Over the last few weeks we've been chatting with Justin Halbert about food, photography, tones and pant sizes. The following is what came out of our conversation!
I'm Justin Halbert (@justn_sd) from San Diego, California. I'm one of the very lucky few who can say they've been born and raised here. In case you're wondering, I wear a size 33 x 32 pant, a large shirt and weigh about 200 pounds. My dad is Irish/Scottish/ Portuguese and my mom is Hispanic. I learned Spanish in elementary school. My father also speaks fluent Spanish but my mom doesn't because when she was growing up it was a very hard time to be Hispanic so her parents didn't teach her - although she does comprehend from hearing her family speak it.
I'm a proud husband to Stacy Halbert (@Sisi_Halbert) of 5 years (we just spent our 5 year anniversary in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico) and a father to Essie Jaye Halbert (#dailyessie) who is almost 2 years old.
I spend a lot of my time teaching culinary arts to high school students at Garfield High School in San Diego - a continuation school for students who are credit deficient. This is my first year at this school and I am beyond happy to be here. I spent 5 years at Madison High School and last year Target featured my program in a national commercial. Culinary Arts is something I'm passionate about as is education. I'm lucky to have found a job that combines a few of my passions.
Teaching Culinary Arts to high school students is a pretty unique job. How'd you get in to that?
So I was a chef before I taught high school. I worked at El Pescador Fish Market and Restaurant for 5 years before going to culinary school in San Francisco. I worked at Greens vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco and came back to San Diego for my internship at Bertrand at Mister A's. From there I worked in hotels, catering, and was a private chef for a family. When I was dating Stacy, I went back to school to get my teaching credential at SDSU in history. As I was student teaching at Morse High School, I was offered a job as a culinary instructor at Madison High. I also taught Government and Economics, Advanced Placement Government and World History. Currently, I'm teaching Hospitality and Tourism and Culinary Arts.
With all of the school, teaching and cooking, how did photography come in to play for you?
I've always been interested in the arts. I took a few semesters of art in college and wanted to switch degrees from history to art but it would've put me too far behind. As you can tell, life got really busy with school and work so instead of painting or drawing, I picked up a camera - actually an iPhone - to start taking photos. I've always been drawn to rick, dark colors and I think that shows in the way I edit. Mixed media/collage was my inspiration when I was making fine art pieces. Life has actually settled down a little so I've started drawing again - smaller pieces, but at least I'm drawing again
So when Instagram started gaining popularity did that just become a natural medium for you to share your work?
Oh man! So when I downloaded IG I thought it was just a photo editing app. I really didn't understand the community aspect of it at all until some friends started commenting and making fun of my pictures. When I got my phone I looked in the App Store for the good apps and Instagram was highly rated so I downloaded it. Back then I was basically experimenting with photography. The stuff I posted early on was stuff that led me to where I am today. I look back on those images and really feel a deep connection to them because I was really just figuring out how photography worked - lighting, angles, composition, etc. I was never trained or taught anything about photography. I just tried to figure it out. A lot of my early stuff was design based - mixed media stuff - because that's what I was used to. I went away from my muted, brownish, earthy tones, but I am back to those now. I missed them.
For several months now you've been incredibly consistent with the tonal elements in your pictures. What is it that draws you to those earthy tones?
I think earthy tones provide the image with a richness and depth. There are several schools of thought about editing. One thought is to never edit the image - just shoot straight out of the camera and post or develop your film. Another is to minimally edit the image - boost contrast, push the black and whites, etc. Yet another is to play with colors - to actually recreate a new image by tweaking the colors how you want them. My photos are "based on a true story." I think I take to a more surreal or painterly style of editing. There are a few Instagrammers who have similar editing styles to me but they are playing with different colors - using pink hues in the highlights and blue/turquoise in the shadows. This gives their image a watercolor type feel. Their images provide a different mood than mine. I want mine to be dark and moody even though the subjects are usually bright and colorful. I want my images to contrast the way the photo is "supposed to look" with the subject I'm shooting. Instead of boosting contrast and saturation for a beach or sunset or landscape shot, I'll reduce them, add fade, and layer with contrasting colors to give the image a muted feel.
How do you use Mextures to help you achieve that very specific feel?
So I've been pretty lucky to use Mextures exclusively for my color grading now. I've figured out a way to get the earthy tones I want by adding multiple layers of colors. I figured out that since there's not a brown layer to add, I could add contrasting or complimentary colors like green and purple. When I painted, I was taught to use complimentary colors to darken your color pallet or add shadows, not black. So my thought was that I could "darken" an image by simply using complimentary colors and without decreasing the exposure initially. Then I would warm up the image using the temperature slider, decrease saturation and then bump up the exposure if it got too dark. I would also add some fade and a little contrast. Depending on the image, I would layer it with some Landscape Enhancers or Vintage Gradients depending on the color I was going for.
How were you first introduced to Mextures?
I first noticed Mextures when it was still just a bunch of overlays and a lot of the people I followed were using them. So I downloaded them and got in the loop as well. Slowly, Merek started adding different overlays with color gradients and I started using those as well. It was brilliant that he developed an app where all of the different overlays, gradients and light leaks could be accessed.
In the years that you’ve been active on Instagram, who and/or what has inspired you the most?
There's been a handful of people who have been influential to me. I originally saw the tones (@popesaintvictor) was using and was blown away. He has a design background as well and was putting out some awesome pieces of art. Matt French (@mattfrench) has been huge on how I use Mextures and how I shoot landscapes. Chris Burkard (@chrisburkard) combines the perfect balance of surf and landscape photography. And Chuck Lang (@Chuck) kills it at portraits. I plan on doing more surf and portrait/landscape work this year and also get into more video. People should see my work as a combination of these influences.
I'm also really drawn to the Pacific Northwest or anywhere that has foggy beaches, tons of trees, snow… we are basically a desert down here in San Diego and don't have seasons. Today is perfectly sunny - 72 degrees. It makes for comfortable weather but doesn't make for the best pictures. My ideal shoot would be a surf trip to Iceland, Norway or Alaska or even to do a portrait shoot in a setting like that. I’m not opposed to going to Tahiti or Indonesia to take surf pics either!