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A Year In Review, A Year In Anticipation – Part 2

Nikon Ambassadors Ami Vitale and Vincent Versace Share A Timeless Photograph of 2014

Time was a 2014 theme for photographers Ami Vitale and Vincent Versace. While Vitale seeks to personally stop, experience and share moments of time through her touching photographs of world cultures, Versace has as ambition to create photographs that transcend time.

In this two-photographer Nikon Ambassador post we profile some of their highlights from 2014 and their challenges for 2015. Each has selected a favorite photograph: Vitale captures an instant in time through shared smiles. Versace shows the effects of time carved out by Mother Nature.

Ami Vitale
Vincent Versace

Ami Vitale

During the course of her career, photographer and filmmaker Ami Vitale has traveled to more than 89 countries. She recently completed an extensive expedition through National Geographic, where she visited destinations such as Madagascar, South Africa, China, Rwanda, Maldives, Borneo and Nepal over the course of 24 days.

“Photography has been my passport to meeting people, learning and experiencing new cultures. It has become a tool for creating awareness and understanding across cultures, communities and countries; a tool to make sense of our commonalities in the world we share. A lot of my work involves traveling to foreign countries and living in remote places. My job is to become invisible and get close to people and wildlife so I can bring their stories to life. The easiest way to make compelling real photographs of people is by being authentic. Making candid photographs of people is not a trick. It’s a skill a photographer can develop, one which requires respect for the subject and for building a relationship in the time you have together. Successful pictures of people almost never happen from a distance. Unless you are photographing wildlife, put away the telephoto lens and become part of the moment.”

Looking Back On 2014

This year I hosted a National Geographic wildlife expedition around the world, and I also traveled to 18 countries for a variety of assignments focusing on the most pressing issues of our time. I witnessed extraordinary moments, including seeing some of the most endangered animals on the planet and meeting legendary people like Sylvie Earle, Jane Goodall and others who inspire creativity and motivate us to action.

Ironically, despite all this travel, I do not feel that photography is about jetting off to exotic places. The magic really begins when you stay in a place and give yourself enough time to gain insight and understanding. Making that time to stop and observe requires tremendous persistence and patience. Even when I’m traveling I dedicate moments to simply soak in and experience, rather than trying to see it all.

Kamara has raised 10 baby rhinos, four cheetahs, three giraffes, three warthogs, two wild buffaloes, one lion and a serval cat in the 10 years he has spent at Conservancy. Photo by Ami Vitale © 2015.

Kamara has raised 10 baby rhinos, four cheetahs, three giraffes, three warthogs, two wild buffaloes, one lion and a serval cat in the 10 years he has spent at Conservancy. Photo by Ami Vitale © 2015.

Favorite Photograph of 2014

My favorite photograph from 2014 was made in December. It reveals a rhino keeper named Kamara tending to one of the three baby rhinos he has raised by hand at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya. It’s surprising to think that most people on the planet never have the opportunity to view the wildlife that exists literally in their own backyard. He spends 12 hours every day, sometimes in pouring rain, watching over the vulnerable baby rhinos. He calls them his children and once had to fend off a lion who was eyeing them. Kamara has raised 10 baby rhinos, four cheetahs, three giraffes, three warthogs, two wild buffaloes, one lion and a serval cat in the 10 years he has spent at the Conservancy.

This photograph is just one story among many that shows the incredible effort of Kenyans who work so hard to protect the wildlife here. He is part of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, which was established to protect the last of Kenya’s black rhinos-whose population has plummeted to near extinction.

Nikon - At the heart of the image
This photograph was created using the Nikon D4S and NIKKOR 24-70mm lens captured at ISO 250, f/3.2 and 1/800th of a second. Only by earning the trust of the communities we visited could I gain access to such unique moments. These are not the typical images of Africa we’re accustomed to seeing. It has been my dream to share the positive stories occurring all over Kenya and Africa. This photograph is meaningful to me not just for the joy on his face, but because I can help reveal an important story behind the image.

A Glance Forward To 2015

I want to use my camera to inspire and make a difference in the world. Photography can be very potent. It can empower the people whose stories we reveal, and it can empower us as individuals too. For work in 2015 I intend to focus on the things that unite and bind us. I’ll be working on two stories for National Geographic magazine in China on the release of captive born pandas into the wild and the aftermath of a 30 year war in Sri Lanka, in addition to my personal work on protecting wildlife in Africa.

I hope to use my camera not just as an extension of my eye, but also as an extension of my heart. Here are three of my resolutions for 2015:

  • To work on personal projects. It is important to work on something you care about and that you find meaningful. Personal projects keep us inspired and growing. I always make time to commit to a project that I really care about. Creating authentic, personal work keeps photography fresh and fun.
  • To push myself to learn new tools. Technology keeps changing and rather than fear it, I embrace what comes and struggle through each new learning process. This keeps me in a place of total discomfort, but this is where the most growth happens.
  • To spend time helping and working with other creatives. We live in a collaborative world and sharing is the wellspring of creativity.

Vincent Versace

“I fall in love about a thousand times a day, usually for about a 1/125 of a second when I am on a photo shoot. So for me I do not really believe in long exposures or long relationships when it comes to photographs. I think that you should be taken by your photographs, not take your photographs.”

Los Angeles-based Vincent Versace is an award-winning photographer whose imagery reveals, and transcends, the instants of our time. Among his many affections, he keeps an enduring love affair with black and white imagery that poignantly profiles nations and places at historically significant intersections of time. Cuba and Burma are just two of those favorite destinations for photography.

