Have you ever wanted to take a picture with your eyes? Have you ever tried to capture a beautiful view with a camera and felt disappointed when the picture didn’t do any justice to reality? I’ve been there many times and truth is, as smartphones are making it progressively easier to take good quality pictures, I sometimes forget that photography is an art. Just like any other form of art, it needs practice, skills and creativity and just like every other artist, there are particularly talented photographers able to capture the beauty we see and even spot it where the untrained eyes can’t. I had the chance to interview one of these people, a Brussels based photographer Cem, who shared his journey with me as well as some tips on how to get that amazing sunset picture you’re trying to take!
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Hey! My name is Cem and I’m 23 years old. I was born in Brussels but my roots extend all the way to Turkey. My journey with photography started two and a half years ago and it has officially become my job since February 2021.
When and why did you decide to pursue a career as a photographer and what does photography mean to you?
I’ve always been obsessed with art and visuals. When I was 13, I used to play around with photoshop and pictures I found online so, the moment I received my first ever pay check, I decided to buy myself a camera. I chose the cheapest Canon camera I could find; I didn’t have any knowledge of photography but I thought it would be cool to have a camera just for special occasions.
It took me a month to start practicing and my first problem was how to find a subject; I was too nervous to ask my friends and family so… I decided to turn to the streets of my hometown, Brussels. After my first 3 hours of photo-walk in the city, I was surprised by how much I liked it. I was so happy with the pictures but the only people I was showing them to were my friends. Thanks to their encouragement I created my social media account to share my photos: @cem.pictures.
Initially, it was just a hobby: when I was bored I would take my camera and walk through the city for hours. But after noticing that my Instagram account was slowly growing I decided to invest more time into photography.
At the time I was working as a receptionist in a hotel but when the pandemic hit it had to close. Luckily I didn’t lose my salary but I was left at home, with plenty of free time to invest in something productive, and so that’s what I did. I spent hours and hours watching videos about photography techniques, editing, composition and camera gear and when I had the courage I went outside to capture the empty streets of Brussels on camera… It was during that period that I took the best pictures of my life. I decided to quit my job so that I could work as a photographer; I am so grateful that I had the chance to make something positive out of this terrible period.
What are your favourite subjects to capture on camera?
Definitely food! It’s my favourite thing ever. It’s something we all photograph, at restaurants or at home…it’s just always so photogenic. Working with restaurants is always a pleasant time, especially when the shoot is done and you get to eat what you just photographed 😉
What types of camera do you shoot with and what photo-editing programs do you use?
I currently have a Canon 6D Mark 2, with different lenses for different situations: 50mm 1.8 / 85mm 1.4 / 24 / 105 F4 L2. For the editing part I use Camera RAW and I’ll soon get myself a brand new camera, the Canon EOS R6.
What makes a good picture stand out of the rest?
The picture has to tell a story. Take the Atomium as an example: if you check Instagram, you’ll see that 80% of the pictures look basically the same. If you want to stand out, try capturing it from a different perspective: a couple holding hands, some kids playing in the background…try some angles that you’re not used to see with your eyes, put the camera on the ground, spot a nice reflection from a puddle. Choosing the best time for a picture is also very important; sunsets and sunrises always make for a great photo!
What are the best and worst aspects of being a photographer according to you?
The best part is definitely the new relations I get to make. I’ve met some of the greatest people in my life thanks to photography. It is also a very versatile profession: you don’t have a routine, everyday is different and you constantly discover new things.
It’s difficult to define the “worst aspects” of being a photographer but I would say that my least favourite part is editing. I don’t like spending time alone in front of a computer, especially when there are 1500 pictures to process, it can get a bit exhausting.
Have you ever had to photograph a “camera-shy” person? What are your tricks to make a person feel comfortable in front of a camera?
I shoot a lot of portraits and most times the subject is not comfortable in front of camera and is doing it for the first time. It’s part of my job to create a fun atmosphere and I will always take time before the shoot to ask some questions and joke around to break the ice. Communication with the model is key to great photos. You can’t expect them to do the job for you, you need to guide them and talk with them constantly.
Among your works, which one is your favourite? What is a project you would really like to work on in the future?
My favourite project is definitely my first exposition. I came across @imaginebelgium thanks to my friend @testedbyrebecca who invited me to the test the new VR Brussels tour with her. When I saw their location in Grand Place, I noticed an empty floor with a lot of potential for an exposition and I immediately talked to them about my project. They were very supportive and helpful during the event which lasted 3 days!
I had to organize everything from scratch by myself in less than 30 days. It was such a stressful adventure but after a lot of work and preparation, we had more than 600 visitors. Doing my first ever Expo in such an iconic place like Grand Place was an amazing experience but I had to make lots of sacrifices because of Covid-19…I’m already working on the second edition of this exposition for September 2021 and I will try to make it even better.
What are your favourite places in Brussels to take pictures?
Definitely Mont des Arts. It’s always got that special vibe to it, especially in summer when some street artists perform at sunset with the view of the city in the background. The pictures always look amazing and I can’t even count how many photos I took there.
Fun Fact: One day I saw a cool guitarist performing there during an incredible sunset; I immediately took my camera out and captured the moment. I loved the picture so much that I decided to print it for my first exposition! The artist even came to see his picture and I obviously offered him the print after the event. I’m sure that everyone has seen him at least once at Mont des Arts and he’s still there on sunny days! You can find him on instagram as @moog.isha.
Another favourite spot of mine is the Musées d’Extrême-Orient with the Pagodas. It’s like travelling to a different continent without actually leaving Brussels. I showed a picture of it during my exposition and I was surprised by how only few people knew about the place… It’s definitely must see if you want to experience Brussels from a different perspective.
Finally, what does your perfect day in Brussels look like?
On sunny days, I like to just go to the park with some friends to chill under the sun. Enjoy a meal at one my two favorite restaurants located at Grand-Place, “ La Brouette” or “T’Kelderke” and last but not least, end the day at one of the many bars at Place Saint-Géry to get a taste of the festive part of Brussels.
Some days I just like to be a tourist in my own city. They are many monuments to discover that are worth the visit!
- Basilique de Koekelberg has a museum with a lot of historical pictures and facts. After that you can go to the top and have an outstanding 360° panoramic view over the city. It’s so high up that you can spot every other monument of the city.
- Palais de Justice at Place Poelaert has an impressive architecture inside, it reminds me of Greco-Roman architecture. With the columns and the huge stairs, it’s also a very good spot to take some cool pictures!