Interview with Vince Dudzinski aka @pairadocsdesign

About 12 days ago I had a chance to catch up with a friend of mine Vince Dudzinski. First of all, let me say that my buddy Vince has the distinct honor of sharing my daughter’s birthday today. So Happy Birthday Vince! My gift to you? A blog post, heh heh.

For those of you that have not connected with Vince, you can catch him on Twitter as @pairadocsdesign. What you REALLY want to do is visit Vince’s Flickr photostream. I learned two things after viewing Vince’s images – he’s exceptionally talented, and I didn’t spend nearly enough time hangin’ out with him while I visited Michigan State (back in the day). Here are some excerpts from an IM conversation I recently had with him on Google Talk:

(Just a heads up, this article is long, and my attempts to break into multiple pages have not worked with my current theme. Hope to have this resolved shortly)

A.J. – How you doin?

Vince: good, man – how are you? Kid was sick now wife is… trying to avoid it

A.J. – Aack! Not good. Thanks for jumpin’ on tonight, and being my first interviewy person.

Vince: heh. no problem man. I’m flattered 🙂

A.J. – Sure, you’re Flickr stuff is amazing… so many questions, so little time…

Vince: cool – thank you. I’m still learning the photography thing. I feel I can never stop learning really. I appreciiate the kind words. I’ve only been taking photography really seriously for just over a year now… and I look back at older stuff and shudder.

A.J. – OK… so let’s start with what I know… it’s been over 10yrs since I saw you in person. Over 12yrs since the 602 evergreen days. I knew you were creatively minded, doing some webstuff (barter company like ebay as I recall). When Where How did you start the photography? (Cause I don’t remember that at all.) Oh and you have a birthday coming up on March 24th.

Vince: heh. yeah it’s been too long really

A.J. – Same day as my daughter, and one day before me.

Vince: no kidding? I think i remember you were day after me… thats awesome on baby girl. lets see… yeah, I sorta took up an interest in web design back in college… way too long ago. Graduated from college 11 years ago now. yikes. I feel old.

A.J. – Have you been doing webdesign this whole time? Whenever we caught up, it seemed you were in that line of work.

Vince: I did the HTML thing in Notepad, and dinked around with Photoshop back in EARLY versions. I did all the old stuff that makes me sick to this day, but I learned it. yeah.. it seems I was always doing that stuff. Was in the dotcom bubble… started to get into development, did some classic ASP, then started to learn .NET… but I hated it. When I lost my awesome dotcom job (like we all seemed to), I realized I loved design the most.

A.J. – So are you more a designer than programmer? or do you deepdive into code now too?

Vince: I started to learn more about usability, and used my development knowledge to make me a better designer actually. I always take pride in the fact that I am a designer now, with a strong understanding of how developers work and think, and how the sites are going to be built. It helps me design for optimal development… and I work closely with the developers. I am a “User experience designer” – I do mock-ups, photoshop, design, and all the CSS. I also do the wireframes of HTML with the CSS, etc. I love designing and creating though, and all kinds of arts and hobbies. Thats where the photography and toy customizations comes into play… as hobbies

A.J. – Regarding the UX stuff, I read a decent article last night about Designers needing to understand Development

Vince: Yeah, I tweeted that too, couldn’t be more true.

A.J. – So would that article be a good description of your approach?

Vince: TOTALLY. the guy who wrote the first article that that one is rebutting is an idiot. 🙂 You can’t be a good designer without understanding how it is going to be built.

A.J. – OK, so now on to the Photography. How long have you been doing it? When did you start taking it “seriously”? Were you film first, or are you exploring film now? (Holga stuff rocks btw)

Vince: My experience design is a total package. I work in a close team. The developers develop. If my design is strong, it helps them know how the workflow goes, which crates a great end user experience. ok, photos. 🙂 Well, I always loved it… back in high school, I took a b&W photo class, and always wanted my own darkroom when I got older… but I did not have a good sense of the dicipline of photography then… I took pictures of my dog, and all the cliche stuff. I had a fancy point and shoot for a while that was digital, when I was older and had a job to afford it… that was maybe 7 years ago? back when 3megapixels was “top of the line” in P&S cameras. I dinked around… but again, just shot pictures, with little thought into composition.

A.J. – I still have my first DSLR, Canon D30 3Megapixel.

Vince: Nice. I was intimidated with SLRs… and the $$$ factor. I didn’t understand when to use what aperature, shutter speed, etc. I just wanted to take pictures.

A.J. – So did you focus first on improving composition, then make the plunge to DSLR?

