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Interview with Nick Stern

Nick Stern, a news and feature photographer, has traveled to more than 40 countries to document world events. We asked him to answer a few questions for our readers.

1. Why did you decide to go into news photography? What drew you to it?

Nick Stern
Nick Stern

From an early age I was interested in news photography. I remember sitting at my grandparents house and seeing my older cousin reading a newspaper. I thought that looked like an incredibly grown up thing to do, so when he finished with the paper I took it, I couldn’t really read the stories let alone understand them but I remember being fascinated by the photos. I started cutting out news photos and keeping them. I guess I was about 7 or 8 at the time.

My career initially took a different path and I moved into electronics engineering. It wasn’t until I was 30 that I took the big leap and quit my engineering job to become a press photographer. That was over 20 years ago.

2. Your website showcases several images of the devastation caused by an earthquake in Haiti in 2010. What’s it like to capture that kind of tragedy? Emotionally, how do you keep yourself focused on shooting?

A mother pleads with a Brazilian UN peacekeeper. Neither her or her daughter had eaten for three days.
A mother pleads with a Brazilian UN peacekeeper. Neither her or her daughter had eaten for three days.

Tragedy and devastation is always a challenge to shoot. As a photographer you need to convey the horror that’s in front of you but have to maintain an impartial eye to ensure that you can function to record the scene.

A man scavenges for materials to rebuild his home as US soldiers keep a security presence nearby. Port Au Prince Haiti.
A man scavenges for materials to rebuild his home as US soldiers keep a security presence nearby. Port Au Prince Haiti.

Most photographers and journalists I know maintain a professional, almost unemotional front whilst working, but that doesn’t mean during a quiet moment your emotions are there for everyone to see. I’m not ashamed to say that in Haiti there were times when tears had filled my eyes and started to run down my face. I covered it by bringing my camera to my eye to cover the tears.

A child runs to me and pleads for food. His family is living on the streets after the earthquake destroyed their home.
A child runs to me and pleads for food. His family is living on the streets after the earthquake destroyed their home.

3. You have traveled all over the world, but is there one assignment that has really stuck with? Tell us about that assignment and share an image from it.

Obviously Haiti is one assignment that made a huge impression on me. However, I guess covering the tragedy and victims of sex trafficking in Eastern Europe is one that will always have a lasting effect on me.
Spending time with fourteen and fifteen year old girls who have had their childhood stolen from them, comparing their existence and stories with girls of similar age in my home country who would be enjoying school, parties, movies and sleepovers. It’s a tragic existence that mainly goes unnoticed.
During the assignment I couldn’t show any of the girls faces, otherwise the traffickers and pimps would track them down and probably kill them to stop them from testifying in court.
I shot an image, which has probably become my favorite image, of two 15-year-old girls, with a puppy and cigarettes. To me the image encapsulates the contrasting life of the girls.

 Two fifteen-year-old girls relaxing at a rescue center in Romania. Both have been trafficked into the sex trade.
Two fifteen-year-old girls relaxing at a rescue center in Romania. Both have been trafficked into the sex trade.

4. Covering news can take a toll. What do you do for fun to get away from deadlines, death and destruction?

I don’t think that my experience has had too much of a negative toll on me. I think I’ve been able to close my emotions down from much of what I have seen, although, like many journalists, I do think it affects relationship because you learn to put up emotional walls. This takes its toll.
I try to travel on vacation a lot. It’s important to keep a balance and see the world for the amazing, positive place it is, not just for disaster. Also my friends keep me sane, just enjoying their company discussing ‘normal’ things brings you back to reality. Almost like therapy.

5. For those thinking about a career in news photography, what advice would you give them?

First, learn the technical side. An editor doesn’t want to see a badly shot image. Also, spend time looking at images in newspapers and magazines. Ask yourself, ‘why have they used this image?’ ‘What does the image say to the viewer?’
Newspapers all have different agendas. Some are more liberal, some more right wing. Your image should reflect this stance of the paper. For example, a liberal newspaper would be more willing to use an image that is sympathetic to a social issue, whereas a right wing paper would be more likely to use a picture that signifies law and order or traditional values.
You can learn a lot from experienced news photographers. If you find yourself working along side one they are usually happy to give advice and help. Approach them with an attitude that you want to learn, and not that you all ready know everything.

See more of Nick Stern’s work on his website.

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