Interviewing Jaime Pavon: Mesmerizing Balance between Good and Bad

Jaime Pavon Aviles is a 31-year-old Ecuadorian fashion and editorial photographer. He has worked with a great many acknowledged Ecuador’s companies and his photos were published by various brands and magazines from Mexico, Costa Rica, Spain, Argentina, and Colombia. Among his clients are Ford, Nestea, Halls, Movistar, Axe, Ecuador’s government, and so on.

Jaime has been taking photos for life for over 11 years, but in future he’d like to devote himself only to giving photography workshops and performing photography exhibitions of his work. Be sure to check out his Instagram account with daily new updates.

KeepSnap: Hey, Jaime! How’s it going? Your work impressed us and we are really glad to have you with us today on KeepSnap blog. Let’s get started from the beginning. How did photography come into your life? Did you passion develop naturally or were there some things that influenced your choice and helped you make it?

Jaime Pavon: Hi there guys! First of all, thanks a lot for contacting me for the interview and letting me spread the word about my work all over the world.

Thanks to my parents and sister I felt really attracted to the arts since I was a child. First it was school theater where I was taking part in all performances, after that I started participating in some shows on local TV, and then I was dubbing movies.

Also, among all these things I tried to stay on the artistic side in everything I was doing and I remember that in my life I had two eye-opening experiences associated with photography. Now I understand that they influenced my career choice, too.

It took place when I was 14 and I saw my school teacher, Santiago Jaramillo to whom ironically I was giving photography classes recently, using a DSLR. This was so shocking that I could barely understand how the photo turned up on the LCD and whether you could erase it if you wanted.

In a few years when I already turned 18, I started studying audiovisual arts, which was the closest to what I thought my career would be, and had plenty of free time after the classes. I decided to start working together with my friend who needed event photos for publishing on his website. And though he didn’t pay me anything, I tried to give it a go.

Then a friend from now disappeared Diario Hoy newspaper called me and told me that they were looking for a young photographer for a printed magazine for teens which was popular all over Ecuador. I went for it and, strangely enough, they hired me.

I was 20, they paid me well, and I had an opportunity to work with other photographers and learn from them. In a year I asked that I wanted to change the department and started trying myself at journalism photography. I was surrounded by people who worked over 20 years in this field and they helped me learn a lot. That was when I started studying photography, too. At first I thought that journalism photography was made for my and for a couple of years I tried really hard to create something good but still could not do it until I understood that this field was not what I was looking for.

At 22 I decided to quit my job and go freelance, working with media outlets like El Universo, El Telégrafo, AFP, and GettyImages. Fortunately, it didn’t take me too long to understand that I was good at fashion and editorial photography.

Since then up until now it was all about learning and seeing things, trying to understand tastes and psychology, colors, trends, fashion, and creativity. But the most important part of all was experimenting a lot without being afraid of failing. Experimenting all possible techniques, looking for new things, and trying to do more because of my desire to do it rather than because of someone’s fad. I think that was the key.

KeepSnap: You have a very interesting style that is simply breath-taking. The photographs are clear and crispy, surprising and fresh, as well as passionate and intense. It’s a revolution of colours that almost crosses limits of the permissible, making it even more appealing. Did you develop this style yourself or was there someone that inspired you and helped you shape it this way? Please tell us a few words about it.

Jaime Pavon: I still have a lot of childhood memories about warm evening light entering the window through cream curtains or fresh and crispy afternoon light when the summertime school break just began. Also, I enjoyed nights I spent alone looking at the yellow sky soiled by the lights of the night city.

When I turned 18 I decided to get myself a driver’s license but to my great surprise the ophthalmologist told me that I was color blind. Fortunately, I could get the driver’s license but I could not believe what she said. For me colors were all the same and now I needed to understand that for the rest of people they were different and I had to find out how they saw them. Probably this is the reason why I’m so into play of colors, mixing them together, saturating and desaturating, and changing them between one another. The thing is that each person perceives colors and understands them in a personal and different way.

KeepSnap: Most of your photos have their own unique stories. I can see that the subject matter is really important to you. How did you elaborate this characteristic? Do you create these stories on your own or do you have a mentor that helps you by giving you ideas?

Jaime Pavon: I never thought of myself as of someone who can create anything out of nothing but I was always good at reinterpreting stuff and when I was learning to draw I couldn’t create a landscape painting with my only imagination, I needed to see it in order to draw it.

Now I do the same thing. My creative thinking process involves a lot of images like photos, drawings, illustrations, and so on. When I mix them together, it all starts to make sense and I use the final concept in order to take photos.

KeepSnap: Some of your shots look like if they were made in the other world—having dozens of unimaginable items in the frame—or like Dali Atomicus by Philippe Halsman. Is this the result of thorough preparation and pure luck or advanced post-processing in Photoshop?

