ראשי English Noam Galai – Beyond the Scream

Noam Galai – Beyond the Scream


You might not have heard about Noam Galai but there is a good chance that you came across one of his images. The young Israeli photographer who lives in NYC is responsible for one of the most used images in the world in recent years (without his knowledge). Between playing Ping-Pong with Duran Duran and taking pictures in The White House, we had a chance to talk to Galai about his work and the picture which changed his life.

In 2006 Noam Galai, a young photographer who only recently moved to New York, published online a series of self portraits which show him screaming. Almost immediately the pictures became viral and spread like wildfire across the web.  However the viral nature of the pictures didn't stop there and soon you could find them everywhere including T-shirts and graffiti over the world – all this without Galai being credited for his work.

The story itself received extensive coverage by the world media and at the same time Galai continued to develop his photographic career working with sports professionals (NBA and others), celebrities (Jay-Z, Justin Bieber, Beyonce, Lady Gaga etc.) and public figures (Barack and Michelle Obama). During 2011 one of Galai's pictures was chosen as picture of the year for LIFE magazine.

The Stolen Scream self portrait image that was taken in 2006 and since became a global icon


An interview with Noam Galai

Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I was born and raised in Jerusalem, Israel. Right after I finished school, I served as a tank driver in the IDF for 3 years.

Galai, age 6, with a disposable camera taking photos of his family


Q: What about college or university?
A: Other than high school (where I studied nothing related to photography or art), I never went to college or university. 12  years of school were enough for me to understand studying the old fashioned way is just not for me, and that I don't want to ‘waste’ 3 or 4 more years of my life on sitting in the classroom. Instead, I knew I can learn from experience, and that’s what I did.
I think that the fact I never went to college is some kind of an advantage for me over people who go and learn photography, because in school they teach you a lot of “rules”, and limit your creativity by telling you what is right or wrong. I usually don't limit myself to those rules, and do what I feel like is the right thing to do. If it looks good to ME, that's what important. even if it's against some photography rules. It gives me a different angle and style of photography.

Breathe Carolina band portrait for AOL Music


Q: When did you start taking pictures?
A: As a kid I always liked taking pictures of family events and trips. I used a plastic film camera, and many times I just used a disposable camera. I knew nothing about photography, I knew nothing about how to take pictures – I just took pictures for fun, to document life and save memories on print.
I started learning and understanding photography around age 20, when I had the opportunity to photograph few basketball games (and related events) of Maccabi Tel-Aviv, the biggest sports franchise in Israel. It gave me a push to really learn everything I needed to know about photography.
If you ask me when I started shooting professionally, i would say around age 21 or 22.

Prince-Tyson Gulley  with a Touchdown in the Pinstripe Bowl, NCAA college football game at Yankee Stadium in New York

Q: What pulled you into photography? who taught you the basics?
A: Nothing specifically pulled me into doing this, but it was always important for me to document my (and my family/friends) life, to have those memories saved for ever. Same as I like going to those boxes filled with photos of my family taken 10 or 20 years ago, I'm sure the next generation of my family will enjoy seeing their pictures from their childhood one day.
When I take photos of celebrities, I try to capture their essence, the way they are today, for their fans to enjoy both today, and in the far future.

The person who taught me the basics was Yaniv Ben-Simon. I met him while shooting basketball games in Tel-Aviv, and he tried his best teaching me about film, and basic terms and features. Since then I upgraded my SLR to a DSLR, and then it was way easier for me to learn by myself, and that's what i did.

Panathinaikos players celebrating after winning the Euroleague championship in Athens


Q: What was your first camera?
A: My first ‘professional’ camera was the Nikon N65 (film) that I got from my parents. After that I got the Nikon D70 (back then it was a super advanced camera), and then I got the Nikon D300. Right now im shooting with the amazing Nikon D800. Can't imagine my life without that camera.

New York Knicks Players


Q: When did you move to NYC and why?
A: I moved to NYC in early 2006 right after I finished my 3-year army service. I got a job from an Israeli start-up company, and this is why I moved here. After about a year AOL acquired us, and I work for them since.

Katherine LaNasa (Sofia Bowers) – Deception


Q: Even though you were young and in a new place where you don't know anyone, you were able to get in the mix, work with the biggest publications and many celebrities – how did you do that?
A: When I moved to NYC I had no portfolio, had no real experience in the field and knew no one from the photography and media world here in the US. I just started shooting random things, even if it's just myself, or small sporting events, and uploaded the best photos to Flickr. As time passed, my portfolio grew bigger and better, and over a million people visited it. Later I built my fan base on Facebook, where I have around 10,000 followers so far, and where I post new work as it comes in, behind the scenes, tips and more. It's a big part of building my name, or “brand”, and helps bringing in more jobs.
Getting to work with celebrities is something that happened slowly with time. What I learned is that its hard getting to work with known people if you don't have photos of known people in your portfolio, so it's almost like the chicken and the egg. At first you need some luck, and also  push your way in – later it gets easier to get these jobs.

