As anyone who has tried to take pictures for publication knows, there’s much more to fantastic photography than meets the eyes.
In the age of digital, Facebook and Instagram, we all see many more visual images each day than we ever did before. And most of them are forgettable.
To produce photos that tell a visual story day in and day out, however, requires a combination of technique plus the zen of observation, notes Nutcase photographer Jan Sonnenmair, who shot the most recent photos of our new Baby Nutty and Metroride helmets.
A veteran of decades of commercial and documentary photography, Jan has a very decided and philosophical approach to her art.
As she told a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle recently, describing her process: “As a photographer, you want to immediately hone in on the one person in a crowd who has something to capture.”
Jan was able to do that in her iconic image of Devonte Hart at a Portland-based protest over the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The picture went viral and brought Sonnenmair new recognition.
Especially at a protest, it isn’t easy to shut out the noise and the commotion, but it’s integral to Jan’s approach.
“The key is to stop the chaos in your mind and get lost in a zen moment so you can scan energy,” she told the Chronicle. “Then you decide where to go.”
She got a lot of first-hand experience in shutting out the chaos by shooting action sports photos at professional football games.
The process, Jan said, is not all that different when doing other types of photo shoots – like a spread for Nutcase featuring our soon-to-be-released Metroride and Baby Nutty styles of helmets.
“It’s about telling stories of people, and I try to do that in the least orchestrated way possible,” she said. “Sometimes a bit more direction is required but it is more about the essence of them than the essence of me.”
Jan’s imagery is warm and authentic, and the decades of experience she has is perfect for the “slightly wacky but real” vibe of the people who wear Nutcase helmets.
Sonnenmair said in the many photo sessions she’s done with children, she’s learned great images require creating a space of trust and then waiting – and anticipating – when the visuals you want are going to happen.
She said she continues to learn to slow down in her work, to focus her awareness on the subjects themselves, and to watch and observe.
She’s also found though, that the visual sense she has about which people will make for the most interesting photos is intuitive and almost instant.
“There’s something in people, it’s visual but it also has to come from a soulful place,” she said. “And these days I can sense it almost immediately.”