03/07/08

Where Work Comes From

I've been meaning to do this for ages, but was prompted by some recent questions at talks I've given, plus a post on the Pro/Semi-pro forum on Flickr. Here, in spider diagram form is where my work has come from over the years:

Clicking on it should take you to the Flickr page where you can download or view a larger version so it's a bit clearer. The key is:
  1. Black for starting points
  2. Red for photographers I assisted
  3. Green for people who may not have employed me directly but were instrumental in getting me work
  4. And Blue is for clients - usually magazines.
First, a few basic principles:
  1. This is a simplified version - I have deliberately only included my main sources of income, rather than clients I've only worked for once or twice, or photographers who I assisted for just one day. If I'd shown you everything it'd be hugely complicated.
  2. In my descriptions below I've kept things to a bare minimum, again to keep things simple. To this end you may wonder how in some cases I was able to move from one place to another, but all will be explained at the end.

Now, a fuller explanation. Let's take each starting point in turn.

1. Aop Work Experience. Organised for me whilst I was in my 2nd year at college, and involved coming down to London for a week to get work experience with some Advertising and fashion photographers. One of them was Jonathan Root, who I worked with for 2 days, and then never heard from again. The other was Zanna, who I worked with for 2 days, stayed in touch with, came to visit and work with again several times throughout my final year, then when I left college started assisting on a freelance basis almost straight away.

Through her assistant, Ross (I was 2nd assistant at this time), I later got work with a photographer called Wolfgang, and through him I met the girls at Maxim. I went in to see them with my portfolio not long after I stopped assisting, and expected to hear nothing back, as my work wasn't up to scratch in those days. 2 days later, Marco, the art director at Men's fitness (same publishing company, Dennis, and their desks are about 10 metres apart) called with a shoot for me. That was September 2001, and I'm still working for Men's fitness now. Through Marco I got to know the deputy editor, Andy Dixon, and a while back he left to become editor of Runner's World, the publishing company of which then launched Triathete's world, both of which I shoot for, and funnily enough Marco is currently the art director on T.W.

Going back to Zanna, one of her regular clients, and mates, was Deirdre Callaghan. Deirdre was very good mates with a commercials director/creative director/art director called Graham Fink, who I worked for both as an assistant, and then later as a photographer once he'd started his own company. I met Paul Myatt through him, with whom I did quite a lot of assisting work as well.

Back to the Dennis publishing line (Maxim/MF) - after a quiet beginning I started to get regular work from Maxim itself, mostly portrait and feature work, which continues to this day. Through being known at Dennis publishing, I started shooting events and other odd jobs for them - things like awards do's and so on. It was at one of these that I met the staff of a new gambling magazine - Inside Edge (now Inside Poker), and after shooting their launch party, started shooting portraits for them. About a year later, Dennis launched Poker Player, and I was asked to do more of the same for them as well.

Backtracking slightly, through Wolfgang, I met and worked with Sam Riley, who was art director at a magazine called "Later". As you'll find out in a bit, I'd already shot for them, but I got a couple of last jobs with them, from Sam, just before they folded.

2. Howard. Howard was in the year above me at college, and in October of my first year in London (1998) he called to ask if I could come along as second assistant to a bloke called Iain McKell. Along I went, and worked for Iain on and off for about 9 months. Whilst working for him I met Jo Miller, who at the time was the picture editor on Maxim, and she gave me a few little shoots of my own to do for the magazine, so I ended up working for Maxim even before I was working for them, if you see what I mean.

Through Howard I also met Laura Knox. Another friend of mine from Howard's year at college had been her assistant, but was "graduating", and I went along to do a day's work with her fairly early on in my career. We spent most of that day giggling like idiots, something which has continued to this day, as she's still a good mate, despite not having worked for her since about 2001. Laura shared an office with 2 other photographers, Julia and Ed, both of whom I ended up assisting fairly regularly.

