Bambi Cantrell is one of the world’s most decorated and sought after professional photographers of our time. She’s been recognized by everyone from Microsoft to American Photo Magazine and was the first woman to be honored with the prestigious “Golden Eye” award from the Russian Federation of Professional Photographers. Clearly she’s got the technical side of her game in order.
But we feel one of the main reasons why she’s shot for The Estee Lauder Family, legendary basketball player Gary Payton, and members of the Royal Family, Dubai, UAE is her ability to really make her subjects comfortable. The ability to connect plays a huge role in getting truly personal shots that make her portraits really resonate.
This interview with Camille Seaman is packed with so much goodness. She talks about using natural lighting in shooting subjects as varied as giant icebergs to TIbetans who don’t use lights indoors at all during the day. More importantly what really struck a chord is how WHO a photographer is plays a central role in their work.
Just a beautifully composed shot by Felix Kunze using Nikon's "Holy Grail"
We recently had a chance to catch up with our friend, celebrity portraiture photographer Felix Kunze. This was no small feat as someone who’s highly in demand like Felix is a globetrotter by necessity. He might be found in New York assisting Annie Leibovitz with her work one day and in Europe shooting a fashion campaign for Danish fashion brand Atelier Bogelund-Jensen the next.
Felix recently returned to the UK where he covered the London 2012 Olympics this past summer. Though he was “in the throes of London Fashion week madness”, he was gracious enough to make some time to chat. As always Felix was good for an interesting story (or three.) He told us about some very interesting work he did for the cover story of Nikon Magazine. The two stars of the story were Double Olympic Gold Medalist rower, Pete Reed and Nikon’s 13mm f5.6 lens aka The Holy Grail. Here’s Felix in his own words :
On a cold November morning in 2012, I attempted something that arguably no-one had ever done before.
I was given an assignment to photograph a portraiture session with an extremely wide-angle and rare lens; Nikon’s 13mm f/5.6 rectilinear marvel, often dubbed the ‘Holy Grail of lens design’.In simple terms, this is a wide-angle lens that has almost no distortion, a problem that most wide lenses suffer from. The distortion can cause a kind of warped feeling, as if things in the edge of the image are stretched. This $30,000 behemoth employs some glass to counteract this effect. It is designed for architectural photography and has wide applications in landscape. Proving difficult and expensive to manufacture, only about 350 of them were ever sold. The lens is no longer in production.
It’s unusual to shoot portraiture with a lens such as this, it requires me to be very very close to the subject, not made any easier by my decision to shoot part of the editorial on the rushing river Thames after heavy rain.
We chose to base our shoot in rowing because the long lines of oars, boats and the riverbank would demonstrate the capabilities of the lens.
Double Olympic Gold Medalist Pete Reed (Beijing 2008 & London 2012 in the Coxless Four) was kind enough to undertake this crazy task with us. Pete is a keen photographer himself and was an absolute sport despite the low temperatures and challenging conditions.
It was definitely an unusual shoot – Felix’s full thoughts are expressed in the full article found in the latest issue of Nikon Owner Magazine. Below is the behind the scenes video you can click to watch:
Behind the scenes with Felix Kunze shooting for Nikon Magazine
With his uncanny ability at capturing the humorous and ironic in everyday situations, photographer Elliott Erwitt is often called a master of the “decisive moment.” And in a new exhibit in New York City, Erwitt himself has selected his favorite photographic moments from a career spanning seven decades.
“Elliott Erwitt: Personal Best” runs at the International Center of Photography in NYC through August 28, featuring 100 of Erwitt’s most cherished photographs.
Erwitt, who celebrated his 83rd birthday this summer, has been working as a professional photojournalist and commercial photographer since 1950. Later joining the Magnum Photos agency, Erwitt was able to travel the world and capture iconic shots such as Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev at the height of the Cold War, a veiled Jacqueline Kennedy as she holds a folded American flag in honor of her slain husband, and a memorable image of segregated drinking fountains in New York City.
In his later career, Erwitt spent much of his time working with motion pictures. Directing everything from TV commercials to feature length films, including the prize-winning film Glassmakers of Herat (1977) and as a still photographer on Bob Dylan: No Direction Home (2005),
With his signature humor and effortless style, Erwitt’s work is so accesible and charming that it often belies his artistry. Check out his exhibit while you can.
