Anshil Popli (know as Kybalion) is a photographer and director from the Bay Area, capturing moments that can shock and inspire.
Having delved into photography from a young age, Anshil found he had a talent for taking stills, and not just capturing frames. The photographer’s unique style of capturing people in certain circumstances tells stories about places and cultures we may not be accustomed to – or even comfortable with. And through his visual art, he’s managed to capture gritty and awe inspiring photos that leave us thinking deeply about society and how we live in this world.
With his work already featured in leading publications like Huffington Post and GQ, Anshil has set himself on a journey of discovery and cultural appreciation through photography. And with his visual skills as a video director, he’s getting ready to shoot his next TV series.
Discover in our exclusive interview what led Anshil to where he is now, his inspirations, and reflections on the visual arts.
How did you get into photography?
Anshil: Since I’ve been young, I’ve always had a desire to create on a specific level to express myself. Growing up, I used to see other kids doodle around in class and create some beautiful images. I tried to draw initially. Specifically, I was extremely attracted to graffiti. Nothing good ever came of it. I couldn’t draw anything after years of failed attempts. I gave up on that facet and temporarily gave up on creating. When I began to grow up, I found myself getting in trouble inside and outside of school on a regular basis. I wasn’t on the best path. Somewhere in high school I ended up taking a digital photography class. I liked it fine at the time. I was stoked I was getting a chance to mess around with creating things again. My teacher really didn’t like me and I was still getting in a fair bit of trouble. I got terrible grades in that digital photo course. Terrible enough grades that my family was “like how the hell are you not getting decent grades in a photography class?!”
I gave up on digital photography for a couple years after that as well. The turning point was when my auntie had bought a DSLR for her family photos, she had called me to help her set it up. I borrowed the camera for a week and really enjoyed it. Throughout the course of the year, I’d borrow the camera over and over. Eventually, I think family saw that it was keeping me out of trouble and I was able to receive a used Canon Rebel xS of my own. It wasn’t much but it certainly made me feel like I was on cloud 9 for a long time. Then throughout the years of practicing, I stopped getting myself in situations I would have in the past and started focusing my energy on creating images.
Where do you get your inspiration from when choosing to shoot your pictures?
Anshil: Real life. I think the beauty of life is the fact that it can be horrifyingly ugly at times and it can be pretty at times. That’s where a lot of my inspiration comes from. Just capturing what is in front of me in the moment. The best photo location is the place you are in the present if that’s what it takes to go out and shoot. Sometimes I receive a similar critique that some of the subject matters in my photos are too gritty. That’s something I’m not going to change. I’m not making images for you to hang in front of your living room 100% of the time.
I often tell a story about someone’s life or about a specific neighborhood instead. We don’t live in a utopian oasis where everything is great all the time. It’s important to give voices to people and areas that aren’t heard. It’s important to capture the reality of the world we live in and provide perspective for people that may not be exposed to certain elements otherwise.
What are some of our favorite locations to shoot? Do you have a specific approach to taking a photo?
Anshil: As far as the Bay Area goes for landscapes, Mt. Tamalpais will always be on top of my list. It may actually be on top of my list forever. I’ve traveled quite a bit but nothing quite blows me away like watching fog roll into Mt. Tamalpais. Mt. Davidson at the right hours would come a close second but that place can be a bit less predictable. When I’m focused more on street photography there is a certain charm to San Francisco’s Chinatown and a huge portion of East Oakland that can’t be matched. It’s life at its realest and both have pockets that haven’t been photographed to death. Always inspired to find fresh perspectives and lesser known paths. I wouldn’t say I have a specific approach to taking a photo. I enjoy keeping it playful and having appreciation for whatever caught my eye in the moment. Specific approaches vary photo to photo. I do think it’s a common best practice to capture different focal lengths while doing portraits and other basics but that’s about it.
Being based in the Bay Area, what are some of the most interesting projects you’ve worked on locally?
Anshil: Oh man I have a few for sure. Getting to shoot album covers have been my favorite. One of my first videos was for people out of the Mozzy camp and that was also a lot of fun. I would say my absolute favorite project thus far has been doing a lot of work with a variety of musicians. It’s always fun to collaborate and get to know someone new. Plus, I like good music and being around other artists is always a great way to gain inspiration along with insights.
What kind of lenses do you use to capture your nightscape and cityscape photos?
Anshil: I usually just use my 24-70 or 14mm if I’m going wide. Switching over to Sony certainly helped quite a bit. Having that flexibility in low light is the most important thing to creating good images at night time. With my A7III, I really don’t have to worry much about it provided I’m in a decent lighting condition.
What do you think makes a good photo?
Anshil: Mood. This isn’t just meant to be specific towards the subject matter but the way a photo is color corrected is very important as well to capturing a mood. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a photo with great composition ruined by a color correction that just is way too harsh on the eyes or doesn’t fit the mood. I would advise any photographer to focus on color correction at any stage in their career. It can make or break a good digital photo. A good way to start is focusing on imitating tones from some of your favorite films.
Additionally, subject matter also is important. Taking photos with no purpose or no direction isn’t fun and doesn’t connect with the viewer. Think about how you feel and what you see that makes you feel a certain way. Your camera should be operated as an extension of your mind encapsulating your emotions through imagery. Always try to shoot with a purpose, don’t just click away aimlessly and expect miracles.
Can you share with us some of the emerging trends you’ve seen in the photography space? Styles, or types of portraits for example?
Anshil: Over the years digital photography went from a lot of overdone edits that were almost surreal with the HDR trend. I’m glad those trends are over and we’ve moved back towards the traditional film look. If you think about it, digital photography hasn’t been around very long in the big picture. Technology in cameras has also gotten vastly better. I’m glad we’ve gotten the look down to more of a science. When photographers shot film before, type of film and processing the film were the main things to creating tones. We’re getting back to modernizing that look with digital and I think sticking to the classics is a great base to build off of trend wise. The rest of the color tones will come and go in trends.
Are there any projects we should know about that you’re working on?
Anshil: At the moment due to Covid, no. I’m working on a full length TV series however that we’ve gotten ample time to sort out pre-production details during Covid. The one nice thing about this time off is that it has allowed for far deeper planning. When life slows down because you’re not always on go all the time you can finally sit back and think. Before it felt like I was always racing the clock and meeting deadlines. I’m excited for 2021 and the vaccine coming out to get right back to it.