Off the back of Iain McKell I met Steve Read. Steve was an Art Director who was now trying his hand at photography, and he knew Iain from comissioning him for "Loaded" magazine. he asked Iain if he knew any good assistants, Howard wasn't available on the day in question, and along I went in his stead. I worked for Steve for about 9 months, and can't repeat much of what we got up to, as I'd get us both in trouble! Within a short time Steve had me shooting small jobs for the "special project" magazine he was working on called "Later". That's how I got my first work published in a national magazine! He left for LA in the summer of 1999, but his deputy at the magazine kept using me for small jobs here and there on Later, and then when she moved to go to the Independent on Sunday I carried on shooting for her, and it was this work which allowed me to graduate out of assisting. Through Later I also scored a fairly large shoot for Loaded fashion magazine, on the basis of Steve praising my "technical skills" to anyone who would listen. After Kate left, my work with "Later" dried up a bit, until I met Sam Riley, as mentioned above, and the circle was rounded off.

3. Carol Rogerson. Carol was engaged to a very good friend of mine at college, and had always been an Art Director, initially on small circulation magazines in Manchester. When we all headed down to London she started working for Slimming magazine, and initially gave lots of work to her Fiance. Eventually work commitments meant that he couldn't keep doing it, and I started filling in for him on a regular basis. I shot for slimming for about 2 1/2 years - mostly portraits and features. It was on one of these features that I met a freelance journalist called Mike Harris, over Christmas in 2003. 6 months later I got a phone call saying "Hi, it's Mike here, I'm editing a golf magazine now, and I need a snapper". Despite never having been near a golf club (in both senses of the term) in my life, I did a shoot for him, for the short-lived "Total Golf" magazine, and it started an avalanche of work that continues to this day. From "Total" I followed Mike to "Golf Monthly", and it's sister (pardon the pun) title, "Women and Golf". Those 3 have made up roughly 25-30% of my work since mid-2004.

4. The BIPP. I passed the BIPP's PQE (Professional Qualifying Exam) at the end of my college course, which entitled me to automatic status as an Associate of the British Institute of Professional Photographers. This included being listed on their website, with it's very efficient "find a photographer" search engine. This alone used to bring in about £1500 - £2000 a year in PR and small scale commercial work. The vast majority of this was one-off clients who just wanted a quick "grip and grin". However, a company called Words and Pictures, who produce in-house magazines for companies like AIG, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and Asda, found me through this site in mid 2004, and I shot tonnes of stuff for them up until early last year. I also shot quite a bit for PWC directly, as I'd built up a relationship with their own people besides those at W+P.

So, what does all this tell us, other than that I appear to be a jammy sod?

Well, first off, it doesn't even say that really. If you look at all my "lucky breaks" (meeting Steve Read, Wolfgang and so on) they didn't come about randomly. I was already in a position where I could not only take advantage of such opportunities, but in such a place where the opportunities actually existed. To make it really clear, imagine if I'd ducked out of moving down to London at the end of College, and had instead set up in the Midlands. I would never have met any of these people, or had any of these "lucky breaks". It's because I moved down to London, and put up with the miserable wages, the long stretches without work, no social life, no new clothes or holidays, that I was not only presented with these opportunities, but could exploit them when they appeared.

What amazes me sometimes with the people I encounter, and I'm talking here about Students, Work Experience folk and assistants, is how often they don't see what's in front of their eyes. When I was offered the work experience from the AoP in my 2nd year at college, it was just that - offered. It wasn't forced upon me, and about half my year at the time didn't bother to apply for it. It was through staying in close touch with Zanna that I was able to secure freelance assisting work as soon as I moved to London, and because I'd not stayed in touch with Jonathan Root, that door was slightly closed to me. These days, as someone who gets regular emails from people asking for work experience, and tries to use them wherever possible, I'm stunned at how few don't make the minimal effort required to stay in touch. If you don't enter the competition, you can hardly expect to win can you?

Further along this line of reasoning is "why did I keep getting given these opportunities, and not the next guy?" Beyond the simple fact of being there, was the fact that I worked bloody hard, and was always keen, despite some incredibly long hours and tough conditions. Probably the hardest ever point was a shoot with Zanna for Vogue, back in December 1998. We spent roughly 3 days one week building sets and suchlike, all day Sunday pre-lighting and setting up, then 3 days of 15 hours each actually shooting the fashion story, followed by a half day on Thursday to break the set. For this I was paid for the shoot days, at a rate of £35 a day, with a £50 concession thrown in for the other days. This was probably the toughest it got, but there have been many contenders for the prize!

