Shoot! Take photos of things that interest you. See what you like and don’t like. Many people ask me how to improve taking photos and the secret is to keep shooting!
Go to a stunning location! This always helps. You will find many photos from the top of buildings with great views or by the beach. This is because it gives an amazing perspective and viewpoint.
As a part of my series about “5 Strategies To Take Stunning Photos” I had the pleasure of interviewing Phillip Silverstein.
Originally from South Carolina, Phillip moved to Los Angeles to pursue his passion of chasing sunsets and telling stories through photography. With a portfolio of coastal California and international images, he has captured the attention of collectors and has been commissioned by and partners with high-end luxury corporations. Phillip was an NCAA athlete and went on to play football in Milan, Italy which ended up sparking his love for world travel. After Milan, Phillip moved to San Diego where he worked as a financial advisor before picking up a camera and retiring the suit and tie to pursue his new creative passion. Silverstein has a BA in Communications from Furman University in Greenville SC, a Series 7 Investment License, and is a part 107 Certified FAA Remote Pilot. He shoots commercially for high-end brands, celebrities, and works with businesses all over the world on all things content and marketing.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Aserendipitous series of events that led to self-discovery through travel and exploration. I first learned to love the world and became fascinated with different cultures. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to play sports overseas, landing me in Milan for 6 months. During this time, a kid from small-town South Carolina was able to travel Europe and experience life outside of the states for the first time. Afterward, I moved to California where I worked multiple jobs at once and ended up meeting a few good people that would end up changing my life forever.
A few years had gone by in San Diego, and I had just gotten out of a relationship and moved to a new apartment in Little Italy with my brother. I had passed the series-7 and was now working as a financial advisor. I was 25 and hadn’t made any real money yet, but I was about to make it telling people how to use theirs? Two years into photography, I quit finance and became a full-time entrepreneur. Tobias let me hold on to the camera for 3 years until I finally upgraded! I talk to him every week to this day, thankful for the friendship we have and how his gesture of letting me borrow his camera changed my life!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
There are so many amazing people and places I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and see through photography. It has opened my eyes to the world. I now have 5 or 6 cameras and am now a certified FAA drone Pilot. I have many saved destinations to visit on my google maps, and ever since seeing the Blue City Chefchaouen in Morocco, I have always wanted to visit. I found myself in Spain in 2019 with 6 days to spare before a work shoot in Dubai. I reveled at the possibility of traveling for the first time to Africa via Gibraltar and made this my mission for the next few days. I moved South through Granada and Malaga all the way to Gibraltar. After researching the area, I felt it would be amazing to get a photo of Africa in the distance from the top of the Rock of Gibraltar but never got the opportunity, rushing to catch the ferry over to Morocco. I booked my flight to Dubai from Milan because I had a business meeting there as well as old friends to see. I was leaving Africa via a flight from Tangier to Milan in 3 days and wouldn’t be returning to Spain, so my multi-continent photo opportunity was gone.
As I contemplated this on the hour plus ferry ride over to Africa and watched the rock get smaller in the distance, I had an idea — get the photo from Tangier back at the rock, but I would have to use my drone. Being that I had to be in Dubai in a few days, and drones are illegal without registration, my drone registration was at the top of mind. I was waiting on an email back from their aerial defense ministry and had put in my application. I didn’t want to get all the way to Dubai and not be able to fly. This obviously should have prompted me to check the drone laws in Morocco, but I didn’t. I could see the photo clearly, Gibraltar in the distance, a strait of blue water separating two continents and what would feel like two different worlds. I got the drone into Morocco no problem through the port scanner, got off the boat and grabbed the nearest taxi to take me two hours away to the magical blue city of Chefchaouen. Knowing that I had a flight out in a few days, it was now or never for the drone shot. I put my bags in the taxi and we moved up from the general crowd a bit, over to the other taxi drivers. I launched the drone and got the photo within 10 mins, bringing it back down and snagging a selfie with all of the taxi drivers. I packed my bag and got into the car to take off when all of the sudden people were banging on the windows. It was the police and they were now yelling at my taxi driver in Arabic.
