Today we’d like to introduce you to Anshil Popli, The Bay Area’s Finest Photographer.
Can you please tell us more about yourself?
Sure, my name is Anshil Popli and I’m a photographer/videographer from the Bay Area.
Where did your initial interest in photography start? Did you have other creative ventures?
Originally, I knew that I had always wanted to create something. When I was younger, I had garnered a lot of interest in watching friends draw beautiful images in class instead of taking notes. I wanted to do that. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t even scratch the surface of a drawing that was worthy. I was specifically very interested in graffiti and got discouraged that my mind couldn’t allow my hand to express the way I saw things.
Years later, I began getting in a bit of trouble in my personal life throughout high school. During this time I took a digital photography class. Since I had a reputation for being disruptive in class the few times I decided to show up to a full school day, my teacher consistently wouldn’t give me a grade higher than a C.
I knew I liked digital photography but getting the money for a DSLR at the time was a fortune. I ended up picking up an old Pentax k100 film camera to mess around with but didn’t have the money for a film to shoot as frequently as I would have liked.
After a couple of years of consistently getting in trouble and creating nothing later, my aunt had bought a DSLR for family photos that she had no idea how to use. She had asked me to help her learn how to use it. I was initially supposed to borrow it for a week to learn how to use it myself. I was engrossed.
I would like to borrow it for weeks on end. My family eventually noticed that it was keeping me out of trouble and decided to buy me a rebel xS for my first camera. It’s been history since. I found a way to keep myself out of trouble, stop hanging out with people that are going to bring me trouble, and a way to be comfortable doing things on my own.
Your work certainly goes in different directions sometimes. From gritty portraits to breathtaking landscapes, where do you find the inspiration?
I pride myself in capturing real life. A critique I’ve gotten before is that thematically my subjects can be a little bit darker. Sometimes real life isn’t always pretty, sometimes it is. Having the pleasure to live and be in a variety of situations has helped me have this perspective.
Any second you’re spent feeling uninspired by your surroundings is a second you’re spending making excuses to not shoot. It’s taken me a long time to realize that but now I’m a firm believer that the best photography location is the one you’re at.
In a more traditional sense, I find myself inspired by music which is probably 90% of my clients. Much of my work is portraits of other artists. It’s just so personal. These people you’ve hardly even met are essentially giving you a tour of their lives and personalities.
Getting that type of work is intriguing to me. You find out a lot about someone just by shooting them. I’m naturally curious and I have a high degree of respect for talented musicians. Getting to satisfy my curiosity and learn more about musicians that I’m a fan of is pleasing. Creating images on top of that is just a cherry on top.
How do you market yourself?
Initially, I was literally just on Tumblr. That helped a bit. I never thought my work was good. I woke up one morning to 200k reposts and people asking for prints. I was a dumb 18 years old though with no experience on how to capitalize on that following.
Everyone needs some positive reaffirmations even if they’re not looking to seek them. That moment although I didn’t capitalize on it got me thinking, wait, people like my photos? Okay then.
The thing you always hear people say, network. I hate that word. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve refused to network but rather create friendships. I’ve realized how disingenuous the concept of networking really is. Both parties don’t value each other, they just need something from each other.
That’s cool for doing strictly transactional business on occasions if that’s what you’re after. I believe friendships should be deeper and the best collaboration comes from those that have real relationships. Those I created friendships with were amazing people and we crafted our go-to-market strategy together.
I didn’t network in the traditional way the cringe “internet entrepreneur” would. I didn’t have my hand out when shooting popular artists. I had tough times where nobody wanted to give me a chance. I had times I wasn’t experienced or qualified enough to take on projects that failed. I didn’t ask some of my more successful friends for anything.
I just realized the train was moving and everybody makes mistakes but also has successes. I focused my energy into getting better with my art community and that naturally propelled itself. Through that, I was able to contribute to the people around me and vice versa. It’s all giving and take.
Nowadays it’s mostly word of mouth. Of course, you can follow me on Instagram @kybalionvfx but aside from that, I’m making no additional efforts. I don’t care about marketing myself to followers or gaining popularity, I care about having the portfolio and skills to get myself the shoots that I want. Photography was always something that I did for myself first. Anything else has been a privilege.
When did you think that you could make a career out of taking photos?
I didn’t know. I don’t think anybody plans for it. Subconsciously I probably wanted to otherwise I wouldn’t have wasted all the time doing it. At the moment, however, you’re in survival mode. The years 15-22 are the first hard test in any human being’s life.
You’re trying to do all these things to make something of yourself in those ages. Yet, your lack of knowledge of the world makes everything seem terrifying. Add that to the fact that adults are giving you a variety of advice and you become a confused kid trying things. I’ve always said, I’m just a product of what time and circumstance made me.
I knew this could potentially be a career when I started getting enough interest from people I didn’t know inquiring about shoots. At that point I thought, maybe, just maybe could this workout. I didn’t have anything pre-planned that set me up for it.
I was just having a lot of fun creating every single day and there wasn’t anything going for me in my life aside from photography at the time. It was a test the waters approach and I really didn’t have much to lose at the time.
What’s a notable experience that you have had while taking photos?
Oh, man. I got the perfect one to tell you. There was this abandoned barn on this back road that I had drove by on a semi-frequent basis. Had graffiti all over it and the doors wide open. Naturally, the curious side of me had to go check it out. My friend and I decided we have to check it out one day. We pulled over on the side of the road and walked on in, there’s nothing here for miles beside a house way further down the road. It was an awesome spot. Something straight out of the walking dead. We take our photos and walk back to the car when there’s a big guy that looks like a Hell’s Angels biker waiting by my car.
As we approach him, he points a pistol right at my face. Turns out, that barn wasn’t so abandoned after all. It was his along with the house further down the road. After minutes of tense diffusing, he put his pistol down and we ended up having a pleasant conversation for the next hour. He invited us to come back to the barn whenever we’d like as long as we knocked on his door in advance. As much as I appreciated the invitation, I didn’t even give him a buzz again. Something about having a gun pointed at your face by someone with terrible trigger discipline turned me off enough.
What advice do you have for individuals interested in pursuing a career in photography?
Work. It seems like it’s a dead end. Things are going to be hard. Your photos will never look like someone else’s that you admire. You won’t see the day to day gains you’re getting from being diligent but remember you are improving.
Through this, you will craft your own style eventually that you can be happy about and improve upon. It isn’t going to happen overnight. Set realistic expectations and keep your critiques about your own work honest.
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