Alexander Hallett of Sattva Photo is a photojournalist who uses his craft to learn and share stories of people from around the globe. The images in the stories he tells are weaved from the fabric of life, balancing his desire to capture human connection and the present moment.
His work is simultaneously cinematic and candid; creating beautiful portraits from all walks of life around the planet. In our conversation he discusses the importance of being present, the finer points of storytelling via interconnections and how to take the perfect portrait.
Alexander was kind enough to participate in the following interview.
How long have you been a photographer? 3 years.
I always played around with disposable cameras as a kid, but it wasn’t until a year-long journey I took in 2013, filming a documentary about orphaned kids and their caretakers around the world that I really got into it.
So, 3 years.
What kind of gear do you use? I started with Canon, but have since switched to the Sony A7II and A6000.
I still love Canon glass, so I use that on the Sonys with an adapter.
How did you discover photography? Through movies. I was always a movie geek growing up, and loved the cinematography of Conrad Hall, Roger Deakins, Christpher Doyle, and Peter Pau.
I was always fascinated by how much their work made the film, beyond the acting or set design or what have you. Their moving images made me fall in love with the medium of visual storytelling, and cinematography is what I initially majored in, in college, before switching to screenwriting and philosophy.
A few years later, I got a cheap little point and shoot when digital was just getting going, and really just had fun with street photography and capturing stories of strangers I’d meet.
I liked the fact that when I had a camera in my hand, it was almost an automatic “in” to strike up a conversation, for people to let their guards down, and for people to show you their true self.
How would you describe your style? Photojournalism with an emphasis on social causes and candid street portraits.
What does photography mean to you? Using the medium of visual storytelling to capture and share stories of individuals or society, to share truth, beauty or shine a lot on an important issue that may otherwise go ignored.
Using the art form to do good, and provide a sense of perspective by showing how vast the world is, but how interconnected we all are.
What makes you reach for your camera? A person whose face tells a story, dramatic lighting, an unfolding social injustice, a smile, and the scenery of the Northwest are a few this that come to mind.
Is there any subject matter that is off limits to you? If so, why? Anything depicting sexual violence I certainly wouldn’t shoot. Aside from that, if there’s a compelling story, I’m there.
What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos? To be honest, I wish I knew the basics right when I started: aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and the characteristics of light.
We’ve all got to learn at some point, but when I look at some of the first photos I took, it’s hard to not think, “Wow, this would’ve been so much stronger if I shot wide open” or, “I should’ve really cranked the ISO here to actually get the shot.”
What is one question nobody has ever asked you—that you wish they asked you? “Hey, how are you? I mean really, how are you?” I feel like we all have about 50 obligations at any one time, and are always connected to hundreds of people simultaneously, and that it takes away from our ability to really be present, here and now, with one another.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? Good portraits are 90% understanding and relating to people, and 10% skill.
If you really want to become a better photographer, be sure to practice and understand the techniques of the medium, but spend even more time studying and learning about the human condition.