Over the holidays we took some time out for an international chat with our friend, Zachary Van Der Ven, (@zacvdv on Instagram) about his passion for photography, the evolution of his editing process and his affinity for Singlish.
Zachary: Hey! I’m Zachary Van Der Ven, I was born and raised in Singapore. I'm a 19-year-old majoring in Visual Communication and Design at LASALLE College of the Arts, but I'm also very interested in learning other things like film-making and composing music in the future. I absolutely love traveling and experiencing the nearness of mountains – those are the things that excite me the most.
When did photography first become an interest for you?
Zachary: Well, in 2010, I owned an HTC Wildfire and had an app called Vignette which allowed me to snap pictures with random filters applied – sometimes with light leaks, sometimes with very intense vignettes – all that fancy stuff. It intrigued me that whatever I was snapping in real life, transcended real life on my phone screen. When I moved over to being an iPhone user in 2012, I was so new to all the different apps Apple had to offer (and Vignette wasn't available), so I had to explore. Instagram helped a lot because through it, I found out about these overlays called Mextures and it offered something so different to what other photo editing apps were offering. It definitely reminded me of the wonder I had back in 2010 with all the exploring and playing around – that's the fun thing about photography.
What further excited me about photography was, when I was a Tumblr girl back who-knows-when, people used to reblog/post super amazing photos. One person in particular, Julian Bialowas, posted a series called 365q where he would post a photo everyday accompanied with a favorite quote of his. That really inspired me not only to pursue photography, but also to pursue travelling.
With that being said, what does Instagram mean to you?
Zachary: Instagram to me is part of the process. Before this, I had absolutely no faith in the things I produced. I remember posting a photo somewhere on the interwebs and thinking, "If my photos are anything like the ones on Flickr, then I know I've made it."
Fast forward to when I had just joined Instagram - I posted whatever I felt like was attractive to my eyes while splattering on an X-Pro ll filter or something. But while delving into the community Instagram had to offer, I discovered different apps that could enhance and elevate my photos. Over time people started enjoying them for some reason or another. And through all of the "likes", "follows", "comments" and friendships, I felt like I've achieved something – and that was good for a while. Don't get me wrong. But I guess, I was getting too into it – to the point where I craved it. I started to get stuck when posting a picture with thoughts like, "what if they don't like it?" or "what if this photo doesn't get this amount of likes?” – I was doing Instagram for all of the wrong reasons. I guess what I'm trying to say is that Instagram to me has and is playing a part of the learning and growing process into becoming the person I desire to be. It's good that I have Instagram, but I don't want Instagram to have me. My hope is to never stop learning and thats a wonderful thing.
You often write these really poignant “notes” or “letters” as your Instagram captions. Can you elaborate on those and what they mean to you?
Zachary: Those letters are usually my way of communicating my faith and hope for intimacy. They act as more of a personal mirror for the current emotions or feelings I'm experiencing during that period – sometimes it might be a feeling of homesickness or a realization of distance. Sometimes they're in another perspective just because I'd like to hear a voice of unconditional love and ignore my own thoughts for a change. Those are the times when I can't help but feel like I'm being written to instead of being the writer. I choose to publicly post them even though many times I'd rather stay more "closed" online. I'd like to think that maybe those little notes could rekindle something abandoned or idle in someone else's life and I'm all for it. I'm a strong believer of encouraging someone else via my own vulnerability rather than by trying to appear impressive.
When you approach a photograph to edit it, what's your basic process?
Zachary: In the past, I'd edit with Snapseed first, for correction of exposure/contrast and for HDR toning (Drama/HDR Scape), Mextures for textures and additional splashes of color (Ashes, Franklin, May, Forestry, and Blizzard are a few of my faves), Picfx for a tint of warmness and for that slight vignette effect (usually PFX 15x with 'Vintage' drop down effect on 20%), and lastly VSCO for tones (C, G & K Collections are favorites).
Lately I’ve realized that I've become less satisfied with the outcome when I follow the process above. I'm still attracted to it, but I guess I don't want to settle with the comfortability of a go-to editing process. That's the great thing about the editing process – I've learned that the exploring makes everything so much more fun. So currently, I edit photographs depending on the current state I'm in (such a drama queen). I also try to pair captions with photographs - that helps by giving me a starting point of what style of edit I'd want to proceed with.
At the end of the day, I want my photographs to tell a story and my hope is that my edit will intensify the emotion I'm trying to portray.
Have you found that Mextures offers you something that you don't find elsewhere in other apps?
Zachary: For me, Mextures is like a communal Photoshop on mobile where everything's already set up for you. You don't have to find stock images of light leaks or grit and grain overlays because it’s all already there.
Two other things I find very convenient that most other apps don't yet offer is the in-app blending modes and formula sharing where people can sort of create their own filters and share them with the thousands and thousands of other Mextures users.
Mextures is very community driven and that's something I love so much. From the formula sharing to the biweekly Mextures Collective features, community is very important and Mextures offers that quite freely.
Are there people on Instagram who have inspired you?
Zachary: Tons! A few that have inspired me in the growth of my photography and the growth of my person: @circa_1983, @jakerwin, @bradleycastaneda, @cameracaleb, @jeffkmarsh and @scottcbakken.