Kimbra live performance in New York


Q: Tell us about the experience of photographing President Obama
A: In the past year or so I got the chance to photograph both president Obama and also The First Lady Michelle Obama, in 2 different occasions. I photographed The First Lady in The White House, in a day that was really special to me, as it was the first time I got the chance to get into the white house. I was able to walk around, get in the rooms, talk to some very interesting people and have dinner with The First Lady.
I photographed the president in June at a fundraising event for his reelection campaign. Again, amazing experience.

NBA Players Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd and Chauncey Billups having fun during the 2010 NBA All-Star weekend in Dallas


Q: You had the opportunity to work with a long list of famous people – from Stevie Wonder all the way to Jimmy Fallon and Elton John – Is there anyone in particular you feel that working him/her was more memorable?
A: From any photo session or a person I get to shoot I have good memories, but no doubt, there are few that come to mind as cool experiences.
For example, shooting Duran Duran in the studio. Other than the fact they are music legends, they were super nice and were easy to work with in the studio. While we were shooting, they noticed the ping pong table I have in the office, and within few seconds I found myself playing ping pong with Duran Duran; Something I would never imagine that I can experience.

DMX  – This is actually a photoshoot I assisted my good and talented friend Gino DePinto, and it was probably the most interesting experience I had with any musician. DMX showed up for a short session, maybe 5 or 10 minutes max, and ended up staying for about 2 hours. after shooting in the studio we decided to go to the rooftop to keep shooting. We made him late for his own concert. And to end the (crazy) day with him, he asked us to join him for his concert and hang out with him and do CD shopping with him late at night. Unexpected, and very cool experience.

Derrik Sharp celebrating a winning basket in Nokia Arena


Q: Many people know you because of “The Stolen Scream” story. For those who don't know about it – can you tell in few sentences about the photo and the story?
A: The story is about a self portrait photo I took of myself screaming, and uploaded to my portfolio on Flickr. About 2 years after posting the photo online, I found out that thousands of people have used that photo for many different uses, without any permission. Big companies started using the image for commercial use, such as music album covers, book covers, t-shirts and more. Other than commercial uses, the image became a symbol for uprising and revolutions around the world. For example, during the Arab Spring the image became kind of a symbol, and my face appeared on walls in Tahrir Square, or on big signs the protesters held. The image also appeared in places like Syria, Iran, Bahrain and even Gaza. More examples of places where people used my image: Spain, USA, Germany, Argentina, Honduras, Mexico and more or less any country around the world. Every day I find new uses, and for me it became almost like an anthropological research – to see where people use it, and for what cause. Today, some consider this image to be one of the most-used photo of our time.

Mickey Haimovich, Israeli news host


Q: You also work with one of the biggest photography blogs on the internet – Fstoppers – how that connection was made?
A: FStoppers is a photography blog I used to read every day, since the day they went live. Few months after Fstoppers was born, I got the chance to meet one of its co-founders, Lee Morris, for lunch in NYC. After talking about different things like our photography work or just how is it to move and live far away from family and friends – I mentioned my scream story in few sentences, just as a fun story to end our meeting. Few months after that meeting he told me that  he told my story to many other photographers, and they all found it very interesting, so he asked to do a mini-documentary/interview about it for FStoppers. I decided that it could be a good opportunity, and I agreed. The video became a big hit in the photography (and legal) community, and was featured on many big news outlets around the world (NBC, TIME, Gizmodo, etc).
Few months after making that interview with me, and after we all became friends on Facebook and they started following my work, they asked me if i would be interested to close a circle and start writing for them. I said yes of course. Big honor to work with such talented people for one of the best websites online.

The press passes Noam collected in the past few years: From music, through politics all the way to sports


Q: When you start a photo session – do you have the image in mind ahead of time, or do you go without any specific idea and see what happens?
A: It depends. When I do self portraits I always have a concept in mind, and I try to execute and deliver a photo as close as possible to what I had in mind. When I shoot with models, I usually give myself more freedom, and try different looks on the fly. I see what looks good, or less, and go from there.
When I work with celebrities I have to come prepared with a concept and idea for the shoot. With them you can't come unprepared – you’ll look unprofessional, and you usually don't have time to play around.

