Photographer Zeyad Gohary is the man behind the lens at Nacelle's notorious parties, beautifully capturing fleeting nightlife moments, but there's much more to his work than meets the eye. We talk to the taker of transfixing pictures about his craft.
You may know him as the friendly face behind the camera at every single cult Nacelle party. Meticulously sifting though thousands of images, 27-year-old photographer Zeyad Gohary has developed a keen ability for capturing those fleeting moments of nightlife rhapsody. Only ten are filtered from any one night and made available to the public. His cinematic framing and unsaturated palettes give the subjects of his focus a captivating kind of importance, but his work is not just about a special glare reflecting off a hazy-eyed raver in the center of a crowd. Gohary's emphatic visual rhetoric is purveyed across a diverse portfolio, from breathtaking natural landscapes and flashes of urbanity, to architecture and soul-piercing portraiture. In this in-depth interview with Gohary, we break down the technical aspects of creating the perfect nightlife photo, gaining the trust of the crowd and the rain in Ukraine...
How did you first get into photography?
Through my grandfather. He’s an architect who used to travel all over the world taking photos. He has some beautiful stories from everywhere he’s been, and an amazing collection of 20,000 slides, many of which have won international awards. He got me my first camera when I was about 6 - it was one of those windup film cameras that were almost disposable. I hated it; it was such a tease. I loved taking photos, but this was so basic. My dad had a Pentax KX, and anytime that would come out was like Christmas for me. I loved how all the mechanical parts came together to make what may or may not be a good photograph. The good ones serve as memories that you will never forget!
Are you a full-time photographer now?
Yes, I left my corporate job in February to focus on photography full time.
Do you remember your first paid assignment?
Not as well as I should! It was either shooting food for a cafe, or assisting on a shoot for Uptown Cairo.
What camera and lenses do you use now and what did you start with?
Right now I use:
Camera: Nikon D800 E
Nikkor 70-200mm 2.8
Nikkor 24mm 2.8
Nikkor 50mm 1.8
My grandfather gave me a Sony Alpha 100. Before that, I was getting some really cool photos with some point and shoots.
Your photography ranges from portraits, to landscapes to nightlife. Which is your favourite to do and why?
I can’t say at the moment. I haven’t explored the different disciplines enough to tell you which I enjoy, and which have just landed on my plate in exciting situations. In the coming couple of years I will be exploring as many things as I can, making up for all the years where photography had been a side thing. I still have not found the type of photography that I feel most comfortable with. But having said all of that, nothing I have done beats getting lost somewhere new with a camera in hand.
What is the most difficult part of nightlife photography?
Everything. I’ve put a lot of thought into this. I’ve broken it down, I’ve analysed everything that I have done to reach what I can do now, and it really is difficult.
These are all of the variables that take place in a club or party
1) Lighting (colour and intensity and movement)
2) People (expressions and movement)
4) Your gear and settings
You’ve got to be aware of all variables, and you MUST be in the mood.
Let's take House Sessions for example. You’ve got 500 to 800 people dancing in a temple to the musical God of the night, letting go of all pressures, tensions and stresses that have built up over the past week. These people REALLY don’t appreciate having a camera snapping away at those very intimate moments. I’ve had to build a level of trust amongst the crowd over the past three years, and that hasn't been easy! Over the years people have established that I will not embarrass them, and that I will respect their privacy if they don’t want to be shot. Moreover, if their photo makes the top 10 for the night, they will be excited to see it.
The next problem is that you’ve actually got very little time to get all of those exciting photos. People don’t really let loose until about 1:30 AM. Before then, everyone is still very sober, chatting and not really very interesting. No one wants to see those shots. You’ve only really got 2-2.5 hours max to get everything in
So now its 2:00 AM, DJ X is having a great time, and everyone is dancing, and I’ve been warming up for the past half hour taking the standard photos just to get in the mood and figuring out what the lights are doing that night; what predominant colours there are, what movements they are making, and where the active people are. Once I find something I like, I quickly figure out the composition, lock focus and wait for the lights to come around again, hoping to god the shot still looks good when the light comes around. 8 times out of ten, they don’t; someone jumps into the scene or accidentally puts their cigarette out on my arm, or someone decides to nudge me to have their photo taken, or the person I’m shooting looks terrible when the light hits, or they’ve looked away, or the lighting changes completely and the scene looks terrible.