Vince: I’m getting there. 🙂 heh and then when I did custom toys, I wanted to share my work online with others in the hobby. I was trying to take good pics, and I’d setup backdrops, etc.

A.J. – It was your toy pics that caught my attention immediately.

Vince: I always got good comments on the toys, but then I started getting comments on the photos… which were a little different than what most people were doing at the time. 🙂 thanks

A.J. – Were the initial pics with a point & shoot then?

Vince: yeah… a Sony F717 (that sits in a closet somewhere). it was a pretty good camera… takes decent pics, but jpeg only. I borrowed a D70 from my father in law…

A.J. – Ah… okay. What was your typical setup for a toy shoot, and how much has it changed today?

Vince: and I tried it for a while, but I didn’t know what I was doing. I built a lightbox with PVC, but not much except I have a better understanding of what I’m doing now. I put the D70 down for a bit, then I read a lot. A LOT. Online, magazines, etc., talked to friends who shot, and learned what Aperture really meant. What Shutter speeds did. What settings to use when, and then the beauty of RAW mode, and how I could use it to my advantage… and have fun in Photoshop again, not making web graphics, but editing photos. Then Lightroom came out, and holy crap, my world changed.

A.J. – So about what year was this transformation starting?

Vince: around 2007.

A.J. – DAMN. You’re a quick study.

Vince: My son was born that year too… and I wanted to take good pictures of him. heh

A.J. – Do you still use the home made lightbox?

Vince: I started using the Sony, and got mad that I couldn’t take low-light pics of him (although it does have a sweet nightshot feature) oh yeah.. especially in the winter. All my toy shots are in there. I want to build a better one. Last year, 2008, was the real big change.

Vince: Once I got comfy with the D70, and how to use the settings better, I wanted to really take it seriously, and the D300 just came out, but all that stuff was really expensive.

A.J. – *envy* You were saying 2008 was a big change.

Vince: and all the lenses and gear… 🙂 So I did what I dub “Operation: 40-old-virgin” broke into the action figure collection that I had been amassing for over ten years, and hit eBay. In about 3 months, I had enough to buy the D300, and several lenses… So now I had all this fancy gear that I spent a lot on (with approval of my wife who was glad to get rid of a lot of my toys).

A.J. – Folks should pay attention to your fiscal ingenuity.

Vince: Heh. So now I HAD to take it seriously, if I spent all this money, it was time to take it seriously. So I got to know my gear as best I could, and I still read incessantly, and hopefully one day I can use it to make some money… for more gear. 🙂 I really realized how much I love photography again, and now that I had all this fancy digital stuff, why not buy cheap plastic cameras, and get into film again too? 😉 I really like all that analog, lo-fi stuff too it helps you think before hitting that trigger. Its so easy with DSLRs to just fire away, and sort it out later.

A.J. – Agreed. Digital makes it easy to be lazy & undisciplined. You’ve amassed quite a portfolio of work on Flickr. How often do you get out & shoot?

Vince: yeah… but it’s also cool about digital in that way. especially for action shots. 😉 not enough lately. I’m in a funk actually. Damn Michigan winters.

A.J. – Agreed… I couldn’t have done much of my action stuff without digital throwaways.

Vince: Luckily, theres a LOT of photographers here in GR, that I’ve gotten to know through local Flickr groups. Theres always photowalks going on, etc.

A.J. – Yes, I find peer critiques & mentoring a huge help to improving.

Vince: Totally. I have a few friends there that we’ll go out together (I like the smaller groups) and we’ll go exploring. It’s gotten us into some trouble too. 🙂

A.J. – I’ve seen some of the GR location photos, do you find you like shooting non-people scenes more often?

Vince: yeah… I love Urbex. abandoned buildings, graffiti, grunge… but lately, I’ve taken more interest in people. I like candid shots I’ve seen from others… I want to try more of that. I have a bit of hobby attention deficit… I get bored with the same thing too much. I like to try new stuff too often, before I’ve exhausted any one.

A.J. – You the Man now DAWG!” comes to mind.

Vince: Heh. I love that drunk dude. He was a trip.

A.J. – Did he know you were tkaing his picture?

Vince: not there… he saw me a minute later and started posing. I threw those out. 🙂

A.J. – Heh heh.

Vince: I feel like a deviant though when people notice I’m shooting them, I need to get more comfortable with that. GR is a bit conservative… people always want to know why you’re shooting them, or they shy away, or the worst… they pose.

