Shooting stock and travel photography for as long as I can remember, I am in different countries all over the world quite often and although I shoot all kinds of different subjects for my agencies, shooting people in all kinds of different scenarios and situations is really my favorite. But what I do is different than a typical photojournalist who captures things more spontaneously….. As I have to think of different ideas and coerce them into my final photograph. Sometimes they tell a story and sometimes they can just be a perfect little moment. But much of my stuff is used for advertising so they do have to be creative but also a little bit compelling. So when I’m in some of these faraway places or even close to home and I find some great subjects, I have to figure out how to make them a little more intriguing to capture. So I work with my subjects and try to figure out what might give me the best bang for the buck and something that my editors will really like.
In this first image of the man with the camel, I knew before I had even found this man, just what I had envisioned in my mind. I wanted a shot of a camel trader and one of his camels but with their heads next to each other. I knew it would be almost like this was his personal animal, like his own dog and that they were very close. I know this was not the case probably, but some people are very close with their horse and I was hoping to convey this feeling the best way I could.
At the Pushkar Camel Festival in Rajistan, India, I looked for a great face and found this man but did not like his camels. So I found the perfect camel from another camel trader and asked if I could borrow the camel for the shot. He agreed and came with me and I love that his camel had a pink carnation as that’s what I wanted since the man I wanted to photograph had a pink turban. I thought the colors matching would be perfect!
I positioned them just right so that the sun was just how I wanted but also so that the background worked nicely being busy with the fairgrounds in the background. I then had him hold the camel close to him …. and then had him pull it closer to his face so I could get a great double portrait of the two of them. It took quite a few tries but I got exactly what I wanted with both of them side-by-side, and looking like best friends! I tried to get the camel to rest on his right shoulder and it worked out pretty nicely and when you have an idea and you try your best to achieve it, then anything really is possible!
A little later on that day at the Camel Festival, I became friends with a little girl with gorgeous green eyes. She was wearing a beautiful red scarf around her neck and I knew that I had to photograph her. But just as I teach in my online portrait class at PPSOP: Eye to Eye: Capturing the Face, working with your subjects to create exactly what you want is absolutely critical. And working with their clothes is equally important. I took her to a spot with a nice background in the middle of the camel fair, and then I took off her scarf and draped it over her head, knowing this would have a much more dramatic look as I do this with many different subjects around the world. I decided to shoot close in with one of my favorite portrait lenses, my 50 mm Canon 2.5 macro, as I love shooting in very tight sometimes and I can get critical sharpness with beautiful background blur with this lens.
Her green eyes I knew were going to be magnificent and along with the red of the scarf, they were a perfect complement. I framed her close and tight getting very up close and personal and told her not to smile or not be too sad. To be as indifferent as possible and almost look at me with a gaze. She took direction beautifully and I cropped a little into her forehead but gave her room below her chin, and then negative space on the left side that would give a sense of place but not be too sharp. I then ended up with exactly what I wanted. If you can envision it, you can create it. But I did have a great subject as she was fantastic!
On a workshop in Kenya, I told the group that I love photographing tribes in Africa about just as much as I love photographing the animals. They are absolutely the quintessential subject to photograph and are pretty much tied for my favorite people to shoot along with the monks of Burma. When I had the group inside one of the villages of the Samburu tribe, somewhere on the plains of Kenya, I noticed one man with his walking stick who looked incredibly photogenic and I had to photograph him. You can see how striking he is with his orange fabric draped all across him and no shirt. I took him out of the village and looked for a perfect backdrop and decided to pose him looking away. One thing that I push with many of my students is that quite often, many portraits will have much more presence if your subjects are not looking directly into the camera. I turned his head to the right and had him hold his stick with both hands as I wanted to capture him looking like he was totally chilling out and had not a care in the world. I envisioned this shot and knew exactly what I wanted before I even pulled him out from his village. The sun was low on the horizon to his right, as you can see by the long shadow from his body, and the clouds were absolutely stunning that day. None of my group got this shot because they were in the village shooting all kinds of other things and buying jewelry from the tribes. Sometimes, you just have to go on your own, and create your own artwork! This is what I do in different countries, with different people all over the world.