While you’re waiting, you have to make an active decision as to what you want the photos to look like. Sharp and softly lit like this:Or long exposure like this...
You will get lucky, and some of the best photos are a result of dumb luck, but a lot of nights are not very lucky, and you have to be at the right place at the right time with your camera doing the right thing. You have to learn to make your own luck much of the time.
I’d like to make sure people realise that the positive mood, the smiles and the crazy lights that I’m shooting are all a result of the awesome production that the Nacelle team work hard to make.
I have been to most of the parties around, and I have not seen that all-encompassing wave of happiness that the Nacelle crew make happen at their parties. It's a feeling of collective concentration that occurs when everyone is focusing on the music, having a good time and dancing, some with their eyes closed, and only very few people chatting. You can see it in the best photos. It happens when every aspect of the production compliments the music; the music is loud enough to feel like it's playing inside your head but not too loud that it's hurting your ears, the lights are washing everything with colour but are not overwhelming your senses and distracting you from the music, and you feel comfortable with everyone around you, knowing that everyone is there to have a good time, and not to show off or be known. As soon as something is overdone, that mood starts to go away. It's very fickle, and it's not always there, but when it is, you’ll see me dancing on top of the speakers taking photos of everything and going into the crowd chasing that vibe.
What for you constitutes as good travel photography?
First I’ll define what I think constitutes a good photograph, and that is a photo that portrays a certain mood in only two dimensions. Travel photography is anything that takes a viewer away from home. The photographer is showing the viewer something or somewhere they have never been to or seen before.
The key word here is mood. With a camera you have the ability to compose feelings and emotions. Good travel photography should be able to show you what it feels like to be in a certain place. These (below) are two examples that I think do this successfully.
It always feels like there's a divine presence surrounding you going up Mount Sinai; maybe it's the silence, but it's there...
Most Fridays you're stood behind the decks at Nacelle watching the crowd and waiting for the perfect shot - what's the craziest shit you've seen?
Like I’ve said before - it's taken years to develop the trust that allows me to take the photos I do, so I really can’t share. I’ll leave it to your imagination.
What's more satisfying, the perfect shot or sex?
The perfect shot only lasts a fraction of a second...
Do you think having an eye for the right shot is natural talent or something learned with practice?
I don’t know. I believe that some people are better able to discern exactly what factor(s) in a scene appeals to them. Having that information, and some (or a lot) of luck, you can take a photo that amplifies the aspect which you found attractive, and those photos are generally seen to be “the right shot”.
It's all about trying to understand what you like about a certain scene. The more practice you have, the more you will understand what inspires you and other people, and the more consistently you will capture that “right shot”. That understanding can’t be talent, no?
There is much disdain for a new generation of 'iPhone photographers'; how do you feel technology has advanced or declined the industry, and personally since you began taking pictures?
That's a very powerful question, and does not only apply to ‘iPhone photographers'. Technology has advanced to an extent whereby phones can shoot what digital cameras could only dream of in 2001. DSLRs like my camera, a $3,300 Nikon, can now keep up with $50,000 cameras released in the same year, and this do-more-for-less trend is continuing across the board. You’ve even got palm-sized Blackmagic cinema cameras shooting 4K videos at under $10,000. For those of you who don’t understand what that means, imagine shooting a feature film on pocket-money-sized budgets (relatively speaking of course)!
But the point of photography is to capture a moment in a frame (sorry for the cliche) and honestly all of the new tech is just adding more tools to our disposal, and I enjoy the added choice. I’ve taken some sick shots at Nacelle with my iPhone, but I’m also dying to play around with very technical and expensive medium format cameras and tilt shift lenses for food photography. It's all about making an educated decision, knowing what you can and can’t do with the gear and budget you have.
