The road less pedalled – a chat with Alexandre Rotenberg
Travel photographer Alexandre Rotenberg loves exploring new places – preferably by bicycle – with the aim of capturing stunning images that provoke a strong emotional response. Shortlisted as Travel Photographer of the Year 2017, Alexandre is also the author of ‘The Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography‘.
Where are you from and where do you live?
I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and currently live near Lisbon, Portugal. I have lived in the UK, Canada, Netherlands, and most recently, Italy.
How long have you been a professional photographer?
I have been a professional photographer for three years. Prior, I tried my best to manage my photography business on a part-time basis, combined with a tedious nine-to-six regular office job, which was no easy task! I remember often taking my camera to the office so I could shoot during my lunch-breaks and as soon as I left the office. I’m much happier and feel fulfilled now that I work for myself, even if sales are unpredictable.
How did you first get into photography?
My first serious experience with photography was around 1998, when I was still in High School in Vancouver, Canada. Fortunately, the school offered film photography-classes as an elective, despite digital photography slowly becoming mainstream. I learned the craft on outdated Minoltas and Pentax cameras and learned to develop and process my own shots. This experience still resonates with me to be more patient and selective about my shots and to avoid over-shooting since rolls were “only” 36 frames.
Where are you now and what are you shooting, or what is your next big trip?
I’m near Lisbon, Portugal, although I’ll be off to the UK soon where I hope to capture newsworthy content surrounding the never-ending Brexit saga.
Even though I have a few big trips in mind for 2019 (Brazil, Canada, South Africa), at the moment I’m planning to explore Lisbon and capture the essence of this fascinating city, both in stills and videos. Within Lisbon, my favourite neighbourhood is bohemian Alfama, home to Fado.
I’m a keen cyclist and enjoy combining this hobby with photography which helps me to gain access to unique perspectives while getting plenty of fresh air and exercise! I plan to soon complete one of the legs of the Camino de Santiago by bike, starting from Lisbon
What are your favourite destinations/subjects to photograph and why?
My favourite destination is somewhere that I’ve never been, ideally away from big cities and large crowds! I tend to be more introverted and feel more “in the zone” in peaceful places where I can listen to my own thoughts and take my time to tell a story. Perhaps after living in Central London for over 10 years I had enough and needed to escape!
Being “in the zone” is the main reason why I prefer to travel alone when I can build own improvised schedule and patiently wait for special moments to unfold. Although I believe that happiness is best when shared, traveling with others means that I’m often at the mercy of others’ timetables. This can be frustrating for me, should I wish to stay at one place longer and wait for the right opportunities, such as optimal lighting conditions. I suppose I suffer from chronic photographic fear of missing out, especially if I know that I may not return to a place anytime soon.
As for subjects, I have a variety of favourite interests which include:
Capturing UNESCO World Heritage sites – since I’m fascinated to learn about cultural and natural landmarks (I’ve written about my UNESCO captures on the following blog post )That street photography and capturing a unique moment, as I find that powerful photography is about storytelling; and landscapes, as I enjoy being on my own, especially after getting there by bike.
How would you describe your style?
That’s difficult to answer since I also license fine art photography as well as sell prints, which can have dark/disturbing themes with heavy use of shadows. I also capture live news, which is generally far from artistic and more about capturing the “here and now” as accurately as possible and time is of the essence to upload such content to agencies.
For travel photography, I would describe my style as always striving to tell a story. I use effective composition techniques for the subject to immediately stand out, such as symmetry (I’m a self-confessed symmetry-addict), leading lines and frames in frames, such as the little boy and camel where I used the huge camel’s legs to frame the boy.
I find that these more advanced techniques, beyond the rule of thirds, help to increase the images’ commercial value. They also introduce an element of order in an otherwise chaotic world.
Most of my images at Robert Harding tend to be bright and possess a healthy dose of selective vibrancy. I find that this helps the images stand out from the competition as thumbnails, and from my research, buyers generally prefer to promote travel locations at their brightest and sunniest.
Can you recall a favourite experience on your travels?
In the summer of 2018, I went on a road-trip across Portugal, Spain and into the south of France, presenting some excellent opportunities to visit a variety of smaller cities to capture some stories.
Some notable stops along the way were Salamanca, Girona, Peniscola and Seville in Spain, Carcassonne, Arles and Grasse in France, and Tomar, Sortelha and Obidos in Portugal.
As a travel photographer, I’m always fighting the natural elements and I recall having altitude sickness while visiting close to the peak of Cotopaxi volcano in Ecuador, which is over 4,000 metres in altitude! Even though I felt light-headed and nauseous I still managed a few shots and happy that they didn’t come out blurry.
What camera/s and equipment do you use? Do you have a favourite piece of equipment?
My main DSLR is the Nikon D800 with a Sigma 24-70 F2.8 lens. My backup camera is a Nikon D7000 with a 10-20mm lens (crop sensor) that I often use in conjunction with my main camera. I avoid changing lenses to keep the sensor dust-free. I enjoy shooting at ultra wide angles (10mm) which offers buyers a fresh perspective. It’s also a get out of jail free card for when shooting in small spaces, such as museums, churches and crowded street markets.
It also helps when capturing stunning high perspective panoramas without resorting to stitching together multiple shots.
I often use an 8-stop ND filter, which is great to blur movement even during the day (using a tripod of course), and an obligatory sturdy carbon tripod by Sirui. I opted for carbon since I needed something super-light on my cycling travels.
My favourite piece of equipment is my Sigma 24-70 F2.8 lens, as I find it’s a great range for most of my travel photography. Despite the heavy weight, the wide aperture works really well in low-light situations. It’s a super sharp lens and quite affordable compared to the same range/aperture offered by Nikon.
What are your future plans?
My future plans are:
1. I’ve recently invested on a Panasonic mirrorless, which shoots 4K resolution videos, and learning my ropes on this new type of medium. I’ve also started learning how to use Da Vinci Resolve to post-process my stock clips. Coming from a photography background, I feel, gives me a good base to make a logical transition to licensing stock videos. Theocharis Charitonidis (Bestravelvideo), who is also a Robert Harding contributor, is giving me excellent inputs!
2. Keep regularly uploading to Robert Harding to build my portfolio. Although I’m proud of my effort of 352 currently images accepted, I know that this is a long-term business which requires both quality (technical and commercial-value) and quantity to achieve regular and high-value sales.
3. Visit new places, particularly Southeast Asia, as well as Brazil’s Pantanal region.
4. Publish a revised version of the Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography (www.brutallyhonestmicrostock.com, together with an Udemy course on stock photography!
Read Alexandre’s recent blog post on thinking like a client