As chief legal counsel for Zumba, the internationally acclaimed body movement and exercise program, Scott Chitoff gets to travel the world documenting, among other things, the amazingly adept performances of its instructors and their wildly enthusiastic fans. He was born in Syracuse, NY, raised in Plantation, FL, and now lives in Hollywood, Florida. This is the fascinating story of how he created his latest Zumba portfolio.
Q: What camera equipment did you use to shoot your Zumba portfolio?
A: My kit included a Leica M Type 240, a 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux (the latest version with floating element), a 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux and a 90 mm f/2 Summicron. I primarily used the 35 mm Summilux because it was important to capture overall scenes. When I used the 50 mm Summilux it was for its unique ability to selectively focus on a subject and produce beautiful bokeh. I only used the 90 mm Summicron when I needed extra reach because I could not get close access. My preference, as with most Leica photographers, is to get in close whenever possible.
Q: Can you provide some background information about this portfolio? Where, when, why?
A: The images were shot at our annual Instructor Convention in Orlando, Florida held each August. Over 6,000 Zumba instructors from 97 countries participated this year.
Q: You’re an attorney and the chief legal officer for Zumba. How does photography fit into your life or career?
A: I have a passion for photography personally and I am in a unique situation, working for a major brand, to be exposed to photography on a regular basis. We regularly work with some of the most prominent photographers in the world like my friend and fellow Leica photographer Mark Mann. While I am not directly involved in the creative end or art direction, I get to be around very creative people every day. I’m also fortunate to work for a company that has events around the world that I get to attend and sometimes capture images at.
Q: How would you describe your photography?
A: I am very interested in unobstructed, unique moments that tell stories. It’s very important to me that I take a scene as it presents itself; I don’t like arranged or posed scenes unless I am making a carefully composed shot or a portrait.
Q: Did you have any formal education in photography, with a mentor, or were you self-taught? Was there a photographer or type of photography that influenced your work or inspired you?
A: I would consider myself self-taught with lots of support and candid feedback from my friends. I was involved with my high school journalism program and had an opportunity to produce images that were included in editorial content. I majored in journalism for my first two years of college before concentrating on law, so I was exposed to various types of photography styles. However, I don’t think any photographer has influenced me in a major way. I am always interested in learning more and I do regularly study the work of other photographers I admire.
Q: In what genre, if any, would you place your photos?
A: I think my style very closely resembles that of a photojournalist. I enjoy telling stories through images that capture moments that others can relate to.
Q: What approach do you take with your photography or what does photography mean to you?
A: I am a very patient photographer. I will wait for a scene to unfold and then I’ll focus in on the intensity of it. In that sense, I am amazed by the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson. Knowing the precise moment to take an image and capture it accurately (and hopefully in focus) with the correct exposure, aperture and speed is immensely satisfying and fascinating to me. I definitely enjoy the challenge and the opportunity that photography represents, to make images that speak to others.
Q: What were some of the challenges that presented themselves in covering the Zumba Instructor Convention in Orlando, Florida, and how did the specific characteristics, features, and capabilities of the Leica M help you to handle them? Which lens or lenses did you find most useful in telling the story of this dramatic event?
A: The Zumba Instructor Convention is a very large event with more than 6,000 participating instructors across several hotels and the Orange County Convention Center. It is the size of a small city. To give you perspective, it is nearly a 1.5-mile walk between two of the hotels that are connected through the convention center. So, needless to say, using a compact, lightweight kit was extremely beneficial. Also, in order to capture the images I was interested in, it was important to not stand out and have subjects pose for the camera. The Leica’s discreet profile is great for that as well. The extremely long battery life is a huge advantage. And, of course, the capabilities of the Leica lenses are unparalleled. The Summilux 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH. was the most useful lens. I took more than 90% of the images with it. It does very well wide open for selective focus or to show a sense of movement, and draws out incredible detail of an overall scene when stopped down.
Q: Although you describe yourself as a self-taught photographer you mentioned that you were involved in the journalism program in high school and initially majored in journalism in college. How do you think these experiences influenced your present photojournalistic style and can you recall any specific things you learned that are useful in your present work?
A: Certainly my approach to storytelling and composition were influenced by my early experiences in school. The process of deciding how an image was going to be used on a layout page in conjunction with a headline and story is something that stuck with me. My first exposure to photography was before the current digital generation using fully manual cameras, so knowing exposure, aperture, shutter speed, and how it translated to film creates a much different level of understanding than someone who has only used a digital autofocus camera.
Q: Although you don’t credit any particular photographers as having influenced your photographic approach or style you do mention that you study the work of other photographers working in your genre and admire the eye and abilities of Cartier-Bresson. Do you think of yourself as operating in the tradition of classic photojournalism and do you think that viewing these pictures has shaped your view of what you consider a successful image?
A: I definitely do not try to emulate anyone but I look at other photographers’ work to understand the possibilities of the use of light, composition, etc. I definitely look at Cartier-Bresson and the other legendary Magnum photographers’ works a lot. Their ability to make images with essentially the same equipment I am using today helps me refine my style.