Jaime Pavon: As I mentioned in the previous answer, I always mix a lot of different things from various images all together and I know what photo you guys refer to when you ask me this. This photo is inspired exactly by Dali Atomicus among others. It was because of this photograph—which I stumbled upon many years ago—that I started studying Dali and Magriette’s work as well as their way of thinking and toying with ideas. Now they are one of my favorite painters.

KeepSnap: Play of light, use of backlighting, and skillful employment of contrast and tones are other peculiarities of your style. Are these your personal features?

Jaime Pavon: Play of light is crucial when it comes to composition, and especially so if you are an editorial and fashion photographer. However, I always tend to exaggerate tones and contrast to stay in between of something that is considered theoretically good and bad. I think that you should risk to get awesome results and I even do that in model photography using attitudes to the theoretical in photography and crossing the limits that we are not allowed to use or cross in school. But these things always create a lot more traction in public.

KeepSnap: What other features should a great photo have? Our readers would love to hear what you think about this.

Jaime Pavon: The first other feature, to put it this way, is the simplicity of things, expression, light, and concept. I believe that this is where the secret of many good photographers lies, but it’s really difficult to get to the point where your photos are awesome and simple at the same time. It’s an enormous personal challenge that many of us still cannot respond to and it’s the characteristic of the best of the best like Helmut Newton and Irvin Penn.

The second feature is the ability to notice and capture this miniscule and tiny detail that only you can notice. However, if details like that add up, something truly beautiful is born. Cartier-Bresson and Josef Koudelka, among others, are grandmasters of this style.

KeepSnap: All your photographs are really well edited and they look pleasing to the eye. One can see that you pay a lot of attention to post-processing, but the best thing of it is that the result looks balanced and doesn’t seem like it’s too much. Can you share some post-processing tips or techniques with our readers so that they can improve the way they edit their work and make it more appealing?

Jaime Pavon: The first and the most important tip is that you should try to achieve these results using your camera and not the post-processing tools. The second tip is that you should team up with a good retouching specialist who knows what they do. They say that the cobbler should stick to his last and I think if someone dedicated all their life to something specific, you’d better use this opportunity.

I know how to edit photos myself but I’m really slow at it and my wife does photo retouching too, but she does production work at my studio and doesn’t have too much spare time. This is why I work with several retouching specialists who know what I need and what I want in each photo. Sometimes I don’t even tell them anything and the photo comes back looking awesome.

KeepSnap: Jaime, what camera and lens did you use to take your first professional photograph? Do you have any camera or lens that is kind of sacral to you?

Jaime Pavon: My first professional camera that I used when I worked in Diario Hoy newspaper was Nikon D70s that entered the market just recently and it was a brilliant model. Then I changed to Nikon D200, which is yet another great camera, and just like any other photography freak I changed cameras for a few time more. However, the thing that I was always looking for were more perfect colors.  

My favorite lens is and will always be 50mm and I still haven’t found a lens better than this one. A polarizing filter, good tripod, and powerful PC are other things that I can’t imagine my work without.

KeepSnap: Did you have any photo that became the tipping point in your popularity and helped you start working with big brands like Movistar, Halls, Nestea, Ecuador’s government, and so on?

Jaime Pavon: I did. It was a cover for Abordo magazine printed by an airline company. And though at that time I already had a couple of big clients, this cover with the most well-known alpinist in Ecuador who conquered mountains of over 8000m high with no oxygen masks on brought me a lot of new clients, both from agencies and magazines. It was an excellent team work, especially in terms of make-up by Karen Villamar.

KeepSnap: When you were still an amateur photographer, did you have times when everything went really bad and you were about to give up on it? And how did you overcome it?

Jaime Pavon: Yeah, it happened several times. There was this one time when a photographer—one of those guys that criticize everyone else but themselves—messaged me on a social network and told me that he won’t hire me even for making ID photos.

This was when I started thinking whether my work was really that bad and whether I should dedicate myself to something different. I thought that I would never achieve something with my photos. However, I was already in and this is why I decided to keep going, learning, and trying to improve by taking more and more photos. Even know I hope that I would be able to do something really worthwhile and I think I’m on the right way.

KeepSnap: Are you a self-taught photographer or did you have any special education? Do you think that education and gear are important in order to become a professional photographer?

Jaime Pavon: Education is the most important thing without doubt and I have been studying and am studying photography all the time. I will always take every photography course that’s worth it and I will always keep improving.

Unfortunately, until recently there wasn’t a stand-alone photography career in my country so that is why I majored in communications. However, one good thing about photography is that you can get a lot of helpful information online. There are unlimited sources of information out there to learn. Also, I believe that the best way to improve your photography is by examining as many photographs made by other people as possible and analyzing all details in them.

