It’s All About Being Inspired.
Jefferey Vonk is a Dutch photographer and musician living in Ericeira, Portugal, combining photography with work as a host at a surfing guesthouse.
If you head over to Jeff’s feed or portfolio, you’ll instantly see he has an eye for aesthetics in the outdoors. We featured a set by Jeff last month and have since fallen in love with his natural style.
Super happy we got the chance to speak about photography, his quiet life in Portugal, some travel stories, and B&W. But first, a bit of rage on the evil forces of social media!
Glad to have you on here Jeff! Instagram has been changing the algorithm, once again, and unfortunately, it has affected our page as a user-generated “platform”.
However, your beautiful set of photos survived (and thrived) through it though, becoming the top posts of the year. So that’s a good sign!
Ah thanks! Huge compliment.
We’re in the process of taking our little brand out of IG because we feel it has lost the sense of community. Don’t you think?
For sure. It’s becoming a drug thing. Quick shots. and the more the better
It’s one of the reasons I limit who and what I follow because I wanna get inspired by scrolling through Instagram. I wanna see other awesome content, but it’s becoming more and more a “look at me make a TikTok dance video” thing. It’s all so focused on going viral!
But it’s shit because there isn’t another good platform out there right now where photographers/videographers/editors can similarly share their work.
500px is a dead end, I was hoping for a while that that would change it, but it didn’t. So it feels like we’re “stuck” on Instagram.
I also had hopes on 500px back in the day. Seems like all platforms these days limit the creativity of photographers/videographers. Even the simplest thing like crop factors, where many photographers feel obliged to edit vertical.
That’s one of the reasons I do borders because I don’t want to limit myself to only a 4x5 crop. I mostly do 5x7 but also 2x3.
5x7 is interesting.
To me, it’s my go-to most of the time
Alright well, how about we kick things off with an intro?
I started with photography because of a friend. She mentioned that in her opinion I had an eye for it, because of my Instagram back then. That was the end of 2016. And I was about to travel to South Africa for the first time and was trying to decide if I was gonna ‘GoPro’ the trip, or buy a DSLR. She basically convinced me to buy a camera
Because to me, it felt like: I already do so many things (I worked full time, made music, DJ’d, sports). So I was like: now also photography?
But then I thought: fuck it, I think I would really love it. So I bought the camera, started using it at the beginning of 2017, and fell in love with it. It opened up a door I never knew existed.
So you live in a surf town in Portugal but have a dutch last name.
Yes, I’m Dutch. I lived in Rotterdam my whole life and moved to Ericeira, Portugal at the beginning of 2019.
I’m no surfer but have heard of Ericeira as the ultimate surfing capital.
It’s a cool city in many ways, but don’t say that out loud! It’s already getting too crowded with digital nomads over here!
Normally it’s only crowded in the summer season and then by the end of October, it’s more chill and not so crowded in the water, but ever since covid it’s going mental here… Too many people for the small town it is.
Ah, what a shame.
This is bad for the locals here, because digital nomads come here with their non-Portuguese salary, blowing up the whole pricing here for houses and they don’t know/care about that.
What do you mean by blowing up the pricing? Like, they spent more money than they should?
No. They come here and be like: I need housing and have an 800 euro monthly budget for that (where the average Portuguese salary is around that). So locals are being driven out of town since the rent prices are blowing up.
Yeah, so you can imagine the local people around here love having tourism, but not the digital nomads… And I’m on a Portuguese salary myself, so you can imagine my opinion on the matter as well.
I feel you but also disagree at the same time that it’s all to blame digital nomads. I saw a similar situation happen in the Caribbean where I was traveling last year, but I think digital nomads can be good for a country like Portugal.
Don’t get me wrong, I totally get people being digital nomads. And I think it’s awesome that people can do that.
It’s just that the country needs to set limits and open up relevant spaces for nomads.
I truly believe that they need to invest more if a spot can handle the number of digital nomads, plus if they are gonna mess up a specific market, or add value to it
There needs to be municipal control and also I think countries that respect themselves should take that as an opportunity for global entrepreneurship.
Agreed. I also don’t wanna be the grumpy old man about it!
So what is it you do in Ericeira other than surf and eat Pastel de Natas?
So I moved here to work as a host for a surf guesthouse that friends opened up back in 2015. And next to that I take photos of surf lessons every other week. So that’s my full-time job normally (with the pandemic we are not open yet right now).
My life is basically: work, surf, take photos.
Not a bad life if you ask me… What does a host do?
A host makes sure the guests are comfortable. So I’m there for questions, to help them out with things they need help with, make sure they get to the surfing lessons, make sure they are having a good time.
