ViewBug community member Russ Elkins (russelkins) specializes in black & white street portraits. Russ likes to share the human emotion and story behind each person to evoke some strong feeling in the viewer. Enjoy our conversation.

What inspired you to be a photographer?

Beautiful and creative imagery that tells a story.

What was your first camera and what do you shoot with today?

My first camera was a Nikon FG around 1984. Photographed much of Europe with a backpack in those days. Switched to a Canon 5D then to a 5D MKIII. The 5D MKIII is my current camera that I still use today.

When someone looks at your photos, what do you want them to take away from it, what are you trying to communicate?

Human emotion and storytelling. To evoke some strong feeling in a viewer, to me, is the highest form of photography. Because I do a lot of street headshots, I try to convey emotion with human expression. As some have said an attempt to capture a soul.

What is it that you love about photography?

I really enjoy quality imagery of any type. It really doesn’t matter to me how you get there. I always wanted to be different in my images. I love to try and produce quality at every phase of the image making process.

What has photography done for you?

Primarily it has given me a different perspective on the world. A new truth that is personal to me.

Do you try to be conceptual or do you prefer to show the feeling behind a photo?

All about feeling and evoking it in others.

How do you describe your style?

I’ve become a bit more fanatical about detail and quality, both in my B&W work and my color. For my work here, I would say highly detailed non muddy B&W images that display human emotion by capturing unique facial expressions.

If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why?

I use a 70-200 F2.8LII lens almost exclusively for headshots. That is the first lens in the Canon line that I always recommend….next would be a 24-70.

What are your 3 tips for others who want to become better photographers?

For headshots…
1. Try to capture an expression that speaks. Often times it’s the shot after the shot….a non posed relaxed expression.
2. It’s not just about light, however light is important. I shoot what I call clipped light. Light in the shade where light gradually falls across the front of the face. Typically this light is in a shaded area on the side of a building or in a recess.
3. Focus on the eye…and watch your background. One of the things that makes me unique is getting good separation of the hairline from the background.

Have you received negative feedback from your work? What did you do about it?

I received some negative some constructive mainly in my earlier work. The feedback always made me better. The biggest critic of my work is me. It can be really difficult to be objective about your own work. I learned that no matter what quality of your work, someone is not going to like it.

Where did you learn to take photos?

Touring Europe with a backpack for three months in 1984.

Raw vs jpg and why?

I shoot RAW, mainly for the latitude it provides. I have had to pull up my exposure in raw on several occasions. They were some of the best expressions. Those images were some of my best.

What do you carry in your camera bag?

When I photograph street photography I only carry a camera and the 70-200 lens I mentioned earlier. I want to focus on finding a subject and placing the in the right light. I do carry around a folder with model releases.

If you could have the gift of a great photographer who would it be and why?

A member on ViewBug is probably the best at color I know. His name is Scott Black. I also admire Karsh for his ability to produce quality B&W images using film….

What is the most common mistake you see people making when shooting these days?

There are actually a few mistakes that I see people making;
1. Bad light. I never shoot in direct sunlight. Always the shade.
2. Background. Watch your background.
3. And probably the most important one is shooting for expression and making sure your expression matches your processing. If you’re doing B&W, tone needs to match the expression. This is the hardest thing for many to get and to see. With color the colors and tones need to match the expression as well.

What is your dream location to shoot?

Maybe the London streets. Maybe Asia in color.. It’s a tossup

How do you decide on where to shoot a photo?

After I find a subject, I immediately start looking for good light. You have about zero chance of shooting a street portrait with the person standing where you find them. I look for shaded areas even in mid day. I photographed several subject in Las Vegas with heavy midday sun in box turned sideways. I was doing a workshop there at the time. Some of the best images in a day I have ever taken were in that box.

What is next for you? Any planned adventures with your camera?

London or Asia……soon.

What is your goal with your photography?
To produce consistent world class images. I plan on doing some more full body shots outside the U.S. ….and in color….. Oh how I want to master color and tone.