Travel por­traits

New Zealand D-Photo - - CONTENTS - | Ilan Wit­ten­berg

When we think of travel pho­tog­ra­phy, por­trai­ture prob­a­bly isn’t what jumps im­me­di­ately to mind. But Auck­land pho­tog­ra­pher Ilan Wit­ten­berg has proved that a cap­ti­vat­ing port­fo­lio of por­traits can cap­ture the essence of the for­eign cities he vis­its as well as any land­scape, street scene, or ar­chi­tec­ture image — and he’s won the awards to prove it


The pri­mary con­cern of any trav­eller, whether pho­tograph­ing or not, is des­ti­na­tion. And if you plan to cre­ate a grip­ping photo se­ries, there’s noth­ing to give you a bet­ter leg-up than vis­it­ing a fas­ci­nat­ing lo­ca­tion. In his time, Ilan has trav­elled ex­ten­sively, both lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally, to cap­ture the faces that make up our world. His lat­est voy­age was to the North African king­dom of Morocco. “I chose Morocco be­cause it has a sense of the old, of the vin­tage, about it,” he says. “It has an old-world at­mos­phere, which is some­thing I wanted to doc­u­ment — be­cause it could change very quickly.” A meld­ing of moun­tains and desert plains, Arab and in­dige­nous Ber­ber cul­ture, large cities and small vil­lages, the na­tion un­folds co­pi­ous fas­ci­na­tions to en­thral the cu­ri­ous. But to cre­ate a co­her­ent travel project, it is im­por­tant to have clear fo­cus: in Ilan’s case, the peo­ple liv­ing and work­ing in Fes el Bali, the largest car-free ur­ban pedes­trian mar­ket in the world. “My in­tent with this project was to visit a for­eign des­ti­na­tion which is best ex­plored on foot, me­an­der­ing along nar­row lanes and chat­ting to lo­cals,” he de­tails. “There’s noth­ing wrong with a beau­ti­ful land­scape pho­to­graph, but that’s not re­ally the place. The place is the peo­ple.”


If you have trav­elled far afield, there’s a good chance that the pop­u­la­tion speaks a dif­fer­ent lan­guage to your own, but this need not be an in­sur­mount­able barrier. In Morocco, the ma­jor­ity speak Ara­bic, which Ilan learned but a few words of (though some speak French, which the pho­tog­ra­pher is more fa­mil­iar with), so most com­mu­ni­cat­ing was done through ges­tures. “I don’t want to tell them how to look at me or how to pose, be­cause that’s not au­then­tic, but I try to get them to pause for a sec­ond. I’ll point into my eyes, be­cause I do want them to look at the cam­era.” Fram­ing the shot, he looks to sep­a­rate his sub­ject from the vis­ual clut­ter around them with­out los­ing the con­text of their en­vi­ron­ment. This can mean wait­ing for street traf­fic to clear in or­der to get a shot from two or three me­tres back. But if time or space don’t per­mit, he will move in for a close up. Re­gard­less of the cir­cum­stances, he’s look­ing to the eyes to tell the story. “When we see some­one for the very first time, it takes less than one-tenth of a sec­ond to form an opin­ion: this per­son is trust­wor­thy; this per­son is com­fort­able; this per­son is smart; this per­son is danger­ous. When they look at you, you feel their emo­tional com­mu­ni­ca­tion, who they are and what they feel in that mo­ment.”


Your ap­proach to shoot­ing will de­pend on read­ing the si­t­u­a­tion cor­rectly. In Morocco, Ilan mixed close-ups, half­body, and full-body shots as dic­tated by the phys­i­cal space. Ide­ally, he’s look­ing for sub­jects to be well lit in nat­u­ral light, with their back­drop slightly dimmed, so at­ten­tion is pulled to the per­son’s ex­pres­sion and body lan­guage. In terms of gear, he did away with tripods and kept just a small flash with him for (very oc­ca­sional) fill light­ing. With two cam­eras and three lenses, his gear was light enough to be car­ried com­fort­ably while nav­i­gat­ing on foot all day. It was

