If you're looking for a broad range of subjects and crisp, colorful images, Carlos Berlonga (@gothamkid) is a fantastic place to start. His work is both intriguing and fresh and the imagery he captures is brilliant and beautiful. He skillfully and gently mixes Mextures in to his editing process to enhance and colorize his pictures in an endearing manner. Take a behind the scenes tour of his mind and inventiveness and read on!
Hi, I’m Carlos Berlanga. I'm married to a woman with a genetic mutation in a gene called MC1R, which is a pretty neat way of saying she’s a redhead. We've been blessed with a wonderful Siberian Husky named Sulah and cursed by two douche bag cats named Oliver Schmidt and Zero. These misfits and I live in Los Angeles.
I’m a Madman at heart (worked as a Graphic Artist/Art Director for years) but now I make my living behind a lens. On any given day I might be shooting a bride; the next I’m shooting footage of Mohammad Ali’s daughter working out in her living room; or I'm on the Red Carpet interviewing Public Enemy or Snoop Dog. Other days I’m out in the middle of nowhere in some desert getting behind-the-scenes footage with drones flying over head and cars zooming past me at full speed. And, some days, I’m just shooting a 5-hour long corporate video, 3 seconds away from hanging myself with an HDMI cable. It’s always different.
Outside of Instagram, I enjoy the tangible things in life, the non-digital kind. Pretty much anything that doesn’t require a password or a screen in front of me. Late night conversation and a good bourbon are high on my list. Or an Old Fashioned, French Connection…ahem. What were we talking about? Ah…right. I really enjoy a good midnight run, with no people, no cars, when the streets are dark and peaceful... it clears my head. I really dig hiking with my wife and our Husky Sulah. We’re always looking for new trails or canyons to explore. I love composing, writing music. My band and I will get together and just play for hours. If we’re not falling off our amps laughing over stupid jokes while sipping a nice brew, we’re in the pocket trying to catch that song with a butterfly net. Sometimes, a song walks right into the room and takes over our instruments. It's quite a feeling.
As far as inspiration, I have a hard time choosing just one. I don’t feel like I orbit a single planet - I’m kind of everywhere at the same time, just depends on what’s motivating me that day. Richard Ashcroft described it perfectly in a lyric when he said, “I’m a million different people from one day to the next”. But, if I were forced at laser-gun point by aliens to pick one inspiration, it would have to be a man by the name of… Rod Serling. Chances are, these aliens would already know his name. This man gave us what I consider the greatest TV show in history. I shouldn’t have to even say it but yes, The Twilight Zone. He had a wonderful gift for story telling. It’s something I try to mimic in my images. It’s too easy to take pretty pictures and apply the rules of photography to every frame. It’s much harder to inject the image with a feeling or mood that doesn’t necessarily fit the subject matter. Like how can you make a spooky scene look beautiful or peaceful, or make something bright and sunny look spooky? Serling was good at taking what was taught to us as kids and turning it on its head, redefining it completely. I credit him for giving me a different outlook on dark spaces. He once said, "There is nothing in the dark that isn’t there when the lights are on”. He's right - I’ve seen more terrifying things in the light of day than I ever did in the dark. I think darkness is a bit of an equalizer; unless, of course, you have infrared vision, which I’m still working on.
Rod Serling also had a gift for turning the ordinary into something special. He used our everyday environment to tell unique stories, giving them new life. Inanimate objects suddenly had character, odd spaces played important roles in a story. Anything he touched came to life. And in the process, he touched people's hearts. It’s why the feeling would linger in me for days long after watching the show. His fiction was never far from our reality. And the music… oh, the music (sigh). Yeah… good stuff.
TELL US ABOUT WHAT FIRST ATTRACTED YOU TO PHOTOGRAPHY, GRAPHIC ART AND SO ON.
I grew up reading a lot of music magazines, usually the British imports (Q, NME, Mojo, Uncut…I still have them). I'd spend a lot of time studying their covers, type setting, layout, photography. I didn't know it at the time, but these magazines would become my introduction to both design and photography. Since I couldn't afford all my favorite magazines on the newsstand, I'd tear out pages from magazines of pictures I really loved. I’d take them from libraries, dental offices, barber shops, wherever (terrible right?). I’d come home with rolls of torn pages in the back pocket of my jeans and create collections out of them. I honestly don’t know why I did that, it was kind of a knee-jerk reaction, an impulse. Funny thing is, I didn’t even own a camera back then and the cell phone camera hadn’t been invented yet (man I feel ancient). Again, I didn’t realize it but I was building reference material, a library of inspiration for a later time.
The names of the photographers of these pictures I collected were never really something I was interested in so I never looked at the credits. Until one day I came across a book called Strangers, a book about one of my favorite bands known as Depeche Mode. Below the title it read: The Photographs by Anton Corbijn. This book woke up a little monster in me, a monster that hadn’t a clue how hungry it was until it flipped through the pages of this book. The blacks in the images were as black as night, super contrasty and stark. But I didn’t feel depressed by it. It had class, I loved it. As it turns out, I later realized that many of my torn out magazine pages, were in fact photographs by Anton Corbin. That still makes me smile.
