Photographer William "Skip" Powell on Capturing Perfect Moments of Kindred Passions

Here at SHIFTed we often talk about kindred passions, the moments that bound people together in persuit of discovery and adventure. While he got on our radar as an amateur watch collector, Brooklyn-based photographer William "Skip" Powell has built an impressive portfolio by letting his fine-arts training inform his artful, non-invasive, "subject first" mentality behind the lens. 

We asked Skip to show us some of his favorite selects from various shoots over the years and offer some insights on what was going through his mind when these moments were forever immortalized. 

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“It’s strictly capture. A lot of photographers suffer from this — you’re looking through a lens, so you’re somehow removed. If you’re in a dangerous situation . . . one time I was photographing a mountain lion, looking through the camera focused on getting a good shot so I didn’t think that I was in any danger.”

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“It’s hard to shoot when it’s very narrow, because the fisherman is having a difficult time getting a dynamic looking cast. Roll casts don’t look very good on camera, because the guy’s rod is straight out. The line’s doing something interesting, but you don’t get that sense of motion. If you slow down your shutter speed when the rod bends, you get that motion blur. It makes it a bit more visually interesting I think. You wanna freeze everything else, but you want the fisherman to be crisp — maybe a little blur on the line and the rod.”

“Honestly, my favorites were before I was a photographer. I’ve got a couple of my cousin Townsend here that look pretty good. Look how shallow the water is. There’s no fish. So you can kind of see what I’m talking about with the rod, just getting a little bit of that motion. For me it’s just about getting out there and casting.”

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“This pheasant hunting trip upstate was honestly my favorite shoot I’ve ever been on. I have a lot of background knowledge, so I understand what’s happening, how the situation will potentially play out and how to best position myself to get something worthwhile. Aside from that, it’s a lot of luck. The skill portion is just being able to execute when a moment comes along that you want to capture.”

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“Proportion isn’t the most important to me. Sometimes I’ll make a mistake — one of the most beautiful photos I’ve ever taken, I tripped on some scrub in the Scottish Lowlands, fell flat on my face and my camera went off. It took a photo through the heather of a perfectly blooming bush of heather, with this purple haze to it.”

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“Images like this the client wasn’t even interested in, but I love ‘em. So moody. Rule of Thirds, there you go. I took some more Japanese-influenced high-horizon shots on this, and they’re examples of the beauty of a section of the image outweighing the composition’s overall flaws.”

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“Yeah, this looks like it belongs in a Cimino film — dogs bounding across a seemingly endless plain toward the mountains. This was a weeklong excursion.  I’ve learned a lot more in practice than I have from a formal education. But my fine-arts background, I’d say my ‘subject first’ mentality, stems from that. I’m trying to make the object shine without my influence. You kind of have to leave your ego at the door. I’m not trying to make anything too stylized.”

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"I love the figure in the background. Of course the unbelievable scenery adds gravitas to an image that’s captured in a remedial sense.”

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“I was on a diving trip in the Cayman Islands and got my laptop stolen out of the back of the jeep I had rented. I was still at the airport. My fault for renting a soft top, I guess. The only RAW file of this image was on that laptop. I have a print I can scan, but yeah, that one’s lost to time."

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“That’s what happens when you swing the camera with your subject while maintaining a slower shutter speed. You ever see a picture of a car and the road is all blurry, the wheels are blurry, the landscape is whipping by but the car is sharp? That’s when you lower your shutter speed and swing with your subject. Or you could use a chase vehicle. Dealer’s choice.”

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“I wasn’t directing them, but i probably have 100 frames in the can just of that angle, of them moving around. I was pretty deep underwater when I took that. We were all descending, I was the first one off the boat. I was floating parallel with the surface of the water, shooting them looking straight up. So I wasn’t on the line anymore. I had a few looking directly up the line, but you didn’t get a sense of what it was. Just this pillar that goes into nothing. I wanted just figures, and this is what I got.”

“If you’re interested in getting true-to-life color, you need to bring your own light source with you. The thing about shooting underwater with natural light is, some colors disappear as you descend. The first one to go is red at 15 feet, then orange, yellow and green. Reds end up looking like a muddy brown, green looks blue, things like that. Colors just don’t exist in the spectrum at that depth, the water filters out that light. So you can’t bring that back. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way with fire coral at 90 feet. I was just skin diving at the time, and I remember getting to the surface — from my left armpit down to my knee it looked like wasps just attacked a specific area of my body. Now I always wear a full wetsuit.”

Check out more of Skip's work on his Instagram.

Justin Joffe
Justin Joffe

Justin Joffe is an award-winning arts and culture journalist whose work has appeared in several outlets including Vulture, The Observer, Noisey, Spin, Flaunt and the print quarterly journal of American Roots music, No Depression. He has recently written the liner notes for the recording of a Leonard Cohen tribute show, out now on the Royal Potato Family label.

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