20 May An interview with photographer and Vamper, Lee Besser
Meet Lee Besser. Not only is Lee one of Vamp’s Sydney-based Partnership Managers, he just so happens to be a photographer and content creator.
So while helping brands unlock the power of influencer marketing, he’s also out shooting content for his own collaborations. We like to say Lee lives the best of both worlds.
We sat him down to ask for his best tips for shooting low-light photography, what his kit looks like and where he turns to for inspiration.
Bring us up to speed. How and when did you start getting into photography?
My photography journey is relatively new. It all started in 2015 when I took a year off work to travel. I bought a Nikon 1 J5 point and shoot camera to capture my trip because my iPhone 6 at the time had a poor camera.
After taking photos all around Asia for three months, I realised photography was something I really enjoyed. I travelled differently when I had my camera in hand. I took everything at a slower pace and was more in the moment. While my technical skills weren’t great to begin with, I realised I had an eye for composition.
I still feel like I’m in the infancy of my photography journey. But every time I shoot, I improve and learn more about my strengths. I have no idea what my destination is but I am loving the process and journey.
What’s your primary camera and why do you use it?
By most photographer’s standards, my kit is relatively simple. I shoot with a Canon 6D II and have a range of lenses for various situations. I use a 16-35mm for landscape photography, a 50mm/85mm for multi-purpose photography and a 70-200mm for street and nature photography.
I also use a drone (more on that later…) and I have a Nikon FE film camera if I just want to go out and shoot without all the complications of the digital process.
There’s a big debate about which camera system is the ‘best’ (Sony, Nikon, Canon etc) but the reality is they all do what they’re designed to do…take a photo. Photography is a lot more about the story that the photo tells, rather than how it was taken.
Do you have a process you follow when shooting or do you just wing-it?
There will be times when I obsessively plan a shoot, involving a whole suite of nerdy photography apps that help me track things like cloud cover and moon cycles. And sometimes I’ll just take my camera out and shoot freely.
Some of my happiest photography memories are strolling through countries like Vietnam or Sri Lanka, capturing what I see on a day-to-day basis.
However, one theme that is consistent with my photography, is that I want to spend as little time in Lightroom as possible. This means being less trigger happy when I’m out shooting and being more accurate with how I shoot. This is still very much a work in progress.
You’ve shot it all – landscapes, cities, aerial shots, the list goes on. What’s your favourite to shoot and why?
Each type of shooting appeals to me in a different way, depending on my mind and what I’m trying to achieve.
I adore landscape photography because it means I have an excuse to be outside for hours, watching mother nature do her thing. Ironically, as a control freak, I love to shoot things that are out of my control and hard to plan for. Such as fire sunsets and sunrises or extreme weather like fog or storms. I also turn into a child when I see a sky full of stars and galaxies.
I then have a very love/hate relationship with aerial photography. I find flying my drone stressful (I crashed it once in New Zealand and I’ve never been the same since) and I appreciate they can be pretty annoying for people who are just trying to enjoy a moment.
Any hot tips for shooting in low-light?
Low-light can be a lot of fun but it can also be pretty challenging. Photography is essentially just a game of manipulating light, so when you have less of it, you have to work a little bit harder.
My best tips would be to make sure you have at least one lens with a large aperture (I know, I’m contradicting myself) so you have more light to play with. Also, remember if you’re shooting RAW it’s much easier to lighten shadows than darken highlights when editing. I tend to shoot darker than I think I should.
My photography is naturally quite dark and moody so I’ll often use a tripod and external light sources to control the light for the result I’m trying to create.
What’s something you haven’t tried yet with your photography, but you want to?
I’ve never really experimented with wildlife or underwater photography so if any brands want to take me on their next diving or safari expedition, hit me up!
Where or who do you turn to for inspiration?
Oh wow, I feel like I’m constantly surrounded by inspiration and incredible people. Firstly, working at Vamp, I am constantly blown away by the quality of the content our creators produce for our clients and their audience. Even internally we’ve got some incredibly talented people.
Social media plays a huge part of the inspiration I see on a daily basis. My feed is full of unbelievably talented people that inspire me, and I seem to discover new favorites all the time.
I’ve always admired Chris Burkard’s commitment to his art (check out his short doco ‘Under An Arctic Sky’ for an example of his dedication) and legends like Steve McCurry for their ability to show the beauty in everyday, human experiences. I also recently discovered the work of Harold Feinsten and his documentary ‘Last Stop Coney Island’ produced a crazy visceral reaction for me.
Outside of that, as cliche as it sounds, just being outside and experiencing life is full of inspiration. If you slow down, look up and stay in the moment, you’ll see the world is full of tiny, beautiful moments.
What has been your favourite city, country or town to shoot and why?
The list of places I need to visit keeps getting longer and longer but I’d have to say Japan or Hong Kong have been my favourite places to shoot so far. I just love the character, vibrancy and mix of old and new architecture. Every moment tells a story.
I happened to be in Hong Kong during the heated 2019 protests and I saw a lot of chaos and destruction, including cars being set on fire, teargas being fired into crowds and buildings being broken into. It was scary but I count myself fortunate that I got to see history playing out in front of me.
I also have to mention Australia, which I feel like I massively take for granted. The extreme natural environment here is both scary and beautiful at the same time and I’ve really enjoyed exploring it over the last year. I’m looking forward to many more local adventures until somewhere with less snakes opens up its borders…
Check out Lee’s portfolio here.