Let’s face it being a Patagonia staff photographer must be a dream job. As a surfer and climber myself, I was drawn to the movie 180 Degrees South, which lead me to contact Jeff Johnson and arrange my interview with him, be sure to catch it. Meanwhile, listen in on our conversation as we talked about how to get the “mojo” in a photograph:
Marc: Mojo. So, what is it for you, that’s the mojo, when you get that photograph really pops?
Jeff: I think its some kind of emotion, I think, Chris [Burkard], is really into wide landscapes, and having things go out with color and light, and action. And, I think mine — he shoots other things too and I shoot different things — I think my, what I do best is people, and getting some sort of emotion out of the people, it’s hard to pin point that thing that’ s happening. You know, when you got it. You know. And, it’s usually, when you’re not setting something up. I’m sure Chris has had this happen, where you have this idea, where you go and you set it up and something else happens at your shot.
Jeff: And, that’s the mojo. You know, that shot, you thought about, that you set up, is not the shot you want from, my experience. That’s what you didn’t plan on and you hope that you captured that thing and you didn’t plan on it.
Marc: So, it’s being prepared for that?
Jeff: Being prepared. Like, the other day, I was, shooting this guy Fred Beckey, shooting his portrait and a climber was doing a book on him, he’s just this classic guy in his late 80s and he’s just like a classic looking character of his features. I was shooting portraits and people were talking and I was standing back and I saw him, he was just tired, he is tired. You know, it was late in the day [Jeff wipes face], and he just went like that, and I clicked those shots off because those were my favorite. You know, those were really doing it, instead of the camera. He was like wiped out, tired. And, he had his hands on his face the whole time and I got that real quick and I think those are, I think, that’s the mojo. I think that’ s what Chris is talking about.
Several years ago I had the pleasure and honor to film several interviews with Ansel Adams’ son Michael, this one at Ansel’s home. As you can see in the above image, Michael is telling me the story of how Ansel photographed his iconic image “Moonrise Hernandez, New Mexico.” What follows is a portion of that video, but be sure to watch our full video and have a look at books by Ansel Adams
MARC: Now we’re at the centerpiece here. Tell us this story.
MICHAEL: This is the centerpiece and probably Ansel’s most famous picture. And I was very fortunate to be there when it was taken. I was seven years old. We were coming back to Santa Fe from north, and Ansel saw this image. He pulled the car off the road very rapidly, got out — got us — there were two of us also with him, and we were trying to get the tripod, and he got the camera on it, and he had made the — looked at the picture and then he wanted his exposure meter, but he couldn’t find it. So, he knew that the luminance of the moon was 250 foot-candles, and from that, he derived the exposure. He took that picture, put the slide back in the film holder, turned the film holder around. Before he could pull the slide to take a second one, all the light in the foreground was gone!
MICHAEL: So, it’s one of a kind. The thing that’s interesting about this, and it’s something I can show you later. If you look at the plain image, just the straight image of this, and then you look at this final print, there’s a huge difference, and this was part of Ansel’s magic is what he could do in the darkroom, and I can demonstrate that to you with the computer here in a few minutes, but — I can’t tell you the date this was done, but the later images had a darker sky than some of his earlier images.
MARC: He changed didn’t he, as he reprinted?
MICHAEL: He changed. He, I think in many ways, a lot of the contrasts became greater, darker skies, darker parts of the image in the later photographs as compared to some of his earlier ones.
MARC: So, the thing that he always talked about is the negative was the score, and the print was the performance.
MICHAEL: He used that musician’s… sort of a feeling that…Yes, he could do the score on the negative, and then you interpreted it as the actual final performance for the print.
Now watch my visit to Ansel Adams’ home and darkroom for many more stories and to see the computer images Michael talked about.
Here’s a few more tips from David Hobby from our interviewon the FlashBus, be sure to watch it and check out his books.
Marc: Composition: We’re all looking for that mojo, for the secret sauce, the thing that makes your image really stand out. What is it for you that gives you the mojo in a composition?
David: I’m a newspaper guy, so I’m pretty simple, compositionally speaking. I mean, I’m not like Peterson’s Photography Rule of Thirds issue, it always has to be right there, but I’m just looking for a natural composition that leads my eye to where I want it to be led. The viewer’s eye to where I want it to be led. I’m probably more meat and potatoes with my composition, and I try to be a little more edge with my light, so I’m safe in one area and a little out there in the other area.
