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Photographer Nelson Olivo: ‘you want to imagine the end result before it exists’

Having spent almost ten years working in the construction industry, Nelson swapped his tools for photography equipment and gradually began shooting architecture and interior design projects professionally.

We caught up with him to discuss his journey into professional photography, the process behind his work and his advice to anyone wanting to make the leap from hobbyist to professional photographer.

TRG Architecture + Interior Design
Nelson, please tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a professional photographer.

As a person who has always been very curious and imaginative, it just makes sense that a profession involving so much visual chemistry had been on the horizon. Having always struggled with the typical curriculum in school and mainstream routes to earning a living, I always found myself frustrated, bored or confused. Having worked in construction and then specialising in pipe welding, it was clear one must have a keen eye for detail and a strong work ethic. But what if your heart isn’t truly in something? You might focus more on things you love doing during your free time. For me, that was photography—specifically wildlife photography.

While taking time off between my welding assignments, any and all spare time was spent learning and experimenting with composition, lighting and studying my subjects to where I became obsessed with capturing compelling images of insects, birds or anything I found beautiful in nature.

Design VIM
TRG Architecture + Interior Design

This photography interest led me to a potential opportunity to use my equipment to shoot for real estate professionals with the goal of financially supporting my wildlife photography endeavours (after work, of course). This eventually led to a new photographic obsession and to me leaving my welding profession and finding a clientele base that would appreciate my vision and approach. Enter interior designers and architects: very detail-oriented professionals who truly appreciate the images of their work.

Do you feel your background in the construction industry gives you a unique perspective as a photographer documenting buildings and interiors?

Having spent almost 10 years working in welding and construction has definitely offered some help with my approach to photographing architecture and interior design. Creating images of completed designs is similar to fabrication or construction: you have materials and tools, and there’s a final result you must reach. So this mindset always helps with how I create the images. You want to be able to imagine the end result before it exists, always double checking if you’re on the right path. This type of photography could easily take 4-8 different shots being manually combined to get to your desired image. Often, I’ll create ‘parts’, or additional shots of the space or building, so I can make sure when I am ‘fabricating’ the image in Affinity Photo, all the necessary parts will be there to create the finished image.

TRG Architecture + Interior Design

“Often, I’ll create ‘parts’, or additional shots of the space or building, so I can make sure when I am ‘fabricating’ the image in Affinity Photo, all the necessary parts will be there to create the finished image.”

TRG Architecture + Interior Design
How do you prepare for a shoot?

There are many different ways to prepare for a shoot, but the most important aspect is a site visit prior to the actual photoshoot.

When you can study the space or building, and observe the natural light, it’s very helpful for timing specific shots while also creating a plan. I can figure out ways to match the ambient light with my lighting equipment and find nice compositions to photograph. If it’s clear there won’t be enough ambient light, this is a good opportunity to estimate how the light could look, then planning accordingly with my lighting equipment. If I can visit the location with my client, talk about their needs and take sample shots, this makes all the difference when it comes time for the shoot. By completing a site visit, I can feel much more confident in my plan, especially because my client was there to be a part of it.

Christopher Burton Architects + Design
What are your usual steps for photographing interiors/exteriors? Are there any particular shots you always aim to capture?

Depending on what the project is, whether a residential or commercial shoot, I always refer back to my test shots that were taken in the site visit. If there was no opportunity to perform a site visit, then I will carefully discuss the most important aspects with my client(s). This may be the overall design, furniture, accessories, features of a building or how it all integrates together. There might be a classic composition I could use, but all spaces or buildings interact with their features and light differently. However, a one-point perspective with nice leading lines and interesting lighting is hard to beat!

There will always be challenges no matter the project, so I always keep an open mind and remain accepting to change while working on site.

“…a one-point perspective with nice leading lines and interesting lighting is hard to beat!”

TRG Architecture + Interior Design
Do you tend to shoot interiors at a certain time of day to make use of natural light, or do you bring lighting with you?

For the choice between ambient lighting or my own lighting equipment, there are many ways to achieve the desired result. Personally, I aim to time both interior and exterior shots when the natural light best compliments the design. On interior shoots, I’ll combine the two types of light for two main reasons:

a. Typically, the outside world can be much brighter than an interior space, so with my lights and lighting modifiers (e.g. umbrellas, reflectors or diffusers), I have the ability to compensate for the difference in light inside versus outside, thus helping the interior details really shine.

b. The other challenge is known as colour casts. Different light sources have varying temperatures known as degrees in Kelvin. An incandescent bulb in one’s bathroom will produce roughly 3000K, where the ambient light on a cloudy day would be around 6000K. This difference in light sources can make for tricky situations on an interior shoot, and that’s where I use my equipment to help over come this.

