Donald Nausbaum is a 49-year-old photographer who currently lives in Toronto with his family. He has been a professional photographer since 1985, working for a number of magazines and journals including many of the Caribbean in-flight magazines. He has specialized in travel photography and has photographed many parts of the world. His work has been on display for two public shows. His first book: Caribbean The Islands, has just been released by Macmillan Caribbean, and he is now working on his second which will focus on Cuba.
The following questions were put to Donald, by email, this month, shortly before publication of Caribbean The Islands.
Why the Caribbean?
I first started travelling to the Caribbean to escape the cold winters here in Canada. I discovered that there were numerous direct flights to a multitude of island destinations and the flying time was short-between 3 and 5 hours. So off I went, and was fascinated by the diversity of cultures found in the islands, not to mention a relaxed atmosphere and a great outdoors experience. There was so much to photograph! Carnivals, various cultures, colonial architecture, fishing boats, and beaches, beaches and more beaches!
What was your first experience of the Caribbean?
My wife and I were married in St. Lucia. It was our first trip to the Caribbean.
I developed my first roll of black and white film at 8 years of age.
Which is your favourite island, or place?
There are so many favourites! Grenada was one of my early discoveries. Then I wandered over to the Grenadines, still possibly my favourite. However, over the years I have been known to spend lots of time in the British Virgin Islands, St. Martin (for the food), and Cuba.
Are there any special considerations/equipment needed to take photographs in the tropics?
A polarising filter is a must. It cuts glare and turns already gorgeous blue water into a turquoise thing of beauty. It darkens skies, as well. Shooting near the beach requires frequent lens cleaning due to the salt spray. And, beware of sand. A tiny grain of sand can ruin your pictures and possibly get into the internal workings of the camera.
What’s the hardest part about photographing water? What do you have to consider that you have no control over?
Water is a delight to shoot, because of the deep colour that can be achieved with the polarising filter. In fact, contrary to land based shooting, the best colour happens at high noon. When the sun is directly overhead the water is at its photographic best. On land the opposite is true. Early morning and late afternoon sun is the way to go.
Do you/would you consider using digital cameras? What are the pros and cons?
At the present time digital doesn’t have the resolution to capture the picture as I see it. I expect this to change soon, and I have no qualms about using digital when the equipment is reasonably priced and the quality of the digital media equals film. In fact, it should make my job easier, digital media takes up less space than rolls of film.
How do you get locals to agree to pose for photos? Do you give them a stipend?
To get a candid photo, you can’t ask. You do however, on occasion, face the wrath of your subject. I have been yelled at and occasionally pushed. Most of the time they don’t even know I’ve taken a picture. You need to be fast! If you want a nice pose then asking permission is the way to go. However, not everyone likes to have their photo taken and I am often rebuffed. Rarely do I give anybody payment for taking their photo. I travel throughout the world and I try to adhere to this, because I have seen too many places where the local people are turned into live mannequins with their palms out waiting for the picture taking public to pay up. Don’t do it.
What is the trick to getting close-up candid photos of people?
Practice invisibility. Really. Melt into the landscape, casually hide behind a pole or building. Preset your camera, so you don’t need to spend precious moments focusing and making other adjustments. Pre-visualize your image, wait for it, anticipate the shot then, bam! Quickly and quietly make the picture. Likely your subject won’t even know that they have been photographed. You don’t want to invade their privacy, so be discreet. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work out so you just have to let the shot go.
How is photographing the Caribbean different from photographing any other place?
Well, I can work throughout the day shooting outdoors, and get good colour saturation at all times of day. Mornings and afternoons are cooler and easier to shoot during those times. When the sun is hot and high in the sky, it’s time to head for the beach and shoot close to the water.
How do you make a landscape photo interesting?
Use the rule of thirds. Foreground, middle and background. Place an object, perhaps some colourful flowers or rocks, or maybe a tree branch in the foreground. It could be out of focus. If there is a lot of sky, make sure it is bold, with clouds well defined against a blue sky. A polarising filter helps here.
How did the concept form for this book?
I had been shooting the Caribbean for 12 years for magazines and advertising clients. I realized that I had large body of work, and what I thought were some very good pictures. As I made frequent trips to the Caribbean I was able to shoot almost every island, some 10 times or more. I pulled out my favourites and voila! a book in the making.
Do you have any special traveller’s tips for the Caribbean?
Shades, lotion and a hat. And bring what you need, like extra camera batteries. These can be tough to find.