Marc: Okay, so, David, if I had to ask you — I’m not going say your top ten or your top five, but if you were to give a list of some of the really important points that you’ve learned about photography over the years, what would those things be?
David: I think people think photography is about f-stops and shutter speed and light; for me photography is about people and experiencing things. I was photographing an opera singer, a soprano, singing in the shower the other day in a marble bathroom, and that is a life experience. That’s the coolest thing. Photography is experiential, it’s about making a connection with a person and recording that connection in a visual form, and saving that. It’s much more so about that than it is about are you Nikon or Canon, or where did you put your keylight. 20 years later, I don’t remember what lens I used when I made my pictures, I remember the experiences that were wrapped around the pictures.
One of my favorite video shoots of all time was with Bambi Canrell, a top tier, multi award winning wedding and portrait photographer. Why? She is a joy to be around, full of life and energy. Yes, she thoroughly understands lighting, cameras, lenses, and in short, is a master of her craft. But what makes her a remarkable photographer is that she understands people and how to communicate with them to reach their soul.
What follows is an excerpt from our interview, but be sure to watch it to get all of her tips. Also read books by Bambi.
Marc: What are some of your tips in terms of using light?
Bambi: Lighting is the foundation of everything photographic, in my personal opinion. That’s what you have to start with, learning how to see the world and see what light does.
You see, shadows and light, they are what create and give an image its definition, its dimensionality.
So, the first thing I do when I walk into a room is I take my hand like this [holds hand up and turns it to catch the light] and I start looking at the shadow areas on my hand as I walk around the room and see, “Is there a highlight in the room somewhere? OK, well I can see that there’s a little kicker light coming across my hand on this side from the windows over there, and then the main light is coming from this direction over here”. So, it helps me to see where I want to place my subject in relation to the light source.
Marc: So Bambi, what are sort of the one-two-three steps that you follow when you approach any kind of photograph?
Bambi: I like clean, simple lines. When you look through any of my photography, very seldom do you see a lot of background; it’s not about the location to me, it’s about the face and about the subject.
Once I have identified the location where I want my subject to appear, where I want them to be, the most important element that has to go into it is having my subject forget the camera is there, so I really want to take a personal interest in my subject at that point, look into their eyes and talk with them and get them to forget about that monster of camera that’s there, and then really be able to pull from them great expression because at the end of the day, expression beats perfection any day of the week, and if you have the most perfect photograph in the universe it’s a zero if you have no expression from your subjects.
Step behind the scenes to hear how Annie Leibovitz took the above cover photo of Demi Moore for Vanity Fair. Several years ago I had the Pleasure of walking through Annie’s exhibition of A Photographer’s Life in San Francisco. I got the shot of her above as she was telling the story; listen in on that conversation:
Demi Moore–you get to photograph people several times. Those are some of the more interesting relationships, for me. And I had photographed Bruce and Demi’s wedding because I photographed Bruce Willis first, I believe, and then, started photographing Demi.
And Demi, said, “would you take pregnant pictures of me when I get pregnant?”
“I said, Oh! I’d love to!”
I actually stopped on a flight back from the west coast back to the east coast there, I think Bruce was working on a film in Kentucky, and I took these pictures. [Pointing to another image] This is one of the frames here of a Polaroid negative of Bruce and Demi when she was pregnant with her first child.
So when we got together to do this Vanity Fair cover it was kind of interesting because you know, Vanity Fair was nervous, “Well, how are we going to do this? She’s really pregnant, how are we going to fit her on the cover?” Everyone was thinking about how to disguise her being pregnant. You know, like “how to not…You know, we can’t really…You know, ah shoot? We can’t, you know, we have to take these pictures now and…I But, you know, she’s pregnant and what are we going to do?”
And everyone is thinking, oh well; I’ll “just probably end up doing a head portrait.” Everyone was really thinking about how to, evade it, and how not to …that was the way of dealing with it.
And so Demi and I, we knew each other pretty well so,after I’d taken several pictures of her with several clothing changes, I said, ”why don’t I do some nudes of you but for the second child, do you have another set of pictures?”
And then she dropped her clothing and I started to shoot, “I said well this looks really, I mean, maybe we could make this a cover, you know? I don’t know, why not?”
So she said “yes, maybe”.
