The Nobel Peace Prize has been an ongoing project of mine for the past ten or so years. I’ve been covering the laureates and the annual award ceremonies, concerts, and other events.
My work is included in a new book, Peace at Heart, edited by Linda Netland and published by the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo.
For more of my photos from the project, check out The Nobel Peace Prize
It takes more than great equipment to make a great image. You need artistry, skill, and often a bit of luck. But having the right gear is an important part of the equation.
I get a lot of questions about what’s in my camera bag. Here’s a look at three zoom lenses that are critical to the work I do in the field. They are not the only lenses I use — in fact, I have a special love for fixed-length primes, which I’ll talk about in a future post — but when I’m on assignment, shooting events, or doing spot news coverage, chances are that one of the following three lenses is mounted on my camera.
Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L II. Wide-angle lenses are challenging to work with. They require a sophisticated understanding of composition compared to standard lenses. It has taken me time to learn how to shoot wide — and to develop the confidence to get really close to the action. But this lens is a joy to use and has produced some of my all-time best images. Of the three lenses listed here, it’s the softest and produces the highest degree of distortion, especially in the corners. Doesn’t matter. It’s a rock-solid performer, one that produces consistently excellent results, images draw you in with their rich detail and stunning colors. Aside from the versatile zoom range, two things I especially like about this lens are 1) its relatively light weight (about one and a half pounds with UV filter, caps and hood), and 2) its incredible sunstar effects when stopped down (a function of its having just 7, rather than the usual 8 or 9, diaphragm blades) which means I can shoot directly into the sun, for example, or make sparkling long-exposures after dark.
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L II. Canon released this lens in late 2012, replacing the original 24-70mm f/2.8 L, which I had carried around in my bag for about 8 years. While that lens was incredibly rugged and dependable, it was never much fun to use. In fact, even though it was probably the lens I used the most, it was the one I loved the least. When Canon came out with the new version, I had mixed feelings. It cost a fortune, for one thing. How could I justify spending so much on a lens that seemed so, well, plain and ordinary? But every review I read made it clear that the new 24-70mm was in a class of its own. And the image comparisons between the old and new versions made the choice obvious. I’ve now had the lens for more than three years and I can safely say that it’s the most versatile and optically superior piece of glass I own. It works for everything from product shots to press conferences to portrait shoots, producing rich, pleasing images that almost always impress with their clarity and detail. Whenever I’m limited to working with a single lens, this is always my first choice.
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L. Just about every photojournalist worth his or her salt carries a 70-200mm telephoto lens. It’s just hard to manage an assignment without it. Over the past decade, my 70-200mm f/2.8 L lens has gone with me almost everywhere. It’s heavy, weighing in at well over 3 pounds with the UV filter, caps and hood (not to mention the weighty tripod collar). But there’s no replacement when it comes to shooting concerts, lectures, plays, and other events where you need a close-up or a little extra reach. The power of the 200mm focal length is that it compresses distance, making it ideal for compositions that bring together multiple elements in the frame, making them appear closer to each other than they really are. Shot wide open, the 70-200mm can also help separate a subject from its background, making it perfectly suited for long portrait work. It has a very flattering effect on the human face and tends to produce beautifully out-of-focus backgrounds. It used to be my go-to portrait lens. But in recent years I’ve shifted toward shorter focal lengths which force you to get closer to your subject and therfore create more intimate images. The most common version of the lens has image stabilization, but I prefer the one without. I still have a steady hand and like the reduced weight of the non-stabilized version.
In addition to these three zooms, I have a collection of other lenses that serve a variety of special purposes, from a 15mm fisheye and a 35mm f/1.4 to a 85mm f/1.2 and 135mm f/2. More on these in a future post.
Like many photographers, I fantasize about owning other lenses. But the reality is that I already have more gear than I can carry in most situations. And when I need something in particular — such as a 400mm f/2.8 to shoot, say, a concert — I simply rent it.
There is a wonderful line in A Thousand Names for Joy where Byron Katie asks: Who would you be without your story? “There is no story that is you or leads to you,” she says. “Every story leads away from you. You are what exists before all stories. You are what remains when the story is understood.”
