Photo Storytelling: On the Road with Kevin Russ | Kevin Russ | Skillshare

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Photo Storytelling: On the Road with Kevin Russ

teacher avatar Kevin Russ, Photographer

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.



    • 3.

      Shooting Your Experience


    • 4.

      Shooting Your Experience II


    • 5.

      Putting Your Story Together


    • 6.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Stocksy Photographer Kevin Russ (@kevinruss) is known for his immersive, experiential approach to photography. He's able to capture some of the most authentic and beautiful images of people he encounters and places he goes.

In this 30-minute class, you'll join Kevin in Salton Sea, California where he experiences a day in the desert with his friend Cuervo, a desert cowboy and his two mules. Kevin shares stories of his experiences taking photos on the road, sharing inspiring and insightful tips on how photography reflects your immersion in a place, and why experience is the cornerstone to your work.

Inspired by Kevin's passion for meaningful adventure and photography, you'll leave this class excited to get out and take photos of a subject and the place you experience. Share them with the class, share them on Instagram and most importantly, approach your experience with a sense of wonder.


Stocksy United is home to a curated collection of royalty-free stock photography that's beautiful, distinctive and highly usable.

Because every photo is vetted, every shot has earned a place. So, no filler, no cheesy poses...and no more hours of searching for the right image.

Images courtesy of @kevinruss

Meet Your Teacher

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Kevin Russ



Photographer & traveler.

