Where there’s action, Philip Volkers will be in the thick of it, pushing kit to its limits. “There’s no point having great kit that doesn’t deliver when you need it.”
From Kumbh Mela in India to the Burning Man in Nevada, Philip has documented the largest gatherings on Earth. With his motto of ‘Get in, get the shot and get out fast’, speed and accuracy are absolute musts…
You shoot reportage, portraits and extreme sports – is there a common thread that runs through your work?
I love to photograph things I’m passionate about. Reportage gives me an excuse to visit interesting places, I love portraiture because I get to meet really interesting people, and extreme sports, especially skiing, have always been an obsession of mine. I have a very short attention span for things that don’t interest me – I guess the only reason why I enjoy photographing these topics is that they grab my attention.
How has your work progressed over the years?
When you first start on a journey you say yes to everything in order to gain experience, but in time you realise you’re better at some things than others. I feel that I’ve become more confident in the way I take photographs and developed my own style. I like my images to be playful, but there also has to be a rawness. When I’m taking photographs of people I tend to use the environment around me to place them in the scene, but I also like to draw some emotion out of them. Also, I feel I’ve become better at judging people and taking less time to get the image I’m after.
Do you approach every shoot in the same way?
No, I can’t do that – each shoot is different and needs to be approached accordingly. When you’re working with a client you need to deliver what they want and so you need to be able to adapt to different situations. I like to challenge myself by changing my technique each time – this way I can progress in my art and don’t simply produce the same old stuff again and again.
Talk to us about technique – what are you trying to capture and how do you go about capturing it?
That’s a difficult question to answer because I find myself in so many completely different situations. I would say though that my general technique is quite guerrilla – whether it’s shooting a portrait or reportage, I like to go to places I’m not allowed to be, which forces me to think quickly, get the shot, then get out of there as fast as possible. For me photography is all about capturing a moment in time and for this reason I have to be quick to see the shot. I don’t like to hang around. Get the shot and get out… This technique is very good for working on film sets and weddings when you haven’t got much time and you’re working under pressure. You also need to be invisible so people don’t notice you. This allows you to capture genuine emotion without the subjects realising you’re taking their photo. This is when you capture the true essence of someone.
What are your kit requirements, and what gear do you like to work with?
The most important requirement for me is that the product works at all times. I tend to find myself photographing in conditions that pushes equipment to its limit. There’s no point having great kit that doesn’t deliver when you most need it. I love using Olympus’ 7-14mm and 70-150mm lenses, and can safely say that I’ve put them through their paces and they still give a super sharp photograph.
We’re guessing you have to keep your kit bag light, particularly when it comes to travel. How do you achieve this?
It’s impossible to keep it super light, but there are certain things you can do. Firstly, you must have a good bag for your camera, preferably a roomy rucksack. I like the OM-D system, as it’s lightweight and robust. I try to only take what I think is most useful for an assignment – having less kit forces you to work rapidly to get the shot.
Article featured in Practical Photography Magazine in March 2017