Learn from a Pro: A Photography Workshop with Paul Ripke

photos: Matthias Piket

Lately, I’ve been totally into workshops. I like the feeling of learning new crafts and perfecting already existing skills. So I was more than happy when Huawei invited me to a mobile photography workshop by Paul Ripke. If you haven’t heard of this man, you should definitely google his name. He rose to fame with his book One Night in Rio where he captured the German soccer team up-close and personal at the World Championship in Rio back in 2014. But he’s not a typical sport and event photographer. With his work he comes so close to the action and the main protagonists that it almost feels like being right there between the athletes celebrating their victory.

With someone so accomplished of course there is a lot to learn, so after he introduced himself to us I was really curious what secrets of his success and profession he would share with us during this workshop. Much to my surprise, in the end the most valuable insight that I got beside a lot of technical stuff,  was something quite more personal and inconspicuous…

The workshop was set-up in four segments: After his initial intro he also wanted to get to know the participants of the workshop. So we all got a say a little about ourselves and present our Instagram streams, the most up-to-date portfolio of our own photography skills. It was interesting to hear how everyone spoke about themselves and their project, what information about their work they deemed important to share with Paul.

After we all made ourselves acquainted with one another we dove right into the professional stuff. Using the Huawei P9 and the new Mate 9 – both of which have a double Leica lens – Paul introduced us to some of the newest features of mobile photography, most importantly the professional mode that let’s you use the smartphone camera as if you were in manual mode in your SLR camera. Considering how professional smartphone photography has gotten thanks to the insane success of the Instagrammer community, it was just a matter of time when the automatic mode of these types of devices would not be enough anymore. Now it’s possible to manually set the ISO, aperture, shutter speed, focus area, and white balance making it possible to get the best out of each photo.

But of course technology is not all there is to photography – there is also technique. So Paul gave us a few tipps on how to optimize our photos. While we were playing around in the space he came around to everyone and gave individual advice about finding the right perspective, taking advantage of lights, respecting the symmetry of the surroundings, exploring unusual and interesting angles, and last but not least how to create a natural smile on the face of the portrayed person. I think hearing all these things was quite interesting because it either confirmed things that we already intuitively did anyway, or it put emphasis on things we too often don’t acknowledge when we take our photos.

When speaking about his own work and why he manages to get so close to the star athletes and celebrities, it’s all about social skills. Paul is a master in this field and he tried to share some of this expertise with us by doing the exact same thing what he does when he is taking photos in the backstage of a big sports event: Don’t be the photographer. He says this is really the magic trick, because once people forget that you are taking pictures they act more natural and you get the better shots. It’s not about trying to be invisible, for Paul it’s about being one with the crowd, being part of the group and taking your photos as if you were one of them. I think as obscure this might sound I could totally relate to this. In my years when I took a lot of party photos I never did it from the perspective of an observer, but from the perspective of being another party guest. Instead of standing on the sideline with a large lens I was right in the middle of the dance floor having fun with the crowd and my camera just became part of that.

With high quality mobile cameras such as the ones built inside the Huawei P9 and Mate 9 this gets even more easy because now more than ever you can take photos “undercover” without being perceived as a photographer. This helps me a lot for instance when I take pictures in a location where I don’t want the staff to know that I photograph for professional purposes. Really often I leave my big camera at home nowadays, because I know I can accomplish the same thing with my mobile phone.

In the last part of the workshop we had the chance to put our newly acquired knowledge to the test. Paul asked us to make a portrait of him and his favorite one of all would win a little something in the end. It was of course a bit intimidating, having to photograph someone who is a quite accomplished photographer himself. As I am not super experienced in portraits I actually did not expect to be amongst the favorites. There were so many talented people in the workshop, some of them even successful photographers themselves. But I did my best, trying to capture Paul the way that I thought represents him best, acknowledging the advice he gave us earlier. And while my fellow workshop participants tried to be extra crazy and original my fairly simple recipe ended up being amongst the top two. I was really surprised by that, even more when the public vote decided my picture to be the winner. Yeay, I never win anything!

But all these technicalities aside the most important lesson I learned happened in the elevator where I took the photo of Paul. Being alone with him for a moment I wanted to speak about something that stuck with me since the beginning of the workshop. Even though Paul is really quite a celebrity amongst photographers he presented himself as a very modest, understated and humble guy, attributing his success more on chance, being in the right place in the right moment, and being close to the right people. Obviously there is more to it, but he decided not to focus on that. This is a pretty different self-presentation than what I am used to here in Berlin where big talents in whatever creative discipline often come with big egos and lots of self-praise. So I asked Paul how he feels about that, if he thinks that modesty and kindness will prevail over loud antics and fanfare. Being a somewhat modest person myself I sometimes wonder if this is something I need to get over to be more successful. His answer was quite clear: he believes in Karma, and being a nice guy will always bring you further, because it will bring you closer to the people that matter in your line of work. It felt good to hear that from someone like Paul.

If you’re curious about the photos I took with the Huawei P9 and Mate 9 here is the winning photo of Paul and another one I took of Claudio. There is gonna be more in another article soon…

Thanks for the support by Huawei

Frank by
on December 9th, 2016
updated on December 9th, 2016
in Photos, Stories
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