Last year, photographer Paul Prescott became the grand-prize winner of Shutterstock’s first ever Stories artistic grants. Since then, opportunities have continued to pour in for the talented artist, the latest of which gave him an all-access opportunity to shoot in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Read on for his tale of how it all happened.
It was a Monday morning, and the communist-style rows of plastic chairs were fast filling with people in the health-insurance office. Barely yet awake, I stared at my ticket number and settled myself in for a long wait. It was a good time to catch up on emails. I squinted at my phone’s screen and began to scroll — an inquiry through my website got my attention. The subject line read: “Hello from SilverKris Magazine for Singapore Airlines (Dubrovnik travel story for July 2014).”
I was being asked to shoot the UNESCO world heritage city of Dubrovnik, Croatia for a 12-page story in the Singapore Airlines’ July 2014 in-flight magazine, printed at 300,000 copies and read by 1.5 million people worldwide.
The travel photographer in me rose immediately to the challenge. This was something new, and I was most definitely up for it. A ten-day deadline forced immediate planning. I agreed to a fee, then had travel plans to make. I live in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, and Dubrovnik is 600 km away. I estimated the shoot would take about three days based on the list of locations, but I also needed to allocate time for processing and filtering the thousands of photos I knew I would take. The text for the piece was to be written by travel writer Jane Foster.
I contemplated hiring a local assistant and contacted a friend’s brother, Bozo, who lives in Dubrovnik, and was keen to do some photographic work with me. He was overjoyed to come on board and we quickly became a team. The challenge was to shoot Dubrovnik as it had never been seen before, so we needed an angle. We also needed unlimited access to all 15 locations I had to photograph. Without this, I’d be a mere tourist. Bozo, who speaks Croatian, contacted the directors of each place of interest, starting with the Dubrovnik Tourist Board, who granted us passes. And we were off.
Unfortunately, as l have learned in life, the universe always has a way of redressing balance. Great excitement and my largest commissioned job gave way to a massive strep-throat infection. I could barely move from bed or even swallow my own saliva for the five days before my flight. Still, I staggered onto the plane and just hoped I’d get better during the shoot. I was beyond thankful for Bozo’s support.
Dubrovnik looked beautiful. The sun was shining, as was my camera lens, and illness slowly gave way to the thrill of the mission. Privileged access to locations, such as climbing 30 meters on the rooftop tiles of the Rector’s Palace for an almost aerial view of the city, was incredible. So was photographing the golden reliquaries (containers for relics or body parts) of holy saints in the 17th Century Baroque cathedral.
I mostly work solo, so working this time as a team was stimulating. We bounced ideas off each other and worked in tandem like hunters, always on the lookout for the best locations, angles, and photo opportunities. We also complemented each other, so while I was concentrating on architectural details, Bozo would shoot street performers. This synergy provided an energy and enthusiasm which, over the three days, allowed me to achieve a wider diversity of shots and thus a greater choice of photographs for the final selection.
I was carrying two cameras with me — one Canon 5D Mark II with a 17-35mm lens for architectural shots and the other a Canon 6D 24-105mm for more closeup photos and portraits, with the occasional use of the Canon 70-200 f2.8 for closer detail. The flexibility of using two cameras is invaluable. First, it gives you a greater scope of angles. Second, it offers rapidity, as you don’t waste time changing lenses. And third, you reduce the risk of dirtying your sensor every time a lens gets changed.
This whole experience has created a new aspect for my career. Most of the time, I shoot for stock, not knowing by whom or where my photos and videos will be used. As a freelancer, I usually take pictures in my own time, with little outside pressure. A commissioned job from a demanding client with high expectations of top-quality images and a tight deadline to adhere to gave me greater focus. I felt like a journalist on a mission to unravel a mystery in old-town Dubrovnik. I could approach people, knowing where the photos would be published. This gave me even more confidence to persist in achieving the images I required.
Having your portfolio available online, especially at a large photo agency such as Shutterstock, can get you great exposure and credibility. With commissioned work, I now have a new string added to my bow and a boost to pursue further commissions.
There is already something new in the pipeline. An 8-page magazine story appearing in 25 editions worldwide. Fingers crossed! Or more to the point, finger on the shutter button!