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1. Introduction: I try and do as much as I can and it leads to photographs in situations that you can't plan, and that you, I don't know, would never think that you're in. Hi, I'm Kevin Russ, I'm a Photographer and we are out near the Salton Sea. This class I'm teaching on Skillshare today is all about observation and connection. I'm doing things and taking pictures of things that inspire me, and I feel like if other people see them, they can be inspired too. So, that's why I share everything that I do. Right now, I'm here in the desert at Quepo's little mad hut. He's a desert cowboy and just hanging out learning how to work with mules and running around. We're going to be jumping into hopefully a new situation outside of your comfort zone hopefully, either working with people or landscapes and, I don't know, just trying to capture not only what you see, but the feelings you get when you're in a new place or in a new situation. The project for this class is to go somewhere new or do something new and photograph it in three to five photos based on what you see and the new experiences that you have. I'd love for you guys to post your photos in the Skillshare page and write a little bit about your experience to go along with those photos. It's easy for any photographer to come in to any situation with an idea for a shot or like with your own way that you want to do things. I think when you do that, there's so much you can miss out on and that's just what I found. So, I try not to come in with any ideas for pictures and well go with what happens I guess. 2. Storytelling: We're going to go out with a Clairvaux this desert cowboy. I hear he built his own mud hut and is living out here for free off the grid, it's a type of lifestyle I don't know much about, he's got a couple of mules that he rides. So, I'm just going to jump right in and we're going to get on some mules. He eats food that he picks off the ground like on the way to town. So, we're going to be doing some of that, and just seeing what his life is like and learning from that and photographing along the way. The goal is to not setup shots like this desert cowboy. The goal is to see what he does and do it also and photograph just what's going on. Yes, coming in with a short list you could just kill the whole thing. You could get the shots on your list but that may not represent what is happening here. For me, and I feel like most people that is, you should be photographing what is seen and what is true to the person and the place. I saw him in an island just down there a couple of years ago I was actually on my way. So this is a good example of having an idea to get you to go somewhere but not following through if another opportunity that's more unique comes along your way. So, I was on my way to Mexico actually. I was going to be driving and just doing the same old thing living out of the back of the car but I stopped in Slab city I was trying a couple of things, one thing I was trying to do I was trying to get on a freight train and it was just something that I wanted to learn and meet some people so I knew a lot of travelers came to Slab city so I spent one or two days talking to some people about freight trains and then I saw Clairvaux with his mules I was like I got to meet this guy. So, we shared a mule. I got on his mule he took pictures of me with my phone which is fun and then I guess the journey started with the freight train. The people I met here led me to San Bernardino which led me to another town and then I eventually ended up getting on a train January 2014. But when I met Clairvaux he had mentioned a trip on his mules to Mexico and so that was always in the back of my mind. I think I went with the freight train because that was exciting to me. I mean the mules would have been two. But I didn't, it was so new and fresh. But I totally abandon that car going to Mexico like I felt like I could do that anytime, so yes that's how I met him and then now it's two years later and I had to come back to see if he was still up for a long-term mule trip. I am a big fan of the desert. I go in back and forth so like summer 2014 I was in Alaska I was surrounded by trees for three-and-a-half months and I was ready for something bare and I needed a different, I wasn't inspired by that anymore so I needed something different. Yes, I come down here and I fill up on desert scapes and cacti and everything that desert has to offer. Yes and then I knew about Slab city just from people talking about it in movies and stuff and I just knew that was a good place to connect with people living in a different way. Whatever is going to get you out of your comfort zone if you need to do a lot of research to feel safe to go somewhere near then do that. But I would encourage you not to stick to everything that you find and I don't know just be open to the people you meet. I'm not like this carefree spirit. I'm a pretty composed and conservative type of person. One thing that leads to another and you end up doing these things that you didn't think you would do. Yes, so basically whatever it takes to get you out of the house didn't do that. It's fine if you research a lot, and it is fine if you don't. It's all about having some type of a destiny. People say a lot but it is about the journey but you need to have a destination to start your journey, so just pick somewhere and get yourself going and things will happen. I've planned a lot but the biggest key is not to stick to those plans if something else happens. It's no problem to plan but I wouldn't stick to those because there are better things than what you can plan that can happen and if you're following your plan I feel like you just going to miss out on a lot of stuff. I don't have a story I'm trying to tell my photography I don't think that deeply or in a broad term, I've talked to some photographers and they're like what does this project you're working on now and I don't think of my work as that. I am not trying to come up with a set amount of images from a person or a place like Pakistan and this is this project, this has a title. I just don't think of my work that way and it is what it is when it happens and I don't for the most part try and make my work anymore of what it is. I don't promote it as a thing that I did, it's just what happened at this time. Most of my feed on Instagram is within a few days and when I shot or the day off I try and keep it as up-to-date as possible. But then that thing will end and I'll go on to something else and that's it most of the time, unless I get contacted by somebody, "Want to do a gallery or something like that?" That doesn't happen most of the time I just keep on going. So, for me the only goal is to stay interested in what I'm doing and keep my mind occupied and enjoying what I'm doing and new stuff and new experiences does that for me at the moment. 