Turns out drones are very illegal in Morocco. Someone once flew his drone over the king’s palace, and the king saw it hovering over so he made all drones illegal a few years ago. All of my stuff was removed from the taxi, and we were thrown into the back of a white van with no seats, just metal flooring. We were driven uphill for 5 minutes. My friend went flying across the back of the van. They took us to an office at the port, with photos of old generals up on the walls. They searched our stuff, and made me go through and delete the footage. The amazing photo of two continents, the port of Tangier with the rock of Gibraltar in the distance, were now just empty megabytes on my hard drive. I tried to recover the photos afterward but was unable to. After 2 hours of sitting and filling out simple paperwork, they finally let us go, but they were keeping the drone at the port. The Mavic 2 pro cost about $1,500 so it’s not something you just leave behind. I explained to them that I had a flight out of Tangier to Milan: How was I supposed to come back from Chefchaouen to the port and then to the airport which was an hour away? They didn’t budge. They said I would not be able to fly out of Morocco. I already had my flight and now they are going to keep my drone at the port.The next few hours were spent in the car using way too much international data to figure out my next plan in addition to booking the hotel for Chefchaouen. The new plan was to try to cancel my flight, ferry back to Spain, and leave from there. I found a flight from Malaga to Milan, with Connection in Lisbon, in 48 hours. By the time I had made it to my hotel, the local Police were alerted that there was an American with a drone, even though I didn’t have it. The hotel manager knew about the incident and asked that I didn’t fly from the hotel. The next day and a half was spent walking through the blue pearl, eating amazing food, and enjoying the culture. The only option to make it on time was now to take the 5:30 ferry, so after sunset we left for Tangier. Arriving late at night again, I just had a few hours at the hotel before leaving for the port which was 45 minutes away. I got a few hours of sleep, woke up around 4, and got to it. I wanted to be a little early because I had a feeling recovering my drone was not going to be as simple as it sounded. I made it to the port about 30 minutes before departure and no one knew what I was talking about. Everyone at the port acted like they didn’t understand English and really didn’t care to help. Finally, after asking several more people, someone was willing to help. We went all the way to some different back offices, and with about 5 minutes to spare, I made it onto the ferry.
I got my espresso as we departed Africa toward Spain — there were people of all colors and races on the ferry. Families bundled up sleeping, many trucks and cargo holds loaded up as well. I had three hours to get to my flight and was relying on a very shaky app which books a driver for an intercity trip, similar to Uber. I made it just on time and departed for my 2 hour layover in Lisbon, and Portugal was a country I did not have a stamp from yet.
I had a friend that was living in the city at the time, and told him that I’d be there for an hour as I saw the airport is really close to the city. I landed, and he picked me up, taking me to one of the parks where I flew my drone and got an awesome picture of the city! I grabbed another coffee at a local cafe and made my way back to the airport. Keeping an eye on traffic, I was able to get back with no issues and just went back through security, getting my stamp! I landed in Milan around 7pm. It was my fourth country of the day. I made my meeting at 8:30 and then joined my old teammate Ruben for pizza afterwards.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Other than the mistake above of always checking local drone laws before flying, always double check your camera settings! I once did a shoot and the ISO was somehow at 10,000 and all of the photos were extremely grainy. I now typically shoot around 150 ISO at all times but make sure you know your camera settings and how to navigate manual mode. In addition, make sure you have a SD card and battery before you leave! I once drove an hour for a shoot and showed up without a memory card as it was left on the charger. I also once left a battery charger plugged into my airplane seat on a flight to Sydney, and left another at my hotel in Bali. Luckily Sydney and Singapore both had Sony Stores for me to buy a new charger from, but that was over 2 hours and $150 down the drain. Lastly, keep your SD card open so you don’t run out of space mid-shoot.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Hopefully, my images stand out as they tell stories of amazing moments frozen in time. Beautiful scenarios of flowing traffic with a stunning sunset in the background or a familiar scene in a new light are what I capture. My photos are a vivid overview of our beautiful world and if they are observed as a set, one can quickly see that the world is an amazing place, filled with beautiful and magical moments all around us. I have trespassed to get to the top of a 65 story building in a foreign country. I have flown and hung out of helicopters. I have climbed to the top of mountains and photographed some of the most famous people in the world, with a unique photographic style that consistently plays into the beauty of nature.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Try something new, travel somewhere new, do something new. This is my secret. It keeps me engaged and on my toes, I learn when I travel and it always gives me amazing photos and life opportunities. It fuels my soul and keeps me happy. This happiness is translated through the photos I share. If you are burnt out in any arena, take a step back and try to see your situation through a different perspective. This new light will refresh you and light your path. None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