My point is that it's very competitive out there, and whilst it's not necessarily a case of whoever's still standing when the music stops gets the work, it's not a million miles away. There were far better photographers than me in my year at college (graduating 10 years ago) who are now not shooting. Whilst there will inevitably be lots of reasons for this in each individual case, I can think of a few who simply fell by the wayside when things didn't go their way or got tough.

Moving past assisting, I believe the main reason I kept getting work after nudging my foot in the door, was that I was a safe pair of hands. I'm on time, my gear works, I understand and can interpret briefs, I don't get lost easily, I don't spend the entire shoot chatting up the model or Make-Up Artist, I can handle celebrities without wetting myself and so on. Most art directors would love to employ the best photographers on the planet every day, but they simply can't afford to, and the next best thing is someone like me who gets the job done with very little hassle.

I also can't ignore the work that came in from the BIPP website, and I include it here to make the point that you should always have a "professional presence" so that potential clients have somewhere to look at your work and some way to contact you. In the case of lots of PR and basic commercial work, it's usually enough for a client to look at a few images and be content that you can handle the job. I've stopped doing all this sort of work over the past couple of years, as frankly it bores the living crap out of me, but it's possible to make a very good living out of it with very little effort if it floats your boat. Whatever line of work you choose, making sure your website works and is up to date, having business cards about your person, and generally being amenable and pleasant to get along with will serve you pretty well for a very long time.

So there you are, some very big secrets about how to actually get work as a photographer. Despite the fact that this post has dragged on for ages, it really is the heavily edited version - the world's not ready for the full story just yet.......

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28/05/08

The First Fifty

Well, it's taken 3 years and 6 months, but I've finally shot my 50th magazine cover. in truth, I've shot quite a few more than this, but I decided quite a while ago to only count my chickens once they'd hatched, and I'd actually got the finished copy in my hand.

By my current reckoning, there's at least 8 that haven't "hatched" yet - about 4 of which I never got sent (!), and another 4 (minimum) which I've shot in recent months and have yet to be published. I can't be certain about this last number, as I've shot quite a few potential images, but whether they'll meet the required standards is yet to be seen, as in most cases the conditions on the day (including yesterday!) were not great.

Some scores:
  1. First cover shot: October 2004, last cover (in order of appearance on the above set) December 2007 - although there are 6 in there that were shot January-April 2008.
  2. Golf Covers - 22, Poker Covers - 18, Woking Magazine Covers (!) - 5, PriceWaterhouseCoopers - 4, Britannia Building Society - 1
  3. Taken in 6 different countries - UK, Spain, Portugal, Dubai, Monte Carlo, Italy.
  4. Only 16 were taken in the studio, and the rest in various locations
  5. Here's where it gets really nerdy, but I know deep down you care - 27 were taken on the 1D Mark II, 22 on the 5D, and 1 on a Hasselblad with a Phase One P30 up it's arse.
Here's to the next 50!

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28/03/08

A belated Easter Egg

OK, here's a late Easter Egg treat for you all. Ages ago I saw the Michael Greco/Michael Scorsese time lapse video, and thought to myself "that looks like a good idea". So I had a go myself earlier this year.



The first attempt was a bit of a washout - I used a cheapy webcam, which, whilst it kept the file sizes down, was such low quality it was unwatchable. Then I tried again with a 1D mark II tethered to the Laptop, and this time I was much more successful.

The shoot was a cover and inside feature shoot for Inside Poker magazine of Tony G, a regular on the international poker circuit. The brief was "Power Play", and we were trying to get as much emotion out of Tony as possible. Given how bloody cold it was in the studio he did a superb job - one of those shoots where once I've set the lights up I can simply point the camera and press the button.

