Hardi Saputra has been a 500px Contributor for a number of years, licensing his intricate still life images since 2016. Over the years, he has developed a recognizable aesthetic, addressing everyday concepts such as communication and travel within his whimsical miniature sets. His work encourages us to “dream big” and shoot for the stars, setting a high bar for still life photography.
Q: Give us your 10-second elevator pitch.
A: My name is Hardi. I make still-life photos. Most of them are self-made miniatures. My focus is on creating warm, fun, and peaceful images.
Q: Did you always shoot still life photos?
A: Yeah, lately, I only create still-life photos.
Q: Your set designs are intricate, detailed, and dynamic. Walk us through a typical shoot.
A: I start the process with a sketch. After that, I scan it to my phone and give it some colors. It saves me a lot of time because I don’t need to spend too much time on repainting and editing.
Then, on my computer, I create some 3D models of the subject in the sketch, like the houses, rocket, and the astronaut. I use Fusion360 to create them. For a new model, I make it from scratch. For an old model, like the astronaut, I only need to move certain parts, like the arms and the legs.
After that, I transfer the models to my 3D printer. It only needs four hours, or so, if my printer prints them successfully. If it fails, I will need to modify the models again to make sure that they are printable based on the issues that happened during printing.
After the printing process, I remove the layer lines. The first thing I need to do is sand them with 200 and 400 grit sandpaper. I do this part outside while looking at nature. It’s relaxing. Then I fill the layer lines with filler and sand again.
The painting process is easy. Just mixing colors, and painting according to the color choices I made in the sketch. Then, I leave the paint to dry. Depending on the weather that day, it may take up to two hours per layer because I mix the paint with water.
After the miniatures are painted, I prepare the set for my miniatures for the shoot. In this part, I build the terrain for the miniatures on a cardboard box. The hill in my images is just bowl-shaped air-dry clay, covered with fake fur fabric. To make sure all my miniatures stand perfectly, I use reusable putty. For the sky background like big cotton clouds, I shoot them separately because I don’t want the color from the fabric to spill into my white clouds. Sometimes, I make an invisible net from fishing line to make the clouds float, so I can capture the shadow under the clouds.
Finally, I shoot and edit the image. I use Photoshop to combine the foreground and background. If the colors feel off, I redo the painting process, but I always hope that this part went smoothly.
Q: Give us a sense of scale. How large or small are your shoots?
A: I shoot my miniature on a 39 x 38 x 43 cm cardboard box. If you also add the background, It would be about the size of a single bed.
Q: You create drama and themed narratives within your still life images. This is intensified with your lighting setups and general concepts that often include the idea of “dreaming big.” What would you say drives this?
A: The idea of “dreaming big” came when I was listening to an audiobook, and I remembered the first novel I read when I was in the 11th standard, Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It’s about the story of pioneer life from a child’s perspective. The writer describes their journey in the prairie wonderfully, so I wanted to create the experience that I felt when I read the book. That’s also why I mostly put prairie elements in my creations.
Q: Do you shoot in silence, or do you have a go-to playlist?
A: I shoot in silence. Being aware of the sounds around me is so relaxing. My go-to playlist would be nature sounds.
Q: You’ve had 100+ sales on 500px, congrats! The photos that have sold span a variety of concepts from aliens, communication, and counting sheep. What do you feel has contributed the most to the number of sales you have had?
A: I believe that just being a part of 500px is what has contributed to my sales. I don’t know how people would find my photos without this community. I also bought my first tripod with the money I made from the first image I sold on 500px, so I’m grateful for that.
Q: What do you feel has been your most sought after concept to date?
A: I guess it’s anything that involves levitation—a floating rocket, floating geometrical shapes, flying animals, balloons, UFOs, etc.
Q: Your most recent series focuses on elements of space and exploration, a theme that you frequent. What makes you return to this concept, and how long did it take you to put together?
A: Well, I remember that I used to shoot based on anything available in the store. Once a week, I go to the stationery store to check if there’s something new to try. I made my first astronaut from a lump of modeling clay that I painted with acrylic paint. It became moldy after a few days.
Then, in early 2018, 3D printers became affordable. So, instead of buying a new camera, I decided to spend my savings on a 3D printer. The reason was that I wanted to design and build a miniature rocket for myself.
I already had some basic knowledge of how to use a CAD program, so it only took a few days to learn what I needed. The first thing I made was the popcorn rocket. Over time I’ve learned so many new things about this new tech, like maintenance, how to upgrade it, things to avoid when designing, etc.
Q: When you’re not photographing, what do you do?
A: I start the day by doing chores like cooking, cleaning the house, or 3D printer maintenance. Then I end it with playing video games and meditating.
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