Interview with Gabriel Nivera | Capturing Moments Of Genuine Emotion
“The most important thing about an image is whether it causes the viewer to pause and feel something”
A few weeks ago I attended a beautiful wedding in Devon, UK. During the four days that the event lasted, I had the opportunity to meet wonderful people. Coming from all over the world, each individual had something to say or a story to share. One of them is Gabriel Nivera, with whom I felt a great connection since the moment we started talking. Unfolding into each other’s life stories I noticed that not only is he a talented photographer, but a deeply connected human being. A perfect match that converted him into one of us, a Hedonist. Through this interview, he shares with the world a bit more about his profession and above all, passion: Photography
- Who is Gabriel Nivera?
I am an odd mix of global nomad and hermit homebody. Though I enjoy being on location and can be very extroverted while chatting with people I am equally content staying in my flat and not talking to anyone for days. I use this time to review images, read, write, and recharge. Having a home base where I can unwind after a project is amazing. After about 2-3 days I become restless to start the next project and eager to go somewhere exciting as well as meet new people. I love hearing people’s stories and then sharing these stories with others through my photographs. I’m massively into immersing myself in local food and drink. It’s probably one of the best ways to get a sense of the people and local culture. We all have to eat so it might as well be an enjoyable experience that you can learn from!
- You have a very international background. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
I am currently a dual citizen of the Philippines and the USA, with permanent resident status in Canada. I currently live in Toronto. I was born in Boston but grew up around Asia due to my father’s job. Hong Kong, Jakarta, and Manila were the places I called home at different points in my life. I studied law at university in the United Kingdom. I moved back to Manila in 2006 after finishing my degree and then returned to Boston in 2007-2008. I made the move to Canada in 2009. There was a point in my life I could fit everything I needed in 2 boxes.
- You are now based in Toronto. What does this city offer you personally and business wise?
Toronto is a great city to live in and call home. The quality of life is great, Toronto food/art/culture scene is good, but I love to travel to mix it up. Workwise, Toronto is a decent sized market. However, the outlook is quite conservative and literal which can be a challenge when you want to be creative, push the limits. That said the people are amazing. Toronto is so welcoming and accepting of everyone.
- When and how did you discover your passion for photography?
I had just finished my first year in law school in 2004 and traveled to Paris for a week to relax before returning to Manila for the summer. I had a camera with me and explored the city. I found myself taking pictures of anything and everything. Even though I was up at 5 in the morning and came home close to midnight on most days, I didn’t really feel tired. I was energized by this Paris trip. Now those old pictures are pretty shit but that was the start for me. I ended up finishing my law degree and working at a firm. However, it wasn’t long until I decided to pack it all up and pursue photography full time.
- What inspires your work?
Travel by far is the biggest influence. Most people will have an idea and then book a trip but I usually book a trip and then come up with ideas as I research. It gives me the impetus to brainstorm ideas and situations that I want to photograph. The second largest inspiration is meeting new and interesting people who have fun stories to share. To smaller degree books and films will present ideas that I want to explore.
- Who influences your work?
I love the work of artists like Renoir, Manet, Gauguin, JMW Turner, John Sargent, Paul Signac, John Constable, Goya, Picasso, Vermeer, and Gustav Klimt. The way all of them use light, color, movement, and emotion is inspiring. I also love the work of photographers Elliot Erwitt, Eric Almas, and Patrick Demarchelier. George Simhoni, a photographer that I assisted and worked with closely for many years, is someone whose perspective I value highly. I go to him for advice. His career spans over 4 decades in advertising so George knows what’s up.
- Would you put a label on your style?
It’s hard to label myself, but I suppose I’m a commercial and travel lifestyle photographer.
- “ A couple” of words that define your work:
Passionate, curious, natural, honest.
- What do you aim to capture when shooting at people? What about when shooting a landscape?
Photographing people, my aim is to capture a single moment of genuine emotion. The beauty is in the human connection. It’s about finding that moment when I connect with my subject and the image, in turn, resonates with the viewer. My work often involves photographing perfect strangers that I have only met for a few minutes prior to a shoot. The challenge is to engage them and find something in common.