We were shooting at 3 Mills, out in the East End of London, as Tony and many others were there filming some Poker TV show or other. The studio was very accomodating, but there seemed to be a problem with the heating in the room we were using! I had enough time at the end of the shoot to try out a lighting test that I'd been mulling over for a little while. It's not finished yet, but I felt I'd better leave it in the film for the sake of honesty.

I've never edited video before, so it took quite a bit of fiddling in Adobe Premiere to get this together. The jaunty background music is by Kevin MacLeod, and was free to download and use - I think it works rather well. This sort of thing only lends itself to some of the work I shoot - lots of my location shoots just wouldn't be suitable as I move around too much, and would have to keep continually unplugging the camera and laptop.

You can play "I Spy" with the video in the following ways:
  1. The Backdrops/Props didn't arrive until almost half way through. Spot how many times you can see Rich, the art director, on the phone trying to chase them up.
  2. There was no heating in the studio, note how certain people don't seem to take their jackets off the entire time.
  3. Unwrapping the 9ft Colorama offered a challenge to quite a few people. Eventually Juliana won the prize by being the first to tear off the strip that holds it together.
  4. Try and work out the ratio of "setting up and hanging around" time to "shooting" time. You'll find it's heavily skewed in favour of the former.
  5. Count how many times Duncan waves both hands in the air (like he just don't care)
  6. Try and spot Rich playing Cricket - on his own.
Overall I shot 194 frames of Tony, and the timelapse is made up of 901 images, one every 10 seconds from start to finish. I was shooting another Poker cover in the same location the next day, and tried the same trick again. It was less successful this time round, as the player in question didn't quite give us his full attention, or very much of his time, and much of the timelapse is taken up with shots of an empty studio...

If folks like this, I may well play around with it some more, though moving images scare me, and I'm probably going to need a little help!

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26/03/08

A Little Highland Fling

Once in a while a job comes along that reminds me exactly why I became a photographer, and why I sometimes put up with all the trials and tribulations that often go with it. I got a call in January from one of my oldest clients, Men's Fitness magazine, asking if I wanted to spend 4 days up in the Highlands of Scotland in February, shooting a story about a journalist trying to use basic survival skills in the most remote part of the British Isles.

Given how much of my spare time I spend in places like the Highlands (and the fact that I'd actually been to the very place in question about a decade ago) I said yes without hesitation. And then the fun began.

The journalist in question was Mr Nick Hutchings, the features editor of the mag. He's far fitter than I am, and has lots of experience in mountainous areas doing trendy things like snowboarding. However, he had almost no experience of navigating, camping or surviving in a place like the Scottish highlands, particularly in February. I was called in not just to take the shots, but to "consult" as it's called these days, on our overall plan of action.

Given my years of tramping round locations like the highlands, I initially started out with a very cautious approach, warning Nick of just how remote we were going to be, how cold it could get, how bad the weather might turn, what the hell we'd do if something went wrong and so on. Initially Nick seemed very confident, but as time passed we seemed to swap places, and with a few days to go before the trip I got a couple of slightly tense calls from him, whilst I felt more and more like we'd get through it and have a good time, even if it didn't quite go according to plan.


The itinerary was:

Sleeper train to Inverness, leaving London 8pm Sunday, arriving 8am Monday, pick up hire car, drive to Kinlochewe, walk to a spot we (I) deem suitable for camping in, taking a few snaps along the way, overnight at the site, Tuesday to be spent getting up to the most remote point, and taking all the "survival" shots, overnight back at base camp, then on Wednesday break camp, walk back to the car, drive to Inverness and catch the 8pm sleeper back to London, arriving back at about 7.30 on Thursday morning.

Our first challenge was when the power failed in our carriage on the way up. There were no other berths left, and we didn't fancy squeezing into seats for 12 hours. A train travelling at about 90mph is quite draughty, and in mid-February it can get bloody freezing. Coupled with the complete darkness, and we ended up cracking out much of the camping gear before we'd even got off the train.

The trek up to the campsite was uneventful, but a bit damp, and, frankly, bloody exhausting. Walking on paths and tracks is all very well with 17-18KG on your back and a camera strapped round your front, but when it comes to yomping across the open moorland it starts to become quite arduous. This of course was going to continue for the entire trip - alleviated slightly on the 2nd day when we didn't have to carry the tent.

