When people ask me what kind of photographer I am, I often respond with “Oh I do landscapes, nature, wildlife, animals… that sort of thing” to which they always ask me “Well what about photographs of people???” A question that makes me jitter…
A photographer is a photographer is a photographer, right? Well, not really… that’s kind of like saying a surgeon is a surgeon, one who operates on backs should also know how to do hands, feet, shoulders…
As with any profession, we tend to specialize in the genre of photography that most interests us. In my case, I started my photography career years ago in the savannah of Africa by scouting and shooting photos of wildebeest, lions, buffalo and anything else with four legs. I absolutely loved the process of waking up early each morning, hiking miles out into the bush searching for the animals, and then tracking them throughout the day to photograph them in their environment. I was in my element, alone, surrounded by nature, and miles away from civilization.
In the early years, I was in many ways ‘just a wildlife photographer’. In fact, in those days, even landscape photography scared me. But over the years I’ve developed a love for all kinds of nature photography, and I’ve mastered the art of both wildlife and landscapes through endless trial and error, experimentation, research, and dedication to the trade. Even to this day I find that I am learning new techniques every single day I go out shooting, which only reinforces the notion that one never truly ‘knows it all’ in my mind, but again I always enjoy the challenge of pushing my intellectual and artistic abilities when shooting (another reason I love night sky photography! I find it one of the most difficult forms of photography, and thus a very appealing one).
So where is this all leading? Well, as I’m sure everyone is well aware of, Asia has no shortage of people. The Vietnam and Cambodia trips that I lead are very, very different from any kind of photography I’ve ever done before. More than anything, these are cultural trips with very little to no nature at all. So when I lead these photography expeditions with Lindblad/National Geographic, I am very much pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone. Stick a penguin in front of my any day, but the moment there’s a person in front of my lens it’s a whole different ball game. It may sound strange… after all, why would taking a portrait of a penguin be so different from that same portrait of a person? Well, in my mind, it’s all about representing what’s real. This, however, is something I struggle with when photographing people. An animal won’t react when your lens is pointed straight at it – it just continues doing whatever it was doing. Humans, however, are aware the moment the camera is on them, and everything changes. Their body language, their facial expression, their mood, their self-awareness… no longer are you capturing an accurate representation of the moment, but instead the scene has been manipulated the second your camera meets your eye.
This is the biggest hurdle I’ve faced when it comes to people/portrait photography… making people feel comfortable, making them forget there’s even a camera, and recreating a scene the way it was before I even arrived. So what does this require? Well… usually a lot of patience. It’s hard to take someone who is camera shy and tell them to ‘not be camera shy’. Instead, by hanging around, casually taking a photo now and then, chatting with the people, spending some time with them, and making them feel comfortable with me there, they open up completely and forget all about being photographed.
Anyways, long story short, I’ve spent weeks tracking herds of animals, been nearly been trampled by elephants, climbed incredibly high peaks, hiked through the night for perfect stars, waded through waterfalls, and have even crawled on hands and knees through penguin poo to get the perfect shot, but THESE portraits and people shots are what I consider to be some of the most challenging photographs I’ve ever made… So enjoy!!! And just to try something new, I spent some effort trying to brush up on my black and white skills, a project which was great fun for me. Only a few days left in the Mekong, I’ll be sad to say goodbye!