The Scene in a Dream: The Man Behind DreamFilms LA

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Johann Arteaga Ramos, commonly known as “Dream Films,” is a Southern California photographer based out of South Bay. Ramos has made a name for himself through his signature style of photo and video editing that pays homage to a time when film was more prevalent. The young and ambitious photographer has delivered coverage (Underoath, Lana Del Rey, Radiohead, Dance Gavin Dance, ect.) for The MAT Magazine and has also toured with both Being As An Ocean and Capsize as their personal photographer. We recently got the chance to speak with the man behind Dream Films LA. Here is what he had to say.

CC: You’ve covered a lot of memorable shows over the past few years. Where exactly did your love for media originate?

DF: It’s funny you ask. I never really watched a lot of classic movies growing up even though I do love media. I guess my love for media came from live music and working with musicians of all types. That’s why my slogan is “document everything.” That’s my goal and I really do love doing that. I love working at small venues. When I was first starting out, I use to sneak in my camera. I grew up as an awkward kid and I feel like the camera has really helped me make friends and connections over the years. This is not due to the fact that I’m an established photographer. It’s because it gives me a change to meet new and amazing people through something I really love.

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Photo credit: Andrew Reimer

CC: From our understanding, you got your start in LA’s punk rock scene. What was that like and what did you learn from your time in that scene?

DF: I will say it was very sketchy. I was in that scene for a couple years when I was younger. The East LA punk scene and DIY punk scene definitely taught me a lot. I love DIY, however, I’m in favor of the more organized way DIY is nowadays. Shows in LA would be hosted at any place they could be held, whether it was an abandoned house or some vacant lot. The police raided the shows most of the time. I was 15 at the time, so they let me go. That environment is very negative and wild. I will say that it thicken up my skin. What I mean is that it really put all the negatives in perspective whether it be huge crowds or security and other stuff in that context. Whatever happens at a show, I think about how it was in the East LA scene and that makes me very grateful for where I am and to not take anything that is given to me for granted.

CC: You have made a name for yourself with your signature “cinematic look.” With that said, do you prefer to take photos in the field or film video?

DF: It really depends on the environment. When it comes to a more professional setting like Beach Goth or Outside Lands, I like to shoot photos. There are many reasons for this. For one reason, it’s simpler to shoot and edit photo so I can be more efficient with the coverage I deliver. At festivals, you see so many interesting people and celebrities. You cannot document this when you’re filming by putting the camera in their face. In addition, video is too much of a headache. It really does take a mental toll in putting all the footage together into the final product. When it comes to smaller shows like at Chain Reaction and such, I do prefer video. I feel these tight and intimate moments come more to life in video.

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Photo credit: Andrew Reimer

CC: Many people have described your style as “cinematic” and “film like.” What lead you to take this direction with your personal style in your work?

DF: I guess it is an attractive aesthetic overall. It’s universally loved from what I have seen and I have yet to hear someone say they do not like it. I take this approach because it is widely accepted. I often take inspiration from filmmakers on Vimeo who are shooting on a budget. I’m really fond of taking a $500 camera and making it produce magic. I also like shooting with light gear. Not only is it convenient, but I love the looks I get when people see my gear and then the end result following.

CC: You recently decided to sell custom Adobe Lightroom presets that you have made and have said that you use with your own material to “speed up the editing process.” What was the thought process behind selling these presets?

DF: Honestly I look up tutorials on YouTube and Reddit all the time trying to figure out how these photographers get these tones that they produce. That’s all I use to do. The more I got it down, the more I applied it to my work until it is what it is today. To be honest, I did not have a lot of money growing up. I still really don’t, however, this is my way of paying forward to anyone who wants or needs it. It is my way of giving back to the community. My hope for these presets going out to other photographers is that they would observe the science behind the presets. I encourage people to use them as a learning tool. I want them to learn about the curves and the science behind so they can too make their own presets and their own voice. I do realize not everyone uses them this way, but regardless it makes me really happy when anyone uses them or takes the time to go to my site to buy them.

CC: You recently hit 300 downloads on your custom presets. How does it feel to accomplish such a remarkable landmark?

DF: I thought 20 downloads was so awesome to be honest when I hit that milestone. It blew my mind to think that so many people care about my work back then. I was just as ecstatic, if not more, when I hit my 300th download of the presets. I am very greatly for everyone that took the time to buy these presets.

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Photo credit: Andrew Reimer

CC: You recently released a third installment for your Adobe Lightroom presets. What can photographers expect from the current preset pack?

DF: I focused more on the vibe this time around (think technicolor film.) I pulled a lot of influence from 80s’ and 70s’ film. The feel is gloomier compared to the previous two releases. If it helps, visualize the scenes from 500 days of summers and other indie films out there. That’s what these presets look like when applied to photos; fall and winter colors.

CC: What was your favorite preset to make out of the new pack and why?

DF: Defintley Hollywood! I love the separation I can get from the teals/blues and the skin tones. Great subject separation tool to make portraits and even concert shots pop out at you.

CC: How has support changed from this released compared to your first release?

DF: It’s absolutely more interactive. People are reaching out and thanking me for the pack, more people are willing to try them out and give me feedback. I’ve also started a new instagram account dedicated to the presets called “@dreamfilms.presets” as a way to connect with its users on a more personal level since its a bit hard to keep track of comments on my personal account.

CC:What do you hope photographers get out of this preset release?

DF: I focused a lot on messing with the curves this time, so hopefully it encourages photographers to mess with them some more. I think the curves tool is extremely powerful and its a universal tool used in all sorts of visual specific software.

CC: There are a lot of individuals out in the scene that want to start taking pictures at concert but don’t know where to start. What words of advice would you give to these individuals?

DF: Honestly, I feel like a lot of people think of fellow and established photographers as competition. This is so not the case. Help each other out and make friends. You all are after the same goals, so why not invest your energy in building each other up instead of wasting time and effort in bringing them down? More importantly, I urge you all to make friends to simply make friends for the sake of being human. I also want you to get out there and offering your services to anyone and everyone. Please don’t think about the money at first. If you try hard enough, you can make it into a career and it will pay, but please do this because you love photography. Also, utilize social media as much as you can. This is how I market my services and it’s such a great tool. Don’t put yourself down. You are your greatest ally and worst enemy. Be you and find what works for you. Nothing is more appealing and cool than someone who is brave enough to go against the grain and be themselves, no matter how hard or awkward that may be.

CC: What has been your most memorable moment in the field?

DF: Definitely covering Outside Lands this past August in San Francisco. I felt like everything I had done in my life led up to that moment. I left feeling so accomplished. It made sure of myself that photography is the right path for me.

CC: What are your current goals for yourself?

DF: I want to be better than yesterday’s me. I am in constant competition with myself. I am always trying to better my craft. I take pictures, I curate and publish them. The spark that come from this keeps me on my feet.

CC: Any closing thoughts?

DF: Nope. Just don’t give up on your dreams no matter what they are. If you end up picking up one of the packs, make sure to follow and tag @dreamfilms.presets on Instagram for a feature and maybe some freebies in the near future! You can also pick up one of the presets for free if you wanted to try before you buy!

You can download Ramos’ latest preset pack here and you can download his preset “Fashion Look” from the latest preset pack free of charge here.

Post and interview by Matt Saunders (Twitter/Instagram @shots_by_matt)

Are you an aspiring photographer? Comment below.

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