A.J. – Have you tried the Super Secret Spy lens

Vince: I’ve seen that… thinking about it. That feels a bit slimier though. I think you need to just embrace it. I borrow an 80-400mm lens from my father-in-law… that’s great for candids. You can shoot from a ways away.

A.J. – Nice.

Vince: Totally.

Vince: Have you ever heard of the “$2 portrait?”

A.J. – No, I have not heard of it.

Vince: Some photographer (name escapes me) I read about… carries a lot of singles with him when he shoots in urban settings… when homeless people ask for money, he offers them $2… in exchange for letting them take their picture. He’s got amazing portraits of homeless people.

A.J. – Ah… okay, I’ve heard of something similar.

Vince: the $2 removes the barrier of awkward, and it’s a cheap way for grat photos that could otherwise get you attacked. I’d like to try that. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of homeless people downtown.

A.J. – I can see that. Really? I wouldn’t expect it too much in GR… but then it’s been a while since I’ve been there.

Vince: yeah. Not like Detroit or anything, but they’re all over.

A.J. – How has Lightroom changed your photography?

Vince: For Lightroom… yeah it really has changed the game for me. I know Photoshop well. I’ve been using it for over a decade… but with that app, there’s SO much you can do, you are always learning new tricks (I appreciate your tips too!) 🙂 I know that you can do everything that you can do in LR in Photoshop, and the Camera RAW tool… and more…

A.J. – I’m a mechanic when it comes to Photoshop. Technically, I know a whole lot, but I’m more of an artisan, than artist.

Vince: but LR is just so damn easy to use. It’s more fun. yeah…

A.J. – I can see that… it is a topic that comes up quite a bit in class – LR vs PS & when.

Vince: I mean, I can do pretty much anything I want with an image in PS… but it can be overwhelming.

A.J. – Do you shoot with the idea of adjusting in LR, or is it case by case?

Vince: LR is great for people who are intimidated with PS I think, or if you want to manage your whole library and workflow. I love the non-destructive nature of LR and the saving of all you “undos”. I’d love to say no… that I try to do all the magic in the camera. Sometimes it works out that way… until I get much better, though… Let’s just say that LR has saved my ass on a number of occasions. Sometimes, I shoot knowing I’ll do something cool with it in LR. I’m addicted to presets too. 🙂

A.J. – Ah… but when you approach a shot, you’re not thinking, “I’ll do this LR/PS adjustment.” LR is kind of the cleaner if you missed in camera.

Vince: Sometimes I’ll shoot an amazing cloudy sky, knowing I’ll keep it for stock to replace a grey sky in a boring photo too. It’s the Photoshop lover in me there.

A.J. – What are some of your favorite presets?

Vince: The ones I make myself. I’m working on a bunch… I’ll release them into the wild sometime soon. I have friends I trade with. Michael Gray’s “Life in Digital Film” presets are wonderful. He emulates film effects.

A.J. – I’ve seen you tweet some of those.

Vince: Yeah. he does cool stuff, and I really appreciate the work he puts into that. I love to play in LR and PS. Often times, I start in LR… then export to PS for further post-production. Especially since I have started to appreciate film… unfortunately as it is starting to phase out… I’m still sulking about Polaroid. I hope that dream project pans out.

A.J. – Dream project?

Vince: someone bought an old Polaroid factory, and is trying to get it making film again.

A.J. – It’s funny, in my LR classes I get asked a lot about archiving images. Technology has made for a constant hardware upgrade cycle. Tape to floppy to Bernoulli to Jazz drive to Zip disk to CD to DVD to Blue Ray. I tell students if you really value an image, get it printed.

Vince: Yeah. and make three backup DVDs. I like that Backblaze online backup thing now too. $5 a month, can’t beat that

A.J. – With all you do, you PC or Mac?

Vince: Thats a funny one too. I used to be ALL PC. Hardcore. Hated mac, then I had both at one job, for testing. Then I fell in love with mac… and now I have both… but my PC died around christmas, and I haven’t brought it back to life yet. The only thing I like on Windows is Outlook… I need a decent Mac email client. I have email all the way back to 1987… DOS BBS stuff.

A.J. – Nikon by choice, or you fell into it based on environment?

Vince: Nikon because that’s what I learned on… and had access to borrow lenses (father-in-law again)… Most of my friends shoot Canon…

Vince: It’s not as much a mac/pc thing with nikon/canon. I think Canon is great… but I do love my nikon. Love that shutter sound. 🙂 And it’s not so much the camera… it’s the guy using it.

A.J. – True dat.