Q: You note that you are “a very patient photographer” who waits for the situation to develop and then focuses “on the intensity of it.” Can you say something about that process, and how do you know when the intensity has attained a sufficient level for you to press the shutter release?
A: I think part of my decision of when to release the shutter has to do with my understanding of the scene or the overall event I am trying to capture. I spend a lot of time watching things develop before I select a subject or scene to photograph. I think that is a very important skill that a lot of photographers do not employ.
Q: Nine out of the 17 images in your portfolio were output in black-and-white. What do you find especially compelling about the black-and-white medium, how do you decide whether to output an image in black-and-white or color, and have you ever considered using or acquiring a Leica Monochrom?
A: When I make selections, my decision of whether to process to black-and-white really depends on whether the light and tonality is perfect. If it is and I do not have some other reason to feature the colors rendered in an image, black-and-white really draws a viewer into the image in a much deeper way than a color images. I definitely need to spend some time with the M Monochrom very soon.
Q: What makes this image a powerful statement is the strong overhead light illuminating the outstretched arms of the woman and her strong emotional and visual connection to the energetic crowd in the background? What’s actually going on here and what were you thinking and feeling when you pressed the shutter release?
A: The instructor teaching that Zumba class is Betsy Dopico from Miami. She has boundless energy and is very connected to her class while she teaches. She expresses great emotion and intensity. While the shot was taken from behind her, I felt as though it was the best way to convey that special way she communicates and engages with her class. The way her arms reach out and into the audience really captured the overall scene.
Q: This one is very straightforward in concept, but its high intensity, brilliant color, and graphic composition really make it something special. Do you agree, who is this woman and can you say something about her performance? Also can you please provide the tech data for this engaging image?
A: The woman in the picture is Gina Grant. She is one of Zumba’s top master instructors worldwide. She is incredibly dynamic on stage and has a unique look and style that stands out. She was teaching a new program called Hip Hop Turn Out and her outfit reflected that dance style. I shot the image wide open at f/1.4 and lowered the shutter speed to 1/125 sec from 1/180 sec to give it a sense of movement. The motion-blur in the one arm and her shirt really helped to achieve this.
Here are the technical data:
Lens: 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux
Exp. Comp.: 0.0
Q: One of the reasons that this image of an attractive, smiling young woman waving a Brazilian flag in the midst of an uproarious crowd is so compelling, is that the limited depth of field focuses the viewer’s attention on the main subject. What was the crowd celebrating and what lens and aperture did you use to capture this lively image?
A: On stage at that moment was the most popular female singer in Brazil, Claudia Leitte. She was an unannounced surprise guest, and the crowd literally surged toward the stage from their seats. I saw that woman’s emotional response and focused on her. I used the Summilux 35 mm ASPH. FLE at f/4 for that shot so the blurred foreground really helped to frame the shot.
Q: The image of a hand holding up a cell phone to capture a performance on a small stage is fascinating for several reasons. First of all, the image on the cell phone is sharp and the image of the actual performance is blurry. Secondly there’s a giant sign beyond the window in the background that says “The Business of Fun,” which seems to encapsulate the spirit of the event. Do you agree, and how do you feel about this image and how it works in your overall portfolio?
A: The actual theme of the event was “Master the Business of Fun” which really resonated with the participating instructors. The Zumba program is about having fun while exercising and these instructors were at the convention acquiring more skills to take back to the classes they teach around the world. Also, the people on the stage at that moment happened to be members of the housekeeping staff of the hotel. They were asked to participate and 250 of them came down to that performance stage and surprised our instructors. It was quite a scene. So, this image really gives you a nice overall impression of the event, the Zumba program, and how it resonates with and is for everyone.
Q: There is something very authentic and real about your behind-the-scenes shot of three guys. The soft overhead lighting is gorgeous and the way the three men fill the frame in a not quite symmetrical composition is very effective in creating a kind of dynamic tension. What is your reaction to these comments, and did you ask these guys to pose or just grab the moment?
A: Those guys are actually members of a Colombian musical group, Zona Prieta, who were in town to perform during the convention. We just did a song and made a music video with them called “Cha Cha Swing”. They were backstage waiting for a sound check. I asked if they wanted to take a quick picture and they just naturally arranged themselves. It was over in seconds. I love the picture. Your description of it being authentic and real is what I thought as well. It has a classic look to it. The background with all the equipment around them really set the scene well.
Q: How do you see your photography evolving over, say, the next three years? Do you intend to shoot Zumba at any other locations in the near future, and you plan on exploring any other photographic genres other than documentary photojournalism and portraiture with your Leica M?
A: You should see my other pictures! I have been lucky to get close access at several concerts and really enjoy capturing the artists. I also enjoy taking landscapes shots of incredibly beautiful scenes in the Florida Keys near where I live. And, most importantly, I really enjoy documenting my young family as the kids grow up. Anytime I travel I bring the M and always try to find some time to shoot local cultural and scenery. I enjoy the challenge photography presents and when I have time away from my professional responsibilities I am always looking for new and interesting things to photograph.
Thank you for your time, Scott!
– Leica Internet Team
To view more of Scott’s work, check out his Flickr and Instagram accounts.