Behind the Shot

May 21st, 2014
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A picture is worth a thousand words, sure. But have you ever wondered what was reeling in the minds of the photographer as soon as they released the shutter? We asked several photographers to share their personal favorite shots and the stories behind them. From pulling all-nighters to capture the best lighting to traveling the corners of the globe to touching life tales of their subjects, here’s proof that there’s much more to a photo than simply pointing and shooting. Here, three seasoned photographers recount what it took to get that perfect shot.


a black and white photo of a man taken by a Zenfolio photographerMoroccan Street Scene by Mark Archibald

“When I was growing up studying photography I was always attracted to photographs that display several elements coming together into one overall composition. It is one of the most difficult things to achieve when shooting a scene candidly. When I look at the work of Koudelka or Salgado or (it almost goes without saying) Cartier-Bresson, this is often what makes the images so successful, spontaneous and difficult to replicate.

With my travel work, this desire for an image with many elements is always at the forefront. This photograph was taken in Marrakech and combines three unrelated situations into one scene. I framed the shot and then waited for the man and cat in the background to come together and make a nice shape. The other two parts of the photograph were pretty static, which made things easier. I like to work as if I am shooting on film — be patient and wait for something to happen within the frame. Often, a scene will only present one possible image, so you must be ready and anticipate what might happen. Sometimes you are lucky and all the elements come together. Sometimes you are unlucky and things don’t come together as you’d hoped. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be so rewarding when it works out!”


Gorilla by Peter Stanley

“In 2003 while visiting my parents in Uganda, I was given the gift of a lifetime: a permit to go on a gorilla trek. After an intense seven-hour hike through thick mountain forests, we reached the gorilla family and I took out my pocket camera only to find that it had chosen this day to die.

However, without a camera the experience was arguably more memorable as I felt the breath of a silverback and sat quietly next to a nursing female. I’ll never forget the memories of that hike. As my photographic life expanded over the next 10 years, I knew I wanted to return with a ‘real’ camera to make images that would help create a connection to these animals and hopefully inspire an ethic of respect and conservation in those who viewed my images.

In 2013, the opportunity came and I boarded a plane from my home in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, heading for Kigali, Rwanda. After a long drive to the north, we reached Volcanoes National Park. The hike took us only a few miles from the Uganda border where I had been 10 years earlier. On this hike I made sure I had enough equipment and carried a bag with a spare camera body, three batteries and two lenses. In the end, I primarily used my D800 with a Nikkor 50mm f1.4 because this setup allowed for the best low light shooting.

The experience still gives me chills when I think about special moments from that hike. At one moment the largest silverback in the world arrived and charged by our group, shattering bamboo poles above our heads, as a display of dominance. There was also a mother who ate too many fermented bamboo shoots and got drunk. The infant who faced me gave a classic chest pound and proceeded to swing playfully, only pausing to give me eye contact as if to say, ‘did you see that.’ Yes, I saw it, my camera saw it, and I hope the world sees it too.”

Rubio by Ginny Dixon

“One time I was shooting an artist in the Wynwood Art District of Miami. I was there to make a portrait in front of a particular painting. I had her wait in the gallery next door to the one I was setting up my lights in. I had not noticed the self-portrait she had made initially and she just went and stood by it while she was waiting. I asked her, “Is that you? It is, right?” and she just kind of smiled and put her hand over her face. It’s still one of my favorite portraits.”