We have been inspired by Nathaniel for years. We are beyond excited to introduce him to the AOV community. Nathaniel shares his life experience, advice, and editing tools below.
My name is Nathaniel Gerdes, (@NathanielGerdes) I’m a visual artist and motivational speaker. Although most know me as a photographer.
Tell us about your upbringing
I spent the majority of my early life growing up in Arizona and traveling the US with my grandparents. By 11 I had been to 48 of the 50 states. Since the great majority of my time was spent on the road, I was separated from any screen, and my outlet was always creating art. Art stuck with me ever sense.
Eventually traveling slowed down and I finally settled into a town called Petaluma just north of San Francisco which is where I currently live when I’m not traveling. The beginning years of my life in Petaluma are what sparked the journey. I remember when I was in the second grade, walking across the black top back to class when my best friend at the time told me I should be a philosopher. I don’t know what I could have said in second grade that was so profound to trigger that sort of response. What’s even more surprising was my friend, at second grade, knowing what a philosopher was. Through life my obsessions were visual art and lateral thinking, learning to think outside the box. When I finally was out of High School I dropped out of College my first year to study success, well being, and metaphysics.
What did you do to study these things after leaving college?
I took on three major mentors who taught me so much about life and how the universe worked that I didn’t want to spend even a moment learning about anything else. My changing perspective on life lead to me losing many friends, in fact I had no friends for about six months at one point. Just reading book after book and watching seminar after seminar on youtube.
What did you do after you were satisfied with your studies and mentorship?
After I became satisfied with my new understanding of life, I created a lifestyle company we called “The Greats.” I spent a great deal of time around two amazing photographers, Ryan Scherer (@RyanScherer) and Jaquory Lunsford (@Jaquory_Lunsford). I felt it a waste of opportunity not to learn from these two knowledgeable resources so I began by borrowing my step dad’s camera and hitting the road with these friends. Working on the company and creating content. Things were well with the company, we interviewed stars such as Steve-O and Logic, however eventually our investor backed out, which lead to the end of the company but the beginning of the pursuit of photography.
What equipment did you first purchase when you started taking things seriously? How did you support yourself as a photographer?
At this point I had finally bought my first camera. I began shooting with the Canon 6D and use four different lenses all the time. The 20mm, 28mm, 50mm and the 85mm. Once I made the investment, things started happening. I used my Instagram as a source to express myself creatively and also relay the many teachings I had retained over the years. My teachings and lifetime of art definitely played a huge roll in these years until I finally was able to quit my day job as a sandwich maker at Mr. Pickles Sandwiches in Petaluma and do photography and motivational speaking full time. I am able to do this full time through brand deals and website sales, as well as some wise crypto-currency investments. Since leaving my day job I have spoken at UC Berkeley and have been published in Forbes and now Art of Visuals!
What is the intention you have for your work?
At this point I maintain a strong desire to inspire and enlighten the world. I truly wish to see the world as this great big happy and harmonious place where everyone lives in a constant state of bliss. This deep rooted desire has me constantly motivated to grow, improve, and continue creating. The only real challenges I face is when I take on too much work. Creativity comes from a place of zen. Although the challenges may be great at times, these challenges also are what facilitate really great adventures with truly remarkable people. I love getting to know people and heading out for a few days to a beautiful location to see what we can make happen. The memories you make are more valuable than anything to me.
What are your favorite recent pieces you have created and what went into capturing them?
Out of all the creations I’ve made lately I’d have to say I have two personal favorites. There’s one I did with a good buddy of mine named Alex (@JKAintPlayin) and my other friend Clarissa (@ClarissaMay). Alex has this mask on and these wings coming out of his back along with Clarissa leaning on him so whimsically. It was exciting because I got to bring a good friend of mine into one of my artistic pieces and bring male energy into a photo. I also love it because of the difficulty in editing the photo. Making it look just as I had hoped is no easy task with such an intricate composite. I just love how it turned out and the message it sends out to the audience.
