Travel Photographer Interviews: Audrey Scott & Daniel Noll

by Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström May 27, 2010
 (c) Uncornered Market

All photos courtesy of Uncornered Market

In a new series on Notebook, we interview professional photographers, and discuss their different perspectives on travel photography as well as tips for taking better pictures.

THE DYNAMIC DUO behind the popular Uncornered Market brand, Audrey Scott and Daniel Noll’s photography has appeared on AOL Travel, Huffington Post, and BBC’s Your Portfolio, and they’ve worked as photojournalists with Kiva and Five Talents International, documenting their microfinance projects in Asia and South America.

MatadorU faculty and travel photographer Lola Akinmade chatted with the nomadic couple to learn more about their documentary style of photography.

How long have you been professional photographers?

If you count the time we have been actively earning money as photographers, a little over three years. Before this time, we had taken part in group photography exhibitions in Prague, Czech Republic.

Example of photography exhibition (Audrey): Dream Girls @ Tina B (2006)

What – or who – got your initial interest going in terms of photography?

Audrey: My interest in photography started young; I was fortunate to take a photography course in high school that introduced me to the basics of an SLR camera and how to develop black and white photos in a darkroom. I took a break from photography for a few years, but then got back into it when we lived in Prague and I needed a creative outlet from my left-brained job.

Daniel: Travel was the impetus for my interest in photography. I also needed a creative outlet to balance my professional life as a management consultant. Prior to traveling to India, I bought a new camera (Pentax ZX-50 was my first). Later, I took a black and white photography class with a terrific instructor who viewed photography through the eyes of a painter first, and a technician second.

 (c) Uncornered Market
What were your first photographic experiments or experiences?

Audrey: My first deliberate photography experiments I can remember were taking photos of animals while on safari in Tanzania while on vacation in high school and printing them on heavy stock drawing paper (by painting chemicals on different surfaces) in my high school’s darkroom. It was the idea that you could combine photography with other mediums as an art form.

Daniel: My first photographic experience was also my first trip outside of North America: India and Australia. However, I only really began to understand photography after experimenting in black and white. Two experiences stand out: photographing tulips at the Jardin de Tuileries in Paris and photographing people on the streets of North Beach, the neighborhood where I lived in San Francisco.

How would you describe the work you do now…obviously there’s a strong reportage / photojournalistic element, but are you involved in the commercial world also? Any stock photography?

Our photographic angle is mainly documentary. We aim to share the spirit of the places we visit and the people we meet on our journey. Additionally, we have executed customized photography projects with microfinance organizations and NGOs. These projects challenge us to convey the spirit of the programs, the people involved, and the effects of the programs on their communities through photographs.

Although our photography careers began with a substantial stock photography sale of travel images from Europe, we have done little in the commercial world of photography since then. We choose to focus on gathering impressions and executing projects.

Most of our stock photography sales have occurred because publications or NGOs have found our website and have then chosen to purchase usage licenses. We have not yet begun to market our photos through traditional stock photography sites.

 (c) Uncornered Market
What three tips would you share for amateur photographers who are interested in pursuing your style of photography?

While technical proficiency is important to photo taking, we feel that our non-technical skills (e.g., communication skills) aid us most in getting memorable images.

a) Make sure that you’ve tapped into your passion. If you are not passionate about your subject(s), it’s time to find other subjects or possibly another discipline.

b) Allow your curiosity — in a person, culture or place – guide you in finding interesting and unique photographic subjects. For example, we enjoy going where ordinary people spend their time; a stop at the local fresh market is usually the first thing we do when we arrive in a new location.

c) Develop a relationship with the person you are photographing. In addition to learning about the person’s life, this helps build trust and allows your subject to relax and appear more natural in the photo.

You’ve been working with micro-finance organizations such as Kiva for awhile now. Can you tell us more? How you became interested in this project?

Audrey: I had been interested in microfinance for over a decade, but my experience was limited to reading books about it (i.e., theoretical). One of my goals was to see microfinance in action on the ground. As our people photography skills improved, we approached microfinance organizations, like Kiva, with our portfolio to see if they would be interested in working with us.

We provide high quality photos the organization can use for PR, marketing or fundraising purposes. We’ve worked with three different microfinance organizations in six countries. These projects usually take us to places far off the beaten path and allow us to really understand a country’s socio-economic issues.

Daniel: I just follow Audrey and take the photos. On a more serious note, these projects take us to locations that we otherwise wouldn’t experience, thereby adding another dimension to our around-the-world journey.

A few images from our work with microfinance organizations – View Gallery.

 (c) Uncornered Market
Which other photographers – old or contemporary – inspire you most?

Audrey: When I was young and shooting black and white, I was a fan of Ansel Adams. In Prague, I respected the work of my teacher Minna Pyyhkala and also became interested in Cindy Sherman.

Daniel: Henri Cartier-Bresson. Ansel Adams, too. I’m probably sub-consciously inspired by Realist and Impressionist painters.

When you are approaching subjects to shoot, how do you set about it? Do you chat and explain what you’re doing? Or shoot first, ask questions later?

Usually, we ask permission when shooting people. If there is no common spoken language, then we ask through charades. For example, pointing to the camera and then smiling at the person as if to say, “Is it OK?” The exception is when we’re taking street or market shots from a distance and there are many subjects.

For example, let’s say there’s a woman selling vegetables at the market. We’ll approach and ask her about the vegetables we are unfamiliar with – the local name for them, how to cook them, what they taste like, etc. Then we’ll ask if we can take her photo and photos of her produce. Since many people are anxious around a DSLR, this is where having two people working together is really useful. One of us will continue to talk with the person while the other photographs. The person usually forgets the camera and the shot is more natural.

This process of approaching people gets easier over time and with practice. If we look at our early photographs, there aren’t as many photos of people because we were more hesitant about engaging with people.

 (c) Uncornered Market
What’s the craziest or most inspiring encounter you’ve had in general?

That’s a hard one. Probably the most inspiring encounters we’ve had were in remote villages in West Bengal, India when we were on a microfinance photography project. The beauty and confidence of the people we met was incredible. The stories they told about how they were able to use small loans and self-help groups to improve their self-confidence and earn as much as their husbands — that really blew us away.

Here’s the first part of the story.

What kit do you use / carry with you / can’t do without (camera make, lenses, flashguns etc.)?

– Nikon D300 – our main camera

– Nikkor 18-200 mm lens – what we use 90% of the time for flexibility

– Sigma Fisheye 8 mm lens – for spherical panoramic and fisheye photography

– Tokina Macro Lens (AT-X 100mm f/2.8) – used sometimes for portraits, but mostly for macro images of flowers, bugs, animals, etc.

– Nikkor 18-70 mm lens – backup in case the 18-200 mm lens breaks, which happened to us in Ecuador

We also carry a handheld camera (Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3) to quickly capture scenes where the DSLR might be awkward, take out at night and shoot video. The quality of the images is great and because it’s so small we can take it everywhere with us. Much of our food photography has been shot with the various handheld cameras we have carried.

Full list of what we’re carrying with us is here:

Finally, what else are you working on right now and what are your ambitions for the future in terms of your photography work?

We are currently planning a microfinance photo shoot in East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan, and Burundi).

For the future: a book or two.

Community Connection

Please read our other recent interviews with Travel Photographers.

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