Nikola Olic: Dominates Tall Buildings With A Single Lens!
By Albert Chi—
Nikola Olic is a lover of photography– a quintessential “amateur” in the classical sense of the word. He’s free to exercise his artistic vision any way he chooses without restraints of time or client demands.
“I was born and raised in Belgrade, Serbia,” says Olic, now 47, “and came to the U.S. at 17 as an exchange student to study computer science and engineering.” He was assigned to the University of Texas, Arlington and grew to like the Lone Star State so much, he decided to settle in Dallas. As a hobby, he began taking pictures of buildings –in ways that were unusual– to say the least.
“I like clean lines, minimalism, simplicity and that extends into photography which, for me, is a labor of love just a great enjoyment. The composition of each of my photos can be explained on paper with a pencil and five lines.”
How does he achieve this? “When I approach a building, I walk around a lot and over time I have developed an instinct. It’s interesting that you can dominate huge buildings with photography. I can turn or move 32 blocks and photograph another combination. In a way, I have enormous power over that great building because I paint it the way I want and can do whatever I want with it.”
In 2014 he began a project he calls Structure Photography and extended his reach to other cities in the U.S. and throughout the world. The impetus for the project occurred one day while crossing the Brooklyn Bridge and seeing a 76-story apartment building gleaming in the sunlight. It was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry.
“I just stopped half way across the bridge, staring at it, going, what do I do with that kind of building? It’s made to be beautiful and weird and just screams out for attention, but how do I photograph it?”
After shooting “a good hundred photos” he went home and started to analyze his take. “I realized that the most interesting photo was the one in which I took out the rest of the world and just looked at the melted, broken and strange façade.” It was, in a way, an epiphany, he remembers– the genesis of the Structure Photography project in which all his preconceived notions about photographing buildings went out the window.
Olic says when he’s out shooting he practices “guerrilla” photography which requires only one ordinary camera and ten hours of walking. When he started shooting images, he bought a DSLR camera, but soon realized its limitations for the kind of work he was doing. It would require several expensive zoom lenses that would just slow him down.
“I was even a little scared because of that– I wasn’t rich and I wasn’t a de facto professional photographer. I prefer just to walk around and just need one strong zoom, water, food and a little coffee.” That’s the guerilla part, he explains. “I climb around garages, the police chase me here and there, but there are interesting photos in it.”
Olic’s current camera of choice is a Nikon COOLPIX B700, a super zoom (F/3.3–6.5) camera with a 60x optical zoom (24mm to 1440mm equiv.) that allows the extreme compositional compression at long focal lengths his work is known for. The camera weighs only 20 ounces with lens, battery and memory card, and its built-in vibration reduction system eliminates the need for a tripod.
Although the CMOS sensor is only 1/2.3 inches, the 20MP image quality is impressive. “It’s a a light and inexpensive setup that I don’t have to think about, with no additional lenses to carry around, especially when traveling.”
And he travels a lot, for business and hobbies, “and sometimes just to take photos. For example, I went to Las Vegas for only 10 hours to take photos.” But wherever he goes there’s never any pressure to bring back great photos. “I can’t have that burden in my head that if I go to Hong Kong for seven days, I have to produce good photos. I have better photos from one day in Denver than a whole week in Hong Kong– it just turned out that way. Sometimes you go to great places and you think the results will be great, but they aren’t.”
His advice for other photographers is simple– you could call it Nikola Olic’s Rule of Fives. “Take photographs of architecture (or other things) that you really like and want to spend time with.
Then it is not a duty or a chore, and it remains a simple intellectual and emotional pleasure, allowing maximum creativity and progress. Identify whatever you have the desire to spend five hours photographing and then five hours editing and then taking the time to pick five best photographs.”
Will Olic ever turn pro? “I would like to be able to travel and paint, but I have a job that I love and that allows me to do what I love. Photography doesn’t cost me much, nor do I earn much from it, but I’m in galleries and people buy my photos.”
Then, he adds, “But the most important thing is that I love photography, it’s just my love– to travel and take photos. Is there money in that? That’s not the goal, that’s not the point. Simply, enjoyment.”
Many more of Nikola Olic’s images may been viewed at his website.
Learn about the features of the camera he uses.
Find out what the best Red River papers are for architectural photography.
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