Ami Vitale is a renowned photojournalist whose work is exhibited worldwide in museums and galleries and published in international magazines, including National Geographic, Adventure, Geo, Newsweek, Time and Smithsonian. Her work has garnered awards from prestigious organizations such as World Press Photos, as well as the Lowell Thomas Award for Travel Journalism, the Lucie Awards, the Daniel Pearl Award for Outstanding Reporting, and Magazine Photographer of the Year, among others.

Based in Montana, Vitale travels around the globe, working on assignment for magazines and on her own projects. Her range of photojournalism is broad, from shooting in war zones to taking photos at coffee plantations in Ethiopia, documenting climate change in Bangladesh to snapping photos of the world’s last five northern white rhinos in Kenya. Her assignments have taken her to 90 countries, including China, Guinea- Bissau, Bhutan, Kosovo, Macedonia and Sri Lanka. As her website attests, Vitale “has witnessed civil unrest, poverty, destruction of life and unspeakable violence. But she has also experienced surreal beauty and the enduring power of the human spirit, and she is committed to highlighting the surprising and subtle similarities between cultures.”

Vitale received an M.A. in photojournalism from the University of Miami’s School of Communication, where she worked on a project on pregnancy and infant mortality in Sierra Leone and a feature film about migration and climate change in Bangladesh. She has used Nikon camera bodies and NIKKOR lenses since she began her career. Today, as an official Nikon Ambassador, she is working with their newest camera, the Nikon D750.

I had the privilege of going behind the shots with Vitale to discuss six recent photos she took in Los Angeles and Puerto Rico with the Nikon D750. Her insights and tips on creating great images are valuable for any photographer. Let’s delve into these shots.

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Shot 1—Olive © Ami Vitale

SHOT 1 You might think this St. Bernard puppy, Olive, is floating on the water, but she’s actually sitting on a paddleboard in the Pacific Ocean off Los Angeles. While visiting her sister, Vitale went out to shoot on a chilly day at 6 a.m., her favorite time of day because the light can be so striking. The soft, liquidy effect of the water meeting the mountains and clouds on the horizon makes Olive look like a yogi master, meditating calmly on a placid sea. Vitale walked right into the water, despite it being far colder than she imagined. “I knew I had to jump in, and that’s a metaphor for all photographers. I believe you literally need to dive into every situation — whether it’s with people or animals.” As for shooting tips, she notes that whenever you’re shooting water, choose a time when it’s not windy. “If you have any kind of breeze, you won’t get those great reflections from the still water.”

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Shot 2 © Ami Vitale

SHOT 2 While in Puerto Rico, Vitale was on the beach at sunset when a group of horseback riders galloped past. Seeing a chance for a shot, she positioned herself slightly behind the water’s edge, letting one rider, Kelsey Brigger, and her Paso Fino horse pass between her and the sea. “I saw immediately how to frame this shot using my AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4 VR lens at 24mm. First, I wanted to leave a lot of sky in the frame — the open space of the background makes the horse stand out, while the clouds create a dramatic effect. Second, whenever there is someone or something coming into the frame, I leave a lot of empty space in the direction they’re moving. This shot wouldn’t be the same if they were in the middle of the frame.” With the horses running by so quickly, Vitale set the D750 for 6.5 frames per second, perfectly capturing the horse’s gait and Kelsey’s flowing hair.

Vitale advises doing some research in advance on the daily weather patterns of locations you visit. This helps you prepare for opportunities to take dramatic shots using natural lighting, cloud patterns and water, especially if you’re on an island. “Don’t try to fix lighting in post-production, as it looks fake.”

More of this article can be read in the Summer 2015 issue.