Sounds like an easy-going job! Is it?
Yeah, it is. I mean, there’s a lot more to it of course.
So what have you been doing during the last covid year?
I’ve done a lot of learning on YouTube, I think that really became a thing for me during covid times. Before covid, I wasn’t subscribed to any channel, now to a lot. I love to learn from other photographers/creatives on YouTube for example.
Other than photographing and surfing when allowed, Netflix was a good friend too!
Do you have any specific photographers or creatives that come to mind?
The videos of photographers I watch the most are definitely: Thomas Heaton, Sam Elkins, Mark Denney, Andrew Kearns.
Where Mark Denney’s photography work isn’t something I like, but he’s just so chill to watch. He explains stuff nicely, so I like that.
Other creatives that aren’t photographers are people like Ten Hundred, Adam Savage, Kenny Beats (music), etc.
Samuel Elkins is one of my biggest inspirations. The king if you ask me! He does almost exactly what I wish I was doing one day — lifestyle, portraits & landscape.
Just checked out Samual Elkins’ work, he has a really diverse portfolio. Super authentic and natural, similar to your portfolio!
Yeah, he’s insanely good. And it’s so cohesive.
It’s really simple yet really good. Nothing fancy or flashy.
That’s what I try with my work as well, that although it’s a mixture of nature, lifestyle, and people, it still feels like one style and cohesive.
My set that you curated I think is a good example of that.
Regarding that set of yours… I was hesitating whether to upload a beautiful portrait you captured but ended up not doing so… This one:
Spot on. Natural, authentic, nothing too flashy. And skin tone is great with the greens.
Yeah, love that one. It’s actually a funny story behind that shot.
We were in Indonesia with friends for a surfing trip and were also a few days in Bali.
I was scrolling on FB and there was this “people you might know” section. I saw her, and thought: haven’t I seen her in Ericeira? So I checked her Instagram and saw she was living there as well. So I shot her a message if she would be interested in maybe shooting (in Portugal) some time since I liked her facial expressions a lot.
And then she was like: “ah yeah, sure, let’s do it when I’m back from my holidays because I’m in Indonesia now”.
And I was like WHAT?? So we found out that we were gonna be 15 min away from each other within a few days, and had a moment where we could meet up at sunrise to shoot.
So we did a 30-minute shoot, then went for a morning tea. And that was it!
What a strange coincidence… Well, they turned out beautiful! I noticed you edit a lot in B&W.
Yes, I love B&W. To me, it makes you focus on different things
The reason I love photography so much is that time is moving by so fucking fast, so if I can capture a story, a moment, a memory in a shot, it’s like freezing that moment in time. And with b&w it gives this whole new focus to that. Composition becomes even more important for example.
You can not “hide” behind colors.
Composition is something that I always try to put in the 1st place. And I still try and grow on that each day.
Two quotes I really like —
“Color is descriptive. Black and white is interpretive.” — Elliott Erwitt
“Without the use of color, viewers are likely to focus more on the subject matter and its emotional state, making them pause to look closer and longer.” — Tamara Tobing
Well, there you go.
I feel that as photographers we often get emotionally connected to a B&W edit as we give it a deeper and more personal interpretation.
You’re nailing the contrast and blacks in your greyscales…
I totally agree! So many people do b&w just by hitting the B&W button. Highlights are for me one of the most important things when it comes to B&W.
Many photographers are missing depth and intention when editing B&W.
I’m quite the perfectionist and a bit of a realist at the same time. So I always consider my work “not good enough”.
I started photography out of the love for photography, never to make money with it. But it has been developing for the last 2.5 years. I only recently started to realize that I’m good at it. Yet still feels weird to say.
It feels arrogant.
I understand. It’s something that on social media leads to competitiveness.
Also because I feel a lot of people try to “take advantage”. I agree very much on the competitiveness. I told another photographer the other day, who felt like he was “losing” from other great artists. I only replied to never compare yourself to other creatives, just be inspired by them.
And might I add… Seek inspiration, don’t go out to mainstream locations and capture the exact same photos…
It’s true. But that’s also because of the urge to “go viral”
So how often do you reach out or seek client work?
Almost not at all. Because I want to build my portfolio more. Although that’s also just an excuse. I shoot for a surfboard shaper here and also a local surf shop. And I do some portrait stuff here and there But the big wish is to shoot the lifestyle things for cool brands of course.
That’s one of the things I learned from Samuel Elkins — to have a portfolio that shows what you want to shoot.
Otherwise, you will never be hired for the kind of things that you wanna shoot.