So we tried to hide everything, as best you could. And I brought the work back to Tina Brown in New York and she made a decision to go ahead with it. And this is one of those things, it had a life of its own.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting up with David Hobby who is the master of small strobes and author of the blog Strobist.
What follows is a transcript of some of some of his tips from our video, but be sure to see the entire video for all of his tips:
David Hobby: Hey, I’m David Hobby, with strobist.com, former Baltimore Sun photographer, and we are in– Where are we at today? San Jose, California, in the midst of a 13,000 mile, 29 city, 42 day bus tour, the Flash Bus. I’m traveling with Joe McNally, who you may have heard of, and we’re gonna be hanging out with Marc in just a minute.
Marc: Well, okay, you’re leading me right up to the point. So here we are, in your tour, can you give us a few key tips?
1. Get the light off the camera
David: Well, you know, get the light off the camera. If your light’s on your camera, your basically making a photocopy of something as far as three dimensionality is concerned. The difference between your viewpoint and where your light is is going to reveal texture and it’s going to reveal shape and form, and that’s the first step. And then from there you just go right down the rabbit hole of balancing it to ambient light, and adding other lights.
Marc: I caught part of Joe McNally’s workshop and somebody in there had more than 14 strobes.
David: You know, I don’t have 14 speed lights.
Marc: It’s an arsenal.
2. Keep it simple!
David: It’s also a little bit of… It’s something you gotta watch out for. If you have 13 speed lights, and you’re saying, “What I really need to be a good photographer is a 14th speed light…” You might be missing a concept in there somewhere. I did the vast majority of my work for the Baltimore Sun carrying around two speed lights, two cameras, a wide zoom, telephoto zoom, couple of light stands, and there’s just so much stuff you can do with just two lights that it’s ridiculous.
Marc: Okay, well, looking at that, what are some of the key things that you use every time you pick up a camera, or even before you pick one up?
3. How David uses light
David: Well, I don’t always use flashes, obviously. I shoot a lot of available light, like anybody else. If the light’s great, I’ll be happy to use it. I generally like to work with two lights, for a lot of reasons. If I’m always taking into account my ambient, I can add a single light and make a neat picture. If we don’t have good ambient, I might have to create a background of light with one light, maybe through an umbrella or bounced off the ceiling, to give me something to work against, and something on a measured level that I can add my keylight against, and I can control that contrast range. So two flashes is probably what I do 90% of the stuff that I do with.
Marc: I caught just a little bit of a tip, you were talking about using the “China ball”, right?
David: I love that thing.
Marc: Now, that’s been a video and a film kind of tool, I haven’t seen anyone use it with strobes.
David: Well, video’s certainly stealing from us, and that small and lightweight ethic, guys are shooting video with Canon 5D Mark IIs…
David: I saw that when I was walking around in New York City and happened upon a video crew filming a commercial in a really nice hotel, I was there for a shareholders’ meeting. And they had these Japanese lanterns everywhere, and I thought, “Of course!” This thing is small, it’s light, it collapses, it’s cheap, it takes a point source of light and turns it into a glowing 360 orb of light, how can that not be a speed light thing?
Marc: Okay, so you put your Nikon SB 800 in there, you hang it, and it…
David: I put a dome on it, so that light goes out in all directions.
Marc: You put the dome from the flash?
David: Exactly. With flash it all comes out in one direction, the dome makes a very small light source that goes out in all directions. I drop it into the top of that ball, and that ball makes it into a big light source that goes out in all directions.
Marc: And it will trigger even through the ball?
5. The “secret setting in the Nikon SB 800/900
David: Oh, sure. I’m not using CLS, the Nikon, you know the little signals to go through, I’m typically triggering with just a main flash, and I’m using SU-4 mode, which is the secret kind of undocumented awesome slave that’s built into most Nikon speed lights. If you put it in SU-4 mode, which is generally in the CLS menu, and then you put your flash into manual mode, no lie, I’ve triggered a Nikon speed light with another Nikon speed light this way, 150 feet away in full daylight.
Marc: Okay, that’s a hell of a tip right there.
Thanks David for helping us see the light! We’ll check in with you later to pry more tips from you!
Our AYP Club™ brings together like-minded photographers, exclusive video tips from top-photographers & photography instruction in a fun group setting, all designed to make you a better photographer. And have fun while doing it.