We caught up with Kevin Grall, a 24-year-old Maryland-based photographer, to chat about his exploration of nature around Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, the photos he captures while learning about photography and himself.
THE DARKROOM: What got you started in photography? When?
I have no formal background in photography. I just picked up a camera and learned as I went. I shoot for fun in my free time, and look to hike forests and roam streets whenever I can. To make a living however, I work as a Grocery Manager at Wegmans.
I always had an interest in taking pictures on my phone whenever I could. When I got a chance to use my friend Nikon D90, I fell in love with the simple process of shooting. I immediately went out and bought a camera and took photos of whatever I could (mainly my friends and skateboarding). I’ve gone through many cameras since (a bad habit) and I’ve taken thousands of photographs. Each time, I learn something new about myself, light, and my subject.
THE DARKROOM: In one sentence, describe your photography.
GRALL: My photography is an evolution of myself.
THE DARKROOM: And what’s your style of how you capture Baltimore and the areas around it?
GRALL: I take photos in Baltimore here and there, mainly when I go skateboarding at night and when I take a day trip. I’ve gone on city explorations with a friend of mine, Jordan August. We have been in and around his residence in Hampden and have shot at some pretty awesome locations. I also enjoy taking photos at shows my friends are playing in.
I like to capture the scene how it is, without being intrusive.
My main focus however is the natural aspects of Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. I often take day trips to mainly locations in Maryland and surrounding states for hiking and photographing purposes. Shenandoah National Park is my absolute favorite place to go around Maryland and Virginia. I’ve recently been taking 500+ mile one-day trips on my days off work to explore and hike in PA and Virginia.
THE DARKROOM: How do you use Instagram with your photography? What role do you see it playing? Obviously you use flickr a lot, too. What makes the two different on how you showcase your work?
GRALL: I use Instagram to show quick thumbnails of some of my work from time to time. It gives people who don’t use Flickr and those people who don’t know me the chance to look at life through my eyes.
The interesting thing is that I actually used to hate Instagram. I thought it was ruining photography by having a bunch of “fauxtographers” blowing up the web with garbage iPhone HDR shots with over the top clarity and smudged saturation. Then I realized it wasn’t about them, but about me and my ability to share my life to my friends (especially those who have moved away). I don’t see my friends often anymore, and Instagram gives me the ability to show them what I have been up to and vice-versa.
I don’t usually post my work on Instagram, but instead I usually post my cell phone shots of cats, cameras, food and friends. Some people see cell phones as the future of photography, but I do not believe that will be the case. I feel the heart and soul of photography lives in film and the physical manifestation of a “photograph.” I enjoy looking at old books of photographs than getting on Flickr/Instagram or another sharing site. A computer screen isn’t the same as paper.
I like Flickr more than Instagram for posting my work in an online “social” setting though because of the website design and the users. Flickr is meant to showcase photos in larger sizes, which is how I like to view photos. Many people don’t realize that when you print at large sizes, imperfections in the photograph [and shooting ability] will show up. I love Flickr for being able to have groups dedicated to specialized photographs as well as an easy interface to showcase and view others’ photos.
THE DARKROOM: Do you go out looking for photos or do you stumble across scenes to capture?
GRALL: I do both. I used to just go hiking and stumble on incredible scenes and lose myself within it. I would come back multiple times a week to find the best light and capture it. Lately I haven’t had as much time and I have been doing research to find certain locations. Since I have been dabbling in street photography, I have been back to looking for scenes within a scene. I usually just go on a hike or a walk and take photos of anything interesting that I come across.
THE DARKROOM: Where do you draw your inspiration from? A lot of your Flickr and Instagram feed is nature-centric. What do you like to focus your work on? Why do you shoot what you do when it comes to what your favorite scenes are?
GRALL: My inspiration is nature. It’s surprisingly tough to capture the way I see it in my head. I have evolved to look for certain scenes, so I have been uploading less and less. I have OCD, so when the scene isn’t right I just come back another day. My favorite scenes to shoot are waterfalls and lightning. I also enjoy shooting skateboarding, street photography, and just general pictures around the house of my family and friends. Whatever is around me at the time is usually what I photograph. A camera goes with me everywhere usually.
THE DARKROOM: Has your work been showcased anywhere or do you shoot for fun?
GRALL: My work is showcased as the background on my computer screen! But no, I don’t have any work showcased. I shoot for myself and the occasional job here and there. I don’t need the extra income, but it would be nice to eventually shoot for a living. I love capturing moments.
GRALL’S SETUP: I have too many cameras probably. I have a Canon 1DX, 24L tilt shift, 35L, 50L, 85L, 400L, and an 8-15L fisheye which I use for my digital work. Mainly I use the 24, 50, and 400. I use an Einstein strobe and various hotshoe flashes when I shoot skateboarding. I also have a Mamiya 7II 6×7 rangefinder kit which I use for my film landscape work. I recently purchased a Leica M6 and few Leica lenses to experiment with street photography and to be able to carry less on hikes. I have a bad back and a Canon 1 series body and 3 L-lenses takes it toll on you after 15 miles of hiking up and down 3,500-4,000 feet. I’ve really been enjoying the Leica more and more and haven’t been taking my Canon set out as much as I used to.