Behind the Image: Steve Davey on why familiarity breeds contempt

Behind the Image: Steve Davey

To celebrate the lead up to PhotoLive 2014, we’ll be featuring a different image from each photographer speaking at the event.

Sometimes a spectacular image happens when you least expect it. Steve Davey explains his secret to always striving to come up with a unique way of seeing your subject.

Behind the Image: Steve Davey

Image by Steve Davey: Nikon D3x, 14-24mm @ 22mm, 1/125sec at F/8, ISO 400

Familiarity often breeds contempt… or if not contempt a sense of boredom. Sometimes it is hard to get motivated to take pictures when you already feel that you have the shot in the bag.

Rather than give into this, the secret is to always strive to come up with something different, a unique way of seeing your subject.

Over the years, I have been lucky enough to shoot in Marrakech many times, and my favourite spot has to be the frenetic  Jemaa el Fna main square. Here you can see acrobats, dancers, story-tellers, boxers ad of course snake-charmers.

I love the madness, the chaos and the fact that much of the entertainment is put on for locals, especially in the evenings.

I have a number of shots of the snake charmers, but nothing that really leaps out at me, so on my last trip I decided to try to achieve something a little more unique – a snake-eye angle.

Now the snakes usually have their fangs pulled, so that they can’t deliver venom, but I wasn’t too keen on finding this out, so I fitted the camera to a collapsed, but extended tripod so that I could manouevre it close t them, but keep a little way away.

To keep it stable, I was only a foot or so behind the camera, still close enough to be bitten if one of the snakes really wanted to, but hopefully I would have had the chance to duck out of the way first.

SEE MORE: 14 cliche-busting tips and tricks for taking more creative travel photography

I shot with a Nikon D3x camera and  used the Nikon 14-24mm lens to allow me to get really close. The camera was tilted up from ground level using the ball and socket head of the tripod.

This made composition tricky, so I glanced at each shot on the preview screen and adjusted the camera if it needed it. I fired the camera using a wireless cable release bought from Hong Kong via eBay.

It was pretty easy to convince the snake charmers to let me take the pictures, although they haggled hard over prices! They enjoyed playing up for the camera though and also took advantage and worked the crowds who formed to watch me take pictures.

Unfortunately, the snake charmers always position themselves in the shadows, and so the contrast with the background was huge. I always shoot in RAW format, and so the camera was able to record a great deal of information in both the highlights and shadows.

Bringing out all of this information was quite tricky, and I used a combination of the highlight recovery tool and a series of digital graduated filters in Adobe Lightroom to balance highlights and shadows. The result is a striking image, which manages to create an unusual and daring view of a often photographed subject.

Steve is running sessions at PhotoLive 2014 London on how to tell a story through composition and how to photograph festivals. 

Steve is a writer and photographer, who travels widely bringing his unique view of the world to publications all over the world. Steve is the author of Foot Print Travel Photography, the leading guide to travelling with your camera and leads his own range of photography tours to some of the most photogenic parts of the world. You can see more of Steve’s work at his professional website or keep up with his work on Facebook.

PhotoLive takes place in Leeds (23 Aug), Edinburgh (30 Aug) and London (06 Sep). You can view the full schedule and book tickets at Use code DCAM20 and get 20% off your ticket.


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