“Photographing people, my aim is to capture a single moment of genuine emotion. The beauty is in the human connection“
Despite how different we may be in many aspects of our lives, we all share the core values that we treasure. These values can transcend geography, race, culture, gender, and education. Finding which values apply and how to address this with your subject is important. I usually ask my subjects many questions until I find what interests them and then I stay on that line.
Photographing landscapes is an entirely different thought process. It’s more time-consuming. I consider the composition, foreground elements, backgrounds, and the sky as well as the message I want to convey. Then I have to make it happen by adjusting things with the camera. I also like to include human elements to give these landscapes a sense of scale and show that humanity is what elevates it from being just a pretty postcard.
- Your work is visually attractive and emotionally powerful. Is there a message you want to transmit?
I’m traditional in the sense I want to share the beauty of the world as I see it. It’s about capturing the magic and wonder I experience when I travel to new places.
” I want to inspire people to travel, take a chance, and fill their lives with unique memories and interesting stories”
My goal is to have someone look at the photograph and say “I wish I could be there” or “That person could be me”, or “ I wish I could get to know this person.” I want to inspire people to travel, take a chance, and fill their lives with unique memories and interesting stories.
- According to your opinion, which factors (both technical and external) contribute to make a good shoot?
The most important thing about an image is whether it causes the viewer to pause and feel something. It should make them linger on the image and look around. If the image elicits an emotional response, it’s getting the message across.
All the technical aspects of the photograph should be there to convey that intended message succinctly and effectively. The techniques and equipment are just there to make it easier to capture the image.
- Is there any essential photography accessory that you always take along with you?
The bare minimum I will take is my camera, one lens, a spare battery, and extra memory cards. The essential “accessory” if you want to call it that is your smile. A smile opens doors. It gets you invited into homes and places you would otherwise be barred from.
“A smile opens doors. It gets you invited into homes and places you would otherwise be barred from”
It will disarm tense situations and provide reassurance when you communicate with someone whose language you don’t speak. It will draw subjects to you and break down that barrier between strangers.
- What can you tell about the photography industry nowadays?
It’s a tough market. The barrier of entry in terms of equipment is so low that many people fancy themselves, photographers. Social media influencers are also changing the industry a lot. Yet these changes and challenges are good things. It forces you to be at the top of your game and to never settle for mediocrity. I need to keep creating imagery and content that’s relevant for my clients and viewers. To do this I need to evolve and adapt to the changing landscape of the industry. Clients will always seek out good work and people who are fun to work with.
- Is there any dream place or human being you would like to shoot and that you have as a pending assignment?
For myself, the dream is to be constantly going on assignment somewhere new to meet people and keep on learning. I have a bucket list of places I want to visit, for both personal reasons or to photograph in. Nepal, Mongolia, and Sri Lanka are on it. I would love to go to rural areas in Italy, France, and Spain. Staying in a small village and experiencing total immersion surrounded by the locals would be ideal. I still dream of doing a two-month long massive road trip across the US and Canada living out of a pickup truck!
- Do you have any big personal projects coming up?
Yes, I will be going to the Faroe Islands in August for 12 days to photograph the people and show their relationship with the land. It will be a mixture of intimate portraits as well as vast landscapes.
- What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I enjoy road cycling, pistol shooting, hiking, and cooking.
- What is success for you?
Success would be to be able to do this forever. Take pictures, travel the world, meet people, and collect stories. If I could be doing this until I am in a walker or a wheelchair that would be a successful life. I would love to be 70 and driving a motorcycle with a sidecar (for my gear). I imagine myself seeking out small towns that are barely specks on a map and finding something beautiful to photograph.
- Do you consider yourself a successful individual?
So far it’s been going pretty well. Part of me thinks it could always be better but I realize I am very blessed and there’s a lot I take for granted. I’ve met most of my short-term goals. I may have missed a few but that’s part of journey. Failing, re-assessing, and getting back out there is important.
- How would you encourage people to do what they really want in life?
Be honest with yourself. Write down the things you want to achieve, do, see, experience. After you have those goals on paper you can create a map of how you will get there. That map will change and it may even be completely rewritten by the time you get to your first goal. The point is to have some sort of a plan. Any plan is better than no plan. Share this plan with your loved ones and close friends. When you seek their support you will be surprised by how many people want you to succeed and achieve your dreams. Finally, never be afraid to ask for help, advice, or to be given a chance. You risk nothing but have everything to gain by asking.