Justin Bieber live concert


Q: Do you think it's important to know the person you photograph before the photoshoot to photograph him in a better way?
A: It's very important to know your subject, especially if you’re going to shoot one-on-one in the studio. Before I get a musician in the studio, I sit down and listen to his/her music for few days before the shoot. I also look at photos and listen to recent interviews, to learn more about the person and the personality. Sometimes I only get 5 or 10 minutes for the whole photoshoot, which means I don't always have the time to sit and talk to the person and know him personally before we shoot, so it's important to do the preparation ahead of time and come prepared as much as possible. When you come ready, all you have left to do is come to the photoshoot and make the subject feel like we know each other for a long time, and make them feel relaxed in front of the camera.
By the way – its not only about learning about the subject. Its also about preparing the set ahead of time. Because these people usually don't have too much time, its very very important to set up the whole set, and test it way before the subject steps in the studio. This way, you can start shooting the second they get in, and they don't have to wait for you to test the lights. It saves time, and looks more professional.

Stevie Wonder live performance


Q: Is there anyone (that you never photograph) you would like to shoot?
A: I would love to photograph people such as Taylor Swift, Michael Phelps, Ryan Seacrest or Katy Perry for example. Those are people I didn't get to shoot yet, and I really respect what they do. There are also few people I already photographed, but will be happy to photograph again – but one-on-one this time. People such as Jay-Z, Justin Bieber, Beyonce, Lady Gaga and others.
I’ll be happy to photograph anyone I already photographed – I can always do better.

The First Lady, Michelle Obama, giving a speech in The White House


Q: How your schedule look these days?
A: First thing I do when I wake up is checking and answering emails, and then finish editing and uploading photos taken the night before.
On days I have studio shoots, I go to the office (where I have a studio), and set up the lights, backdrops and whatever is needed to be ready for the shoot. I also spend some time watching videos and looking at images of the artist/person i'm about to shoot. Getting ready mentally is as important as being ready physically.
At night I sometimes shoot a concert or a game, and if not – I stay home and edit the photos I took that day.
Because I work alone, I need to take care of all aspects of the business: from discussing with clients, shooting, editing, paperwork – and of course managing my social media pages like my Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr and 500px pages. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort and time, but so far its working well for me.

President Barack Obama giving a speech before election day


Q: Do you prefer shooting in the studio, where you have full control over the lighting, over shooting outdoors?
A: Good question. I'm not sure about it. Both options have their pros and cons. What I like about shooting in the studio is that first of all its very intimate, and its easier to connect with the person I'm photographing this way. Also, when I have limited time for a photoshoot – I can make sure the studio is set up perfectly ahead of time, and spend no time on setting up and checking lighting and looks when the subject steps in.
I also like shooting outside, because many times its much more interesting. You can find amazing locations that will give you a totally different vibe than a plain backdrop in the studio. I usually try to get both indoor and outdoor shots with artists I shoot. When I go outside i usually take a reflector and/or on-camera flash with a stand and umbrella.

Elton John live concert


Q: Do you think there is such a thing as photogenic people, or you think a good photographer can get great pictures of anyone?
A: Some people are easy to photograph and some are less. Of course, if a good connection is being made between the photographer and the subject, it will be easier to shoot, and the results will be better. Sometimes the photographer have to work hard to get a good picture, even if the lighting is great, and the location is amazing.
When learning the subject ahead of the photoshoot, the photographer can learn what light will look better on the subject, what angle will work better for that person or if its better to shoot him smiling or serious. With the right preparation you can increase the chances to get better photographs of your subject.

Rap legend, DMX, on the rooftop for a photoshoot.


Q: What equipment do you use? what do you think of the technology race that makes photographer switch cameras every 2 or 3 years? Do you think the digital era did good to the photography industry?
A: I’m shooting with a Nikon D800 (amazing camera) and I have 3 lenses I use in most cases: 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8 and 50mm f/1.8.

The taking over of the digital photography really changed the photography world. The older generation might say it's bad, and I say it's a great thing. News photographs can get published seconds after the event happened – no need to wait 2  days for the film to develop. Its huge. Also, it makes the learning experience much easier. With digital you can experiment as much as you want, and you see immediate results. With film, the learning curve was way longer and slower.

I don't have a problem with the fact photographers need to change their cameras every few years. DSLR quality and functions are being improved by a lot from generation to generation, unlike film cameras that didn't change too much from model to model. A DSLR that was considered to be amazing 3 years ago, is now considered as a really low-quality and is not meeting the requirements and end-results people expect today. The Nikon D300 that I used until last year was considered to be one of the best in the world. Since the day i started using the D800, i cant even touch the D300 – the quality difference is huge.

Nick Rhodes, Duran Duran band member


With Duran Duran band members after the photoshoot in the studio.


