Photographer Profile: Nick Stern

Nowhere is the old adage “a picture speaks a thousand words” more true than photojournalism: powerful images are often able to convey a level of emotion and create a sense of shared humanity that no words can. News photographers have to be willing to take risks and step right into the action while constantly searching for the shot that will tell the story. For the past 20 years, Nick Stern has traveled the world to capture the drama of political riots and natural disasters and the simple joys of everyday life. We chatted with him to find out a bit more about his experiences shooting on the road.

Nick Stern and his ONA Brixton Bag

Nick carries the BRIXTON in Smoke.

ONA: How did you get into photography?

NS: Photography has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. I recall owning a Zorki 4K: a Russian plastic-bodied 35mm range-finder camera when I was about 6 years old. I started early, photographing anything I could. As a teenager I was quite shy, and I quickly learned a camera gave me something to hide behind at clubs, gigs and social events.  In my teens I was also heavily into music, playing in a number of local bands and always taking my camera to gigs. I found myself making more money selling band photos than I did actually playing in bands–although that may be more of a comment on my musical abilities. I was fascinated by news photographs in papers and thought what a cool job that would be. I was cutting out news images before I could even read the stories that accompanied them. I didn’t really start as a professional photographer until I tuned 30. I sat on a Spanish beach on my 30th birthday and decided I would quit my regular job as a sales-rep to focus on news photography. That was nearly 20 years ago.

ONA: What camera do you shoot with? What is your “go to” lens of choice?  

NS: I have been using the D3s since it was first released, which I love. However, I’ve recently purchased a Nikon D800E. The D800E produces the most beautiful natural tones, I love it. I prefer shooting in available light with fast prime lenses, like the Zeiss 28mm f2 and Nikon 50mm f1.8 G. I hate using flash.The D800E gives beautiful natural warm skin tones. My ‘go to’ lens is the Ziess 28mm f2 lens: if you can’t shoot a great shot with that lens, then you can’t shoot…

 ONA: What sort of project drives your creativity? 

NS: An in-depth news feature really drives me, whether it’s the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, the poverty in a U.S. city or the demise of the space shuttle. Telling the news with just one newspaper image is a challenge, but I love working on projects that really allow me to explore the subject and story, showing all aspects of the situation and hopefully conveying emotion and human reaction to the world.

ONA: Follow Up: What is your dream project? 

NS: That’s such a tough question. Sometimes the most mundane assignment can inspire me. It’s not difficult to  create great images from dramatic events like riots or earthquakes, but the challenge comes when you want to show the human emotion of everyday situations. You can produce some of your best work from the assignments that on the face of it appear to the most unlikely jobs. My favorite image I have taken is one of two girls who had been trafficked across Europe as sex slaves. I could not show the girls’ faces so it proved to be tough, but the image I shot is still one I am most proud of.

ONA: What is the hardest thing about being a photographer?

NS: Switching off! Seriously as a photographer I am constantly looking at the world around me and thinking: “Wow, that would look great with a 28mm, shot from low down focused on the girl in the foreground.” I can’t leave home without a camera. Sometimes I wish I could switch off and just enjoy a scene or situation like everyone else.

Nick Stern Photography

ONA: Describe your style of shooting.

NS: I like shooting “raw.” I don’t mean RAW as in uncompressed; I mean I like to shoot so the images convey emotion, especially if that means breaking the rules. Having movement, out of focus, strange angles: most of my favorite images are imperfect. I’m always moving the camera as I shoot. I’d love to be invisible: by shooting an image you become part of the scene and influence the scene and the people in it. Imagine photographing real emotion from someone with a 28mm lens and they don’t know you are there.

ONA: In one sentence, what advice would you give to a photographer just starting out?  

NS: Break all the rules. Do everything you’re not supposed to do, like shooting into the sun, shooting at unusual angles and focusing on areas that would not be the most obvious. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

ONA: How did you hear about us? 

NS: This is a first for me. I actually clicked on a Facebook ad and bought something.



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