Katie’s books and public workshops have helped tens of thousands of people understand how their their attachment to stories stand in the way of their own joy and freedom. I discovered her work about ten years ago and it’s safe to say I had my mind blown.
Given the influence Katie has had on me, I was thrilled to be invited to photograph her at her ranch in Ojai, California. We spent an afternoon taking pictures, having tea, talking about our favorite books and teachers. It was one of the easiest photoshoots I can remember. The afternoon flew by in an instant.
Katie herself seemed completely present, open to ideas, even playful in front of the camera. Many people are uncomfortable in front of big lenses and studio strobes. Not Katie. I was reminded of another line from her book:
“A mature mind can entertain any idea,” she writes. “It is never threatened by opposition or conflict, because it knows that it can’t be hindered. When it has no position to defend or identity to protect, it can go anywhere. There’s never anything to lose… Laughter pours out of it.”
Beautiful words, ones which Katie herself teaches by example.
My portrait of Katie appears on the Spanish edition of A Thousand Names for Joy
Burning Man 2015 will be remembered for the wind, the dust, and the unseasonably chilly temperatures. But it was also a year of first-rate art installations, stunning fire performances, startling art cars, burning pianos flying through the air, and much else besides. It was my 4th year covering the event for Rolling Stone and if you head over to their site you’ll find about 20 images of mine gathered under the heading, See Trippy, Surreal Photos From Burning Man 2015. Some of the same images also appear here (but without the pesky ads!), along with about 80 others that try to capture something of the art, the people, and the performances from an all-around incredible week.
A few weeks ago, the producers of Discovery’s “This Happened Here” contacted me about an image I had made at Burning Man in 2011. The series features short documentaries that revolve around compelling or unusual photographs.
I answered some questions about the photo and reflected on why I happen to love making pictures at the event.
They have just posted a new episode under the title, “Can Burning Man Change Your Life?” As it turns out, they let me do most of the talking.
Check out the clip above, or read more about it here.
The timing couldn’t be better, as I’m scrambling to get ready for Burning Man 2015 which kicks off in just a few short days.
In the new issue of Wired Magazine, fellow photographer Sidney Erthal and I offer some thoughts about our favorite Burning Man art pieces from the past along with installations we’re looking forward to seeing at this year’s event, which kicks off in less than two weeks.
“A five-storey mesh dancer, a giant game of fire Tetris and — if rumours are to be believed — a hacked Boeing 747 are just a few of the oversized artworks on show at Burning Man (August 30 to September 7),” writes Oliver Franklin-Wallis. “But here, such awe-inspiring projects are the norm — the Nevada desert festival has a reputation as an alt-art showcase. ‘It’s a laboratory for creativity,’ says Scott London, a long-time photographer of the event who, with fellow snapper Sidney Erthal and author Jennifer Raiser, has collaborated on Burning Man: Art on Fire (Race Point Publishing).”
The piece features about a dozen of our photos. You’ll find the images and full text online: http://wired.uk/JFmODc
This week, the Pocko Times is showcasing my Burning Man photographs in a special feature that includes more than 30 photos and an extended interview about the project.
The Pocko Times began as a large format print magazine devoted to art, photography and ideas. It has now evolved into what they describe as “a curated platform of innovative ideas and artist endeavours” — an online platform of sorts showcasing talented individuals with a unique perspective about the world through their work.
It was a delight and an honor to to be profiled. You can read the interview and see the photos here: pocko.com.
Over the next week, I’ll be taking over the Instagram feed for Color Services, a wonderful photo lab I’ve been working with for over 10 years now. Not exactly “taking over,” more like guest hosting. They’ve invited me to share some of my favorite images from the past few years, along with some new stuff. If you’re on Instagram, I hope you can follow along: @colorservices
UPDATE (July 31, 2015):
Thanks to Gabe, Glen, Linda and the rest of the team at Color Services for letting me take the reins for a week. To read their blog entry about the takeover and see some of the photos that I posted, head over to the Color Services Blog.