WRITTEN BY: Jain Lemos, APA National
15 years ago, Andrei Duman was a tennis player and banker and not a professional photographer. That he is one now is reason to sit up and take notice. As a commercial-conceptual-travel-aerial-photographer, Andrei worries the most about being uninspired. So far, he seems to be doing quite well at sidestepping ruts. His career continues to hit plenty of high marks and he’s accumulating awards and an impressive client list which includes; Richard Mille Watches, Nike, McLaren Automotive, The Four Seasons Hotel and Tony Hawk Foundation to name a few. Still, his personal test for success will always be about chasing something new.
The video headlining on your website right now featuring skateboarder legend Tony Hawk creating free flowing spray paint art seems to reflect your personal philosophy. Tony says he’s always up for new challenges and ideas. Would you say you are more eager than most to do things differently?
Probably. I was told by lots of people to only be shooting one thing and stick with it. The advice was to have a specialty so clients would know exactly what to hire you for. When I started out, I was shooting in my spare time while I was working, first as a tennis player travelling all over the world and then as an investment banker in Manhattan. Most of my photos were initially travel- and landscape-related and I have been fortunate enough to have travelled to 82 countries.
But when I decided to become a fulltime photographer and moved to Los Angeles about five years ago, shooting only one category didn’t really make sense to me. I didn’t want to eliminate any particular genre of photography simply because it was not in my specialty. I wanted to continue to explore different subjects, different angles and different environments so I broadened my vision, and, in time, my skillset.
I can see ignoring that advice has been a good choice for you.
Right now, I have 23 different projects and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love the variety. In the next few months I’ll be shooting from helicopters with Phase One’s IQ4 150 megapixel back. Then I’m going underground to document the CERN scientists who are working with world’s largest and most powerful particle collider, which is 100 meters (330 feet) beneath the France–Switzerland border near Geneva.
Wow, that certainly gives a new meaning to experiencing highs and lows. Do you worry?
Of course, but that is the thrill of trying different things as well. There are times when shoots don’t go as well I think they should at first. I’m continually amazed at how inexact photography is. Ideas are very different from results. I have been in a phase of questioning everything but I realize this is where the growth comes from. I think society—and as a result, photographers in general—are paying too much attention to social media trends. They can easily get influenced to focus on certain subjects or styles, even though it is not what they really want to do. Especially in photography, if you do not put your whole heart and passion into a project it will show. I fell into that trap a few months ago and forced myself to snap out of it. I promised myself that, as much as possible, I will focus on projects that I find interesting regardless of the subject involved. This way, it keeps me and my team on our toes. It forces you to be off balance a little and in turn, you present yourself to be shown new challenges from which you have to face. I believe that this is the only real way to learn new skills and stay current with technology and ideas.
Travel is really the greatest victory, isn’t it?
Absolutely. I have 12 countries planned for this year and that will be added to the 82 countries I’ve already visited. I have been travelling for many years. In my younger days when I was visiting places like Syria, Brunei and Tunisia, I can still recall how fascinated I was with the different cultures, foods and smells. It captivated me and even though I am doing a great deal more studio work recently, I will always turn to travel to recharge and keep my wonder alive for the world we live in. If I can manage to capture some great images along the way and share them with those who are interested in my adventures, then all the better. I believe travel grounds you and forces you to recalibrate your internal compass, be it moral or human. I know for a fact that I have learned more life lessons while on my travels than I have through any university or master degrees.
Your aerials are wonderful to study. Are you using drones or do you hang out of open doors?
It’s tough to get the shots I’m after using drones mainly because the equipment I want to use is too heavy. And there is a much less control with drones. They are limited to where they can go and the precision I want to make with the images. For example, in the helicopter I have a dedicated pilot helping me. Communication is key between the two of us. This is why I try to use the same pilot because they are accustomed to my style of shooting. They instinctively know how hard to bank on a turn, and what speed and altitude to achieve. When the costs are as high as they are doing aerial work, this synchronization is crucial in saving time and money.
And when you come back down to Earth, you’re shooting these intricate watches.
Yes, there is a different mindset for sure. In the studio or for a product shoot, there isn’t the same danger aspect of flying but there is still an intensity. The techniques are also different. You have to slow down and think more about your composition rather than the impulsive and reactive approach for aerials. For a luxury watch brand such as Richard Mille, I have spent up to 4 hours with my team just working on the lighting for one look. Not one shot was taken. There is no excuse for any mistakes to be made. You have to be patient and make sure that everything is lined up perfectly as it will easily show if not. There is also the added anxiety factor that you are representing the brand rather than doing a personal project and as a result the intensity is heightened.
Throughout my entire career, my main purpose is to capture the subject in the way that I recall seeing it with my own eyes. The human eye is an incredibly powerful device and sees the world in near perfect color and tones. For me, the Phase One camera system is the closest tool available that can help me replicate that. Low noise levels, the highest dynamic range as well as the largest sensor in the world of 150 megapixels ensures me that my clients will constantly receive the best quality files. A photography tool, however, can only go so far. It is for this reason that I am constantly trying to learn new skills and to not be afraid to push the envelope in terms of creative ideas.
View Andrei Duman’s portfolio here.