Spotlight on Darron Silva

( Darron R. Silva/Naples Daily News)
 
TID:
 
What perfect timing on this image. It looks almost as if it's stage, but it's an actual moment.
Can you tell us a little about the beginning of the shoot and why you were there?
 
DARRON:
 
Thanks for letting me be a part of this great blog. I have been a fan since it launched, and I use it in the classroom for my students on a regular basis. I'm thrilled you picked this photo - it is a personal favorite of mine. The moment is so perfect that I can see how it would appear to be staged, but I can assure you it is not. As a photojournalist I have very strict ethics, and would never, ever, set up a moment. When I looked back through the take I realize it looks a little strange, but that is simply because the subjects are dancing. If you put a little R&B grove down in your brain when you look at the pics, it makes more sense. 
 
This image is from a shoot I did on Spring Break at Fort Myers Beach, FL, while working as a staff photographer for the Naples Daily News. It was one of those days when you realize how being a photojournalist beats having a "real job" hands down. I had spent the afternoon walking up and down the beach, shooting college students partying, and enjoying the weather. Fort Myers Beach is not a huge Spring Break destination, but it is popular with a few colleges. There is partying, but nothing crazy like Cancun or South Padre Island. After a few hours I had a few pictures that were okay, but mostly from group events, and nothing that was particularly up-close and intimate. As the sun was setting I happened upon a few college students who were dancing, drinking, and doing a lot of flirting. I introduced myself and told them I was shooting Spring Break for the Naples Daily News, and asked if they would mind if I hung out with them and took some photos. They were totally cool with it, and so I was able to shoot with ease, up-close with the wide lens. They just kept on dancing and flirting.
 
 
 
TID:
 
I actually feel uncomfortable photographing on the beach. Maybe it's just me being self-conscious
but I can't help it. What challenges did you encounter while working to make this image?
 
DARRON:
 
The key to photos like this is having the trust of the subjects. When I first started shooting, I was shy with subjects and worried that my presence would change the moment, so I would feature hunt from a distance. I remember interning at the Ann Arbor News (sadly, now out of print) in 1994. We would feature hunt with long glass, snooping around the quad at the University of Michigan hunting moments. It looked like something out of a wild safari TV show. But over time I learned to approach people and gain their trust, and, if done correctly, with minimum effect on the moments.  In this case, I was able to connect with the subjects without too much trouble. One of the people in the photo had family in the area and was familiar with the newspaper, so I think that helped. I just try to be very open and honest with people, and not come across as some weirdo looking to take sexy photos at Spring Break. I always introduce myself, and tell them exactly what I am doing and where the photos may appear. If they don't want to be photographed, I move on. But in this case, the subjects were very welcoming to me, and continued their partying and flirting while I settled in to shoot.
 
TID:
 
What surprised you about the moment that you weren't expecting?
 
 
DARRON:
 
I knew the moment was good when it happened. But it wasn't until I went through the take that I realized how much the moment represented the idea we have of college Spring Break. The photo is playful and flirtatious. College kids enjoying that moment in their lives. I love the separation between the cherry and the woman's mouth in the frame we selected - to me it represents the flirting and anticipation that makes that time in your life so much fun.
 
TID:
 
What have you learned about yourself in the process of making images like this?
 
DARRON:
 
I've learned I'm usually able to put people at ease and gain their trust. I think people can usually tell when you are being honest with them, and they respect that. Using that approach in all of my photography helps me capture moments that I just wouldn't get without the trust of the subjects.
 
 
 
TID:
 
What did you learn about others while making this picture?
 
DARRON:
 
It's cliche, but for the most part, people are the same. I try to put myself in their place before approaching them, and think, 'What would I think if a stranger walked up to me and asked to hang out and take pictures?' I figure I would be wary if they seemed uncomfortable or shady, so I approach folks openly, honestly, and respectfully.
 
TID:
 
Sometimes it can be a little overwhelming in crowds (like on the beach) to focus on one nice moment. Do you have advice on how you look for moments in a crowded situation?
 