3. Shooting Your Experience: So, yeah, the photographs you take should represent that you've spent some time somewhere, and you've done things, and not just photograph. I don't know, for me, taking pictures used to be something, but now if I feel like I just went out to take pictures, I don't feel like I did anything. I have to do, I have to be a part of it in a bigger way than just a photograph. So, your pictures should be cool if they show that you had a bigger part than just taking a picture. It's always hard to say what I'm feeling. I know when you walk into this camp, you feel something. But, I don't necessarily know what that is, but like I see this mud hut, I see, I don't know that someone has made this their home and then I see the murals, and it's, well there's just, there's timelessness and nostalgia and that is, those are some of the things that I'm feeling, and that's what I try to capture. The thing is about bringing out your camera, if it wasn't mule based, I would have had my camera out more. So, if you're not comfortable with your camera, don't take it out and don't feel like you need to. Just be in the moment and learn what there is to learn there. But, if you're feeling something of what's happening, shoot that because that is important to your experience and your time there, and those are the things that you're going to look back, and you go, "Oh, I remember, I was feeling something here and that's why I took that picture." So, yeah, but, if you're not in a place or if the people that you're hanging out with aren't comfortable with the camera, don't force it. I mean, everyone's got a different time they take out their camera. For me, it's all in this situation. I've been riding on the mule, and I did like I squeezed my phone out of my pocket and then I put it in the saddle bag, so it's easier to access, but I just wanted to at least get one thing of like in the moment of an experience. So, I'm feeling to get up on the mule, it's like a whole new thing, and that's when you want to try and take your picture when you're right in the middle of something, and you feel like you should. Obviously, you have to see something that looks good as well. But, with all those things add up together, well, that's when I take a picture. It's different for everyone. Again, some of that comes from, I used to shoot a lot more, but I also used to feel a lot more because things were newer. Like I've done, I haven't done a lot. I spent about four years, but now the current, doing other things and I've seen a fair amount of things by then. So, my first time on a train, I shot a ton of photo. My first time having lunch with Koala two years ago, I shot a ton, because that's when I was feeling the most. So, this is a new situation, but it's not as new as it could have been. So, if you guys were here on my first time meeting him, it would have been a different story, I feel as far as how many photos I took, or if we do embark on some long journey. Well, I guess I'll be different because it will be spaced out, but I will be, especially if we get into the middle of nowhere where it looks like, if it looks like we're in the middle of nowhere, I'll be shooting a lot more because that will capture that feeling and that nostalgia you have of traveling across America. It's a long time ago. So, I mean a lot of it is what I'm seeing, but it's also what's happening, and, so say when he's pulling up the dandelions, that's not necessarily the best photograph although it's like old desert man picking up a weed, but it's like part of what happened that day, and it's like there's something going on there. So, I don't know if I took any pictures that I might have. But, I took some yesterday. I was like oh this is for our meal. I feel like it's part of the day. Yeah, well, all the photos are for me to remember and to bring back the feelings that I had in certain situations. So, I'm taking photos of when I can, things that are happening, and it may or may not end up as part of the series that I share on the Internet, but that doesn't matter. I will look back at my own series of all of them and it will bring back, I don't know, a greater sense of what happened than just what other people see from what I share. To me everything depends on the situation. It's just as simple as ease of access to the camera and what I'm doing, so if I'm in a new nature place by myself, and if the light is good, I won't set my camera down. Because, I mean, partly there's no one to interact with. I've got the nature, but I can enjoy that after I'm done shooting. But, in a situation where I'm kind of shadowing or following someone that I'm trying to learn from, if I'm always shooting, it just takes away from the whole experience like I'm not in the moment as much, the more my camera is up. I mean, there's a right answer for me in this situation, which was, what I did or I felt like that was right. I didn't shoot a whole lot, but it's because of the situation. He's busy learning. Didn't call for it. Yeah, yeah. Then, if I'm out, on top of a mountain, you can learn. It's a different type of learning. I don't need to like, there's no one talking to me, telling me things to learn. It's just me up there, so I'm more shooting. 4. Shooting Your Experience II: You learn a ton about composing an image just by shooting. Like you don't even have a study composition. The more you shoot, the better your images are going to be. Because as long as you aren't satisfied with like, your pictures that you took a couple of years ago, you're going to get better, and all you have to do is just shoot. You're going to find different ways to compose things. A lot of its composition more than light even. For me it's composition because, you just learned how to use everything in the frame. And especially, I shot iPhone only for two years, and as you may know, it's a fairly wide angle. So, you've got like all this foreground that you have to use, and I never used that much until I was kind of forced to. And so, you include the ground, so you are like you find some good background and anyone can shoot a good background. But if you have no foreground, it's hard to connect to what's like often the distance. So, for me, including some of the plants or some rocks that are like right at my feet, and then the background behind, then the whole image comes together. One photograph with a good foreground, it tells so much more than just a mountain off in the background. Because you know what you're working on. So you get what's close and what's far, all in one photo. I I'm never trying to represent a place to anyone. I'm trying to well, kind of like what I mentioned before, I'm just trying to capture through photos, what I felt in that place. So, and if I can see the foreground in the picture, that's going to help with that. I'm not about getting all the details. So when someone else looks at it, they can experience what I experienced. I'm just shooting what I need to. So when I leave that place, I felt like I captured it the way that it I guess, spoke to me. Anyone who's good with people can get to know anyone. I don't feel like I'm not good with people but, from what I've learned, asking people questions about their lives, like people, I think people for the most part, like to talk about their story and what they've done. And so, if you can listen to what they're about, people tend to like people who listen to them. And getting history on somewhere, getting someone's story, it all that makes the photographs means so much more to me. I don't want just a different sense. You start to see things differently when you know more about it. So, there's like the surface view of this camp or anywhere new, and then after you get to know the person behind it, I don't know, I think things start to look a little differently. When I'm in this situation with people, I put the most part I'll have my camera off. I mean not because I don't want to get pictures, but that's not why I'm there. If I can get out of my shell, and go up and talk to somebody, it's because they are doing something or they look a certain way that I want to know more about. And so, a camera