Hello how are you?
I’m good thanks, how are you?
I’m perfect, thank you!
Good, thank you for taking the time out for me. Okay I have some questions for you…
So, I have read a lot about you, and your work and how you got started, what I really want to know is what led you into documentary photography?
Um, sure well gosh I guess it really all started when I was a kid, maybe around age 12 I got a little Kodak camera in my stocking at Christmas and I would take this camera and follow all of my friends, I would take it into school and be there when all the kids would have recess and playing games and kick ball and I would prefer to stand back a little bit and just watch everyone and how they moved and I would make pictures of them with my little camera, and that was back when it was just film photography and I would have to mail in the film and wait usually 2 weeks for the pictures to come back. So I guess as a kid I have always loved watching people and how they moved and shooting them in very candid ways. Then it really came back for me again professionally as an adult, I guess I would say I always made pictures but in terms of documenting people and doing what they do it really came back to me around 2008, I did a project called Project 365, where I carried a camera with me every day for a year..
Thats what I really need to do!
Ha ha, I carried my big SLR in a backpack and I tended to see the images I loved the most were of people so I noticed once that project was over that what I really needed to focus on was documentary photography, I guess thats the bulk of it.
Awesome thats great, so what camera is the best for your work?
Well I use 2 cameras, I have a Nikon D3, which is a big SLR with a nice collection of lenses, I use that camera primarily for my professional shooting, its really heavy and my lenses are a 14-24 lense, a 6-15mm 1.4 lens which I love, and then I shoot with a 24-70 which is a really nice lens too. So I use that mainly for my professional work but because that camera is so big and bulky its tough to shoot with that because I like to shoot everyday as i’m moving through life so for those images my Iphone 5S.
Oh cool, yeah I use a samsung S5 and thats a really good camera but I’ve just bought a Nikon at the moment so I’m starting small. Do you use flash for your work as well?
Uh yes I do, I have a speed light that I use and if I’m shooting video I use a nice portable LED light that I mainly use especially if I’m using the iphone for interiors or that sort of scenario.
Oh okay, that good. Do you not get scared taking all your equipment out with you when you are out and about?
Ha ha ha, no! You know what I don’t worry about that!
Ha ha. Really?
Yeah maybe because I’m just a really trusting person in general.
I think I would be scared of someone grabbing it off me. How could you cope with that?
God I don’t know, I think I would have to try and persuade them and say I am on a mission to document the world and how dare you!
It looks very daunting the stuff that you do! Do you ever go out and shoot alone?
You know I think before I go into a shoot anywhere there is a little anxiousness, I hate to call it fear but a sense of when you go on an assignment you never know what you are going to see and often I’m going to a place I’ve never been. There’s a lot of excitement in that and I love seeing something new and dropping in on that. Theres a thrill in that but theres always anxiety because I genuinely want people to feel comfortable in my presence and I want them to accept me on an equal level to them, I don’t want to be seen as a photographer or as someone seperate, I just want sport of blend into their life and what they are doing and so I guess if anything I fear myself not being able to do that for whatever reason. I think if I travel internationally or to a developing place i’ve never been before I always have someone with me, so I never travel to those places alone. But throughout the United States and all of my corporate assignments I am often alone, but I always have one person that’s local to the area that I am photographing to be my guide, and that part is critical for the access and for knowledge about the scenario.
Thats good! Do you pay for these trips or have you managed to get funding?
Well, for the initial travel, like the travel when I was shooting in Rwanda and Nepal and Tanzania I actually won, with a friend of mine, a competition called ‘Name your Dream assignment” and it was an awesome project and was sponsored by Microsoft and Lenovo so we won $50’000, and that was, well, wow that was quite a gift! and that funded the initial trips, yeah that was huge and I would not have had the funds to have paid for that on my own, I was just getting started doing photography professionally full time and that was challenging, as a freelance photographer has so many ups and downs and the grant was such a gift. So typically when I go somewhere I do have funding from a client and that helps!
So would you advise me to get into competitions?
Yeah absolutely! Its hard to put yourself out there but anytime you want something so much and don’t get it its demoralising, and its hard because your photography and your art is so personal but yes i would encourage you to do it anyway and realise that when its meant to work out it will! I think self funding as much as you can is smart and in the early days even if you are paying your own way on an assignment and lets say you’re working for a non profit and they can’t afford to pay you, do that because that exposure and that practice is great! By all means go for any opportunity you can to get funding for that work.
Cool thank you. What is your favourite thing to document?
Gosh thats so hard to say!
Yeah because you are awesome at everything!
Why thank you! Gosh I love photographing people, I love people in general. I love learning about people and getting to know them and seeing where they live and I try to translate that into any assignment like the Picture Hope . But I also love my corporate documentary work too, so I try to get any sort of work that gets me close to people and allows me to penetrate their lives, I love that the most.
Good, you have loads of work published but what would you say is the piece you are most proud of.
I don’t know, I think at the moment the Ted talks, have you heard of them?