WHAT DOES YOUR EDITING PROCESS TYPICALLY LOOK LIKE?
My process begins in Lightroom. I sift, dump the junk and usually begin with VSCO. I then tweak the preset to find the color range I’m looking for. When I’m editing, I’m not concerned with things like perfect exposure, white balance or even sharpness for that matter, I’m focusing on the feel or atmosphere of the image more than anything else. I want it to feel cinematic. Mood is priority.
The whole process actually starts in the camera. I shoot slightly under exposed to capture as much of the information on the image as possible, especially in the highlights. You have more flexibility pulling those highlights in or out in post. If you’re going for mood, the secret lies in the shadows. The shadows are what’s giving the image it’s undertone. It’s such a subtle thing but every effective if you can dial it in just right. Applying slight color tones to those shadows will allow it to whisper a certain feel to the viewer. You ever see an image that makes you feel warm or maybe sad or a little nostalgic but you can’t pin why exactly? Look at the shadows, regardless of the subject matter, that’s where most of your emotions are being triggered from. I can shoot some creepy landscape or dark corner of a room and yet the fear in the image is absent. Instead you may feel a certain peace or calmness. I also try to mute certain areas of color but enhance others. So it ends up somewhere in between vibrant and saturated yet muted.
Once I process the image on my desktop, I transfer it to my device. Problem is, some images don’t translate the same color profile accurately, tones in the image may change a bit. They may get darker or lighter so I bring them into VSCO and yes, good ‘ol Mextures. The way I use Mextures is very subtle though. I use it more as a tool to enhance certain areas with its color overlays rather than straight up stamping it with a specific effect. Other times I use it to add some faint texture. I try and treat my images the way my favorite movies utilize special effects, if you’re having a hard time distinguishing where the effect was applied, it’s a successful edit. I think Mextures provides that ability with it’s overlay blending options and sliders. You can go all out or hold back a bit and give it a restrained touch.
DO YOU FEEL LIKE MEXTURES OFFERS ANYTHING UNIQUE TO YOUR EDITING PROCESS?
In one word, versatility. There are a lot of great apps out there but they may only focus on one aspect of the edit. Mextures has a great set of tools that give you multiple options depending on your editing style.
WHAT ARE THE THINGS THAT MOST INSPIRE YOU TO CONTINUE TO PHOTOGRAPH AND CREATE?
That’s a tough one because for me it comes from just about anywhere and other times from nowhere. Inspiration is a temperamental beast and a bit illusive. Sometimes weeks go by without a trace of her. Then out of nowhere at 3 in the morning, she comes scratching at your door and there you go rattling down the street chasing after her. Jack London once said: “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club”. More often than not, I think he’s right.
Where I live, there isn’t a whole lot of mist or fog and I love that kind of weather. It has a mysterious quality to it and it really gets me going. I follow a lot of people that happen to live in places where those conditions occur on a daily basis and their images are just to die for. “Oh what I would do with a scene like that” I say to myself. Well, on this one particular morning I was feeling very moody (what’s new), feeling a little drained from lack of stimulation, no spark. I realized I was surrendering to what most people do when they feel uninspired, and that’s to simply do nothing. It upset me so much that I decided to get dressed, grab my camera and car keys and just leave the house. I had no destination, I was just driving to feel the motion of the car, feel something. I accidentally turned on to a street that ended up taking me up the Los Angeles Forest. Now, I drive a 1967 Ghia and I hadn’t had a tune up in a while so I was taking a risk driving up steep winding roads. To my surprise she was purring up the canyon roads without a worry. As I turn one of the sharp corners, the sun gets blotted out and everything starts to go dark. Up ahead, slithering over the cliff and across the road is this ghostly looking mist! It was unreal. I pull over and walk over to the edge of the road and peer over the cliff. I see this loooooong dragon-like body of mist quickly clawing it’s way from the valley deep below and up the canyon wall. It looked like a creature coming to get me, it made my fingertips sweat. When it reached me at the top, I felt a gust of wind jolt my body back, enough to make me push into it to keep my balance. You know when you smile so big that you feel stupid? That was me. Spent hours up there alone. I couldn’t see 20 feet ahead of me and the wind was howling and the ravens came out by the dozens and the trees looked beautiful and creepy and…yeah. I felt that spark again.
A dear friend of mine was told by someone we both know, that I believe I’m in some kind of movie, that I’m very dramatic. She was basing this off what they saw in my feed. I don’t think they meant it as a compliment but honestly, I’d have to agree with them. Everything around me, everything I experience, because of the way I’m wired, I feel everything times 10. I make no apologies for it either, although at times it can be very taxing, the benefits outweigh the cons and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Look at all of God’s creation, His designs, from the smallest particle of energy to the endless number of galaxies…drama in all it’s wonderful splendor.
