Here at DC Refined, we consider it our duty to show off D.C. in all its glory. And thankfully, that’s not a hard job. This city is amazing! But it never hurts to get a little help, and seeing the city through another's eyes is the best medicine.
Adam Brockett is a D.C. native who first got into photography when he moved to Princeton to pursue a PhD program. While he spends the majority of his day in a lab studying how brain cells regulate and support complex behavior, he relishes the moments he can steal behind a lens, studying every facet of this city from new angles.
Without further adieu, it’s time to hand over the mic to Adam. In the interview below, he offers insight into what prompted his passion for photography, his style, and plenty more.
What first inspired your interest in photography?
My dad. Growing up, my dad used to always shoot with a Polaroid camera. Birthdays, Christmas, big events, I just always remember sitting there excited to watch the image develop. I think I’ve always had a curiosity about cameras and photography, and I really owe that to my dad.
When did you pick up your first camera and what was it?
I always wanted a camera, and I bought my first “real” camera (a Nikon D40) when I was a freshman in college. I pulled it out every now and then when I was on vacation, but it never really became a passion. It wasn’t until after college when I started a PhD program in Psychology and Neuroscience at Princeton University that I became truly interested in photography. Living on a campus with castles for buildings and spending hours in lab looking through the microscope and taking images of astrocytes and neurons made me start thinking about photography. I had just started using Instagram and had decided to pull out my old D40 to start trying to take pictures of my time at Princeton. Unfortunately, the D40 broke at some point in my move to Princeton. At the time I had some money saved up and used it to buy a Fujifilm X100. I loved everything about that camera: the way it looked, the way it felt and how all the dials moved and clicked. Using the X100 is really what made me fall in love with photography. Working with a fixed 35mm equivalent lens helped me see the world and learn how to use shutter speed, aperture and ISO to create images. I started with just taking (mostly bad) pictures in and around Princeton, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
What is your camera of choice today?
I really love fixed lens compact cameras, mostly because of how easy they are to carry around wherever you are. I always have a Ricoh GR II on me, but recently I decided to give Nikon a try again. Just before Christmas, I picked up a used Nikon D3400 that I’ve been using more and more lately, especially for long exposures.
What’s your favorite type of photography?
I’m all over the place. As a neuroscientist, I spend most of my time collecting images of cells on a microscope, and when I’m not on the microscope, I generally spend the rest of my day preparing slides for imaging or reading papers that have pictures of cells in them. After a long day in lab, I often look at trees or cracks in the sidewalk on my walk home, and for a second, I see them as the branching processes of a neuron or astrocyte that I normally see under the microscope, instead of actual trees or cracks. Maybe it’s crazy, but I think constantly having to do a double-take helps me notice different details in scenes when I’m out doing non-cell photography. At the same time though, who doesn’t enjoy a picture of a really pretty sunset?
How would you describe your photography style?
I mostly shoot landscapes/cityscapes and when I can a little bit of street photography. I tend to pay attention to things like light and shadows as well as scale (i.e. small people in front big monuments or sweeping landscapes).
What photo are you most proud of?
The photo I’m proudest of is the one of a family on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial holding umbrellas. I took the picture on one of my first trips out into D.C., since moving back to the area. It was one of those "perfect moment" shots where the family, the monument and sudden downpour just aligned.
What is your coolest or most memorable experience while shooting?
It’s not a moment per se, but I actually made one of my closest friends through photography. Johnny, an awesome photographer based in New York, and I went to high school and college together without being anything more than casual acquaintances. However, once we both realized we were into photography, we actually became really good friends. We’ve shot all over NYC and D.C. together, we push each other to try new things, and I would have to say that’s probably one of coolest things taking pictures has done for me.
Who or what is at the top of your photography bucket list?
I would love the opportunity to photograph D.C. by helicopter. I love D.C. -- as a city there is just so much thought and symmetry in the way the streets were designed and laid out that it’s just hard to fully appreciate when you’re on the ground.
Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers?
I think the best advice I’ve gotten is to not worry about gear and stick to one camera and one focal length. It’s limiting (and sometimes boring at first), but being forced to learn the constraints and possibilities of a single focal length facilitates creativity and in the process allows you to develop your sense of framing.
What’s your motto to live by?
“Don’t take yourself too seriously.” Being in academia, much like being a photographer, has taught me the importance of negative feedback. In my mind negative feedback is what helps me grow and pushes me to do better. At the same time, negative feedback can be a difficult pill to swallow if you take yourself too seriously in the process.
You can follow Adam Brockett's photography on Instagram @adam_brockett. And don't forget to scroll back to the top to see some of our favorite selections of his work.