KeepSnap: The portraits you make are awesome and most of our readers do portrait, event, and wedding photography. What qualities should a photographer who works with people have and what does it take to capture a candid portrait?

Jaime Pavon: First of all, a candid portrait is about precision and releasing the shutter at that precise moment when the subject’s expression is not necessarily the one we’re looking for but the one we definitely cannot lose. Your attitude is very important too and you need to know how and when to give the right hints and ideas so that these ideas turn into expressions the moment you’re to take the photo. Also, you should be easy-going, especially during the photoshoot, and master the technical part of photography.

KeepSnap: Did you have any touching stories during your photography career that can inspire or make our readers smile? Please tell us one.

Jaime Pavon:  I will tell you a story behind my favorite photo. On this day—it happened back when I was working as a photojournalist—Quito was struck by a violent rain and we were told to go out there and cover it.

We were driving around the city in a truck with my friend and the driver and we saw an almost completely flooded tunnel. Since we drove 4x4 we decided to get inside and check out what was happening. When we were there we saw a really weird thing. There was that man sitting on top of his truck, looking like he was waiting for something, and a rope that someone who probably was in life-saving spirits dropped down to him from above.

I didn’t understand anything. What was this man waiting for? Why did they want to take him out using that rope? The car lights were on and it meant that the car was still good to go. Wasn’t it easier to just keep driving and get out of the tunnel? And thinking more about it. Why didn’t he simply walk out of the tunnel if the water level was barely hitting his chest?

A firefighter arrived in ten minutes and took the man out of the tunnel on his shoulders. It was then that I understood that this man simply didn’t want to get wet. The next day the photo became the cover of a nationwide newspaper and made a lot of noise. This photo became my favorite one on that day.

It taught me that a photo may have thousands of interpretations, stories, questions, and answers, but it’s up to the photographer to decide what should be left there to see and what should be omitted. Every photo—irrespective of how natural it may look—will always have the photographer’s etched engraved into it.

KeepSnap: And any funny or ridiculous things?

Jaime Pavon: Well, I remember that when I was only beginning my photography career, I almost sent my camera for technical maintenance because all photos had a black streak when I took them with flash. At first I thought that I was sold a broken camera or something happened with the sensor and finished my photoshoot taking photos as if nothing happened. Then I came back to my office, and I was really angry, and at that moment I realized that the shutter speed was set at 1/500 and I simply didn’t notice it.

KeepSnap: What do you do now and what plans do you have?

Jaime Pavon: Currently I’m 100% dedicated to fashion and commercial photography. I upload photos to my Instagram account daily and I’m trying to enter the international photography market.

I know that’s not easy but I hope I can find a good promotional agent soon and keep on creating better and better photographs. Also, I would like to major in fashion photography—and it’ll probably be in New York—which is something that I wanted to do since a long time.

When it comes to my equipment, I mainly work with medium format and own a beautiful Pentax 645Z with my favorite 35mm lens as well as Nikon D810 and a 50mm lens. Both of these cameras are unique in its own way and I use them depending on what I would like to achieve in every particular photo.

KeepSnap: Can you recommend some professional literature to KeepSnap photographers?

Jaime Pavon: There are quite a few books that shaped the way I view photography. The first one is Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes, the second one is On Photography by Susan Sontag, and the third one—which I discovered just recently—is a selection of Henri Cartier-Bresson interviews called Ver Es un Todo. I think that all three of them made me reconsider my role as a photographer and changed my vision of what’s good, bad, and what’s the right thing to do.

KeepSnap: And the last question in this exciting conversation. What do you think about the idea of KeepSnap and what tips can you give to KeepSnap photographers so that they stop looking for clients and make clients find and hire them themselves?

Jaime Pavon: I heard about KeepSnap for the first time a while ago at a fair in the US when I was talking to a friend about how photographers can reach clients in an easier, quicker, and more effective way. I think that KeepSnap is an innovational service and the most effective means of making the clients notice photographers and their work.

Before I asked myself why my website has less traffic than my accounts in social networks and why so many clients contact me without seeing my website first. Then I understood that when the clients wants to hire a photographer, they will not look up your name over the web. Instead of it, they will start browsing and looking for photos they like and photos that grab their attention. This is why you should make photographs for your own pleasure. That is how you will be able to reach the highest quality and get more clients.

KeepSnap: Thanks a lot for the good vibe and interesting answers, Jaime! Good luck with your photography and professional development!

Jaime Pavon: Many thanks to you guys for getting in touch with me and doing things that help us all become better photographers. I’m always up to sharing my experiences and if the readers have any questions, they can write me via the contact form on my website.

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.