Interview with artist Edwin Datoc

Edwin Datoc is a photographer renowned for his striking cinematic imagery and portraiture, living and working around the globe, shooting fashion and beauty, lifestyle, portraits, and travel images. His dedication to his client's needs and his ability to lead his team has earned him respect in the business. As someone who has been involved in the industry for two decades, with incredible skills, a strong work ethic, and creative ability combined, Edwin has exhibited his work at various institutions in Europe, Asia, and North America.

Edwin, tell us about yourself.

I was raised in Manila, Philippines, until I was eleven, then my family moved to Sydney. I was a late bloomer in photography and was more interested in music. I play the guitar and piano. It wasn’t until my late twenties, during my career as a corporate accountant, that I tried photography as a diversion to relieve boredom and stress. I had no idea and was genuinely skeptical that I could do this for a living.

How did you discover photography and acquire an interest in it?

I did a brief "Black & White" darkroom printing course, a total of 36 hours, at the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney and I became fascinated with the whole process, even if I was the worst student in class who was always asking annoying questions, as nothing would make sense to me at the time. But I began to enjoy taking photos, developing film and printing in the darkroom, and I used to call it magic.

You can say I fell into fashion by accident. During the course, a model had stuck a note on the noticeboard to photograph her, I grabbed the opportunity, and that's when I discovered that I had an eye. Eventually, I got introduced to an agency and started doing test shoots while working as an accountant. My passion eventually grew for photography while my corporate ambitions slowly faded away. It was a slow and complicated transition from accountant to photographer, but I had to do it.

I genuinely believe that it's good to have a go at your passions, to see where it leads you, or you'll never know. But to realize your full potential, you must believe in what you are doing. Devote two hundred percent and be prepared to take a few hits.

What do you enjoy shooting the most, and can you share the reason behind it?

I love to shoot anything that conveys emotion. Ninety-nine percent is all about the light that's in front of me. But shooting people is definitely what I love the most. It's because humans reflect the most emotion. I would always try to capture my subject like scenes in a movie. And I find lighting to be the most integral aspect of emotion in pictures. I guess you can call it Cinematography.

As a renowned photographer, what details do you believe make the best photographs? How do you go about focusing on them in your work?

The first thing I believe makes the best photographs is good lighting. And the longer I'm a photographer, the more I'm drawn to it passionately. Everyone sees natural light differently and has their own interpretation when they take pictures. I plan my shoots carefully, especially on fashion shoots, as you need to work alongside your creative team. I wouldn't say I like overlit pictures, so the thoughtful choice of lighting and exposure is mandatory for my style of photos.

The second is the experience element that the image brings to your audience. And the more questionable a photo is, the better. Any reaction, whether good or bad, is better than no reaction. This shows that you have a point of view.

The third is timelessness. There's a vast difference between a good photo and a great photo. Good photos don't become iconic, while great photos do.

For 12 to 15 years, you shot on film for most of your fashion photography career until the digital era arrived. Can you tell us the transition process from one to the other and how you felt during this period?

I came into the digital world quite late as my heart had been shooting on film for almost 15 years. Initially, I was not too fond of the digital process and never took it seriously. But the demand from the commercial world was too strong to ignore. So change was inevitable. Learning a new discipline to produce your art was a painstaking journey. I've slowly adapted, but my concept of photography remains the same.

What draws you to black and white photography? When did you realize that this was more suitable for you than color?

I love the timelessness of Black and White. It's taught me how to light. And I apply the same principle when I shoot in color. Your color images will look better if you learn to see in Black and White.

Browsing through your website, I saw your project, This Is New York, street photography of New York City shot in Black and White. How do you approach storytelling as a photographer, and what exactly do you want to say with your photographs?

Before I shoot, I prepare my canvas. As would painters do. For me, it's the early morning light before sunrise and some rain, and I love when it rains. The "This Is New York" project was all shot using a cheap point-and-shoot camera I take with me during my pre-dawn runs around Manhattan every day. I love seeing the city get ready for the day, and I find the best way to tell a story is to capture some spontaneity. So you must stay alert and be aware of what's happening around you, or you'll miss the shot.

What methods do you use to review sets of your photographs to select the best work, and what do you think is the essential part of the post-production process?

Exceptional images stick out from a mile away. And it's usually the experimental images that were unplanned that look special. For me, the essential part of the post-production process is to delete photos that look mediocre immediately, so I don't have to see them again, and this saves time. And I try to have a break every hour from editing so I can view the images with fresh eyes.

You have shot multiple editorial assignments and corporate portfolios. What factors do you consider when determining project goals, locations, and equipment needs by studying assignments and consulting with clients or advertising staff? How did you successfully meet all of the demands of these responsibilities?

Creating a photograph is never as complex as making a movie. So I prefer not to overcomplicate things. Your client is relying on you to reassure that you are in control. I prepare three checklists for each project. Before (1), During (2), and After (3) the shoot. This is to make sure everything is covered.

I would generally meet with my creative team of Stylists, Makeup, Hair, and Set Designers and discuss ideas and build their enthusiasm. And models must have a right look and arrive on the shoot with a healthy "no attitude" attitude. Next, I will make a blueprint of storyboards, shoot logistics for the day, look through iconic fashion work, maybe watch a movie that might be related to the shoot, listen to soundtracks, and chill and think calmly about the shoot. I aim to give it my best and to have fun!

Finding your niche in photography can be influential on your own, just as working for someone else. Fashion and beauty, portraits, lifestyle, documentary, and film-making, among these, which one stands out as your top interest and why?

I like them all because I get bored quickly, and I refuse to get bored. I find everything I'm capable of rewarding and a learning process. But If I had to choose one, it would have to be documentary-style street photography. It's because you are in charge of your time and do not have to work around people's schedules.

I see that you are using Canvy to showcase your photos on the Interiors page of your website, so can you tell us about your experience with us?

Canvy's ease of use has made it convenient for me to showcase my photos and helped me challenge my clients' imaginations. Most people who buy art are in the corporate world and not artistic. So, showcasing using Canvy templates can assist in their decision-making.

Of all the images you’ve made so far in your career, which is your favorite and why?

One of my favorite images that I had just taken last month at the Louvre, Paris. It has some calmness, symmetry, and gloss from the rain.

Find Edwin Datoc and his artwork here.