You’ve been there: scrolling along your Instagram and seeing all the pretty birds attending all the same events, one outfit better than another, posing together, posing apart, selfie here, duckface there. It was during during the last Coachella festival that I kept taking note of some instagrams of a particular photography style popping up on the accounts of some of Germany’s top influencers. The photo credit was always the same: Paul Ripke. A quick search and in no time I was following him on Instagram and Facebook where I was to find out that he is a German photographer from Hamburg, who’s recently relocated to Los Angeles. Ripke is a documentary photographer who has made a name for himself photographing soccer players, musicians, race car drivers and a few naked women. Not exactly the subject matter I follow closely which is why I didn’t actually expect to learn much at the photography workshop he held in cooperation with HUAWEI last week.

paul ripke workshop

Nonetheless I was in for a surprise. Those 5 hours flew by so quickly because Ripke shared plenty of unexpected insights and was completely open about what he had come to learn in over 10 years of professionally working in photography. He also filled us in on the wonders of the new Mate 9, a HUAWEI smartphone that actually features a LEICA lens! But more on that incredible phone later. Ripke does offer weeklong photography workshops for a solid $5000 if you want the full experience but for now, here are some of the top tips he gave, completely free:

1. You don’t need a massive camera (just a good one)

When it comes to documentary photography many professionals will work with 2, sometimes even 3 large full-frame cameras with even bigger lenses attached to them. Ripke would never do such a thing. He works with a Leica M-P and a 24mm lens and nothing else. Ever. This not only gives him flexibility and free hands, it also helps make subjects more comfortable and him more relatable. Which takes us to point 2…

paul ripke workshop

2. Keep a low profile

Ripke appoints his belly as one of his biggest assets in his line of work. Dressing casual, looking like “a dude” is part of his recipe for success when it comes to chatting his way into backstage areas and onto guest lists. He says that coming across as non-threatening has been his ticket to some of his greatest photos. His lack of a giant camera probably helps with this image.

3. If it’s not interesting, make it interesting

In documentary photography many photographer might argue that you should really only photograph what is going on, the way it is going on. Not Ripke. If it adds to a great shot he’s not shy to tell people to move, ask them to act a certain way or place them wherever he sees fit to get that one awesome shot. I think there is a lesson to be learned here for your travel photography as well: never be shy to intervene, ask people to pose for your photo, even ask them to do something so you can get a great photograph out of it. Doesn’t a bridge look much cooler, when someone crosses it? Doesn’t a plate of food look even more inviting when two hands are holding it? Exactly.

4. Find a different angle

This was an interesting one, since Ripke holds a view that many would share: he likes to photograph from below. Whaaaat?, I hear you say. Indeed, that is not the angle typically considered the most flattering. It comes down to lenses used so I sure would not consider this the one way forward but it’s a good concept to try out. The advantage: when holding the camera in front of your belly as you shoot (that’s how Ripke does it) most people won’t notice you are taking a picture, enabling you to document a very natural scene. I imagine that this would be a good strategy when shooting on a market or at a festival.

paul ripke workshop

5. Take a looooooot of pictures

It never hurts to have a lot of photos to choose from, after all that is far better than not having enough. Shooting a ton allows you to select the very best ones. It also allows you to spend less time focusing on getting that perfect shot and freeing your mind to actually being interactive and communicating with the world around you, as you shoot.

6. Trust in karma – help and you will be helped

At the end of the day it boils down to one thing: being a decent person. Give and you shalt receive, is Ripke’s motto, who claims to have helped out hundreds of people throughout the years which has built him a solid circle of people who are all too willing to return the favor. Something as simple as sending someone their photo can go a long way in making contacts for life.

paul ripke workshop

In the second part of the workshop, Ripke showed us how to work the camera of the HUAWEI Mate 9 and the HUAWEI P9. I was super impressed by this bit, because you can actually adjust your settings just like you would on an SLR camera. Ever heard of ISO? Shutter speed? White balance? If you have and aren’t shy of using them to get the best possible photo you’ll be pleased to hear that the Mate 9 and the P9 let you modify those and more manually.

We had a lot of fun playing around and taking shots of everything and everyone, applying our newly learned tips. I took HUNDREDS of photos and will definitely share some with you soon. Stay tuned for the follow up post to this one!

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*This post was created in cooperation with HUAWEI