Despite being barely 22 years old, Hawaii-based photographer Jeremy Snell has travelled the world and photographed places most us only dream of seeing. “I like capturing moments that take you to another place,” he says. Keep reading to learn some of his secrets.
“I never planned on becoming a photographer – I sort of just fell into it,” says Jeremy Snell. “When I was 15 I went to Africa. I bought a small point-and-shoot camera to document the trip, and I ended up being the guy crawling on the ground, trying to find a new angle. I haven’t put down my camera since.”
That was seven years ago. Three years ago, Jeremy decided to put everything he had into his passion and try to make it as a professional photographer. Today, barely 22 years old, he counts brands such as Facebook, Time Warner Cable and Charity: Water amongst his clients.
As the list of clients suggests, Jeremy does both commercial and humanitarian work. The commercial work is important, he claims. Not only because it pays the bills. Also because it pushes him to another level technically. But the humanitarian work is what really gets him going.
“I grew up travelling, so photographing people from all over the world was a natural thing for me,” says Jeremy. “Ever since, I’ve always knew I wanted to be a humanitarian photographer.”
What’s so fascinating about being a humanitarian photographer?
“I like capturing moments that takes you to another place. I want to take photographs that allow you to see what you don’t get to see in your everyday life – portraits that make you see people in a different light.”
You’ve travelled the world. Is it different shooting people in different parts of the world?
“It is. To be honest, I think I prefer shooting people that don’t speak the same language I do. There is something to be said about communicating with someone non-verbally. Somehow it brings out the most basic, the most genuine emotions in us all. And that’s a powerful thing when taking someones portrait!”
What are the most important factors when trying to get the shot you’re after?
“First of all, I need to have just the right light. My photographs tend to be somewhere in between commercial shots and documentary photographs. What I mean by that is they’re not really documentary, because I use Profoto strobes, and the persons I’m photographing are posing for me. But at the same time, they’re real people in real locations.
“But it’s equally important to know how to make people relax. This is, of course, not always easy. Especially not when you have all this equipment with you and you don’t even speak the language they do. My go-to trick is to embarrass myself. I’ll trip, pronounce something in a funny way, or just do something silly. It usually works. I guess it makes me appear less intimidating, which makes people relax and become friendly – in some cases even curious!”
The images in this article were shot during Jeremy’s last three trips, taking him to Mali, Bolivia and Niger. Lighting-wise, these trips mark a change. It was the first time Jeremy left his speedlight at home, replaced by a Profoto B1 Location Kit, RFi softboxes and different models of Umbrella Deep.
What are the requirements when choosing gear for trips such as these?
“It has to be portable. I need to be able to move around and quickly move from one location to another. Sometimes I even photograph while walking around. It also needs to work in my favour. I don’t always have enough time to dial everything in. It has to be fast and allow me to focus on what’s in front of me. That’s why I used to shoot with speedlights. They’re small and portable. It wasn’t until the B1 was released that I felt there was a better option for me.”
Why is it better? Is it because it’s more powerful?
“Power is one of the reasons, yes. When you’re shooting in bright places such as Africa you need A LOT of light. But the quality of light is equally important. I’ve used Profoto lights for many commercial jobs before, so I already knew that the quality of light is notably different from other brands I’ve tried. It’s hard to describe. It just looks much more natural to me.”
How do you generally work with light?
“Well, it depends on what mood I’m going for. For instance, during the Mali trip I was going for a big, dramatic and moody feel. I had more and darker shadows, and I used my lights in a much more subtle way. In most cases I’d have just one light, accentuating a face or lighting up a background or something like that. For the Bolivia trip, on the other hand, I wanted a warmer, more intimate feel. I worked a lot indoors and everything was just more lit.
“But generally speaking, I try add as little as possible. I look at what’s in front of me and think about how to show that in an interesting or hopefully even powerful way. I don’t want to create something that isn’t there. I just want to use my lights to enhance it.”