In a previous life, Amsterdam-based photographer Krijn van Nordwijk worked as an art director and creative director in international advertising agencies. But a decade ago, Krijn decided to break away from this career to focus on his photography. His current work incorporates classical aesthetics with a contemporary view on people to create intriguing, powerful portraits.

We talked with him about photography, inspiration and shooting different kinds of people and characters—from the everyday to the world-famous. Here is an edited transcript of our exchange:

LC: What makes a good portrait?

Krijn: A good portrait is an image you can’t just ignore, it draws your eye. From a good portrait you can tell there has been a respectful relationship between subject and photographer, you feel the mutual understanding.

LC: What is your relationship with your sitters?

Krijn: Shooting a portrait is a short relationship that you have with another person. I have had encounters in which I almost forgot to shoot the picture. In the first three seconds of the initial meeting, something important happens. That is unspoken but there; the relationship has been built already. Ideally, both me and the person on the other side of the lens should have the understanding that we are creating something together.

Also, I do not plan too much. I just go to work together with the sitter and most of the time I find that simplicity works. There is a lot of power in simplicity.

LC: How about when shooting more famous people?

Krijn: I have love, empathy and respect for all people. So even though I have portrayed many “famous” characters, my feelings are the same. In the end, we’re all people and what I’m really interested is to get some sort of glimpse inside.”

LC: The Netherlands has such a great history of portraiture. Do you feel any kinship with the painters of the past?

Krijn: Yes, I have a huge admiration for 17th and 18th-century portrait painters. I kind of feel that I am working in that same tradition: I can feel a straight line from them to me. Only my content is contemporary. I do my own post-production and that is where things come together really. I suppose I am a portrait painter with a camera.

The challenge is the same now as it was then: to get the sitter in a mode to give me what I need. This does not have to be “relaxed,” but it does have to be trusting. Someone has to trust me enough to give me something back.

—Krijn van Noordwijk, interviewed by Winifred Chiocchia