Stu Shapiro [Events Photographer]
by Michael Kruger
Here at X-Pose Magazine, we’re always looking for new and highly talented people to do an expose on! Well, I stumbled upon Stu Shapiro’s work a little while ago on Facebook. Since we’re doing a feature on Photographer’s it was blatantly obvious that I had to talk to him about his obvious talent, as well as few other things to do with the photography business, that not only are relevant to his native Cape Town, but also to all of us photographers around the world!
So without much further ado, here’s Stu to have a chat with us!
XPM: So Stu, looking at your work, you have an unbelievable eye for catching what I would call the “Candid” photo, in particular within the “events” field of photography. I honestly was blown away by your work. Your photos tell a story and capture moments, be they happy, emotional, sad and more! Tell us how you fell into this type of work and how long ago?
STU: Thanks Michael. I fell face first, that’s for sure. I held my first, out of production, DSLR 5 years ago. While working in the 3D animation industry I started testing an idea of incorporating human skin into game models. My friends built me a studio and lent me a camera to test out the concept. Instantly I fell in love with the interaction between myself and my subjects. My fascination with the human psyche has always been the main driving motivating factor for my photography; why people do the things they do, how we think, what we think, moments and memories and how our journeys shape who we are. I love interacting with people, seeing even just a glimpse of another person’s life and hearing their stories. The camera has always allowed me to embrace this fascination; it’s given me the opportunity to take on the role of the explorer, adventurer, journalist, artist and curious kid. Every picture tells a story. I feel photography is a reflection of who we are. It shows us a moment of life frozen in a frame. Life, after all, is just an amalgamation of moments.
XPM: Just for the fellow photographers out there, what focal length of lenses are you using? I mean, I’m taking it you’re shooting at a distance to get the candid nature of your photos…or do you happen to get up close and personal too?
STU: I have a range of lenses. My favourites are the 50mm prime, 70 – 200, 24 – 70. Shooting for me is very personal and mood dependant. A 50mm or 24 – 70 forces the photographer to engage with the subject. This requires a certain mind set, energy and directly affects the outcome of the image. For me, a sensation of voyeurism is a moment of truth, for those moments I like to use my 70 – 200. People call my style, “ninja photography”. I’m everywhere, constantly watching, mentally taking notes of the surrounding lighting to subconsciously position myself correctly. I take notes of certain people, characters and body language. There is also a recurring pattern with regards to facial expressions that happen in sequence when people are communicating. I often wait for those moments.
XPM: What is the events market like in South Africa as a whole? You seem to shoot a lot in Cape Town, coz I guess you’re based there, but is there enough work around CT and the country to sustain a living? How do you generally market yourself?
STU: We host a large amount of festivals and events in Cape Town in general. But, there are so many photographers these days, each year I am shocked by the number of people roaming events with professional equipment in hand. I don’t think there is enough work to service everyone who calls themselves a professional photographer. I do however think there is enough work for people who have the actual skill to be titled a professional photographer. It’s hard to define what a professional photographer really is. For me, it’s about quality, the work that’s produced, not the equipment, the title, the website, the cards or any other form of marketing that people do to create a status.
On a marketing note, I actually don’t do any marketing what so ever. I feel when it comes to photography; your pictures will speak for themselves.
XPM: Which is your favourite shoot to date and why?
STU: I had the privilege of working with the Khoi San tribes of Africa for a Dutch publication. The journalist was digging into the truth behind the politics, traditions and history of the Tribe – a controversial topic of which I got to hear first-hand from the Elders via a translator. We spent a week with the tribe, learning their roots, problems and politics. I welcomed the experience of drinking home-made beer, eating a tortoise and hearing stories around a camp fire. For me, capturing this truth only further fuelled my love for photography.
XPM: If there was one event worldwide you could shoot which one would it be and again, why?
STU: Without sounding morbid, I would love to photograph an African sacrificial ceremony, an evangelical religious event, inside a town just after a natural disaster or in a combat zone. I want to show the true emotions we don’t normally see.
XPM: I’m not sure if you’re aware that we’re doing a small feature on the “Burning Man Festival” that takes place in the Nevada Desert every year. Have you heard about this festival? We think you’d do an amazing job there!!
STU: Ah Burning Man!! I’ve heard all about it and seen so many images. It’s photography heaven. I was in talks with a well-known American photographer a few years ago. He very kindly assisted in the initial development of my wearable high powered light rig by answering all my questions. Many people have tried to convince me to go, but it’s unfortunately very expensive for us South African’s to get there. We have our own version which is growing exponentially every year, called AfrikaBurn. I highly recommend it!
