SJ VAN ZYL - Who am I?

My journey as a photographer started in high school when I started capturing images with my father’s digital camera (it still used a stiffie disk to capture images on-if that gives you an idea of how long ago this was). The instant access and gratification to capture, download and view my images sparked a lot of interest and creativity within me. I started experimenting with creative retouching and using different effects on the images I took of my younger sisters-who had no choice but to pose for me in all kinds of weird and wonderful scenarios I came up with.

After school I decided to study graphic design and quickly realized that I had no interest in graphic design, I did however find photography, one of my course subjects, fascinating. The introduction back then to Photoshop was a revelation and started a lifelong romance between me and the editing programme which I use for 99 percent of my retouch and editing. After finishing my design degree I landed a job as a journalist and photographer at a local lifestyle magazine and like most young and often know-it-all creatives I set about to turn this magazine into a version of Vogue. Sadly this did not happen but it did introduce to the amazing world of makeup, styling, planning and conceptualizing and most importantly how to work within a team. I learnt the art of makeup and added it to my skill set and became an educator based in Cape Town-teaching makeup and photographing makeup portfolios.

A major shift in my style and direction happened when I was introduced to the Fuji X-T2 after reading up on the mirrorless revolution and met with photographer Leon Oosthuizen who challenged me to try and master natural light. Up until that moment I was solely focused on studio work, studio lighting and tack sharp images. The thought of natural light terrified me because I couldn’t control it to the level I controlled studio lights. Only when I started with using natural light to light my models did I realize I knew very little of light and therefore lacked a major building block of capturing images-which is the importance of understanding and using light. 

During this natural light challenge I started studying and following the work of master photographers like Herb Ritts and Peter Lindbergh. Their timeless and effortless images truly inspire me and the fact that the images are often blurred, out of focus and drenched in emotion rather than being in focus was a truly eye opening experience.  Its also worth mentioning that am not a very technical person and I tend to shoot with my creative vision and gut instinct-I do understand the main functions I have to use in order to light a subject the right way and capture a good shot. But I am the least impressive photographer to talk to about gear, lenses and intricate setups and lingo etc. I keep it simple and pretty much shoot everything with my X-T2, 56mm and 35mm lens. I believe I make up for my lack of tech talk when I get behind my Imac screen and edit my images. I believe retouching and editing is one of my biggest strengths as a photographer as well. You still need a good shot to do a good retouch however.

Currently I specialize primarily in capturing women and understanding how to capture a woman in the most flattering light, makeup, hair styling, appropriate clothing and poses is truly a valuable skill and art form and one I am constantly trying to master. I now balance my work 50/50 between studio light and natural light and enjoy capturing contemporary portraits of women, their families creative personal projects and the odd test shoot with models here and there. I have worked with many local celebrities, shot magazine covers and feature articles and also created and co-produced a makeover show called Die Skatties where I do makeup and shoot the makeover aspect of the show along side Leon Oosthuizen. Season 2 is currently running on the Via channel and was shot on the X-H1 as well.

I will always be a work in progress and that is part of the magic of always learning and growing as a creative.

You can visit my website at www.sjvanzyl.com

Or follow me on Instagram @sjvanzyl or Facebook @sjvanzylphotography