An Interview with Oded Wagenstein

While being in school I have had the honor of interviewing many well known and hardworking photographers. The photographers that I usually seek out to ask questions are photographers who’s images touch me in some sort of way and photographers that are in the field I plan on entering, travel photography. I have received a lot of great information and honest advice. One interview in particular that I really felt I learned from was from a travel photographer Oded Wagenstein. To me, Mr. Wagenstein has a way with his subjects that is similar to Steve McCurry. Which isn’t surprising as Mr. Wagenstein was a protege of Mr. McCurry, but he still has his own style and flair. He’s able to capture truth and share it with us.

What gave you the push or the deciding factor to become a full time freelance photographer and quit your office job?

Unfortunately I know a lot of photographers, some of them are my friends, who decided one day that they want to go freelance full time with their art. They bought studio equipment, left their day job only to find that in order to call yourself a working photographer, it takes more then few flashes and fancy lens. For almost eight years I worked in a full-time office work while working as a photographer at my sphere time (mostly evening and weekends). I will not be like those who say “Yes, chase your dreams at any cost, you can do what you want” is not true. Life is a sequence of decisions which all have some sort of a price tag on them. This day job give me the money to buy my gear and travel the world few times. I think it is much better then be a full time photographer, without the ability to travel. I decided to leave my day job (at the time I already had a good managerial position) only when I got the confidence and more important, I had a plan on how I’m going to support myself: At that point I had a steady job as a photography and I was writing for magazines once a month. Of course, this might end tomorrow. No one can guarantee you anything. I may find myself without a job one day and wish I had kept the convenient office convenient job. But this is the part of taking risks and bet on your dream, but it’s a calculated gamble, not a naive one.

How did you get your first job? Did you do a lot of marketing (if so do you still market)? How did you get your portfolio in front of people?

Those are three questions in one, so I’ll try to answer them. My first paid gig was something I didn’t like to much- Photographing drunken revelers for a nightlife website! I didn’t like it and it didn’t even cover my expenses! But, to this very day I’m so grateful for that opportunity because I learned how to work with an editor and how to sell a story. Small newspapers or Internet websites are always looking for photographers. You could write to the editor of your local newspaper and ask if you could show them your portfolio, you never know, it might lead to great things.
Obviously I’m still doing marketing (fifty percent of the work). Nothing will happen if you sit at home and wait for the phone. I write proposal for photo stories for magazine, I build new photography workshop for the photography school and I make sure my portfolio is getting fresher each year.

How often do you sell/ get a story published?

In my first years, around two a year. But today around one each month. As I am trying to maximize each trip I make. For example, you went to japan. You can make one story on your trip and places you visited. Another magazine will ask a story about the food of japan while other will be interested in the Japanese home stay experience or monastery visits.

Is everything done over the phone and Internet or do you meet in person? (Can you live anywhere in your profession?)

I live in a really small country, so going to meet people in person is not a big problem. But I discover time and time again how personal contact is so important.

Out of the two theories of Ansel Adams’ “previsualization” and Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment”, do you tend to practice one theory more or is there a balance?

You can say that I believe in the combination of the two. I think people misunderstood Bresson’s approach on the decisive moment and turned it into a myth- Getting out to the streets and making money making shoots each time. In order to catch the decisive moment, you have to be in the right place at the right time. I am sure that even Bresson had to do a lot of “bad” frames to get just that perfect one. So, first you should plan the shoot. Prepare yourself at the right place and time. I am calling this: Setting the trap. Make everything ready for the subject to enter your trap and only then, when everything else is in place, all is left to do is to click that shutter at the right time. By the way, if I may, I sometimes feel that all this “deceive moment” Dialogue does a bit of injustice to Bresson. People prefer to focus on the his images where the decisive moment. is the main issue : a man jumping over a puddle. Bresson had so many other beautiful pictures. It’s unbelievable how many good images this man managed to create during his lifetime. I think that focusing on the decisive moment, is focusing on one, very narrow aspect of his work.

You can see my own mentor, Mr Steve McCuury answering the same question here ( .

How often do you use artificial light opposed to relying on all natural light? If you do have to use artificial light do you prefer strobe or reflector?

I always prefer to work with natural light (or as Bresson himself said impolite…like coming to a concert with a pistol) for a few reasons:  I find it easier, I find that it’s less scary for the subjects and it is usually more beautiful. While it is a bit more complicated, one can still control natural light. Use of shading, reflectors and especially proper selection of the time of day to shoot is the secret.

Would you be willing to give me any advise?

Spend your money on two things: traveling and learning. Gear is much less important

I can’t thank Mr. Wagenstein enought for taking time out of his day to converse with me and shed some light on questions that have been running through my head. I’m very grateful.