also un­ob­tru­sive enough not to in­tim­i­date his sub­jects. To em­pha­size the sub­ject against the back­ground, he tries to shoot with the aper­ture opened up as much as pos­si­ble, but, be­cause the shot is hand­held, it re­quires a shut­ter speed of around 1/60s to avoid in­tro­duc­ing cam­era shake in the image. To op­ti­mize image qual­ity, Ilan aims to shoot at 100 ISO where pos­si­ble, but, in darker sit­u­a­tions, it might need to be lifted to around 400, or even 2500. The key to deal­ing with your cam­era set­tings and be­ing adapt­able to the light­ing con­di­tions is know­ing your gear in­side out, so you don’t be­come a bur­den to those you are shoot­ing. “If you un­der­stand what you’re try­ing to achieve, you can change the set­tings rel­a­tively quickly ac­cord­ing to the en­vi­ron­ments. Be­cause you can’t ask a per­son to pose again, and again, and again. It has to be rapid-fire,” Ilan ex­plains. POST-PRO­CESS­ING The re­sult of Ilan’s trip is the se­ries

Faces of Morocco, a beau­ti­fully co­her­ent mono­chrome port­fo­lio com­pris­ing dozens of cap­ti­vat­ing char­ac­ters from the African na­tion. The images seem to flow to­gether ef­fort­lessly but are in fact the re­sult of sift­ing through thou­sands of shots, edit­ing se­lec­tions, and se­quenc­ing his picks. “As a pho­tog­ra­pher, it’s not enough to take a good photo; you have to se­lect it. Other than the ob­vi­ous tech­ni­cal as­pects — the sub­ject has to be in fo­cus, it has to be good light — you need to see if it tells a story,” he says. Ilan has a help­ful sys­tem to speed up the edit­ing process: im­port­ing his images to Light­room, he quickly as­sesses them all, flag­ging any­thing with at least some po­ten­tial with a one-star rat­ing. From this smaller se­lec­tion, he quickly selects those that stand out with a two-star rat­ing, and

so forth, un­til he is left with a se­lec­tion of five-star images. These are the only ones that go through to edit­ing. “It is time-con­sum­ing to build a port­fo­lio, but, once you’ve nar­rowed down the se­lec­tion, which is key, the post-pro­cess­ing is not too heavy,” he says. “I mostly just do slight global ad­just­ments: I can spend an hour or two on a photo, but most of them are rel­a­tively quick. It’s more au­then­tic and tells a beau­ti­ful story.” One of those ad­just­ments is con­vert­ing images to mono­chrome for­mat with sub­tle sepia tones. He does this us­ing Sil­ver Efex Pro from Nik soft­ware, with which he is able to em­ploy his sig­na­ture sharp, crispy style in uni­fy­ing the images’ feel. A lot of ef­fort goes into any travel project, and cre­at­ing a fully de­vel­oped port­fo­lio from your im­agery can be daunt­ing. But, if it’s your pas­sion, Ilan rec­om­mends ig­nor­ing all the rea­sons why not and jump­ing in, be­cause it’s an en­deav­our that will “fill your emo­tional tank”. “It’s so ex­cit­ing to see a won­der­ful col­lec­tion and show it to peo­ple — put it on your web­site, en­ter it in com­pe­ti­tions. You worked hard, so show it to peo­ple. That’s our con­tri­bu­tion as pho­tog­ra­phers.”

THE BER­BER NO­MAD, SONY A7R II, ZEISS 55MM F/1.8 LENS, 55MM, 1/1000S, F/1.8, ISO 100

THE BOILER, FU­JI­FILM X-T2, FUJINON 18–55MM F/2.8–4 LENS, 24MM, 1/125S, F/4, ISO 12,800

THE AD­MIN­IS­TRA­TOR, SONY A7R II, ZEISS 55MM F/1.8 LENS, 55MM, 1/30S, F/3.2, ISO 2500

THE MU­SI­CIAN, SONY A7R II, ZEISS 55MM F/1.8 LENS, 55MM, 1/60S, F/3.5, ISO 100

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