Ever looked at a picture and thought, “I want to be right there, right now”?
That’s been the task at hand for St. Louis-based Paul Nordmann and Mark Katzman. The lifestyle photographers have been working with Princess Cruises for more than a half-decade to exhibit the stunning side of destinations like the Carribean, Alaska, and Denmark.
You might be surprised to learn which of these enchanting locations most stuck with Paul. Well, after checking this picture out, maybe not. I mean, just look at this!
Pretty hot, right? Anyway, here’s how that shot came to be.
Overall, the best trip was the Alaskan cruise, and this by far was the most amazing photographic experience I have ever had. We were just out on a glacier tour, and the whales weren’t our main focus that day. Luckily, the captain spotted some whales off in the distance and drove by them. We sat and waited for them to breach, and when that whale started to come out of the water, my sports photography background naturally kicked in, and I was able to capture about 20 frames of the breach. It was truly magical witnessing that moment. I am not a huge nature guy, but I was absolutely in awe of the beauty of Alaska. I can’t wait to go back!
Paul might not be big on nature, but there’s no denying his ability to shoot wildlife. Are you having a bad day? Well, that’s about to change. Here’s a picture of a baby sloth eating a red flower.
You would think that photographing something that moved so slow would be pretty easy, but these were baby sloths and they didn’t stay still! You’d think you have a good angle on a shot, and then they would just move on up the branch. We weren’t able to touch them at all, so it wasn’t like we could put it in place and get the shot we had envisioned. I just had to be patient and shoot a burst of images when everything came together for a split second.
Since this work is for a well-known cruise line, Paul and Mark have to focus a lot of their energy on photographing the ships themselves (as opposed to just kickin’ it with adorable baby sloths). As Paul notes, this aspect of the job is chock full of variables.
We first started out trying to just get beauty shots of the ship, which would mean getting out as early as possible and getting on a tender boat that drives us around the boat for about 20 minutes. Sometimes this works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. We are at the mercy of the location, the time you arrive at a port, the port authority, and, most importantly, the captain of the ship.
Lately, we have tried to get more shots of the ‘ship in situation,’ which basically means they want the ship to be photographed with the location in the background. This is a lot more difficult because you are not guaranteed that the ship will be docked at a good angle. We always joke about having the captain turn the ship for us, but after five years of shooting for Princess we have yet to make that happen!
Another obstacle in this quest for the best shots is working around the vacationers while also capturing their experience. Since much of Paul and Mark’s shooting takes place during actual cruises, the pair must be cognizant of not getting in the way of the guests.
We have to be extremely aware of their experience the entire time. The staff does an amazing job of blocking off sections for us for a couple of hours at a time when possible. Other times, we have to shoot in an area when it is closed to the public.
Both Paul and Mark bring high-quality work to Princess that takes skill, timing, and good fortune to obtain. Here’s a slice of some of Mark’s best work, as well as his process behind getting it:
I knew we needed to capture the majesty of the train ride. I also knew we only had one shot at it. So, I pre-scouted remotely by looking at Google Earth and as many pictures of that train ride as I could find. I decided that the bend would be the money shot. It was an out and back ride, so on the way out, I just took a look at it to see where the best spot would be. I saw that the key moment was just when we would be emerging from a tunnel. I worked with the staff of the train to position myself and my crew on the way back hanging out a bit between two cars. We had the camera extended on a monopod and were operating it from the laptop. When we popped out of the tunnel, I laid on the shutter. Even though the camera’s drive was on high, there were only a few perfect frames.
Like Paul, Mark shows an aptitude for shooting animals up close.
While these images came from a wildlife refuge, it wasn’t long before the pair encountered a bear in the wild. What was that like, Mark?
Shortly after shooting the grizzly in a safe environment, we came face to face with one in the wild. It was feeding on salmon, and we were on a trail next to the river. It was no more than 15 feet away. Let’s just say it was a great way to get the blood flowing on an otherwise chilly afternoon!
You’ll notice that these images are crisp and contrasty while still maintaining a light and airy feel. That’s a staple of the Princess look, as Mark explains.
The Princess brand is created by a creative crew that has remained consistent throughout the years. One critical member of the crew is retoucher Curt von Diest. We rarely do compositing, except for adding a sky here or there. However, we pay very careful attention to a) a consistent color pallet and b) visually simplifying the images to direct the viewer’s attention to the heart of the picture.
When asked about his favorite place to shoot for Princess, Mark, like Paul, gave a somewhat unexpected answer.
My favorite place thus far was Katherine’s Palace in St. Petersburg Russia. It was stunning, and we hit it in perfect light.
In order to get this shot, Mark had to think on his feet and do some roleplaying to get around security.
Our access was a little sketchy, so we had to ‘pre-plan’ the shoot before we ever got there. The way it worked out was I would act as the husband of one of the models and the DP, Pat Notaro, would be the husband of the other. It worked and we could shoot the models enjoying the experience without drawing much attention to ourselves. That freed Paul up to shoot whatever he saw that looked good, which worked out great.
To get to this point in one’s career, it takes hard work, an opportunistic approach, and a little bit of luck. Mark first earned an assignment with Princess soon after the company hired a new creative director, Jody Friedericks. Looking to give the Princess brand a much-needed facelift, she searched far and wide to find the right photographer for the job.
I made it into the final group, and as the story goes she looked at every photograph available from each photographer in the final group. When looking at mine, she found deep in my website a project I shot for a summer camp my daughter attended. As luck would have it, she had spent her childhood at the same camp. She recounted that she felt the spirit of the camp was perfectly captured, and the rest is history.
Once Mark landed the gig, he realized he needed an extra set of hands to help take care of everything Princess needed. That’s where Paul entered the picture.
Paul had been working with me for years when I won the Princess Cruise business. An emerging sports lifestyle photographer, Paul never was far from his camera. So, when I needed to be in two places at once on the second cruise, Paul volunteered to jump in. When on an excursion in the Sea of Cortez, I was in a bind. I needed to shoot kayaking and snorkeling simultaneously, [so] Paul enthusiastically volunteered to shoot the snorkeling.
Years later, the pair continues to gallivant the globe in search of the best shots for the Princess brand. As you can tell from the pictures, these assignments usually become so enthralling that they cease to feel like work. Per Paul:
When a crew member accidentally shouts out at the end of a rigorous, twelve-hour day, ‘This is the BEST vacation I have ever had!’, you know you’re doing something right.
Producer: Lauren Christman
Hair & Makeup: Liz Rizzo
Hair & Makeup: Kelly Hunt
Wardrobe: Alicia Hankes
Goodby Silverstein & Partners:
Art Director: Angie Elko
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