Jennifer Fitz Interiors
How much time do you spend taking photos versus editing them?

The time it takes to edit the photos versus taking the photos can vary drastically. Every now and then, there will be a fantastic opportunity where the light is just right, and I’ll essentially have a deliverable image in just one shot. However, typically one must take various images and utilise certain tools within Affinity Photo to get the desired result. The conditions can vary so much that an image can be made deliverable inbetween half an hour to three hours, depending on what needs to be done.

What are your usual post-production steps for retouching your images?

My post-production steps consist of picking specific images for each particular composition, processing those in Capture One, doing all the heavy lifting in Affinity Photo and finally returning to Capture One to prepare the images for my client. The majority of the work takes place in Affinity Photo and without it, I’d be stuck!

Design VIM
How did you discover Affinity Photo, and what inspired you to start using it?

I discovered Affinity Photo while searching how to achieve a specific function in Adobe Photoshop via YouTube, but found a video for that function only in Affinity Photo.

Having been very frustrated with Adobe’s subscription plan, unreliable performance and having been confused often, I decided to dive deeper into Affinity’s features and cost. It became clear that this was a very robust program, affordably priced and offered everything I needed.

Everything just continued to get better from the Workbook I ordered (which Affinity produces in-house), the online tutorials with James Ritson and the customer service I’ve received via email. I could not be happier and always recommend the software to anyone who is in need of serious power with no-nonsense attached.

“I could not be happier and always recommend the software to anyone who is in need of serious power with no-nonsense attached.”

Design VIM
Do you have any favourite features?

Affinity Photo has so many features and tools, it’s hard to say which would be my favourite. Depending on the type of work a person does, they’d have a ‘go-to’ tool in Affinity, I’m sure, but personally, the paintbrush coupled with the Colour Picker may be my favourite combination. Taking a sample of colour from one area and applying it to another can make all the difference! The following tools are used all the time as well: masks, the Pen Tool, Perspective Tool, Clone Brush Tool, Patch Tool and the ever-powerful Inpainting Brush. Without these tools, my job would be much more challenging, and not in a good way!

What has been one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned since starting your photography business?

When someone sets out to be self-employed, there are so many lessons that will probably be learned the hard way. For the longest time, I wanted the freedom to make creative and executive decisions while also doing something challenging and rewarding. The lesson here would certainly be patience. Typically we have more time than we think, and no matter the situation you find yourself in, there is always a lesson buried within. For me, I would rush and push too hard, too often.

When we slow down and focus, we can make a plan and then refine it. Small steps and small victories add up over time and to realise them requires patience!

Adamson Associates, Inc.
Finally, what would your advice be to anyone wanting to take the leap and devote their career to photography?

If someone were to ask me for advice on transitioning into photography as a business, I would recommend they ask themselves what is driving them to want to make this transition? Who exactly would your business serve? Do you know who your competition is? What will set you apart from your competition? Do you know your personal financial situation inside and out? Do you know what your business will cost you to start? What will your business cost to operate? Have you saved enough money to cover your personal and business expenses in the first 6-12 months of business? Are you willing to find the answers to these questions?

If you can confidently answer those questions and still believe you can offer your potential customers something better, then you should make a plan!

If someone has enough passion and skill for something to decide to devote their life to it, then they should go all in—but they must do exactly that. You must be driven to do your best work, in all facets of your business, no matter what. This includes the accounting, sales calls, emails, insurance, brand image, your own image, people skills and above all else: customer service.

TRG Architecture + Interior Design

At my core, there is creativity and imagination, and for others, it could be anything else. The point is: I struggle with math, being punctual, maintaining a verbal filter, staying on task and many other things I won’t disclose! However, we can always try to be better than we were yesterday.

Getting better at your craft and being a good person to others will never lead you astray. Also, learn to leverage tools that will help you where you struggle—things like Quickbooks, an accountant or Affinity Photo!

“Getting better at your craft and being a good person to others will never lead you astray. Also, learn to leverage tools that will help you where you struggle—things like Quickbooks, an accountant or Affinity Photo!”

To see more of Nelson’s photography, visit his website: and @nelsonophoto on Instagram.