This month I'm delighted to introduce you to a fellow photographer, NANCY ROTHSTEIN. Whether shooting professional head shots (she recently took mine), individuals or groups, what sets Nancy apart from others is her ability to connect, heart and mind, with her clients, thus capturing the true 'it', the essence of each person.
Enjoy the following interview I had with Nancy.DEW: Nancy, what inspired(s) you to be a photographer?NR: I had my first camera at age 7, a Brownie box camera. My genetic interest surely came from my father; photography has been a deep, continuing theme of our relationship. I've always loved finding moments & vignettes to carve out from the sometimes overwhelming whole. The camera can both record and create moments of beauty. When I was younger, photography was a way to navigate & digest the world, allowing me to be engaged while also staying in an independent space of observation, somewhat protected behind the lens. The camera still offers this protection.DEW: What actually happens when you're in this protected place behind the camera?NR: When I am photographing, I am more fearless in my explorations of the world. There's a zone that happens with photography. In the zone, I'm not afraid to stand in the middle of a busy street or lie down on a dirty sidewalk to get the shot I want. These days I see photography more as a means of connection and empowerment, and I'm inspired by the ability to connect with my clients to convey something true about them. That is truly gratifying.DEW: As a fellow photographer, I know that, like me, your goal is to shoot people in their natural versus a staged (tight, uncomfortable) state. What techniques — besides your naturally open, non-judgmental demeanor that I experienced when you took my head shots — have you found to be effective?NR: To achieve a natural portrait requires a sincere emotional connection between the photographer and the subject. That may be very subtle or more obvious, and it may be lightening fast, but even understanding the timing of when to push the shutter requires presence and an awareness of the fleeting emotional expression of the subject. I think that you have to be open and connected in order to read those signs. Trusting an organic process, being present, listening, being open, playing, experimenting, matching the energy of the subject and then skillfully nudging them toward opening....all of these help. And love...loving each other as human beings is essential!DEW: Depth of field (blur factor around a focused person or object) seems to play a prominent role in your head shots. What do you think that does versus keeping both foreground and background in focus?NR: I love using a shallow depth of field for portraiture because it allows the subject of the portrait to stand out from the background. Otherwise, when the subject and the background are equally focused, the eye will travel around the frame and be distracted by the small details. I enjoy "painting" the forms and textures of the background. I can do this by manipulating the objects and then blurring them out to create the texture that I want and to control the way it frames the subject. I love the experience of looking around and translating what my eyes see this into a vision of the final image, understanding how that background will be completely transformed. If the background is part of the story, however, then it should be considered somehow. It may still be blurred, adding both an interesting textural quality and subtle reference, to architectural lines, for example.DEW: Most of us find ourselves shooting or being part of a group or family photo. Can you share a few pieces of advice about how to both take and be in a ‘keeper’ shot?NR: Group photos can be boring. Often we are just lined up and squished together. I like giving each person their own space and letting them pose in the way that's natural to them. If each person, or couple, or family subgroup, is doing their own thing, then the look of the overall group becomes much more dynamic. Often these types of shots happen spontaneously, at a moment that wasn't optimized for photography. For me personally I think finding the flattering light in the setting is more important than necessarily including some feature of the landscape. If you're at a place where the location is important to the group but using some iconic aspect of the location as the background puts them in horrible light, then I suggest take a snapshot of them in that setting, then moving them to the good light and do a nicer portrait to take advantage of the fact that everyone is together. To create more depth in the image and avoid casting shadows, keep the group away from the background. For example, if there are flowers, trees, a cool wall or a building in the background, leave a good bit of space between the group and the background if possible.DEW: Black and white or color: What drives your decision to choose one over the other?NR: I think a lot of images work well in color and black and white but generally I choose black and white when the mood matches my intention for the image, and when there's the right amount of contrast. Sometimes color can distract from the forms in an image. For clients I provide color and black-and-white versions of all images.DEW: If you could photograph anyone in the world, past or present, who would it be, and why?NR: That's a tough question. I'm so involved with photographing normal everyday (fantastic!) people that I don't often fantasize about who I would want to photograph. I find it deeply satisfying to give normal people images of themselves that they love. If I had to choose my dream subject, it would be someone whose gaze offers some kind of inspiration, hope, or healing to the viewer; someone who's able to remind us of our essential connectedness and move us to acts of kindness and courage.DEW: On a personal note, can you talk about our process, when you photographed me for a professional head shot, and why the early photos weren't capturing the 'it' of me and then, how they did?NR: In our session we initially came upon a subtle disconnect between what we were capturing and what you wanted to convey. This is normal; not bad or a failure. A session is an organic process; you have to be open to finding your way together, learning to communicate with each other and find the way to draw out and capture the version of the truth that needs to be told at that time. We are multi-facted beings; images can be truthful and be different, but for a client I need to tell the story they want told at that moment. In our session, what we found was that there was a tension between your answers to my questions about how you wanted to be perceived and your own self image. We were getting images that were very aligned with the message we thought we wanted to convey (through your direct gaze and smile), but there was a missing piece. There is an edginess that's a part of your personality that we hadn't identified in our initial talk. So we spoke more about who you are in contrast with how you were feeling and looked in the photos. Once I understood that, we had to figure out how to convey both the open, approachable, connected you and the strong, adventuresome, edgy you. It turned out that including more of you, your head, shoulders and torso, was key, highlighting the strength and angularity of your frame and the muscular tension in your limbs. That way, we were able to visually achieve all that you are.
DEW: Nancy, what a perfect ending! Of course, you used the pronoun 'we' throughout your final answer. What a mirror of your and commitment and ability to connect with your clients. That is why and how you bring out and capture the essential 'it'. Thank you for doing so for me!
NANCY ROTHSTEIN PHOTOGRAPHY
Portraits | Commercial | Fine Art