The story behind some of my most iconic photos

The story behind some of my most iconic photos

First published:
September 13, 2022
February 6, 2024

Candlelight prayers by Kav Dadfar

My best-selling photo, my favourite photo and my most challenging photo… Here are the stories behind three of my photos

Like most professional photographers, I have my favourite shots, but they may not necessarily be my most successful photos. So in this article, I will talk about a few of my photos and why they are special to me for different reasons.

Best-selling photos

I’m going to start by talking about the most commercially successful photo I have ever taken. The photo was taken in Cappadocia which is a region in Central Turkey while on assignment for a UK travel magazine almost 10 years ago.

How and why I took the shot?

This area is famous for its “fairy chimneys” which are phallic-shaped stone formations that poke out of the ground. Persecuted Christians fled to this region during the Roman period and set about building underground cities to avoid being found. These days Cappadocia is a big tourist destination with daily flights of thousands of hot air balloons over the landscape. It’s impossible not to see or want to photograph these balloons in the early morning light.

So, I knew that if I wanted to ensure that I showcased this destination properly I would have to photograph the combination of landscape and hot air balloons. Once I knew I would need this shot, it was just a matter of scouting out the different locations to find the perfect spot, which I returned to at sunrise the next morning.

Why do I think it has sold well?

I think the main reason for the success of this shot is the beautiful light in the scene. The wonderful warm glow on the balloons, the tops of the chimneys and the background mean this shot works well in calendars as well as editorial. But if you also look at the composition, you’ll notice that I have deliberately put the main point of interest (i.e. the colourful balloon) on the left side of the image to avoid it being in the centre of the page. This allows the shot to be used in double-page spreads.

How much have I earned from it?

Now to the question that I’m sure you are all asking yourself… This image has sold repeatedly every year since I took it. This proves that if you capture a good shot, it will continue to sell over and over again. To date, this image has earned me over £10,000 in sales and continues to still sell today.

My favourite photo (Flight of the Condor)

Choosing a favourite shot is always difficult for any photographer. And I’m one of those photographers who quickly gets bored of my own photos. But I have decided to go with this photo of the mighty Andean Condor taken on the Beagle Channel off the coast of Ushuaia in Argentina.

Why is it my favourite shot?

I am not a bird watcher by any means. I don’t have a list of birds that I would like to photograph, nor do I have that much of a passion for even spotting them. But like wildlife, there are a few birds that I would like to see or better photograph before I hang up my camera. One of these was the Andean Condor which I finally had a chance of photographing earlier this year.

I had spent the best part of three weeks hoping that I would get a chance, and while there were a couple of sightings, they were so far away that they looked like dots among my composition. So, you can imagine my joy when the boat I was on came face to face with this magnificent bird. It’s the closest I have ever been, and I was so mesmerised that I almost forgot to take photos.

How I took the shot?

I had been photographing wildlife for the whole morning, so I already had two cameras out with 24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses mounted on them (and I had left my 150-600mm lens at home). My settings were also already set which included continuous focus, an aperture of anywhere between f/4.5 – f/8 (depending on the type of shot I wanted) and a fast shutter speed of a minimum of 1/500th second.

As the boat came around the rocky island that is home to the End of the World Lighthouse, I was able to simply point my camera and start shooting in high burst mode. After a few seconds, the condor began to spread its wings to fly and so I was able to capture the whole sequence. It was always one of my bucket list experiences so that also adds to its nostalgic value for me.

Most challenging (Bhutan – candlelight prayers)

I’ve had a few challenging shoots over the years, but all the factors combined made this a tough shoot to execute. So here is the story behind my evening prayer candlelight shoot in Bhutan.

Why was it challenging?

The first challenge for this shoot was actually finding a suitable venue that would look photogenic enough for shoots but would also allow photography. Almost all monasteries in Bhutan don’t allow photos to be taken inside so finding one that would allow photography was a challenge. I spent a couple of days visiting different monasteries with the help of my guide to sort something out. Luckily, my guide heard of a private monastery up in the mountains that was worth a try. After speaking to the elder monks and explaining what I was hoping to capture, they agreed to allow me access to evening prayer for my shoot!

What preparations did I make?

I knew that the hall would be small, and I would be shooting in low light (as all the lights are turned out and there is just candlelight). So I asked if I could see the hall before I left. This gave me a good idea of places to shoot from but also confirmed that I would need a tripod. I didn’t want to use a flash or LED lights as it would wash out the ambience of the candlelight.

How I took the shots?

When the time arrived to visit, I set up my camera on my tripod and composed the shots using the live view screen. Even though the monks were sitting down, there was some small level of movement as they chanted so my shutter speed couldn’t be too slow. I spent the first few minutes taking some test shots and getting my settings correct. But the great thing was that once I had them set, it was then just a case of moving around and capturing different compositions.

So, there you have it, the story behind my best-selling, my favourite and my most challenging shoot.

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