XPM: Stu we understand that you’ve just created a new venture called “BrandRocket” Please tell us all about it? What it is and why it something you think will stand out in the market place of photography?
STU: We struggle as photographers with the over saturation of the market. The new guys are undercutting the professionals. Which client ever said, “I’m so glad we went with the cheaper photographer”? None!! But, guess what, they still do! Technology is evolving at an exponential rate only to reach the predicted singularity. Photography is being affected by this evolution. For example; cheaper cameras, functionality, editing software etc. The game will change. We are all running around with cameras in our pockets. BrandRocket is the name of my company which was born out of the above realization and my exposure to brand activation photography. Brands are searching for new ways to increase their online social media presence, a way to capture the consumer in this over consumeristic age.
BrandRocket has developed South Africa’s first kiosk based, touch screen, automated social media printing station. Consumers are able to print branded twitter and Instagram photos via an event or by using BrandRocket’s high spec industrial kiosks. Your consumers become the photographers while increasing your brands social media presence. We launched publically with a bang 5 months ago and are now franchising, expanding and taking on amazing clients.
XPM: Have you ever thought of moving into filming your events? Or is this something you’ve not considered or not prepared to venture into? If not, do you work with film/video guys on your various gigs?
STU: I often get asked if I do videography, I leave that up to the professional videographers, some of whom I consider close friends. I lived and surrounded myself by film enthusiasts and students when I was in my very early 20’s. Through them I have a huge appreciation and respect for film and take a lot of inspiration from cinematography. There are vast technical differences between the two mediums. I personally prefer a single frame and what that can say as opposed to multiple frames.
XPM: I recently saw you shot a “Zombie” event in Cape Town. The photos were amazing! Can you tell us a bit more about that event and what it was for?
STU: Cape Town was affected by the Zombie apocalypse once again this year. It is a yearly occurrence which ironically coincides with Halloween. Thousands of Zombies emerged out of nowhere to terrorise the streets of Cape Town. There are a lot of rumours regarding social commentary around the event; however the event is purely a fun day to let your hair down and get messy. It started as a small group of 8 and expanded to over 2300 people within 3 years. Donations are welcome with proceeds going towards help in aid of the Lucky Lucy Foundation. *Non-Profit, Pro-life, Pro-Quality of Life organisation that tries to relieve the plight of neglected and abused street animals. They are dedicated to the social “up-liftment” and education of impoverished children and adults in and around Cape Town.
I was amazed by the efforts of all the participants. Makeup artists and VFX artists really went to town, excuse the pun. I had come straight from a wedding, changing clothes at every red traffic light along the way. It was a small effort on my behalf, blood, dirt and old clothes. As a photographer, it’s important to be a part of an event regardless of how you shoot; your energy and appearance are an important factor. This was an amazing visual event to shoot. However, people were just too happy! I literally photo shopped facial expressions in key shots to give the image the feel I was going for. When you shoot, think about your grade, your final product. This plays an important part on how you shoot and frame your subjects.
XPM: I sure you’re very busy, but what do you do to kick back and relax? Cape Town is an awesome city with lots to do? Anything in particular?
STU: Cape Town rocks! I often spend my free time on the beach and out in nature. We have amazing hiking routes, mountains, views and getaways. I love good food, I love cooking, I love being quiet and reflecting, watching and thinking. I like to think of myself as an introvert however I’m apparently ridiculously social. With that said, sometimes, I party, and when I do, I go all out.
XPM: What is your advice to other young people who want to succeed in the photography industry?
STU: There are two things that are so important to becoming a professional photographer that I want to share and feel strongly about. Know your worth and how much to charge. You are not just your unique skill and style. You are not just the time on the shoot and the time behind the computer editing the images. You are your camera, your battery, CF cards, accessories, your PC, the hard drives, the software costs, the insurance, the petrol, the life span of your equipment and more. Divide this monetary amount by the number of days you work a month. Work that out and you’ll realise how much it really costs to be a photographer every day. And then, you’ll know your base rate and what you are worth.
The second point is, when it comes to event related photography your goal is your hit rate. It gets to me when I hear a camera firing off countless shots of one given moment. There is only one moment; there is only one correct setting to get the shot you want in your mind. A great photographer doesn’t go home with countless shots, deleting and selecting for hours. Know what you want to shoot when you see it, press the button when it’s the right moment and know what your settings need to be to capture that moment.
XPM: Well Stu, we’d really like to thank you here at XPM for taking the time to chat to us! Please keep up the amazing work and wish you all the best. If you’re ever in Dubai, come and pay us a visit at XPM HQ!! Thanks!
STU: Thanks Michael, I definitely will!