What's your biggest motivation for taking pictures?
I don’t know, I haven’t really figured that out yet. There's a lot of factors; the satisfaction of getting the shot, the rewarding feeling when people appreciate my photos, I don’t know. The more I think about it, I find that it's mostly the shooting part. Seeing something, composing the photo and deciding how I want to make the photo. I’m thinking of all the travel photography and the places I’ve been and the great nights at Tomorrowland and Nacelle. It's definitely not the post processing - I shoot thousands of photos at a time so having to go through them is a bitch. It's not all fun and games.
Also, a bit about your editing process and how much importance you put into post-production…
I have a certain aesthetic I like create in post production; it's mostly simple and stays true to what was happening. Everything I do would be possible in a dark room and that's why I chose to use Apple aperture, but as it was discontinued, I now have to migrate everything into Lightroom.
I generally shoot a lot, so my process has to be simple. But regardless of how simple it is, the files are approximately 50 megabytes each, and require a lot of processing power to edit a full shoot (anywhere from 700 - 3,000 photos at a time). I’ve built a powerful hackintosh to cope with all the editing work I do, and always have backups of everything
Do you feel the need to capture a moment in order to give it significance?
No, Kat [his girlfriend] has taught me this. It was a hard lesson to learn, but a very important one. I can really forget myself inside the viewfinder, but sometimes holding on to a memory makes it more significant than having a photo to remind you of it.
Which photographers have influenced you, and how did they influence your thinking, photographing, and career path?
I don’t have a specific set of photographers that I can single out, but I read whatever I can find - blogs, books, magazine articles and there are thousands of video blogs by really interesting photographers.
Chase Jarvis though is very inspiring. I’ve learned a lot from him, he goes out of his way to post tutorials, explain his shoots and even launched Creative Live which is an amazing resource of video trainings. It has everything from wedding photography seminars to lighting courses. He’s not afraid to share information, and I really appreciate that and think that's the way it should be; young photographers like me get access to his knowledge and experience and he develops a massive online presence and almost celebrity status thats sure to win him more clients. It's win-win.
What has been your favourite location to shoot in and why?
Anywhere exciting. nothing comes to mind. I’ve been to some awesome places, but each is special in their own right
What shot are you proudest of in your portfolio to date?
I was hired by UEFA to shoot behind the scenes action at the L’viv Stadium in Ukraine for Euro 2012. L’viv is a city approximately 2 hours away from the capital, Kiev. You can imagine the excitement and feeling of achievement, but I was really nervous because my gear was so limited. I couldn’t afford any serious gear and had to cover the whole assignment with one very limiting camera, a Nikon D90 in an extremely intimidating atmosphere. Thankfully I got the job done well, and I got some great photos. But before all of that, I stopped off in Kiev to check it out. What a beautiful city. I’d go out and get lost for 6 or so hours just walking around and taking photos then slowly find my way back to the hotel. On the first day in Kiev, I went out and it was pouring with rain and freezing cold, but I was so excited that I was just taking photos of anything. This (below) is a photo of a drop of water falling off of my umbrella. It's silly, but I love it, especially as I got drenched trying to take the damn shot, and got lucky when that person walked right behind the drop as it was about to fall. It has so many meanings to me, and it reminds me of my excitement at getting that job!What tips do you have for aspiring photographers?
READ! READ READ READ READ. Read your camera’s manual, then buy the quick guides and read them too. Buy the stupid how-to books, then buy shitty photography magazines you find at airports - you’ll realise they are stupid and shitty when you’ve graduated to the likes of the British Journal of Photography, PDN Magazine and Ansel Adam’s 3 volumes. Move on to university text books. Buy photo-books by Taschen, try to re-create photos. Take courses, and then figure out they were stupid because you’ve graduated onto awesome courses like the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop, which is in Bali this year!!!
Most importantly, make time to go out and shoot for yourself. Come up with a personal project, and go for it, you’ll come out with a product once your done!
Main image by Marwan Bassiouni.