interview with John Wilhelm

John Wilhelm is one photographer that has chosen an unconventional path. With a background in IT, John creates whimsical worlds for his children that result in beautiful works of magic-realism-like photographs.

Using photographs of his kids, John digitally transforms the images to take place in surreal, funny and even some bizarre environments.

interview with John Wilhelm

Photoshop being the central tool to many of his works, John reflects back to his early beginnings. Growing up, John fondly remembers his dad who was a passionate, enthusiastic hobby photographer. This was back in the days when everything was analog (which certainly has its charm). Following his footsteps, John shares with us a true relic that will take you back to those days:

Things got interesting with the release of the first affordable digital cameras. John began experimenting with dozens of cameras, lenses and even mobile phones. But it wasn’t until inspiration hit him that he started paving his own path in a ‘digital art meets photography’ style. Notable figures like Uli Staiger and Calvin Hollywood served as the main inspiration that urged John to learn, improve and take up a hobby.

Although John loves photography, his interest lies in realizing his ideas adding 3D elements. It all starts with initiation and a little willingness to step out of your comfort zone to learn something new.

“With the right tools, a little bit of talent and time, you can achieve fantastic things.“

interview with stock photographer john wilhelm

Early inspiration

Inspiration is one of those things that comes and goes unwontedly. To John, inspiration can come suddenly from surfing through the Lightroom library. An old photograph can trigger an emotion and idea.

The two artists that inspired John to venture into photography and digital arts are Uli Staiger (left) and Calvin Hollywood (right).


Image credit:  Uli Staiger, Calvin Hollywood 

That’s exactly how it all began. John knew this is exactly the kind of work he wanted to do.

The process

In creating the whimsical works, John begins by shooting separate elements needed for the image. He works only with images that he has taken. When situations permit, John would take the objects he’s photographing to his studio or take the shots outside if needed.

The key to getting it right is to keep the same focal-length, aperture, focus, point of view and light direction. The next stage is combining all the elements in Photoshop. Sometimes he uses things he has made in 3D programs. Each image takes about 5-20 hours depending on the complexity.

“Sometimes I have a pretty clear concept in my mind and sometimes I just surf through my Lightroom library and if an idea pops up that can really catch my attention and spark off the photoholic-fire in me I just start working on it.”

interview with stock photographer john wilhelm

The making of

When you look at John’s works, it seems puzzling and sometimes impossible to imagine just how these works were created. The photographs are a beautiful synthesis of many elements that have to come together in Photoshop to the desired outcome. Here’s a little preview:


Image credit:  Boredpanda

You can also watch the making of video for one of his works here:

On striving for success

When it comes to stock photography, sometimes selling your works is a matter of luck. You have to compete with hundreds and thousands of other photographs with the same subject and scenery. It is those images that pop out of the page that become winners.

John advises fellow photographers to try different things. Try your best to bring originality into your works through aesthetics, models, humor, unexpected settings and surprising angles. It is not something that is easy to do, but definitely something every photographer should aim for.

interview with stock photographer john wilhelm

The other side to success lies in the way you promote yourself and how you go about sharing your works with the world.

“Social media is everything nowadays I guess. Without those platforms nobody would probably know me. Sometimes it’s a little distracting from “real live” (all those feedbacks and messages) but it’s also a really great motivation to have a lot of followers on those platforms.”

The stand out piece

interview with stock photographer john wilhelm

“I was working a long time on this image and had so many thoughts about war and the impact of the war on family and children. When the image was done and uploaded I had some kind of mental breakdown and had to cry sitting in front of my computer. I was so desperate because I knew: It’s a good message but nothing will change.”

With a powerful message and incredible talent, John is able to achieve the impossible. In context of stock photography, the one thing that he would like to see in the future are images that carry strong messages. Those images, and the art we create should have the power to change a little fragment of the world we live in.

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