Northern Kenya on White

In GEAR, Images, Travel, Tutorials &Technique by David18 Comments

The images above are another sample of the photographs from this last month’s work in northern Kenya. I wanted something simpler than the environmental portraits I’ve done in the past. Something that isolated my subjects from their contexts and showed them, and their emotions and character, elegantly. Before I left I talked to the folks at Westcott, and picked up a 6′ x 6′ ScrimJim with a couple different diffuser panels for it. They also sent 4 more connectors, which I used in conjunction with a hacksaw to make the ScrimJim fit into a duffel bag, which it did nicely.  Normally it breaks down into 8 pieces, now it breaks down into 12 smaller pieces.

The set-up was simple. For the most part we shot under the shade of an Acacia tree, with the ScrimJim held behind my subject by Corwin and almost anyone else we could recruit. It blew around a bit so better to have humans involved than stands that blow over and have to be moved as my subjects, and the light, shifted. Sometimes we were lucky enough to have the shade provided by a simple structure or small building, but it was mostly out in the open. Occasionally we also used the pop-out, oval-shaped Westcott Illuminator Reflectors, mostly the 2-Stop diffuser, held high over the subject or to the side, to further cut the light and open the squinted eyes a little. That too needed modification as the largest of them, the 48″x72″ is pretty large even folded. So we drilled the rivets out, replacing them with nuts and bolts. The spring-steel core was then removed and coiled tight for the flights to Africa, where we took 10 minutes to rebuild them. The last picture below shows how much smaller the coiled steel, and folded panels, are next to the usual size. Way easier to throw into an Extra Large North Face Base Camp duffel. Without these mods, there’s no way we’d get them to Kenya. If I do work like this again, I’ll bring two, maybe three, of the ScrimJims and leave the pop-up reflectors at home. They were harder to work with and a right pain in the arse in high winds. Wish some straps you could connect the ScrimJim frames together into something semi-rigid that would be easier to handle.  Thanks to Westcott for all the help with this.  They went the extra mile for us, and the gear was perfect.


  1. Jon McCormack

    Really … I leave for Kenya in 24 hours and you post images like this …

    Seriously … wonderful images that capture the humanity of a wonderful people.



  2. David Mutua

    Excellent! Elegant and Superb. Breaking away from the norm of showcasing the people of Northern Kenya against the background harsh environment that they live in was truly a creative concept. Can’t wait to see the rest of the images from the trip.

  3. Bret Edge

    Absolutely outstanding, David. The simplicity afforded by the stark white background places full emphasis on the personalities in front of your camera. What a lovely concept. I hope to see more of these in the near future.

  4. Michal

    Love that series… this simplicity is great and cuting these peple from their environment imho was great idea! cheers, m.

  5. Dave

    Thank you! I love these images, just … inspirational. They give me that wonderful feeling that makes makes it impossible to hold a lungful of air. Brilliant. And it really helps to keep me walking forward so, again, thank you.

  6. Tony Templeton

    Removing all the distractions makes for an interesting photo. Very different from what I’m used to seeing in your work. Not sure what I think yet. Definitely makes me view these differently and with fresh eyes. Thanks.

  7. Dana Thomas

    Taking the portraits out of context forces us to concentrate on the people themselves. Their humanity, beauty, personality and emotions. It looked like they enjoying process.


  8. amanda

    As much as I enjoy environmental portraiture, I love the simplicity of these – it really lets their characters shine through.
    safe travels, David and Corwin!

  9. craig

    Hey David,

    Your approach to photography is inspirational. Many in your profession seem to rely more and more on craftsmanship, technology, apps, etc….. you are a breath of fresh air to those of us who enjoy following your journeys.

    Plato says it like this:
    “He who approaches the temple of the Muses without inspiration, in the belief that craftsmanship alone suffices, will remain a bungler and his presumptuous poetry will be obscured by the songs of the maniacs.”

    Translation, “Stay thirsty my friend!!”


    1. Author

      Fantastic quote, Craig, thanks for taking the time to include it! “…and his presumptuous poetry will be obscured by the songs of the maniacs.” Awesome.

  10. Aaron

    Wow! These last three posts have just blown me away. I think that actually having client work has pushed you to solidify the vision and themes that you have been building in your personal work since, well, since your recovery. The stories you tell through your images and the characters you reveal through these simple portraits is fantastic. I hope that you had a great time, it sounds like you did. Safe travels. Thanks for being a constant source of knowledge and inspiration.

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