“The young Afghan refugee who stared from the cover of National Geographic in June 1985 was an enigma for 17 years. What was her name? Had she survived? Photographer Steve McCurry joined a crew from National Geographic Television & Film to methodically search for her. They showed her photograph around the refugee camp in Pakistan where McCurry had encountered her as a schoolgirl in December 1984. Finally, after some false leads, a man who had also lived in the camp as a child recognized her. Yes, she was alive. She had left the camp many years before and was living in the mountainous Tora Bora region of Afghanistan. He said he could find her, and three days later he and a friend brought her back to the camp. There, the remarkable story of this woman, Sharbat Gula, began to be told.”
Notes From The Field is a new Q&A series in which students can post questions to an expert related to the craft, language and art of photography.
Our current expert is New York City based photographer David Neff.
Below are the top ten questions from students and photographer David Neff’s candid answers.
- How long have you been making images?
I’ll have to break this down into phases, first real camera acquired was at 16, so that would be 32 years. First photo class at 18, first big time job at 30. I’m now 48.
- How would you describe the type, or style, of photography you produce?
I shoot environmental portrait which tends to be fun happy pictures with bold colors of people. In reality, most of my work is now corporate, people look happy but the fun whacky part has become less of my paid work and remaining is happy people who usually make a whole lot of money. I still have leanings toward silly, bold and conceptual, just less time to do it personally lately.
- How important is understanding composition to your image making process?
Composition was more important when I was learning or working with marker comps or layouts. It has become internalized over the years and now I spend more time looking for a booger gone astray and rely on a part of my brain to do composition without having to take up bandwidth reserved for conversation, balance or temperature regulation.
- Can you describe three top compositional techniques a new photographer must know at the start of his/her career.
Don’t let lines intersect heads, never leave a head in the center of the frame after you focus (I still don’t use autofocus) Once you know what you are doing, make lines intersect heads and put people in the center.
- Are their specific industries that interest you?
I love science and technology. I’m pretty gadget happy and would be as happy taking my strobes apart as lighting with them.
- Do you use social media or other technologies to market your images?
Sure, I have a blog, twitter, Facebook, Ello, Pinterest and Instagram. I should use them, maybe this will prompt me to do it.
- How do you find new potential business prospects?
I have one of those phone numbers that people accidentally call on occasion when they mean to call someone else. If someone calls asking for Richard Avedon, I just say hello, how can I help you. Aside from that, I used to drop off portfolios, send out promos, blog, e-blast and call people. Stuff that I might start doing again in the fall.
- What steps do you take to cultivate ongoing professional relationships?
I smile at people, do good work and occasionally send out an email saying hello.
- What inspires you to create?
Lately, the most inspiring thing I photograph is my son, nothing makes you see things differently than trying to understand a child.
- Do you work on personal projects? If yes, how much time do you work on it before you feel it is complete? If no, why?
I have several projects on the bench, lately I have been dabbling in electronics. Sure, it’s nice to eat, live, sleep and $h*t your work but eventually if you don’t dabble somewhere else, there is a good chance you’ll get bored. This fall though I have two new projects I’m hoping to start shooting though I’m thinking I’ll be doing some writing first so I have some backbone for the two series and they don’t just end up another pile of pictures loosely related. When is it complete? Likely never, but then some concepts expire as well unless you keep them beefy over generational changes. It’s better to have chapters than a sequel.
Go to the New York Times Photoblog (link above) and describe the image that comes up in three individual sentences using photographic compositional terms.
- Speak about the camera angle, lens choice, background, the props and lighting.
- Does the image follow the rule of thirds (explain)?
- Describe the compositional elements; shape / form, line, space, value, texture and color within the image.
- Describe the compositional principles; emphasis, balance, unity, contrast, movement / rhythm and pattern / repetition within the images.