In the middle of a day long, semi-annual, company-wide, life-sucking meeting, I daydreamed and visited my favorite website at the time, theflightdeal.com and found a round trip ticket from LA to Santiago, Chile. I sent this to a few friends and one got back to me and was down to go! We booked the ticket 20 minutes later to leave the next month. I had always wanted to buy a camera and was talking about it with my neighbor and good friend, Tobias. He suggested I try his and take it with me on the journey down to South America. I had never used a professional camera before, but as soon as I took a few photos, I never looked back. We ventured all the way to Fin De Mundo and Torres Del Paine National Park in Patagonia Chile, then to Buenos Aires and back to Santiago. I came back from the trip with 5,000 photos and continued shooting every opportunity I got once I got back to San Diego. From there I frequently found myself staring out of the high rise office building over the Coronado Bridge all the way into Mexico, dreaming of adventuring again.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
In addition to my first coffee table book, I am working with other artists on collaborative efforts. In an attempt to merge photography and traditional artwork, we are capturing photos of local communities on never before seen mixed media concepts. I also plan to do installations throughout the city, bringing beach sunset scenes, light, and hope to areas in the city that don’t get to see the ocean. I am really excited to see where these all pan out!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Hopefully, the images I share bring hope and peace to viewers. Taking them away from reality for a moment and putting them into a dream destination, or reliving a special memory. If I am able to help people hope, help people dream, or help people see the world in a positive light, then I have done my job.
Can you share “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Take Stunning Photos”. Please provide an example for each.
- Get a smartphone! Phones today have amazing cameras! Anyone with an iPhone 8 or better can get a high-quality image. Unfortunately, when I lived in Milan, I just had an iPhone 4, which still took OK photos, but they are different today.
- Shoot! Take photos of things that interest you. See what you like and don’t like. Many people ask me how to improve taking photos and the secret is to keep shooting!
- Go to a stunning location! This always helps. You will find many photos from the top of buildings with great views or by the beach. This is because it gives an amazing perspective and viewpoint.
- Keep your eyes open and be present! Many people today are too preoccupied with their phone when they walk around. Be present, look up, look around. If you are moving, there are unique angles and perspectives that are changing at every step. If you aren’t looking or if you aren’t present, you won’t see them and you won’t have a stunning photo.
- Keep practicing — it takes 10,000 hours to be a master at something. That means if you did nothing but take photos 24 hours a day, every day, for a year straight, you still would be short over 1,000 hours. Practice makes perfect 🙂
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Self-love, self-awareness, transparency, and respect for one another. It starts with love and respect for ourselves. Self-love is the answer to the systemic issues plaguing today’s world.
White privilege, amongst hate, greed, corruption, and pure EVIL all stem from a lack of love, and a lack of self-love. If 8 billion people love themselves then there isn’t much room for hate, racism or evil. We have to be the change that we want to see in the world. On an individual level it starts with questions like this: did the actions I took today make a difference in reaching my goals? Did I learn something today? Did I teach something or help someone? Did I have good conversations and work on building healthy relationships with those in my life? Did I make a stranger smile?
Be in a consistent state of learning and self-reinvention.
Learn what you like, what you don’t like. Learn what you need, learn what is excess. Learn what makes you happy. Learn what food makes you feel good. Spend so much time exploring yourself that you discover your purpose and begin to live for it. That is called self-love, and once you have it- nothing and no one can take it away. Most of the societal systemic issues we have today stem from a lack of self-love. People spend time comparing instead of improving. People point fingers at others when they are unhappy. People kill, steal, cheat, lie, and deceive every day and the result is constant chaos resulting in more hate, tension, fear, and ultimately division. If you have real love for yourself, you see the world in color and your relationships and interactions will center around growth and reaching a higher potential. Trust in your path and be fueled by faith and energy. Love is the way and the answer, but you can’t give love until you feel it, and you can’t feel it without opening up and being honest with yourself. Change is good, embrace it.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!