Interviewing Ivan Nava: Making People Happy with Your Images

Ivan Nava was born in the United States in 1983 and raised in Venezuela. He majored in Visual Communications, but managed to become a professional photographer with a distinctive style through self-teaching. During his career he worked with such brands and magazines as Honda, Mercedes Benz, KIA, Porsche, Microsoft, Moet & Chandon, Land Rover, Jaguar, Rolex, VOGUE, Koleston, Harper’s Bazaar, and many others.

KeepSnap: Hi Ivan and welcome to KeepSnap blog! How’s it going? The first question is about the beginning of your career. When did you start to get interested in photography and was there any crucial moment that made you choose photography as your profession?

Ivan Nava: Hey man! All good, really excited for this interview, I’ll try not to bore you… How did I start? Wow, time flies… I would say around 14 years ago, I was 17 years old and I got my first digital camera, a Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-F505 a 2 Megapixels camera, as a Christmas gift from my mom. I was a little bit premature with computers, to be honest kind of a nerd… When I was 10 years old, I was already building my own computers and programming in DOS (Pre-Windows OS), so even though I had a couple cheap film cameras, I became really interested in photography with the Sony.

After a couple of years taking pictures almost on a daily basis, mostly experimenting and learning, my mother showed some of my personal work to a friend of hers (who ended up being a famous art collector in Venezuela) and he told her that he wanted to meet me. When I met him at his studio he said that I had a great eye, some kind of soul to photography and I should do that in a professional way. It was at that very moment that I decided that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.

KeepSnap: As far as I understand, you worked as a photographer both in Venezuela and the US? What are the key differences of the photo industry in these two countries that may be interesting to our readers?

Ivan Nava: I started working for a local food magazine and these guys who were looking for a photographer to cover car races for a new website that they were working on. At the beginning I was the only one doing these kind of images, which gave me a lot of creative freedom and the pay was really good. But back then the Internet had like three good international automotive websites that I used to visit to search for inspiration, as years went by I started to realize that Venezuela was a small country for the kind of images and clients I wanted to work with. That, and the fact that I was born in United States, always gave me the feeling that I was going to come back at some point.  

KeepSnap: Your style is distinctive and it makes your photos very recognizable. Was there someone who inspired you and from whom you took certain techniques or features that helped to shape your style?

Ivan Nava: Umm, this is a hard one… At the beginning everything was about experimentation, I played with every single possible option and technique that I had on my point and shoot camera. Back then there was very few websites with good information regarding photographers and their work, but some of the first that I remember was Ansel Adams, his landscapes were like magic to me, I used to spend hours studying his images trying to figure out how to do whatever he was doing. Another photographer that I used to admire a lot was David LaChapelle, now that I think about it I can see a pattern, on the use of light and how good they work with it. Back then HDR was inexistent, but there was one Russian photographer that used to do some crazy stuff that I used to dig a lot, his name was Andrzej Dragan.

KeepSnap: How did you manage to start working with big brands like VOGUE, Harper’s Bazaar, and Mercedes Benz? Did you have a photo that made you famous and served as a tipping point in your popularity?

Ivan Nava: When I moved to Miami, I started working as a Chief Art Director at this agency (I have a BFA in Visual Communication) while I was building a network and showing my work to every single person I could, but the Chief Creative Director of the agency and I became really good friends so we started collaborating and he was the one who I worked with on the editorials for VOGUE and Harper’s Bazaar, then one thing led to another, I started building a good portfolio and out of nowhere I was contacted from Land Rover and then directly by Mercedes-Benz to shoot a couple of campaigns in Miami...Right now I am in the process of rebranding, I am going to present a new website, new comp cards to start sending to the advertising agencies, this work never ends, you have to keep moving.

KeepSnap: What was your first camera that you used to take a professional photo? Have you got a favorite camera that is somewhat sacral to you?

Ivan Nava: That depends on what you consider a professional photo, haha… But I think that it would have to be the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-F505, after that I got my first DSLR a Nikon D70 that I bought in 2003. I am not really that crazy with my cameras, more with the lenses. I can use any camera in front of me, but the lenses, they have to be the best, they are crucial to me.

KeepSnap: You said that you are a self-taught photographer. Do you think it’s important for a beginner photographer to have a special education and expensive equipment to become a professional?

Ivan Nava: Since I started with a really basic camera, the Sony which was a two megapixel camera with a fixed lens (a good lens though), I know that you don’t need expensive or the latest equipment to become a professional, especially these days. I used to have my DSLR all day around my neck, it was impossible for me to leave the house without my camera, now I use my iphone, and the photographs are amazing! It’s all about your experience and how you learn to understand light and shadows, compositions, colors… It is really important to have education but some of the stuff that you need to learn won’t be in any book, it can only be found in someone else's experience or in yours. The more you practice the better.

KeepSnap: I can see that above all you are engaged in commercial photography. However, I saw your personal photo project called Faces. How did you come up with this idea and why exactly faces?