Looking Back On 2014

I just visited Cuba. The day I returned, the President of the United States announced that the U.S. would be moving toward normalizing ties with that country. Versus previous times I have been there to shoot, I could feel that “something was up.” This was the first instance when my passport was actually stamped with a Cuban entrance and exit stamp, instead of merely a sheet of paper.

What is magical about Cuba is that you step back in time. It offers an instant where all elements conspire and create a tableau that harks back to the 1940s or 1950s. You find yourself in a temporal apogee where time, whilst still in motion, is not moving in any one direction. It is a cool thing to experience. I look forward to going back again next year to see where the journey of the President’s announcement takes the country.

Vincent's favorite photograph from 2014 - Infrared of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Photo by Vincent Versace © 2015.

Vincent’s favorite photograph from 2014 – Infrared of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Photo by Vincent Versace © 2015.

Favorite Photograph of 2014

So what is my favorite photograph? My favorite is the photograph that took me last, which, at the time of this writing, is an image of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. This is a digital infrared photograph created using a Nikon D800 that has been modified to shoot infrared.

Again, the best photographs take you; you do not take them. For me, photography has never really been about the destination. It is the journey I take, and the photographs that take me along the way that become the destination. For example, I was in the park with an objective to capture images for one of my next book projects, an edition on digital infrared photography: “In The Heat of The Light: Coming to Therms With Digital Infrared Photography.” Thirteen years in the making, its completion is one of my resolutions for 2015.

If you approach photography as being the journey to a destination, and leave yourself open to being taken, then the most amazing images will find you. I was taken by this image while on my way back from getting gas for my 50 year old motorcycle. (There is no true gas station in the park, and when you ride a 50 year old motorcycle with a 3.5 gallon gas tank you have to plan accordingly.) When in Yosemite, one of the most beautiful places on Earth, you should never go without a camera. If you are truly hardcore you also always bring a tripod.

I shot this from the side of the road. One of the great advantages of the motorcycle is that pulling off the road is a lot easier. A second advantage is that it gives a better perspective. Your view, as perceived between the trees, passes by a bit more slowly and is less obscured.

I stopped, set-up and shot the image. I used the Nikon D800 that had been converted, plus the AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR zoom lens. What is compelling to me about digital infrared photography is that it requires a heightened awareness of what is going on around you. In a sense it’s similar when shooting black and white film. Digital IR also shows a world that exists in a way you cannot see.

A Glance Forward To 2015

This year will see an evolution of projects initiated years ago, including one close to my heart. As an artist, certain things or people or places can trigger a personal journey that may, ultimately, take us down a new path in life. For me it was a conversation with someone in Burma whilst on assignment for a magazine feature. In Burma, in order to obtain permission to photograph an important leader of that nation, I had to promise her that I would do “right” by the people of Burma when using any of the photographs created there. Her thoughts touched me and planted a seed for fulfilling that request.

Nikon - At the heart of the image
Thomas Jefferson has been credited with saying “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Well, that may very well be true, but Jefferson did not have a camera. The camera is mightier than the pen. I plan to create a book of images spanning nine plus years of shooting in Burma. “Turning the Last Page of the 19th Century” will have as its purpose to dedicate its proceeds toward building a school. Creation of this book is one way I can do “right” with my images and honor a promise.

And finally, in 2015 I’d love to say that I’ve completed the build-out of my natural light studio. It’s been three years in the making. At the end of 2014 we wrapped finishing touches-such as the 8’ x 12’ shooting wall and the 22’ x 37’ shooting deck. The plan for 2015 is to build the retractable 22’ x 12’ diffusion step-inside light box.

The space will house all of my computers, printers and lighting (both natural and LED). Not only will the studio provide an expanded home for my professional and personal photography projects, but it will allow me to produce more tutorials and do limited attendance (three person) master workshops.

Gear Used by Ami Vitale:
Gear Used by Vincent Versace:

About The Contributors


Ami Vitale

Ami Vitale's journey as a photographer and filmmaker has taken her to more than 89 countries. Her photographs have been commissioned by nearly every important international publication and have been exhibited around the world in museums and galleries. She is a Nikon Ambassador, she has judged the most prestigious photo contests and is a contract photographer with National Geographic magazine. Vitale has been the subject of the ten-part television series for the National Geographic Channel and a documentary series, "Over the Islands of Africa." She is a founding member of Ripple Effect Images, a collective of scientists, writers, photographers and filmmakers who share a mission to create powerful stories that illustrate very specific issues faced by women in developing countries. She is also a member of the executive advisory committee of the Alexia Foundation photojournalism advisory board. Based in Montana, Vitale continues to make films and stories of the planet's most important issues, and frequently gives lectures and workshops throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia. To see more of Ami's work, head over to her website at: www.amivitale.com


Vincent Versace

Vincent Versace is an internationally recognized pioneer in the art and science of digital photography. His passion for natural light photography is manifest not only in his work but also through his role as a creative and technical leader, contributing to innovative breakthroughs across the entire digital image value chain. Vincent’s work has been highlighted in American Photo, Popular Photography, The New York Times, Shutterbug, Outdoor Photographer, Pro Digital Imaging, PDN, What Digital Camera, Petersen’s Photographic, PC Camera, Studio Photography & Design, Professional Photographer, Digital Imaging and many more. To see more of Vincent's work, head over to: www.versacephotography.com

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