Oliva Sibley is a nature photographer based out of Seattle, Washington. She is fanatic about National Parks, and live music. Her work captures amazing images of both, in addition to the copious amounts of coffee she consumes.
Her work is distinct in the way the viewer can always visualize themselves as a participant in the situation she presents. I often find, when Olivia shares an image, it is easy to place yourself into the moment, blurring the line between audience member and participant.
In our conversation, we discuss the frustrations of capturing an ever passing moment, the nature communication, and the exact moment you realized photography changed your life.
How long have you been a photographer? When I moved to San Diego, my mom bought me a little Sony point-and-shoot at the beginning of 7th grade. It wasn’t anything fancy, and it ended up being stolen a year later. But in taking pictures of different things each day, it helped me to begin to see things differently. That was about 11 years ago.
What kind of gear do you use? Currently, my kit consists of my Canon 5D Mark II, switching between Canon’s 24-70mm II and 50mm 1.4. When I’m going somewhere where I don’t want to risk taking an elbow to the lens (i.e. Pike Place) or want to be more discrete, I’ll bring my Fujifilm x30 instead.
How did you discover photography? When I was a kid, my dad had a treasured issue of People Magazine that was completely devoted to the life and memories of Princess Diana.
There was a particular image of the car with her casket in it, as it passed Prince Charles and their sons, William and Harry. Every grain in the image poured emotion, but it was the expression on William’s face that resonated with me. In that, it became so much more than a picture, to me. It was communication.
Between William and Princess Diana, and between the photographer (whose name I’ve forgotten) and his audience. I was only about 5 or so but that’s when I realized what photography meant to me, and that with it, you could communicate as well as create.
How would you describe your style? Loose. Ha-ha. Spur of the moment, really. And I don’t mean that in a way that it just ‘comes’ to me—it’s tough, because I feel like I’m still not at a point where I can control or lock on to it. I see something unfold in front of me and I take as many 125th/250th of a second as I can before the moment is gone.
Thinking about it a bit, I can say that I don’t like things to be planned. I don’t mind taking portraits or more formal images, but I prefer spontaneity and the candid moments. And lots of natural or ambient light. Not to knock it, but I’m not one for supplemental lighting.
What does photography mean to you? For me, photography is a means for communication. Communication between the photographer and their audience, the photographer and their subject, or even the photographer and themselves.
I think that’s where the divide between photography as an art form and photography as a visual document lies. Not to say it cannot be both.
God, that argument reminds me of art school. Whether its communicating how you felt at the moment the image was made, or communicating the action of what was unfolding in front of you—to me it just boils down to the desire to communicate.
What makes you reach for your camera? The desire to tell a story. It’s this nagging hunger and it occurs whenever I see something that resonates with me.
Is there any subject matter that you off limits to you? If so, why? I wouldn’t say that there is. There are probably a handful of situations/subject matter that I wouldn’t do backflips to photograph, but more so out of lack of interest than personal reservations.
What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos? To study, and work on, as many genres of photography as possible—whether I fancied them or not. Had I made myself study and practice portraiture, still life, more formal genres instead of shooting concerts, sports, and documentary imagery I might not be so intimidated to include such images in my portfolio now.
What is one question nobody has ever asked you—that you wish they asked you? Probably, ‘what are you going to do if a career in photography doesn’t pan out?’ It’s something that I haven’t figured out, and probably should.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? A co-worker recently told me, “the best life isn’t necessarily a long life, it’s a broad life.” It might be more philosophical than advice, but I’d like to see how I, and everyone else really, can translate that into their images.
You can view more of Olivia’s work on her Instagram