, that's what makes that lens worth every penny. (On a side note, I'm so grateful that I got SO many interior and exterior shots of Notre Dame over the years. Those are memories that no fire can erase.) I love that both of those lenses let enough light in that I can usually get away with handheld shots even at night, unless I'm doing slow-shutter work. When that happens, one of the trusty Manfrotto tripods comes out.
A few years back, I got the 24mm f/1.4 lens thinking it would be great for astrophotography shots, but my body was so light sensitive, it's a bit of overkill at max aperture, so I tote it around town when I want a "small" wide lens (they're all tanks). I rarely shoot telephoto—usually just during annual airshows—so the very affordable Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 is sufficient for my needs. Lastly, I've got a Nikon 50mm f/1.8, which everyone just seems to have because it's so tiny and affordable. I have a couple of Speedlights that don't get much use since I primarily shoot ambient light, and so many accessories, I have drawers and drawers! I love remote triggers.
Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong, 2015, Nikon DfVictoria Harbour, Hong Kong, 2015, Nikon Df camera Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong, 2015, Nikon Df, Nikon 50mm f/1.8, ƒ/1.8, 50.0 mm, 1/100 sec, ISO 2000
6) I see you started in the film period. When did you make the transition to digital?
Definitely bad experiences like the film lab losing my rolls! I got my first digital camera back in 2002, just a point & shoot. I think it was all of 2 megapixels. I loved that you could shoot to your heart's content, or until you filled your 16 MB card lol. I remember very clearly what made me make the leap to digital SLR's, though. Was visiting a good friend in Minneapolis in 2005, and she'd recently returned from a trip to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. On the walls of her apartment, she'd printed and framed images she'd shot of the stone details of the temples, and I was blown away by the detail. I had no idea DSLR technology could capture that level of detail for printing. And that was 2005 technology, shooting with a Nikon D70! I went out and bought a Nikon D70s as soon as I got back home.
The Louvre, Paris, 2015, Nikon DfThe Louvre, Paris, 2015, Nikon Df camera
The Louvre, Paris, 2015, Nikon Df, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, ƒ/2.8, 14.0 mm, 1/25 sec, ISO 2500
7) When on assignment, what is your work flow? What software do you use?
I usually have a mental shot list, things I know I want to get, but that's maybe only 20% of what I actually end up getting. I will never let anyone else carry my gear no matter how tired I am, because I might miss a shot on my way to something, and I never walk by something and think "oh maybe I should get that but I don't want to go back for it." It will nag at me forever. I will stop in the middle of an airport terminal, unpack my whole pack to get the right lens on my camera body and shoot if I see an interesting angle in the terminal. Never leave a shot behind.
I shoot RAW (NEF format) and import my images into Adobe Lightroom, where finalize details like the sharpening, white balance, exposure, shadows, highlights, clarity, contrast, etc. I don't use anyone else's pre-sets; I make my own. I usually export from Lightroom and am done. Rarely do I need to polish something up in Paint Shop Pro. Shocking, but I just got and am learning Adobe Photoshop within the past few months. It's always seemed superfluous to what I do, but I'm seeing the value in masking layers now that I'm going to try more astrophotography and blended images.
Sharjah, UAE, 2017, Nikon DfSharjah, UAE, 2017, Nikon Df camera
Sharjah, UAE, 2017, Nikon Df, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, ƒ/7.1, 70.0 mm, 1/500 sec, ISO 100
8) Do you have formal training as a photographer?
When I got my first DSLR, I noticed there was a pretty steep learning curve. I'd used a film SLR in my high school yearbook staff days but digital was all new, so I attended Nikon School classes in Philadelphia and Houston to get up to speed, and that was kind of all I needed. I don't think you ever stop learning photography, though. I learn something new every month. I picked up a lot back in the day watching studio photographers when I was on the other side of the lens—20 years and 20 lbs ago—as a young model. I don't take my studio lights out of storage very often, but it taught me a lot about workflow and lighting.
Burj Khalifa, Dubai, 2015, Nikon DfBurj Khalifa, Dubai, 2015, Nikon Df camera
Burj Khalifa, Dubai, 2015, Nikon Df, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, ƒ/2.8, 14.0 mm, 1/10 sec, ISO 3200
9) What details do you believe make the best photographs? How do you go about focusing on them in your work?
When I notice the thing in common with the images of mine that I love, it's that some detail draws the eye in. It may be symmetry or the direction of the light. I always think "find the light" when I'm actively trying to get a good shot. Something has to feel "alive." Sometimes that means breaking the "rules" and shooting right into the setting sun. Sometimes it means violating the rule of thirds. I don't use people in my images enough. I do think that's one of the most interesting elements of other photographers’ images, but I gravitate toward architecture and cityscapes.
9/11 Memorial and One World Trade Center, NYC, 2019, Nikon Df 9/11 Memorial and One World Trade Center, NYC, 2019, Nikon Df camera
9/11 Memorial and One World Trade Center, NYC, 2019, Nikon Df, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, ƒ/2.8, 14.0 mm, 1/60 sec, ISO 160
10) Any closing thoughts you would like to include before we end our interview?
I don't think you ever know everything there is. I often thought about how much I've learned over my decades of shooting, and yet there are still sometimes technical questions that will stump me that I have to look up. That's one thing that keeps me hooked on photography. Nobody knows it all. You can't. There's always another question and answer around the corner, just like another image that has yet to unfold.
Chicago O'Hare International Airport, 2013, Nikon D3SChicago O'Hare International Airport, 2013, Nikon D3S camera Chicago O'Hare International Airport, 2013, Nikon D3S, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, ƒ/2.8, 14.0 mm, 1/40 sec, ISO 800