With Jana Kramer after the photoshoot (Photo: Gino DePinto)


Q: What is your dream camera? what would you like to have in it?
A: For me, right now, the D800 is my dream camera. If I could I would have added 2-3 features to make it even better – like adding the option to shoot more frames per second. Also, I wish I had a way to upload all the images directly to my FTP from my camera, or being able to send images via email through the camera. I’m sure it will be possible in the very near future.

Sofoklis Schortsanitis with a great dunk during a Maccabi Electra Tel-Aviv game in Nokia Arena


Q: Photoshop – good, or bad?
A: Without Photoshop I can't exist as a photographer. Photographing is only 50% of the work, and then no one can avoid doing the other 50% of the work – which is editing in Photoshop. When I say Photoshop, it can be even the small simple things such as fixing levels, or fix colors. It's not about changing body sizes of models.
People need to understand that back in the film era people used to edit photos as well. Of course they didn't use Photoshop, but there are a lot of editing techniques in the dark room and its not a new invention.
Just changing few small things in the picture can make a good picture amazing.

Omri Casspi. Photo taken using Pocketwizards to trigger a camera placed behind the glass


Noam in Miami during the 2012 NBA Finals (Photo: Gilad Schalit)


Q: Give us names of 2 young photographers you think everyone should know
A: Amy Lynn – For me there is no doubt she’s one of the most talented photographers in the world today, and the amazing thing is she’s just 23. Amy makes huge photography and videography productions for few years now, and works with a full staff of make-up artists, hair stylists and stylists. She’s one of the most interesting photographers in the industry today and I'll surprised if she will not become a great success in the future.

Noam with the different uses of The Stolen Scream


Benjamin Von Wong – Young photographer that until last year no one knew about, and today he’s one the the most known (and talented!) photographers in the market. Not only he shoots amazing concepts and projects, he also makes BTS videos of all his shoots and explain exactly what was the process to get those results. He became a big inspiration for many photographers out there and proved everyone there is no limit to what can be achieved in a photoshoot.


Q: Other than photography – what are your hobbies and interests?
A: I like basketball and soccer, music (listen to it, not sing), food and sleep as much as possible. Happy I get to combine my hobbies in my photography (except for sleep-photography, that didn't happen yet).


Q: Any tips for young photographers who want to make it big in NYC
A: I don't have specific tips for NYC or any other location. I guess the most important thing is to shoot in your own style. If you do it, and do it well, you’ll get jobs that you WANT to do. If you show work that looks good, but they’re not really “you” – you might get jobs that gives you money, but you wont enjoy doing it.

Also, it's important that you find the field that interest you the most. If you like photographing food – focus on shooting food. If you like news photography – go and shoot news events. Don't shoot anything because it might bring you momentary fame or a chance to meet a celebrity. If you focus on what you really like, you’ll have more chances to succeed.


Q:What is your favorite image?
A: I have a lot of pictures i like. If I need to judge based on success, I have 2 photos that succeeded more than any of my other photos: “Screaming For Help” (The Stolen Scream), and the photo of NYC I shot from a helicopter on the night of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 – that photo was later included in LIFE Magazine and Vanity Fair’s Photos of the year. Those are my 2 most successful photos of all time. For now.

Jimmy Fallon of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon


Make sure to follow  Noam on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, 500px – and of course check out his portfolio.

Noam and his portable studio


More pictures

Actor Adrian Grenier ("Entourage") during a photoshoot in NYC


Behind the scenes of a studio photoshoot


With Olly Murs from X-Factor UK after their photoshoot together
MVP Award ceremony after a football game from a unique angle


Model photoshoot – Is there a thing such as photogenic people?


Model photoshoot – Is there a thing such as photogenic people?


Frozen Self Portrait. The Camera was operated using a pocketwizard placed under my foot


Self Portrait. Do not try this at home, or anywhere else


Blackberry Smoke in the studio

49Find your own style

33Self Portrait


Shooting NYC covered with snow from a helicopter. Used GoPro Hero3 to capture this moment


New York City at the night of the 10th anniversary  for the 9/11 terror attacks. This shot was taken from a helicopter rented just for this reason


Noam with the photo chosen by LIFE Magazine for their 2011 Photos Of The Year (Photo: Laura Kasakoff)


עידו גנוטעידו גנוט
עידו גנוט הוא עורך ומייסד אתר הצילום מגה פיקסל. הוא מסקר חדשות טכנולוגיה מאז סוף שנות ה-90 וכתב וערך עבור שורה של מגזינים בינלאומיים מובילים. הוא עוסק בתחום הצילום מאז שנת 2009. עידו הוא גם מייסד שותף בחברת ההפקה Shooteat.co.il העוסקת ביצירת תוכן ויזואלי עבור חברות מסחריות.
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