Somewhere closer to home, it’s easy to get great images also if you have an idea in mind but also the ability to capture that idea. When one of my best friends told me they were having twins, I thought of different ideas and I couldn’t wait to try when the twins finally would be a couple weeks old. When they were three weeks old, my friends said it was time for me to come over as they couldn’t wait for me to try and do something different as he is a photographer also and knows that I love trying different things when I shoot. I had an idea to try and put the boy on one shoulder and the girl on the other but had no idea if it would work out. I brought a black backdrop and two backdrop stands, and asked my friend to take his shirt off because I knew what I wanted to try. In the shot above, you can see that I had him face away from the camera but have his kids on each shoulder so that their faces were towards me. I shot in front of his huge bay window and the only light on his twins were coming from the window light. Window light indoors has always been one of my favorite light sources, especially for portraits! But it was not what I would call an easy shoot whatsoever as getting them to look right was close to impossible and they were also going to the bathroom in the middle of the shoot, but I refused to let my friend move. I know that was a little difficult for him but when you’re in the middle of a great idea, you can’t let anything get in the way. I ended up getting exactly what I wanted and sometimes you have to pre-conceive the idea and keep trying till you get exactly what you are going for.
This was very similar to what I did in the shot above, of my two cousins. My cousin Jennifer was pregnant again and I love photographing anything that has to do with babies and bellies, which is one of the categories on my website. So when her belly was big enough, which is usually at least seven months for most pregnant women, I headed off to their condo on the beach. I had my favorite little cousin Maya, try on her angel wings outfit and we headed outside after I picked a nice white outfit for Jennifer that would show her belly nicely with the setting sun. Clothes are so critically important for so many different kinds of shoots but for pregnant women, you really have to decide what you want and choose the clothes along with the mother. You can’t really let them pick out what to wear as it really is up to you as you are the director and pretty much have to plan and envision everything. So having her belly exposed but having on white that was non-distracting but also a little bit elegant, especially on the beach, I felt would work the best.
I positioned her exactly how I wanted to the angle of the sun and then had little Maya get up on her tippy toes to kiss mommies belly, where little Cy was two months away from being born. I told Maya to give Cy a big kiss and close her eyes and cropped it in a way where I did not have Jennifer’s face in the image. Many times you do not need someone’s face in images like this as they can be just as powerful if not even more powerful.
I knew exactly what I wanted before I showed up and was happy that I got the shot!
Above, I was shooting Carnival in Venice, Italy, which is one of the most amazing places on earth to photograph. People are dressed up in masquerade outfits that they have spent months working on and they come to this gorgeous city to display their outfits and pose for anybody that wants to photograph them. This particular woman had on the most amazing outfit with umbrellas and I had never seen anything like it. I had an idea of how I wanted to capture her looking away, towards the sunset and I decided to take her away from where she was and get a great image that afternoon. I took her to the side of the water when the sun was going down and wanted to capture her in a very special and unique way. I had her look away, which is what I love to do much of the time which I thought would work nicely for this particular shot, and to give it some flair, I decided to shoot her vertically and also angle the camera. Many times for my stock agencies, angled shots can give a little bit of punch and diversity to an otherwise okay image and just push it over the edge, which is great for advertising. I made sure that the huge tower in the background across the bay, was balanced out nicely with her and I felt I had a great composition. Later in Photoshop, I decided to give it a texture to get a little bit more feeling and the final shot pretty much gave me just what I was hoping for.
When you have ideas whether you are at home or abroad, anything is possible with your photography as long as you’re willing to try different things. Trying to just capture something while it’s happening is not always going to give you the best shot as in my opinion, creativity is what is going to separate you from the next person. As a photographer, and someone who might want to make a living or at least try to make money from your photography, then you have to start thinking of different ideas and different techniques that will make you stand out. That means reaching out of that comfort zone and really thinking outside of the box. I try and talk a lot about that in my class here at PPSOP and want everyone to push themselves out of their comfort zone which is so easy to fall back into as it requires very little effort. But creativity really is the key and once you master lighting and composition and of course your camera gear, then coming up with great ideas can really expand your presence in the photography world and make you start hitting a lot more home runs and grand slams! It all starts with a vision and then doing whatever it takes to create that vision and give you a great final product!!