Vince: If you had given Ansel Adams a Holga, he’s still going to take way better shots than I’ll ever take. 🙂

A.J. – OK, new topic, your lightbox setup for the toy pictures. Break it down for those who haven’t used a lightbox. I’ve seen the kits, but describe the setup.

Vince: I just followed instructions for a pvc lightbox I found online. I have ideas to make it better… my setup can be seen on my Flickr photostream. I made it for like $40 from stuff from Lowe’s

A.J. – Do you digitally insert the backdrops then?

Vince: Nope. I have a wide format printer… I print small “posters” of images… then tape them to the back. No trickery. 🙂 I print at 11×17.

A.J. – How many attempts before you worked out your classic toy shot? I find your combination of the backdrops & lighting create an interesting dept of field, the background just doesn’t feel inserted as an afterthought. Are you controlling that in camera, or do you sometimes print a blurred image?

Vince: thanks for noticing… the designer in me kicks in here. I look at the colors of what I’m shooting.. and I try to pick either a complimentary or accent color, and then theme comes in second. Do I want urban? do I want nature? Sometimes, when I can’t decide, I go all by color, and then use DOF to blur the hell out of the bg. The lighting is still stuff I’m messing with. I hate using a flash. I know very little about strobist stuff. I use a tripod, and set up static lighting, easier to control for me. I get my backgrounds from creative common stock, or shot’s I’ve taken, etc., but for each shot I post, there’s about 40 that I’ve deleted.

A.J. – I know some images like Iron Man have PS touches, is that something you plan ahead for with a toy shot?

Vince: sometimes… Those, yes. I try do that with great discretion for added effect. I don’t want PS effects to ever overpower the image. I use them minimalistically. It can get cheesey really quick otherwise.

A.J. – You’re technique for the Iron Man shot was very good… I didn’t immediately think PS until you mentioned it in your comments.

Vince: Good! Then it worked. 🙂 Photoshop can be used for evil. You can lose a lot of “street cred” in the photography world for using Photoshop as a crutch. I like to not care, as long as the image end result is nice.

A.J. – Agreed, “Fix it in Photoshop” bad.

A.J. – Tell me a little bit about your Toy Design Lab. Reading through comments, you build a lot of customs & hand paint too?

Vince: Toys. yeah… not enough lately. I’ve been on hiatus for toy customs for just over a year. I miss it horribly. I’ve been stating to just paint again though… little pewter miniatures. I need to re-open “the lab” again. My basement, where I work, is a wreck right now.

A.J. – How long have you been doing that? I seem to recall toys back in the 602 days.

Vince: I’ve collected toys for about 14 years… back when I was a broke college student, I only bought some every now and then… but I just collected for years… not customs

A.J. – What drove you to make customs? It’s not something i woudl have thought of doing.

Vince: I started customizing in 2002-ish I thihk? Well, I always loved building models and hobby stuff… and when I collected, I liked to open them as well as keep them packaged. Open ones would break… or I’d get a SWEET figure that looked awesome in prototype form… then the final product would have a sloppy paintjob or something stupid on it, and it pissed me off. So I started to fix them. It started out with repaints then it evolved.

A.J. – How long does a typical custom take? How long is a repaint?

Vince: Heh. People always ask me that… repaints can take days… or weeks depending on my attention and commitment. Full customs? sometimes weeks… sometimes months. Sometimes years. I still have ones I’ve started 5 years ago that I haven’t figured out where I’m going with it. My achilles heel though… I’m my own worst critic. My other problem is by the time I get done with a figure, just like photos or web designs… I am sick of it, and would like to do it differently. I hate that. I can never just be happy with it.

A.J. – All artists suffer that problem.

Vince: Well, not always. There’s some figures I’m really proud of. I guess its normal. Its part of that self-perfection thing…

A.J. – Define normal… LOL.

Vince: I guess when you get complacent with your art, it’s time to hang it up. Normal for artists or all variety that is. It’s like anything in life… if you don’t care about it, you wouldn’t be critical of it.. you’d just be… indifferent. If you really care… you want it to be the BEST, and will accept nothing less. I found when I share my work… figures, photos, etc., when I put that out there for the world to see…

A.J. – That’s the paradox isn’t it… Best is subjective, and therefore ever changing.

Vince: (or pairadocs) 😉

A.J. – heh heh

Vince: I don’t do it to hear people say “That’s awesome.” “Cool.” etc. that’s nice, don’t get me wrong, and it flatters me… but I want critique. I want to hear “You shouldn’t have used those colors because they dont go well together.” or “You should try doing xxx… “ I want constructive criticism. To make me better. To think of stuff I didn’t on my own because I was to intimately involoved with it.