My other favorite, I enjoy for more personal reasons, is a photo I took out on my most recent trip back home to Arizona. It’s a photo of me and Andrea Bush (@ndreasusanbush) dancing in front of Monument Valley. Lately I’ve been going through a really intense rough patch with my personal life and needed an escape from reality. I remember my dad calling me up on the phone before the trip and asking me “What are you doing this trip for?” to him I answered, “Oh the trip is for companies and she wanted to go and blah blah blah.” My dad then said “no, what are you really going on this trip for. Deep down. What does it mean to you?” Something about that question was so profound because for the past month or two I had been so lost in my personal life that I knew on some level this was truly about returning to my roots and rediscovery. This photo of Andrea and I dancing was day three of five, in the dead center of the trip. We had already gone through so much together, such as hitchhiking ourselves into an off-road excursion with two formal soldiers of the Israeli army as well as witnessing a meteor over Sedona entering the atmosphere and lighting up the night sky (which we still believe it was a UFO).
In this moment and in the photo you can see duality. Her in a white dress, me in all black. This represents not only the two coming days of the trip but the coming days of my life. The three monuments representing the holy trinity. For those who are unfamiliar, this can represent many things. Father, Mother, and child. Sun, Earth, and Moon. The Yin, the Yang, and the whole image of the two together. To me it represents not only the three days which have passed, but the major hardships I have faced that have now come to pass. Mentally, physically, and emotionally. To me this whole image represents all of these hardships coming to pass, the duality and contrast I have faced in my life recently, and all the elements in my life finally coming together to dance and from then on live in harmony. While we danced I knew I had, in that moment, understood the the reason I had gone on the trip and what I was looking for out in Arizona. This photo, although not the most profound to the audience, or compositionally exceptional, means the world to me. As a physical, mental, and emotional being.
After learning so much from your trip, what advice would you offer the community?
Returning home, if I were to share anything with the other creatives out there, it would be to look within and ask yourself the same questions my dad asked me:
What are you doing this for? Deep down. What does it mean to you?
This path, at its roots, is not about money, fame, traveling, or anything like that. Deep down it’s for you. It’s to draw something out of yourself that’s been hiding a while.
Moving foreword, knowing why you’ve chosen this path.
And if you wish to improve, just study it. Study your craft and neighboring crafts. If you desire to become a successful photographer and make a living from it, you can’t just “know” photography. You gotta know business, have good people skills, and understand art as a whole. Learn all that you can about and around the desire you wish to achieve. For those just getting started with photography, just know that it takes a while. The seed doesn’t bloom overnight. It’s gotta break free from the shell and push through the darkness of the dirt before it reaches the light. Even then you must keep moving to finally bloom. There’s no right or wrong way to get there. No two photos should be shot the same way. Nor any two photos should be edited the same. However if you need a baseline to begin your edits, presets are always the way to go, which is why I am psyched that Art of Visuals will be releasing some of mine!
What do we get with your set of presets?
1. Warm Memories – This is personally my favorite preset. For some reason it always looks good on photos! I’ve used it for all sorts of photos and it always lays down a good foundation making the photos look new age while slightly nostalgic.
2. Tropicana – This preset is meant for greener environments, giving the photo a nice green hint and livening up the environment.
3. Orangina – This preset puts a warm glow on the photo. Giving the photo a warm and friendly feel.
4. Shades of Yesterday – This is the preset for the people who love the grainy film look. This preset is a little darker and has moody film vibe.
5. More Life – This preset is a good general preset that gives the photo some life without going too extreme. Great minimal bost!
I hope you find these presets helpful in laying down a solid foundation for your artistic creations. Understand that these are just the beginnings of the edits and should never be the end.
One of my mentors, Del, taught me that the best way to become really successful to do these two things:
1. Learn to make a dollar from a Nickle
2. Use someone else’s Nickle.
May this Preset Pack be my Nickle for you to use.
Finding success in this life never comes easy. 90% of the world never finds it. But I can assure you that the 10% who do find it, are the ones who chased it. You can fail no matter how safe the route, might as well chase the one that brings light into your life.