Spotlight Interview … Documentary & Portrait Photographer Norbert Becke


Please welcome Documentary and Portrait Photographer Norbert Becke to James Robinson Photography Blog. Thank you Norbert for sharing your thoughts and images with us.

Norbert Becke: Thank you for your invitation James!

JRP: Where do you call home Norbert?

Norbert Becke: I live near Heidelberg, Germany. I was born there and I studied there. One might say I have not gone far but it’s nice to have a place where you feel at home when you travel around the world as much as I do. Currently I’m in the Ngorongoro Highlands in Tanzania, Africa. For me this beautiful place is like a second home. Every year I travel here visiting friends and portraying the country with its spectacular wildlife and its people.

JRP: You have a creative background. How did you start and get to where you are now?


Norbert Becke: After studying graphic design and holding a teaching position at a design school I worked as a freelance designer. I was the art director and managing partner of an advertising agency, which I founded. But photography was always an essential part of my work as a designer.

Ever since my first trip to Africa in 2001, it has become ever more important. Journeys to Botswana, Morocco, Namibia, Rwanda, Zambia, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda followed quickly. Wildlife and portrait photography is a passion and I am inspired again and again from my contact with the natives. My photo documentary work in Laos, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea and India created from 2008 to 2013 was published in many exhibitions and in various magazines.

JRP: Who are some of the photographers that have inspired and influenced your work graphically and photographically?

copyrightNorbert Becke

Norbert Becke: I love the work of Sebastiao Salgado, Steve McCurry and the early African work of Leni Riefenstahl. She was a real pioneer in documentary photography in this region.

JRP: What steps did you use to develop your vision and technique early on?

Norbert Becke: I don’t think there’s a need of clearly defined steps to be taken to develop a vision but I would agree to say I developed my photographic technique step by step. There are no special techniques for a vision. A portrait has to touch the soul … you can’t reach that with technical skills only. You have to respect the feelings of the people, their cultural and religious background. I never see people as a motif only, I see them as human beings.

JRP: What would I find in your camera bag for a typical shoot?


Norbert Becke: I think a typical shoot does not exist if you work with people. That makes documentary and portrait photography so unique. Normally you would find my Nikon D800 and as lenses the Nikkor 24-70 mm f/2.8 and the Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 in my bag.

JRP: Do you use flash in your work and if so what are your most often used light modifiers?


Norbert Becke: I definitely prefer available light. To be honest, when I’m out for documentary photography I generally don’t even have a flash in my bag. My light source is the sun and my soft boxes are the clouds – these are my favorite tools. If the situation allows it I always try to direct the position of people to catch the best possible light, and ideally catch eye reflections that can make a portrait so intense.

JRP: Describe your digital work flow and the software you use? What do you think one must do to master image processing?

Norbert Becke: I shoot in raw format and edit my photos with Photoshop. I adjust exposure, colors, sharpness and try to bring out as much detail as possible to the eyes, which are so important for an extraordinary portrait. As far as portraits are concerned I sometimes reduce the depth of field of the background a little bit.

The last step is the crop. I never work with layers or textures because I think that documentary photography should be as close as possible to the reality. There is no master image processing for me, because every shot needs an individually customized processing.

JRP: What do you feel is the most critical moment in the capture of your images?

Norbert Becke: Every situation has its most critical moment and that is the moment you should not miss. It is the moment you are looking for all the time and the moment you want to freeze. There’s no second chance for this one shot.

JRP: Was there a shoot or project that revealed to you the distance you’ve come as a photographic artist? A really exciting experience

Norbert Becke: in 2011 I traveled to Papua New Guinea to join a big 3 day ethnic meeting. Tribal members from all over the country came together to sing and dance. These people are deeply rooted in their millennium-old-culture and to portray them was an absolutely exciting experience.

JRP: If not visual arts or design what would Norbert Becke be doing with his time?

Norbert Becke: Visual arts, design, photography… that’s my passion. I can’t image doing other things with my time and I’m really grateful to work in this field. But if I could not do that my answer would be traveling, traveling, traveling …

JRP: So far what has been the best advice given to you by another visual artist?

Norbert Becke: Perfection in an image is worth nothing when there’s no emotion in it. This sentence is a guide for me and my work.

JRP: What advice would you share with other photographers?


Norbert Becke: I can only answer as a documentary and portrait photographer: Treat other people with respect and as I already said, don’t see them as a motif only, see them as human beings. A smile can open hearts.

JRP: Thank you Norbert for sharing this time with us. It has been a pleasure talking with you and we wish you continued success.

Norbert Becke: Thank you James, it’s been a pleasure for me as well.

JRP: To view more of Norbert Becke’s photography please follow these links:


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