IG Name: @finn
the space around me black mountains, wales
Finn Beales is an Instagram darling. He was featured over on the official Instagram Blog this year where his dazzling dodge & burning skills were showcased, a skill set that practically makes him a painter. He dabs on drops of darkness and illuminates his images with the right strokes of light, turning his subjects into idols. His iconography includes the winding road, the blanket of fog, and the most remaining of them all, the lone tree. He’s builds entire scenes out of his photography, that seem to provide better back story than most Hollywood scripts. He’s one of Instagram’s best storytellers. Period. He belongs to a select crowd of trailblazers, the type of IG’er that is constantly raising the bar for the rest of us. As he’s elevating the standard, he’s generous in helping the rest of us get there, offering editing secrets, and sharing unrevealed treatment recipes (Don’t miss this in the interview). Here’s to Finn, a benevolent gent, and a complete instagram legend.
Questions for FINN
1. The lone tree and fog seem to be your trademark, your iconic image. Before you were on IG, were these nature elements fascinating to you, or did they suddenly become your photographic friends?
The lone tree is certainly an Instagram thing. I wouldn’t say I specifically shot trees before IG, I think it’s something to do with the square format and the fact that there are a lot of them around here.
However, the symmetry behind them is something I usually consider in my work. Symmetry has long been associated with beauty, and is a property found in virtually all forms of nature – look at a butterfly for a perfect example. I also find pictures with a strong central focal point more pleasing to the eye especially when working with a 1:1 ratio image. The rule of thirds/golden ratio doesn’t quite seem so powerful when composing for a square frame.
The fog is just a fact of life in Wales. It rains a lot here. Something I used to lament! Instagram has certainly helped me appreciate my surroundings in an artistic sense. A foggy backdrop can be an incredibly powerful tool: like a giant white photographic studio… perfect for isolating subjects.
2. How do you edit/treat fog in the post-production process? Run us through a few tips to get a real dramatic punch from fog if you don’t mind.
I predominantly use Snapseed for any post work and the ambiance setting within “tune image” is your friend when it comes to fog. Instead of increasing ambiance, try reducing… it can add some real depth to a scene that your phone doesn’t see.
Alternatively try underexposing an image and then running the lux filter in IG itself over the picture. Save out and reduce the contrast to soften the intensity and then use Sierra to soften further.
3. You must reside in a beautiful part of your country because your feed showcases nature in such a quiet and dramatizing way, that really speaks to the stillness of nature untouched. Is it all around you? Do you live on tons of acres of land?
I live on a smallholding with my partner and 2 kids in the Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales. We’re relatively off grid in that we cut our own wood for heating, draw water from our own spring, collect eggs from our chickens etc. We have a bit of land, about 7 acres, which we use to graze a couple of horses. The surrounding landscape is all mountains, forests, rivers and moorland… it’s particularly beautiful and relatively unpopulated. The nearest town to our house has a population of just 1500 people. It’s certainly quiet and all around me!
4. Personally, what is your greatest challenge in this Instagram world?
I think the business model for landscape/travel photographers has changed over the past few years and it can be difficult to make a living from imagery in the traditional sense. Micro stock websites and the improvement in the quality of consumer end cameras means anyone can take a good quality picture of holiday destinations for use in an ad campaign. The supply of good shots goes up and therefore the price paid for them goes down. Simple economics.
However, Instagram has opened up new forms of revenue which is really exciting. Good photographers with a healthy following can offer brands and businesses an opportunity to reach new audiences and we’re starting to see some great collaborations between instagrammers and brands. Some might view this as exploitative on the part of the photographer, but provided the content published is in line with a photographers general style I don’t see an issue.
These sorts of collaborations are great because it puts the instagrammer in control. In the past a photographer would try and sell pictures to ad agencies to use in their latest campaign, but in today’s Instagram world it’s the ad agencies knocking on the photographers door!
5. Your dodging and burning skills have been celebrated and showcased over at the Instagram blog, congrats on such an honor. Do you exclusively edit in Snapseed? Do you ever dodge or burn in another app?
Thanks, yes that was such a good day I only really use Snapseed on the iPhone. However, I have always dodged and burned photographs using desktop programs like Photoshop and Lightroom, so taking this technique through to my phone seemed like a logical progression.
6. Share with us a few dream destinations that you would love to see and photograph?
So many! I’m very lucky in that I get to travel with the Hay Festival as their house photographer but the more I travel the more I want to see. Some countries in no particular order as follows:
Outer Mongolia, Japan, China, Alaska, Chilé, Canada, Norway… the list is endless really.
The world is a big ol’ place and our time on it limited, so I kind of have this rule not to visit the same place more than once. However, there are definite exceptions and I recently had the opportunity to travel to Iceland – a trip that came about through my work on Instagram – it’s a place I cannot wait to return to. Such otherworldly landscapes… the closest you can get to the moon without actually going there
7. How do you feel about the Instagram community? Have you ever participated in a instawalk?
It’s a very friendly, positive place. I live in the UK and we can be a pretty cynical lot so the positive vibe on IG is tremendously refreshing. Unfortunately there isn’t a particularly thriving community of instagrammers out my way yet…. or maybe I just haven’t found them! I’m certainly envious of all my US friends on IG that seem to meet up and shoot together on a regular basis.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m 34 year old father of two That sounds so much more grown up than I feel! Keep reading and you’ll find out more…
How long have you been on instagram?
I downloaded the app pretty soon after it was released, posted a couple of pictures and forgot about it. About a year later (October 2011) a colleague at work (@rhoonestone) mentioned he was switching from Blackberry to iPhone so he could start using Instagram and I thought I’d best check it out again. My pictures were there just the same, but in the intervening period the user base had swollen to create the very community that makes the app what it is today. I posted a couple more pics with hashtags attached and the likes started popping up on my screen. Intrigued I explored some more… discovered many of the people I follow today and was hooked from then on.