Ivan Nava: I think even though I shoot mostly products, as a photographer there is always this curiosity and this need to watch people interact and capture those unique moments. Faces is an ongoing project that started as an exploration of those relationships between me and the subject, right now it is morphing into a cultural/politic project, because Venezuela is going through a really hard time. I am  trying to portray every single important figure from that country that left because they were harassed by the government, they lost everything or simply because they were looking for a better place to live, and show them as the heroes that they are.

KeepSnap: What is your favorite photography genre and do you differentiate taking pictures for customers and taking pictures for your own pleasure?

Ivan Nava: I have a few but I can definitely say right now that it must be Automotive and Landscape. You know now that I think about it I don’t really… To be honest I feel really blessed I love what I do, and I have to be thankful because whether I’m on assignment for a client or shooting personal work, the are often the same kind of photography.

KeepSnap: Most of our readers are portrait, event, and wedding photographers. What qualities a good photographer that works with people needs to have and what does it take to capture an awesome portrait shot?

Ivan Nava: Hands down personality! You need to be confident… One of the reasons that I didn’t shoot more fashion or portraits back when I started was because I was very, very shy... It doesn’t help. Now I know that I was more afraid of failure. Today I feel waaay more confident shooting portraits, because I know that no matter what, the technical part of the photograph is going to be good, so I can focus on my relationship with the subject. But I also know that there is nothing to be really afraid of, the key when shooting people is to make them feel as comfortable as you can if and the best way to do that is to be yourself, everything else will take care of itself. We tend to think too much on stuff that we don’t need to think of like lights, equipment, poses, a bunch of technical stuff that doesn’t make the photograph more than a real smile or the sight of a deep infinite look from your subject.

KeepSnap: Were there any interesting moments in your photography career that may inspire our readers? Please tell us a story.

Ivan Nava: Absolutely! This is a never told/revealing story about ego. Back when I was 20 I can tell you that I worked really hard to be a good photographer, people noticed it and they let me know that a lot of times, so many times that I started to feel like I was too good for certain projects or that my work was worth more that what some people could offer, and that held my from shooting and learning unvaluable things in my professional life… Today I know that there is no small or big project, small or big budget, if you love what you do, you will bring your best every time even if nobody notices. You are not shooting for the money or fame, you are shooting because that is what makes you feel alive, that is what you were born to do, and that is more valuable than all the gold in the world. Today I try to share my knowledge every time I can, and if I have the time I will never say no to a project, you never know what that project may bring in the future or even better, how happy someone can be with your images.

KeepSnap: And any funny or ridiculous things?

Ivan Nava: I usually don’t recall those… But, I once I was hired to shoot a simple “look book” for a couple of models, I was hired by their manager… They came to my studio and everything started in a very normal way, but as I was firing photos away, the manager started to take over and guiding the models. I was ok with that, but things started to get crazy and when I came to my senses the models were naked on the floor, and I was doing literally a porn photoshoot with my wife (as an assistant) next to me. Afterwards, we were laughing about how crazy the thing was, we were ok with it, but definitely something we were not expecting at all!

KeepSnap: What do you do now and what camera and lens do you use?

Ivan Nava: Microsoft’s agency just hired me for an assignment, which is really cool and I am working on my local clients especially with restaurants (Food Photography). Right now I use two Nikon D800E Bodies, and when the client makes a request for it, a Medium format digital back like a Mamiya Leaf. Regarding my lenses, I told you they are the most important part of my equipment, I have mostly prime lenses; 14mm f/2.8, 24mm f/1.4, 35mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.4, 105mm macro f/2.8 and a couple of zooms the 24-70mm f/2.8 and the 70-200 f/2.8.

KeepSnap: What professional literature can you recommend to our readers?

Ivan Nava: I never heard before of “Luerzer’s Archive” before they contacted me to put me on their “Top 200 Advertising Photographers in the World” 2013 Issue, but it is an awesome magazine for inspiration, I don’t really remember the names of the books I used 10 years ago, but I have some inspiration books that I think are the best like, Martin Schoeller’s “Portraits”, “Secrets of great portrait photography” by Brian Smith and Michael Grecco’s “Lightning and the dramatic portrait”.

KeepSnap: And the last question. What do you think about KeepSnap’s idea and what tips can you give to our photographers so that they don’t look for clients anymore but make clients find them themselves?

Ivan Nava:

One of the things that I really like about KeepSnap is that it is really hard to stand out right now since there is a immense crowd of good and bad photographers and there is just too much white noise. You have to be present on Twitter and Instagram, but KeepSnap solves that problem and lets the photographer focus more on the work that he needs to grow in experience, I think this is a great tool for everyone, both beginner and professional photographers. We are living in a very fast paced environment, any tool that helps put your work out there without you having to worry about the constant search is a winner!

KeepSnap: Thanks a lot for your time and good luck, Ivan! It was a pleasure to have you with us and talk to you.

Ivan Nava: Thanks to you, I really enjoyed the time and the opportunity to share some hopefully interesting stories with other photographers. Keep snapping!

Feel inspired? Sign up as an independent photographer with KeepSnap right now, go out to snap people, use our platform to sell your photos, and earn at least 70% of the photo value. Earning your living with your passion is really easy. And completely free for photographers.