DARRON:
 
It can be very difficult to separate the good moments from the noise in a large crowd situation. I wish I had a great solution, but I don't. I begin by taking a few minutes to scan the crowd, looking for anything that just screams out 'Moment!' Of course that usually doesn't work, so I then start to walk through the crowd, trying to take it all in. I have learned, over the years, to shoot things as I see them, even if they don't appear to be great at first. 
 
The reason for this is two fold: one, the moment may continue to develop and improve as you shoot it, and you end up with a nice photo, and secondly, the situation, while it may not be ideal, may be the best thing you see all day. It is a terrible feeling to pass on a situation that you think is mediocre, then spend two hours pulling your hair out, trying desperately to find a better moment, only to realize the first situation you passed on was by far the best of the day.  
 
I've also found that shooting a moment early on in the shoot, even if it is not great, frees me to take a little more risk and really hunt for something great, because I know I have something acceptable in the camera and I won't go back to the office empty-handed.
 
TID:
 
You said, "I've learned I'm usually able to put people at ease and gain their trust." How do you do this and what advice do you have to emulate this?
 
DARRON:
 
I've found the biggest factor for putting people at ease is to put myself at ease. If I am laid-back and relaxed, the subjects instantly see that and it helps them relax. If you are nervous about approaching a possible subject, people will see that and get their guard up, wondering if you are some crazy guy with a camera, especially in a situation like Spring Break. So I approach people, introduce myself, and act like taking photos of folks is simply no big deal, just something I do all the time, which of course, it is. 
 
This can be difficult if you are actually nervous about approaching a subject for whatever reason. But you have to realize that the subjects are relaxed about whatever they are doing (dancing on the beach, for instance) so there is no reason for you to be nervous. The last thing you want to do is introduce fear and concern into the situation.
 
It also helps a lot if you are able to relate to all types of people. Having experience as a journalist helps, because that involves spending a lot of time walking in someone else's shoes. Empathy is key. While I myself have not had the pleasure of dancing on the beach during Spring Break, I can understand how that feeling of freedom and youth is a wonderful thing. I try to never, ever judge the people I photograph, but instead, to understand them.
 
TID:
 
Now, onto the moment. Can you talk about the moments leading up to the picture and also the actual moment?
 
DARRON:
 
When I first started shooting, there was just one couple dancing. I was able to get in very close, shooting everything with the wide zoom.  I shot them for several frames, and it was okay, but they seemed to be keeping a little distance from each other. I guess they weren't that close. Then another couple in the group started kissing on the beach, so I shot that. It was a nice moment with beautiful light. As they broke the kiss the second girl fished a cherry out of her drink and ate it in a very seductive way. This caught the attention of the other folks in the group, and so began a dance of the four of them, dangling cherries and being very flirtatious with each other. 
 
 
 
Fortunately for me, the bar had been generous with the cherries, putting several in their drinks. This gave me several opportunities to shoot and the last cherry provided the moment seen here. Everything just came together; I was able to drop to my knees to clean up the background, the light was amazing, and the second guy, who wasn't as into it as the others, moved off-camera. The final bit of luck was when the girl eating the cherries dropped her hand, which had been partially blocking my shot in previous frames. 
 
We had a saying when I was at Western Kentucky University, 'Luck is opportunity meeting preparedness.' This situation is a great example of that. I was able to put myself in the right place at the right time, and I was prepared when the moment came. 
 
 
 
TID:
 
In conclusion, what advice do you have for photographers?
 
DARRON:
 
My advice is to be honest and respectful of your subjects. Don't judge them, or make fun of them. Don't steal moments. Great moments aren't stolen, they are shared. 
 
 
 
:::BIO:::
 
Darron Silva worked as a staff photojournalist for three newspapers, most recently the Naples Daily News. He left the Naples Daily News in 2006 to travel the world with his wife, relocate to NC, and start a family. Now Silva teaches photography at Western Piedmont Community College in Morganton, NC, works as a freelance photographer with Aurora Select, shoots personal projects, and tries to be a good dad to his two daughters. 
 
 
You can view more of his work at www.darronsilva.com
 
 
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