By drama, I guess I really mean cinematic. I can easily be inspired by an angry looking sky, the kind only a storm can bring, but there can also be drama in a quiet scene. Maybe a person’s glance, strange lighting on an open field in the dawn hours after a rainstorm, the shape of a woman’s neck or the way her hair snakes into the wind. We’re talking about split seconds in time but when you catch them, they’re quite dramatic in a frozen state. These are just a few elements used to enhance stories in film, why not use the same elements to enhance a photograph. This is why I like photographs that look as if they were stills taken from a movie scene. As a kid, I used to pause my VCR on a single frame of a movie and I’d just leave it up on the tv until the playhead burned a hole through it. I wanted to frame that scene, I wanted that moment to last.
These days, I think mystery goes a long way in inspiring. You know, not knowing everything there is to know about someone. We live in a time where EVERYTHING is shared, instantly. There’s nothing left to reveal, nothing left to sink your teeth into. Because of that, people have lost their layers because they’ve already peeled everything there is to know about them. So when I come across someone that holds back a bit, knows how to maneuver around the temptation of giving it all away too soon, they stand out to me and I find them intriguing because they get you thinking. You eagerly await for their next image to post, and each post leaves you wanting more.
There are so many avenues to get inspiration from that I could write another 10 pages worth but I think music is a big one. I love moody instrumentals, heavy bass lines with a layer of atmospheric melodies or grooves on top. Other times it’s classical or blues…it changes with my mood. I download a lot of movie soundtracks. Those usually have the elements for a good stirring of the brain. I think music has a direct relation to photography. In music, the gaps or spaces between the notes are just as valuable as the notes themselves. Within the frame of a photograph, the same rules apply to space. Sometimes there’s more to be seen in the minimal, in the empty spaces than in the spaces taken up by your subject.
WHO ARE SOME OF THE PEOPLE THAT HAVE MOST INSPIRED YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY? PEOPLE THAT CONTINUE TO SHAPE YOUR PERSPECTIVE OF PHOTOGRAPHY?
That’s a tough one. At least in the world of Instagram, the person behind the photographs is just as important to me as the work itself. Although there are a lot of favorites, these next few are a good balance of the two.
@laliou - I’ve got a thing for underwater shots. Couple that with beauty and grace and it’s all over. Her personality matches her beauty and you see that reflected in her gorgeous underwater images. She rarely shows her face so she has a wonderful mixture of mystery, playfulness and tons of water.
@_little.wings_ - She’s got a storybook feel to all her images. Somewhere between Where the Wild Things Are and Lord Of The Flies. Look for her in a forest near you, just follow the pixie dust.
@gijanice - Long time follower and great motivator. She’s all heart. She has a minimal style but doesn’t lack the punch. Her images have a lot of soul.
@kninvu - I dig her minimal style and the variety of her shots. She doesn’t get stuck in one place for too long. Everything from portraits to landscapes. Just keep up cause she likes to delete shots all the time. Drives me nuts.
@littlecoal - We’ve been following one another since I first joined Instagram. I’ve watched his progression as a photographer as time has gone by and it still makes me smile to see him developing his skills with every post. He’s one heck of a human being, always doing his best to promote others. Chances are, you’ve probably been featured by him.
@oliahercules - She has a way of threading together her love of food, travel, family and her Ukrainian culture, all into one beautiful experience. There are very few feeds that exude this kind of warmth with such an intimate touch. Olia has been a huge supporter of mine and is definitely an inspiration. Such a gifted gal and I’m her biggest fan.
@jimenahoyos - I’m a huge dog lover and the way this gal has decided to use her photography to help the homeless dogs in Columbia has blown me away. She’s got a huge heart and I think that’s what most attracted me to her feed. You see the love she has for these beautiful creatures.
@lluminaria - She hits my sweet spot every time with her moody posts. One of the few feeds I have trouble scrolling past after I double tap. I tend to stick around and get lost in her feed for a while.
@bobbimac - Another feed I like getting lost in. I really have to visit his homeland some day.
@gemskischnoodles - When I’m feeling innocent and want a little sunlight in my day, I visit her feed. She’s got a great eye for capturing wildlife. You need to be a very patient shooter to capture an animal’s personality and you can see her exercise that skill with her shots. No overcooked edits, no fuss, just good clean photography.
Outside of the Instagram world….
Ogle Winston - A 1950’s nocturnal shooter of locomotives. This guy…he had a Twilight Zone feel to all of his shots. It’s as if Rod Serling had framed and lit every one of his shots.
Edward Steichen - An early 1900’s portrait photographer. A master.
Annie Leibovitz - If I have to tell you who she is, you probably shouldn’t be shooting. What I love most about her is that she efficiently utilizes her surroundings and uses the most minimal of setups to bring her images to life.
Joey L - As of late there aren’t many photographers I can really get in to but this kid has a good grasp of lighting and feel that I seem to connect with. A breath of fresh air.
Anton Corbijn - One of the reasons I got in to photography. A rule breaker and innovator. He’s the best at what he does.
Also, I just want to quickly say that although these are all great inspirations to me, my faith is an integral part of everything I do. When I’m not shooting, I do volunteer work and offer my time to share upbuilding bible based conversations about a better future. If you’re in need of a little encouragement or just need something to get you through, please visit www.jw.org. Hang in there, the best is yet to come.
See more from Carlos here!