Do you have a “dream” client? And would you abandon your job at the guesthouse if you were able to make a living full-time?
Not one in particular, but surf brands/lifestyle like Quiksilver, Rip Curl, Roark, Patagonia, are on that list of course… But they don’t need to be big brands like that at all. I would love to work with small brands! Because of being so connected to the people behind that brand and to really help them grow
I think I would even prefer that. To work with smaller lifestyle brands. If I could live out of that one day, then that would be my dream job life for sure.
Cool! And so currently you’re intaking as much knowledge as you can mostly via youtube? Have you ever paid for an online course, like those by Wildist for example?
Yeah I’ve done a workshop from Samuel Elkins
Has it helped?
Yeah for sure. But I also truly believe in the power of youtube. You can find anything and everything on it
And also: do it! Go shoot your ass off. You can only grow by doing. It doesn’t magically happen. And don’t be afraid of trying out new things, there’s nothing wrong with something not working.
I take a lot of photos where I’m like: Nah, didn’t work. And that’s how I learn. If I can’t find a solution for something myself, I youtube it.
It is a powerful tool when you put it that way.
It’s also why I love to shoot handheld because it gives me the freedom to make a lot of errors
So you’re all for trial and error. Yet you’re also a bit of a perfectionist.
For sure. Yes, but while doing trial and error.
The contrast which sometimes leads to mental health issues…
Hey, I’m seeing a therapist, nothing wrong with mental health issues!
Definitely nothing wrong! What I mean is that there is a conflict between being a perfectionist, taking the time to look over details, trial & error, and making it as a photographer in 2021 — mostly because of this social media race we talked about.
Yeah. It’s scary. The whole “not going to like a photo, because then you get more likes than me” kind of attitude is so messed up. So many people see it as such a competition.
I always think: there’s always someone you can learn from and always someone you can teach. And that will always be the case, it will never change.
So battling other creatives is useless.
Well, as long as you’ve got your authentic style.
That is almost impossible. And you have to be okay with that.
“Simpsons did it” kind of thing. Don’t be afraid to be inspired by others. Everything has probably already been done. That’s my opinion on it.
So be inspired. And don’t be afraid to share who has inspired you!
I have actual photos posted, where I share which photo inspired me to take that shot.
That’s something to admire, most people don’t share that mindset you have.
Everyone wants to be unique and authentic, but that’s a utopia in my opinion.
The beautiful thing is that you can be inspired by tons of different artists, mixing styles and inspirations into your work.
For sure! I’m also greatly inspired by music in that sense.
And of course, you try to make it your own and add your creativeness to it, but it’s still inspired by something that sparked it.
Music is a big part of my inspiration… I like to have a little speaker with me when I’m shooting because it sets a vibe.
Tell us a bit about your relationship with music. Also what music do you listen to these days? I’m sure genres change with time/mood, but perhaps you have something to mention.
Music.. man oh man. My relationship with music is a great one! It affects me on so many levels.
Yeah, I sensed it!
I can get emotional from listening to a perfect song. I have made music myself and still do now and then.
I’m a big hip-hop guy for sure, but not trap kind of stuff… More the melodic kind of things with good lyrics. Mac Miller for example… I miss that guy without even knowing him personally.
I always get a lump in my throat by listening to certain songs from him.
But I also love Bon Iver and James Blake kind of music. Or really good soul.
What about old-school hip hop? The Fugees? A Tribe Called Quest?
Yeah, old skool hip-hop, come on… That’s almost unbeatable! I’ve seen Q-tip live. A Tribe Called Quest is one of the foundations of perfect hip-hop. J Dilla too.
I’m fortunate enough to have seen some of the greats live.
Yet you also seem like the progressive house type of guy.
I love disco music, that’s what I DJ’d. Disco, African Disco. House with disco influences. This is the kind of music I like to make now
That’s awesome. I know a Danish guy called Magnus who is a vinyl record collector of African disco, reggae, old school hip-hop.
Anyways, that’s awesome that you do both music and photo. Maybe one day you’ll wanna get into concert photography!
Well, I have my ideas on things for sure. It’s important to have dreams!
Our convo is reaching its end, and I’ll take this opportunity to say I’ve had an incredibly interesting morning speaking to you, seeing your work, your inspirations, and the insights you have mentioned. Thank you!
Let’s finish off with one place you would like to travel to once Covid chills out, and a question from you to our creative audience to answer.
Canada. My question:
If we can agree that photography is an art, then what’s the shame in adding stuff in post-processing or leaving stuff out?
Thank you Jefferey once again, for your time and effort!
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