will kind of ruin a more interaction with a person. So when I'm already in a situation like this, I am fairly focused, which is kind of opposite of what I was saying before. But I'm fairly focused on this situation with Quaver and how he lives, that's what I want to learn about. So am I open to other things that may come about because of this situation? I'm actually, I don't think I am as very much because I'm still interested in this. You know, like once I feel like I photograph, and I've learned a lot and felt I don't know, felt comfortable about maybe being able to live like this or something, you know, other situations may be more attractive to me. So at this point, I'm pretty much following Quaver around. If someone comes up and has a fun opportunity situation for us, I will go right along, I don't have any plans at this point except to learn as much as I can. When you're out in a place, you need to embrace those unexpected moments or you only do things that you plan, and that will get old quick 5. Putting Your Story Together: Yeah, I'm always looking, well, not always, usually, if there's a time at night, I will look back on what I shot during the day, but I don't have a checklist because I didn't come in with a checklist. So, there's nothing to check off. It's just, "Oh, this is what happened. This is what I got." What are the photos that meant the most to me or represented what I felt the most throughout the day, those are the ones that I will pick and then edit. If I have the freedom to wait for a better light and there's nothing and I don't need to move on, I will; but there's times where there's something else happening, like I could wait here until the light gets better, but then, I felt like it could just miss out on some other light somewhere else that could be better. So, I've done all of that. I've waited, I've not waited. And that is all for my nature photography where there isn't a real subject, but when I'm with a person, I don't take any control over that. I shoot strictly what happens no matter what light it is. It's about what you feel in that situation. So, that's the only reason I bring up my camera. If I go somewhere that I've already been, chances are, unless the light is really dramatic or something, chances are I'm not going to feel anything there because I've seen it. And so, I'm not going to pull out my camera, but if I'm in a new place and that's why for that project, I wanted them to go to a new place because they're going to film more. So, I go through all of my photos and whatever ones that make me feel like what I did when I was there that best represent the land or the person, those are the ones that I will pick; and it's often, especially if I'm with people, it's often the one off. It's just like the random photo where I only took one off that mean the most to me for whatever reason. They feel more unique than if I did a bunch of pictures of somebody doing something. With social media, it's easy to get sucked in to putting out what you think is going to get more likes or whatever; but a lot of the times, if I like a photo, I'm going to put it up and it doesn't matter. I don't always have that attitude, but when I have that attitude, I feel much better about my work; and well, my life, and that's a lot of what I put- obviously, my people photos don't get the attention that landscape does. And I think, for the most part, that's just what Instagram and its people like those landscapes. But I can only do what is around me, and what I'm inspired by, and sometimes it's people and that's what goes up. When I first started doing the training and everything, I was photographing the train operators, their dogs and the food out of the trash we would eat. Lots a ton of followers and there was a ton of controversy about me photographing that and how people didn't like it and stuff, but I couldn't. That's all I had to share and that was inspiring to me at the time, and so I had to put it up. You can't apologize for what you're into at the moment. So, I got some workout photos that I will be sharing. I got some photos of us pulling up weeds to eat. I think I took one or two photos when I was on the meal, you couldn't tell I was on it, but maybe with the back of Cuervo riding through town. I just got a lot of photos of well just exactly what happened. He likes to take his shirt off a lot. I've got some photos of the camp of him. When the time is right and he's got his Christmas lights on the inside and it's like a good light out here when they balance in their smoke from the fire, it's just kind of like a magic, it makes magical a little light in there. I shared one from last night. I shared it, I don't know, like 10 minutes after I shot it of him and Harrah, and some smoke and some light, and I just captured his whole hut that he built in the situation. So, that's pretty much what I've taken so far. Sometimes, I did get some close ups. I've focused on some details here and there. Just because, if you look closely at his skin or his clothes, there's just so much wear and tear that you don't find on anyone living in the city. I want him to remember that, so I got some close ups of that. And then, he often does this work out. Well, it's just basically sit ups and push ups, some pull ups on a tree, some squats, hanging onto a tree or stuff like that. He got a jump rope today, but I took some pictures of the work out. He just, to keep him in shape and also to kill, to pass the time. It makes him feel good, I know. It passes the time when he's waiting for people to come up on the mule and hopefully tip him. And then, I got some shots of us picking some weeds, some dandelions that we're going to be eating. I wanted to have that. It's not so common that you're eating off a weed or just natural veggies, especially desert vegetation. I didn't know that there are multiple things out here on this desert landscape you could eat. So, I got some shots of that. I got some of us on the mules. As much as I could, it's hard bouncing around. I'm still new on the mule. I don't feel totally comfortable, so I'm shooting what I can; but for the most part, trying to control that animal. And then, there's the desert landscape here too. There's some inspiring stuff with the mountain range. This area, there's not as much cacti as other areas. You've got a lot of that low brush, but it's still the color palette: the blue and the brown, it's pretty inspiring color palette. My goal in editing is just to match what I felt and what I saw, a combination of both because maybe what you saw, as you guys know, editing, you can really change a photograph; but if that changes what you felt when you were there then, well, that's just not a real scene anymore. But if enhancing the photos somewhat, like makes it come to life a little more or makes it represent what it was like when you were there, then that's what you should do. 6. Final Thoughts: Now, that you guys, yeah, so what I did for my project, be cool to see something that you guys do. I'll just try and remember do something out of your comfort zone if you can that scares you a little bit. That is what is going to I feel like dry photographs, when you're feeling all this new stuff, and go somewhere that you haven't been that will help too in creating, yeah, just an experience try not to just shoot or what you have in mind, but like go there with less ideas and open to everything along the way, and the people that you meet. Thanks for taking this class. I'm excited to see what you guys experience and shoot.