A.J. – Hmmm… hopefully your wife isn’t like my wife, “That’s nice dear.” *chuckle*

Vince: no comment. 🙂 No, she’s very supportive. She says nice things… but I can squeeze criticism from her… especially with photography. That’s finally a hobby we have in common.

A.J. – How about your son? Is he at an age, he can appreciate what you’re trying to accomplish as an artist?

Vince: He’s two. Right now, Thomas the Tank Engine is his hero… and not much interest in that stuff yet, but I see the creative spark in those little eyes. When he’s using his Aquadoodle… I see that focus in his eyes… that concentration when he holds that water pen. I cannot wait to share art with him

A.J. – You’re just a little ahead of me. Baby girl will be one at the end of the month.

Vince: awesome age.

A.J. – Yeah, her personality is starting to come out now.

Vince: 2 is… well, they call it the terrible twos for a reason. Yeah, thats fun, at 2, its still coming out. In mass waves of emotion. We dont sleep a lot.

A.J. – Ah…. sleep…. yeah we don’t do that either.

Vince: heh, not until they move out, right?

A.J. – LOL. Nope.

Vince: Yeah. Ryan is a handful. Like his mom. 😉 Stubborn little dude. Again, like his mom. Yeah. 🙂

A.J. – I bet. heh heh. Baby girl is fiercely independent like her mom. :^)

Vince: gotta love that.

A.J. – Yeah, until she becomes a teenager….

Vince: She giving you the NO! yet?

A.J. – Funny you ask… she actually shakes her head No quite a bit… it’s cute right now. Not too verbal yet.

Vince: you just wait. *he said, knowingly*

A.J. – LOL!

A.J. – So shed some light on your pairadocsdesign website? what’s the focus going to be? when can we see it?

Vince: *sigh* You had to go there, eh? hehe. I just redesigned my redesign of it… I can’t seem to be happy.

A.J. – Well, I wasn’t looking to end on a downer buddy… *smirk*

Vince: The focus is going to be lightroom actually and presets. For now.

A.J. – You thinkin’ blog or tutorial site?

Vince: I am doing it with a WordPress core (finally learning all of that) – so blog-ish, but I want to have articles, how-tos, etc. I want to keep it like that for now… share presets, etc. I may use it for business to, to solicit freelance stuff… not sure yet. At some point, I’ll also have up too (which I own too) – that will be more of portfolio stuff… more the toys, etc.

A.J. – WP is the standard now it seems. Use it quite a bit.

Vince: yeah, WP rocks.

A.J. – Do you see your photography transitioning into a money option, or would you prefer to be the professional hobbyist?

Vince: Professional hobbyist, for sure. I’d like to take on paying gigs every now and then, so I can buy new gear… but I have this fear… I am afraid if I do it as a “job,” it will lose the “fun factor” for me.

A.J. – I can see that. The pressure to succeed as a business can suck fun out quickly.

Vince: I hate putting a deadline on creativity too… I do that all the time at work, but I’m there 40+ hours a week and get paid to do that. Photography, etc. is fun and relaxing for me. I don’t want to spoil that. I’ll do fun projects for money though… creative stuff. I will NEVER shoot a wedding.

Vince: <– Mr. Procrastination. I’ll stop procrastinating… eventually. ;P Maybe tomorrow. heh. Which is why I don’t know when that website will go live. I need to sit down and get that done. I have a friend helping me too… we need to find time to meet on that too.

A.J. – So any words of wisdom for the newbie photogs reading this? *he hopes wistfully*

Vince: hmm… Never stop learning. No matter how good you think you are… there’s always someone better. So don’t compare yourself to them… do what makes you happy. But never stop learning. When you get to the point that you think you’re awesome, and you can’t learn anymore… you’re done. Cash in your chips. Go home. That goes with photography, design, develoment, you name it.

A.J. – Good advice.

Vince: Thanks. Profound, eh? 😉 Oh… and watch Zack Arias’ video on Kelby’s blog. That one blew my effing mind.

A.J. – Yeah, like who hasn’t watched that one? smirk

Vince: I know, right?

A.J. – On that note, thanks for taking some time out of your evening to chat it up with me. I think I’ve got some good stuff to work with, gonna work through the notes to put together a post.

Vince: sweet. thanks for doing this with me, AJ. It’s been fun. Holy crap, two hours ust disappeared!! I hope you got something from all my rambling.

A.J. – Heh heh, yeah the egg timer my wife gave me for Photoshopping just went off. *chuckle*

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