No, what are TED talks?
Well, Ted is an acronym, it stands for Technology, Education and Design and its a series of educational, inspirational talks.
About Stephanie Calabrese Roberts
Documentary Photographer | Author | Mentor
Stephanie ‘Documenting your world through photography’.
Stephanie is an award winning documentary photographer.
Stephanie’s clients span corporate and non-profit organizations, publishers, entrepreneurs and individuals. Her work has been featured in influential publications including Forbes.com, Life.com, Digital photo magazine, Shutter forbes.com, digital photo magazine Shuttering, shutterbug magazine, photo.net and the ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) Bulletin; she has also exhibited at numerous galleries including: PhotoFest Gallery in Houston; the Atlanta Photography Gallery, Matre Gallery, National Center for Civil and Human Rights Groundbreaking Ceremony at the Georgia Aquarium, and “Through the Eyes of a Girl” Exhibit in collaboration with CARE at Mason Murer Fine Art Gallery in Atlanta; and Odapark Art Center in Venlo, Holland.
In Spring 2009, Stephanie won the “name your dream assignment” global photography competition sponsored by Lenovo and Microsoft. This award sent Stephanie and her “picture hope” project partner, Jen Lemen, on a journey to remote regions of Rwanda, Tanzania and Nepal to capture and share images and stories of hope from courageous changemakers and wise individuals including genocide survivors, refugees and the poorest of the poor. In 2010 she was honored as a ‘BlogHer Voice of the Year’ for her picture hope project. Stephanie was awarded two Honorable Mentions in the 2013 mobile photography awards
Stephanie is the best-selling author of The art of iphoneography: a guide to mobile creativity Second Edition published December 2012 and the First Edition published April 2011 by Pixiq, an imprint of Sterling Publishing, in the US and Canada, and by Ilex Press in the UK. The book has sold more than 100,000 copies and is available around the world in ten languages.
She is the author of Lens on life: documenting your world through photography published July 2012 by Focal Press in the US and Canada, and by Ilex Press in the UK. The book is available in English, French, Italian and (soon) Chinese. She is a co-author of expressive photography: a shutter sisters guide to shooting from the heart published in 2010 by Focal Press in the US and Canada, Ilex Press in the UK, and around the world. Stephanie is a contributor to Kirsty takes a bow an artful collection of inspirations from more than 100 social media leaders, entrepreneurs and artists published by Bright Sky Press in 2009.
Stephanie has been an artist all her life. She studied and practiced drawing, painting, photography and non-fiction storytelling throughout her education, and graduated from the University of Georgia with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. Throughout her career in digital media communications, Stephanie lead initiatives ranging from interactive user experience design, marketing and corporate communications strategy, and creative content development for global corporations and non-profit organizations. Since 2008, she’s been pursuing her passion for documentary photography and storytelling, and mentoring photographers and photo enthusiasts of all ages around the world.
Stephanie has lead numerous documentary and mobile photography one-day and multi-day workshops for creative communicators and photography enthusiasts of all ages. She writes a monthly “Art of iPhoneography” column for digital photo magazine photo and has written numerous instructional articles on documentary and mobile photography for this and other publications including Shutter Sisters, photo.net and iPad/tablet interactive magazine photographers i published by Ilex Press. Stephanie has been a featured speaker on the topic of iPhoneography at the annual MacWorld / iWorld conference in San Francisco in January 2013 and 2012, at the 2012 BlogHer Annual Conference in New York City, and at the Shutter Sisters Oasis Second Annual Retreat in Palm Springs, CA in October 2012, and routinely teaches iPhoneography classes at The Showcase School of Photography in Atlanta, Georgia.
Inspired by her picture hope project subjects, Stephanie founded lens on life, inc. in January 2011, a non-profit organization that inspires, cultivates, and promotes a visual voice for children and young adults living in challenged conditions around the world. The organization seeks to inspire interest and develop skills in documentary photography as a form of creative expression and storytelling. She has lead photography workshops for children in partnership with Koseli School in Kathmandu, Nepal, and with Atlana metro boys and girls clubs in Georgia. Her Atlanta students’ images were featured in the New York Times LENS “my hometown” collaborative documentary photography project for teens nationwide in September 2013.
I love her work, I think its amazing how she captures the inside story of a photo just like something I want to do.
I am going to buy this book to help me.
Making a photo look interesting Stephanie talks about seeing, as she inspires me I have decided to try and interview her. I have written her an email asking to interview her, if she agreed it would be over skype due to her living in America, but if she goes through the interview for me I would be incredibly happy as I have followed her work for many years.
this is copy of the email
Hi Stevie Jay,
So kind of you share those words. Yes, I’d be happy to talk with you via Skype to support our project. I can make time next week. Waiting to schedule a shoot on Tues. or Thurs., but after I get that confirmed, we can schedule it on one of those days if that works for you. I’m on eastern standard time.
I had to chase her a little bit but I think it paid off!