The Desert In Focus
By KJ Philp, July 2016 Issue.
For most photographers, seeing your work on the pages of National Geographic, a publication that boasts “on-the-ground reporting combined with award-winning photography,” means you’ve made it. That’s not quite the case for local photographer Jake DeBruyckere, whose November 2015 Instagram post landed on the back cover of the magazine's April issue.
The photo is, of course, as impressive as the rest of DeBruyckere’s work, with one small exception: it was taken in Northern California and not in the Arizona desert, the place the Phoenix native feels so inspired by and so passionately about.
Regardless, it was just the shot that Apple was in search of for its 2016 "Shot on iPhone 6s" World Gallery. And the rest, as they say, is history.
It all started, as DeBruyckere recalls, when he was 2 years old. He took his grandma’s camera and snapped a photo of his mother – at least that’s what his relatives have told him. He later moved on to taking vacation photos with compact cameras and on his 17th birthday he received his first DSLR camera.
“The photos weren’t any good, but it jumpstarted my interest in photography,” he said, adding that he’s been out of the closet nearly as long as he’s been viewing the world through a camera lens.
After graduating from Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, DeBruyckere went on to major in sociology at Arizona State University. But it wasn’t until Instagram was catching on within the photography community that he finally got back to capturing the beauty of the desert he calls home.
Putting Arizona on the Map
Fittingly, the third-generation Arizonan’s first post was a pic stitch of his ASU graduation on May 2, 2013.
“I started following people I was inspired by [and] from there I learned to create my own style,” he said, adding that he used the platform for inspiration from others and also to find and hone his own style.
“Initially, I didn’t think I would be successful if I wasn’t shooting what the ‘cool kids’ were shooting,” he explained. “I realized that’s absolutely ridiculous … living in the desert makes me unique.”
To remedy the significant lack of representation of Arizona and the Southwest in his feed at the time, DeBruyckere launched #thedesertisbeautifultoo as a way to encourage other photographers to acknowledge – and shoot – the desert landscape. With nearly 5,000 posts, his hashtag has also served as a tool to connect area photographers and create a sense of community.
“When I travel and experience new places, [and] get out of my normal everyday routine, is when I’m the most creative,” he said, admitting he’s always "that guy" who’s stopping to take photos no matter where he’s headed. “I want to do a lot more traveling within Arizona.”
While he admits the Superstition Mountains are one of his favorite spots in Arizona to shoot photos, the desert enthusiast said the Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon are on his to-do list.
“The lighting in the desert is very different from other landscapes,” he said. “It’s almost magical, especially during golden hour when the sun is setting. That’s perfect for me.”
According to instagram.com/press, the social media site has more than 400 million accounts that average more than 80 million photos posted per day.
“I don’t know if I post to Instagram to be successful, but it is a way to preserve the moment so I can look back,” DeBruyckere said. “That’s what I love about photography."
While DeBruyckere’s photography can be found on a wide variety of social media platforms, he has a specific set of criteria for what he posts to his Instagram as
@jaquib: all his posts are photos shot by him on his iPhone 6s.
“I shoot the things people don’t think are worthy of shooting … as simple as possible,” he said. “Sometimes [a photo] doesn’t have to have a point … it can be whatever you want it to be.”
One look at DeBruyckere's work and his distinct style is apparent: nature mixed with a human element in almost-vintage lighting. And, despite their popularity, you wont find any selfies or photos of food here.
“Arizona has some of the most unique and diverse landscapes,” he said. “[We] are spoiled by how much we can see just in our state.”
Whether it’s desolate landscapes that have almost-human elements to them or everyday objects, DeBruyckere’s goal is to eliminate distractions in his frames so that it’s clear what the focus is.
With 22,300 followers, some would say this 25-year-old has found the winning recipe, but he offers a different sentiment.
“It’s not about the number of followers you have, it’s about who’s following you,” he said. “It’s people I’ve looked up to and photographers who are making it in the business recognizing that I’m kind of good at this.”
From Apple Headquarters to the Big Apple
Last November, while traveling with a group of photographers, DeBruyckere snapped a sunrise shot of his friend, Samuel Martin, perched a top San Francisco’s Mount Davidson, overlooking the coastline.
“I knew it was the perfect photo,” he said, “and I had to post it right away.”
Within days of the photo being posted, an Apple affiliate scrolled across the photo and contacted DeBruyckere and let him know they were interested in using his photo.
Fast forward “a very long three months,” as he put it, and he finds out his photo is popping up around the world in Apple’s 2016 “Shot on iPhone 6s” campaign. Most notably was the back cover of the April 2016 of National Geographic and two places in in New York City, which called for DeBruyckere and his boyfriend to take a trip together to the Big Apple to see the photo larger than life – on both a billboard and in a subway tunnel between Times Square and Grand Central Station – in person.
“It’s so crazy [and] very surreal,” he said. “It still doesn’t feel real.”
DeBruyckere said he and the other 41 featured photographers are currently “chasing billboards” to see where in the world their photos will appear next.
So far, his photo has been spotted in Australia, Canada, China, India, Italy, Japan, Thailand, and Turkey, which has fueled his ambitions, and provided a solid foundation, for taking his photography further.
“To travel the world as a paid photographer would be the ultimate goal,” he said, as long as he returns to Arizona. “Being born and raised here, this is my home. It would be weird to move anywhere else.”
Five Tips for Taking Better Photographs on Your Phone
Whether it’s your selfie game or enviable vacation photos you’re posting this summer, a few pointers from an internationally published local photographer never hurt anyone. So, while we were admiring the work of Jake DeBruyckere, we asked him for a few pointers. Here they are, in no particular order:
• Make the most of your phone’s capabilities. “Everyone always has their phone on them, that’s all you need,” DeBruyckere said. “Tap the screen and use the sun slider to adjust [brightness]. Press and hold the screen to lock exposure and focus. And I always shoot with HDR on.”
• Lighting and composition are everything. “The best time of day to shoot is one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset,” he said.
• Follow the rule of thirds. “Use your phone’s grid for better composition,” he said. “Line up the horizon [with the grid] or position your subject at an intersection. If you do center your subject, have symmetry on the sides.”
• Eliminate distractions. “It’s OK to slow down to compose your photo,” he said. “Take a few at different angles … change the brightness and take another.”
• Perspective is key. “Everyday things can be beautiful,” he said. “Try looking at things differently and be more aware.”