Robert Turi: Combining Passion and Spontaneity, Part One

An accomplished and intuitive artist with a camera, Robert Turi has shot fashion, swimwear, portraits, landscapes and automobiles, becoming an accidental pro in the course of his creative quest. He explains his journey as such, “I have been shooting passionately since June 2007, so while I don’t have 10 years of experience I like to think I have a fresh perspective. Additionally, I am very happy with what I have accomplished during that short time period. I spent most of my life in sales. I had played with photography, but only briefly and with a point-and-shoot camera. It wasn’t until that fateful day in June a little over four years ago when a friend lent me his Nikon D70 for a shoot that something snapped. I was hooked! I had found my true calling in life. If you work with me you will find I bring that love for what I do to every shoot. I tend to prefer working outdoors and I love spontaneity.” Having recently switched to a Leica X1 for much of his work, Turi tells us about his experience, his methods and his mission in part one of our interview with him.

Q: What characteristics of the Leica X1 do you find most useful in your work and how does it compare with the other cameras and equipment you use?

A: The X1 has become my favorite camera to shoot with. Its size does play a factor because it’s so compact that I can always have it with me. By comparison my Nikon D300 is overwhelming in size, especially when I use it with the grip and my workhorse 28-70mm f/2.8 lens. But my favorite thing about the X1 is the images. In my opinion, the X1 and the D300 shoot nearly the same quality image and file size though the X1 may be just slightly sharper thanks to the Leica lens. More importantly, I can see a difference in the feel of the image. There is more character and depth in the Leica image, both in color and in contrast.

With the X1 there is also what I call “the X factor” and many people don’t understand how much weight this carries. When I shoot with the X1 I’m shooting with a real Leica and that means a lot to me. It’s inspiring and the proof is the images I am creating with it. Aside from the Nikon D300, my primary DSLR, I occasionally use a Nikon D7000, a Nikon D3 and and unfortunately only on rare occasions, a Leica M9.

Q: How would you describe your photography?

A: Spontaneous, in a word. I shoot a lot of different genres, different styles, as well as different lighting techniques. I never really know what I’m going to shoot until I am there. I guess the best description of how I work came out of a recent shoot I did for JM Magazine out in Las Vegas. When I asked the owner in what style he wanted me to shoot the images that day he stopped me short.  He told me that what he loved about working with me was that he never knew what I would do with a specific shot. He said that what he did know was that whatever style I chose would not only fit the subject, but that he would love it. Every shot has a mood and I want the viewer to feel that mood when they look at the image.

Some of my favorite techniques include limited depth of field shots, color shifts, and capturing what I call “Big Sky” shots — wide-angle outdoor shots with strobes lighting the subject and a scenic background like blue skies or sunsets providing a larger than life context.

Q: You mentioned that you started shooting passionately in 2006. Can you tell us a bit more about how you began pursuing photography?

A: I started shooting for my high school yearbook, but didn’t pursue it actively until years later. I was selling motorcycles and shooting local girls I knew with a point-and-shoot just for fun. I showed a Navy photographer friend of mine some of these shots and he was surprised at what I was getting with a point-and-shoot. He practically forced me to borrow his Nikon DSLR and try it, and it changed my life — I was hooked. That was 4 years ago.

Q: Have you had any formal photography training?

A: I am self-taught with no formal education in photography. Lighting is something that just seems to make sense to me. I have had several more experienced photographers give me hints and tips along the way, but most of what I do now has come from a simple process. I would see a style I liked and try to emulate it until I could actually do it. I am a bit obsessed in this department. To this day my life hasn’t changed much. I love what I do and am grateful for the gift. I am constantly learning new things. That is one of the things I love about photography — there is always something to learn, a new approach, new post-production technique, etc.

While I have never had a true mentor, I have had a partner in crime. Katie, the owner of the swimsuit company, TeenyB, is a photographer as well. Nowadays she leaves the shooting to me, but over the past few years of shooting together we have both grown and developed our styles together. She is always encouraging me to develop my own style, but in her own little way she challenges me constantly. For instance, I shoot natural light now because about a year ago I did a natural light shot and Katie loved it and wanted more. I probably wouldn’t shoot what I do today without her influence and encouragement.

Q: Would you describe yourself as professional photographer now, and if so how did you make the transition from being a serious enthusiast?

A: I get paid to shoot so I suppose I have attained pro status. I hadn’t thought about it until you asked the question, but I really can’t remember my first paid job. I suppose that is a great statement about how much I love my work.  Money is just a byproduct; creating is the real reward.

Q: What genre or genres, if any, do you believe your photos fit into?

A: I suppose I am a portrait photographer. I specialize heavily in swimwear, glamour, beauty and fashion. However I do also play around with some automotive photography. It wasn’t until I got the X1 that I started shooting scenic landscapes. The X1 renders clouds with a more lifelike quality — the only way I can really explain it is that the X1 shots that include clouds are closer to what I see when I picture them in my mind.

Q: Your landscape image showing dramatic clouds above random grasses in a field seems ordinary at first glance, but it’s very dynamic once you really get into it. The tilted perspective somehow gives you the feeling of being there. Do you agree with these observations and can you say something about what this picture means to you?

A: I completely agree with what you’re seeing in the landscape shot. This image is one of my early tests with the X1. I shoot a lot of pictures that include the sky and here in Florida we get some very complicated skies. That day we had exceptional skies and I wanted to shoot something that showed what the X1 could do with it. If someone asks me why I shoot with a Leica, this image explains it better than I possibly can.

Q: How did you first become interested in Leica?

A: That is a good story actually. Earlier this year I went to the Bahamas with my main client TeenyB and we were doing a 10-day catalog shoot there. Part of the team is a friend named Sig, a huge photo hobbyist who loves to shoot and loves gear as much as I do. He is always buying new high-end stuff. At a pool party he was so excited to show me his new camera. He handed it to me while I was still in the pool — it was a digital Hasselblad.

Anyway, when I got to the Bahamas, Sig was all excited to show me another new camera. Now up to that point I had lived a sheltered life so unless it was a big DSLR with a grip I would hardly look twice. What he handed me was a much smaller camera that had a more classic style. Frankly, I wasn’t too impressed when I looked at it until I heard the price! I thought, “Wait a minute, there must be more to this story; let me try this thing out.” It took me a little time to get used to it since I had never used a manual focus camera before and the feature setup was so much different than the Nikons I was used to. To be honest, I didn’t put a lot of energy into it until the next day. I was shooting a few models on the beach and Sig was in paparazzi mode figuring out his new camera. A quick peek through his shots and I found one that blew me away. “How did you do that? That looks amazing!” I now know it was shot with a 50mm f/1.0 and it had such unique bokeh and depth of field and color that it could only have been shot with a Leica. I was not only hooked, I was obsessed and I still am. The camera, by the way, was a Leica M9.

Q: How would you explain your methodology or creative process?

A: I am not sure if I’ll describe this the right way, but I try to use a Hollywood mentality. I have always been intrigued by how Hollywood can alter the lighting and feel of a scene. The best way to illustrate this is if you watch a movie and see the mood they set visually, then watch the behind the scenes video and see how drastically different it is. The behind the scenes version is what we are used to seeing and my description of it is “flat.” Yet the movie itself has a mood and feel. One of my favorite examples is in the movie Transformers. The scene where the woman is under the hood of the car and the sun is over her shoulder.  This scene is dripping with a sun-kissed feel because of the way it was shot. It’s using light to evoke emotion and I attempt to do the same in my photography.

-Leica Internet Team

You can see more of Robert’s work on his website, www.turistudios.com and at www.modelmayhem.com/turi.