Tips from the Field

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside Magazine, 1999 Annual Travel Guide

Tips from the Field
Interviews by Suzy Preston

Nevada Wier
You specialize in portraiture. How do you approach people in foreign countries to photograph them?

Well, it's pretty clear that I'm not Tibetan or Uzbekistani. What I do is hold the camera so it's visible as I'm walking up to someone. I don't hold it to my eye because I want to make eye contact. I believe in eye contact so people have a choice. If they're not interested in making a connection with me, they'll look down, they'll look away. Ninety percent of the people of the world like to have their picture taken as long as they're approached respectfully.

Do you tip for pictures?

I don't believe in tipping because I don't believe in paying people to say hello to me, and to me that's what a photograph is, it's a sign of respect, a recognition of "My, aren't you interesting." If someone asks me for money, I try to turn it around into humor.

What is the most basic mistake traveling photographers make?

They put the person smack in the middle, the horizon smack in the middle, and they don't come in close. Nothing is more deadly than to have a person in the center of the picture with a lot of space around them. And this is where the less sophisticated autofocus cameras are working against us because autofocus channels you into that midrange zone.

What's your favorite, most unexpected shot?

In Nepal, we were trekking through these beautiful tall trees in the lowlands. It was gorgeous and misty, but I was tired and all I could think about was getting back to Kathmandu and eating brownies and lasagna. These potters were coming up the trail with big baskets of pots filled to the brim on their way to the market. My cameras were all put away and I'm heading toward brownies. Fortunately, some higher voice beat me on the head and screamed, "This is a beautiful picture!" I literally had to run back up the trail and get my cameras out of my bag. I got a shot that ended up being the cover for one of my books ... and I almost missed it.

Nevada Wier's images have appeared in Natural History, GEO, Outdoor Photographer, and Smithsonian, among other publications, and she's a photographer with The Image Bank and Corbis.

Gordon Wiltsie
How do you carry all your camera gear when you're dangling from a cliff?

The camera has to be in instantaneous reach. The only thing I've discovered that works for me is a case that took me three days to build myself. It wraps around my waist and holds the camera, which is also on a long homemade strap around my neck. I used Velcro closures, not zippers, on the case's lid so I can just rip it out in half a second.

You shoot a lot in polar regions. What suggestions do you have for coping with extreme cold?

Once I was shooting Jean-Louis Etienne taking a shower during the trans-Antarctica expedition. I had a camera all warmed up and realized, oops, this camera doesn't work with a flash. But it was real time and I wanted the shot, so I pulled a cold camera out. Instantly, the thing was covered in moisture. I wiped the lens off, got a few frames and went back outside. Now all that moisture's frozen and I made the mistake of winding the camera, which just took the shutter and destroyed it. So a very important thing in the cold weather is to keep the camera cold: Don't take it into a tent, don't take it into a building. But if you're going to shoot inside, you've got to warm the camera up. Put it in a Ziploc bag, bring it in, and don't take it out until it's warm.

Anything unusual in your camera bag?

I use a monopod and a remote control switch for unusual angles. I put the camera on a ball head on the monopod and put the remote switch in my hand so I can ski beside somebody and put the camera right down at their ski tips.

Any words of advice?

The best advice I'd give anybody in expedition photography is, be ready. If you're on frame 25 and you think something exciting's going to happen, blow off the last 10 frames and put in a new roll.

Gordon Wiltsie is a photographer, writer, climber, and polar explorer whose photographs have appeared in Outside, National Geographic, Travel & Leisure, and Life. His images of climbing Patagonia's Cordillera Sarmiento appear in Outside's 1999 calendar, The Ascent.

Copyright 1998, Outside magazine

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