How many times a day do you post on instagram?
About once a day.
How are you inspired?
Other people for sure. Other countries. Film. The space around me.
What do you love most about instagram?
Definitely the connections you can make around the world.
I also love the fact that instagram solves one of the major flaws associated with digital photography: the ability to easily share images with others. With digital you don’t need to print a picture to see it. Unlike with film the incentive to print and share an image is lost. Most pictures shot with conventional cameras sit unseen on a hard drive somewhere. Instagram solves this issue and does so in 3 clicks. Genius.
How has IG changed your daily life?
I take a more extended route to work Often driving up over the mountains to shoot the dawn or weather phenomenon associated with the mountains.
What do you take pictures of?
The space around me which is basically the landscape around here and my kids. In a professional capacity I shoot a lot of events and festivals around the world for the Hay Festival.
How would you describe your style as an IG photographer/artist?
Hmm that’s a hard one to answer… I look forward to hearing how you describe me My pictures are informed by my surroundings so let’s say quiet, moody and contemplative.
Who are some of your favorite instagrammers?
Everyone I follow, but if I had to pick 10 I’d say:
@videotap3, @janske, @chrisozer, @colerise, @chrisconnolly, @circa_1983, @kbasta, @moneal, @oyshal, @hallwood
How could instagram improve?
The news feed is relatively useless once you get over a certain number of followers, so a split in the UI between comments, likes and new follows would be a great improvement.
I don’t think it needs many more features. Keep it simple; always best.
Is there an important photo tool to you that you have yet to see in an app?
A method of adjusting the aperture on the iPhone would be awesome. Not sure it’s possible, but I mainly shoot in Aperture Priority mode when using a DSLR. So some method of adjusting the depth of field of an image before the shutter is pressed would be cool.
What are your 5 favorite photo apps?
Instagram, Snapseed, VSCOCam , Average Camera Pro, Blender
What is the most underrated photo app?
ProCamera and the fact you can use use it to split exposure and focus.
What are your feelings on hashtags?
I have no issue with them at all. I think they’re essential when you first start using instagram to get your head, or your pictures, above the water. It’s what first hooked me actually. When I came back to instagram and tagged a couple of shots with relevant hashtags and the likes started popping up I realised the potential of the app.
I don’t use generic ones (#instagram #popularpage) but I certainly tag according to the subject in the frame… I’m a bit of a web geek and appreciate the benefits of categorizing content.
Any instagram pet peeves?
The popular page is screwed unless you’re a fan of One Direction and painted nails. It’s a shame but inevitable using the current algorithm considering the swell in the user base. I have faith the dudes in SF will sort it out though. Remember the “Follow for a follow” pet peeves of past igtalk legends? A thing of the past
How do you choose those you follow?
A good, consistent body of work.
A sense of humour or quirky personality that comes through via captions.
What do you attribute your follower success to?
I guess my pictures must have something to do with it, but other IG users have definitely given up me a leg up over the past year. Big thanks to @justn_sd, @n_cruz, @michiesharine, @claireonline and @alotofbradshaw for the shout outs. Otherwise the SUL certainly made a difference! Massive thanks to Instagram for that.
How have you benefited from IG?
I’ve made a lot of new friends, although I have yet to meet many of them I have had pictures used on album covers, in books and best of all I was sent to photograph Iceland using Instagram last month.
I’m also inspired every time I look at the stream of pictures posted by the people I follow.
Do you have any other work we can see?
Sure. You can find some stuff on my website:
Do you want to say anything else?
Just to say thanks to yourself for taking the time to conduct these interviews and for including me.
What do you do to pay the bills?
I am a freelance graphic/web designer and photographer. I work predominantly for the Hay Festival but other clients include the BBC, The Guardian, The Telegraph and Amnesty International. Most of the design work I do comes via ad agencies in London.
How do you spend your leisure time?
Snowboarding, riding horses/bikes, canoeing, hiking, building/gardening. Our house (an old Welsh long cottage) was in a bit of state when we moved in so I spend a lot of time (and money!) restoring it. However, we’re finally at a point where we can actually start enjoying the fruits of our labours. The gardens started as an acre of rough field and we now have a series of areas to hang out in. A vegetable garden, fire pit, swings, tents, croquet/tennis lawn and tons of flowerbeds. It’s a lot of work, but hugely rewarding to see it all emerge from nothing.
What musicians speak to you?
Big fan of what Ghostly International are up to. Tycho of course. I also discovered Grizzly Bear via @edroste on Instagram. The Outliers: Iceland album is awesome for editing pictures to.
Here’s a REALLY random playlist on Spotify that I add stuff to if I like the sound of it:
Share a happy moment from your childhood.
My dad was a keen sailor and we used to sail from the West coast of Wales to Ireland most summers. One year the engine on our boat broke so my mum and sisters flew home and my dad and I decided to make the passage back on our own. A day into the sail the wind dropped completely and stayed like that. We were becalmed on the Irish Sea for 3 days. Mirror calm waters. Didn’t see any other boats. Dolphins would visit now and then and the odd basking shark cruised past. On the fourth day a pigeon appeared through the haze above the ocean and crashed into our mainsail. It slid, exhausted (we were miles from land), to the deck. We carried it back to the cockpit and once it had taken position at the helm the winds picked up, filled our sails and away we went. The pigeon stayed with us until we reached the coast and left us as we dropped anchor in our home port. Strange but true.
Give us your 6 word memoir.
Enjoy today. You’re not promised tomorrow.6
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