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Making A Connection

One well-traveled photographer shares her insights on approaching, composing and lighting memorable portraits, and on learning from the pros

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New York-based Dutch photographer Mirjam Evers has traveled and photographed in more than 50 countries, focusing her camera and her eyes on creating environmental portraits and travel, documentary and adventure photographs. She’s able to transcend cultural and language barriers with an intangible spirit that comes through in every portrait.

PCPhoto: What’s your approach to doing portraits of the people you encounter around the globe?

Mirjam Evers: First and foremost, I truly enjoy connecting with people, and I love exploring new places and different cultures. I’m lucky that no matter where I’ve traveled, the people I want to photograph seem to pick up on that energy. I believe that approaching people with warmth and an open mind and showing respect for their environment and culture help establish a certain amount of trust. This is very important, especially when you’re getting as close as I do to a person’s face to do the portraits I like to do. Sometimes, I’m just a couple of inches away when I’m using a Nikon 10.5mm fish-eye lens or a 12-24mm lens on my Nikon D300. I also use a Lensbabies lens when I want more creative focus control, since it allows for subtle gradations of focus and blur. I can work in a more abstract way and manipulate an image on the spot. Regardless of which lens I’m working with, I like to take my time, since every person and culture is different. I just don’t run up and take their picture.

I think photography workshops for any photographer, regardless of their skill level, can only have a positive influence on their photography.
Spending time with people before photographing them gives me some time to absorb their environment and allows them to get comfortable with me while I look for interesting backgrounds. Then when it feels right, I always ask, sometimes with a gesture or in their language, “Can I take your picture?”

I’ve realized over the years that there’s something intangible that happens beyond the camera and me when you capture a portrait. It’s as if you can almost see the person’s soul, and hopefully this is what moves the viewer when they see the photo—and perhaps, in the process, a universal connection occurs, and the viewers see something of themselves in the portrait. Hopefully, they’re reminded, as I am every time that I travel and take photographs, that we’re all cut from the same cloth in the end and that we have a responsibility to each other and the world. It’s that responsibility that drives me now—to use my photography in a way that gives back to less fortunate communities and also supports the planet through sustainable travel and eco-friendly means.

PCPhoto: You often choose uncommon angles from which to capture your subjects. What can other photographers learn from your approach to composition?

Evers: I like using a unique perspective in my portraits to do something different from the usual. I like to experiment with different angles to keep my photographs interesting and also to remind me, and hopefully the viewer, that there are so many different ways to capture the same thing. It’s amazing how the same subject shot with the same expression but from a different angle can reveal something so completely unique, even if it’s lit exactly the same.

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