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Tips from the Afghan Girl cover photographer

by Michael

Last Updated on

The Afghan Girl cover on National Geographic

The most iconic National Geographic cover displays an image of a teenage Afghan girl with luminescent green eyes peering out at the reader. We recently attended a travel bloggers conference in Umbria , Italy where we had the opportunity to meet the man behind the cover, photographer Steve McCurry. He was in Umbria taking photos of the beautiful region for a special project. We joined our fellow writers in asking Steve a few questions about his career. Here are a few tips on how to take better travel photos:

Photography tips from Steve McCurry

1) How did you find the subject for the “Afghan Girl” photo shoot? I was taking photos at a school when I noticed her off to the side with some friends. She was shy so I couldn’t just approach her directly. I spent some time taking photos of a few of her classmates. Eventually she became intrigued and agreed to pose. Once we started I knew I only had about ten minutes before she would lose interest and wander off.

2) Did you know right away the photo was a winner? Back then you had to send your film back to be developed before you knew how the pictures came out. My editor contacted me and told me we had something special.

3) How do you compare digital and film photography? Digital photography is superior to film. Although I’m glad I waited to get into it now that it’s much improved.

4) What are you looking for when you take pictures? I try to get beyond the postcard view to capture the flavor of a place. It’s about the people so I look at that more than landscapes.

5) How do you develop a rapport with your subjects so they let you photograph them? When taking intimate photos of people don’t be shy, be confident. Establish a friendly smile and treat them with respect. Most people are thrilled to be photographed. Make sure you are treating them as a real person, not an object. They’ll also reflect your personality, if you’re nervous then they’ll be nervous.

6) How do you overcome language barriers? I usually have a translator or a guide. But I also use sign language or a joke. You can’t overestimate humor to make someone comfortable.

7) Have you ever had “the photo that got away” that you weren’t ready for? I don’t dwell on negativity or missed opportunities.

8) Who inspired you when you were starting out? Henri-Cartier Bresson developed such a sense of timing, light and composition. I wanted to take what he did and take it to the next level with travel photography.

9) How would you like to be remembered? For seeing the great places of the world: Umbria, where I’m working now, the Grand Canyon, the Great Wall of China.

Steve McCurry Afghan girl photographer

Naturally Philly native and Penn State grad Steve McCurry would pose with our trip mascot, Little Rocky.

During this conference we also took a workshop from another National Geographic cover photographer, Ken Kaminesky. Hopefully some of Steve and Ken’s tips will start showing up in our photos. Many thanks to Steve McCurry for taking the time.

Interested in photography? Here’s a link to our photos of North Korea.

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