Finding a suitable place to pitch the tent proved very difficult indeed. For those of you not familiar with the wilds of Scotland, soft, grassy, level areas are a bit thin on the ground, and we ended up pitching very gingerly on the least spiky bit of heather we could find, taking great care not to pierce the groundsheet. After a little evening stroll down to the the perfectly still Loch we cooked a nutritious and healthy ready meal, played some cards, read a few survival guides and went to bed. Nightlife in the most remote part of the highlands is a little lacking I'm afraid.

Tuesday morning was very, very cold, but perfectly clear - not a cloud to be seen, though lots of frost on the tent. We were planning to spend the day making our way to the "official" most remote point in the UK, taking lots of the required survival shots on the way. In the end we failed in the first task because we spent too long on the second. Even without having to set up lights and things, it still takes ages to get all the shots done when you've got to cover a large area and photograph everything from navigating, building shelters, to gathering wood and making fire.

By the afternoon of the Tuesday a problem was starting to develop. One which we'd both been reluctant to talk about, and even now I shall have to tread carefully in my description of forthcoming events. Since Sunday neither of us had felt the need to, shall we say, tear a sheet off a roll of paper. Whilst there was still daylight available we took my brand new ultra-clever folding shovel and dug a small latrine, only for same shovel to snap just as we dug out the last sod. Nick's need was greater than mine, and so he was privileged to partake of the proper facilities - cold running water, splendid views of the Western Highlands, and all the heather you could want to wipe your arse with.

Another splendid dinner was followed by another evening of witty conversation, dancing, backgammon and shove ha'penny, before we retired to bed. Sleeping in a tent in the middle of nowhere is never the easiest thing, even when tired, and when the slightest movement exposes a new bit of you to the cold, slumber rarely comes quickly. In my case I had another factor working against me. My "lower half" was becoming increasingly uncomfortable, but the prospect of going out into the sub-zero temperatures was in no way appealing. I spent a good hour or so going through the same thought process we've all used at one time or other before I was prompted by a grunt from the other end of the tent -"sorry mate, I'm going to have to climb over you and go out for a piss". So that settled it, and I set off shovel-less to find a suitable spot.

It was still a very clear night, with an almost full moon, and frost on almost every surface, and whilst it's not an experience I want to repeat in a hurry, taking a crap in such a remote location is not something I'll forget anytime soon, and I'd urge you all to do it before you die.

By Wednesday morning things had turned nasty on the weather front, and we hurriedly broke camp, trying to keep things as dry as possible, and in the process I LOST A GLOVE AND BECAME QUITE ANGRY ABOUT IT. We skipped breakfast (a stupid thing to do) and headed back, fully laden, as fast as our legs would carry us, which in Nick's case was subtly faster than mine. The return trip to the car with full packs on our backs was something of an endurance test, and to be honest, the last 2 miles were basically achieved on willpower alone. We both adopted variations of marching rhythms simply to persuade the correct leg to swing forward at the right moment.

Returning to Inverness we were disappointed to find no fanfares heralding our arrival, though clean dry clothes, a curry, and a couple of pints more than made up for it.

A few lessons learnt:

  1. The 5D didn't need it's battery changing the entire time I was there. I started shooting on Monday morning, and carried on for 48 hrs. I took 380 shots, and did loads of chimping. When you consider that the temperature often fell below freezing I find this performance quite superb, and can't recommend it highly enough. Neither did I ever need to call on the services of the 20D, loaned to me very generously by an old friend. There was no way i was carrying a "1" series body on a job like this, which leads me to my next point.
  2. Sticking with gear, a glance at the packing shot will make it obvious that I took relatively little in the way of camera equipment. This comes from previous experience of doing shoots where I have to transport myself under my own power (walking/running/cycling/climbing) and still take shots. After having done this a few times I can safely say that it's better to carry very little gear, but be able to move freely and fast, thus permitting me to keep up with if not overtake the action, rather than carrying the kitchen sink, and although prepared for any photographic eventuality, miss out on most of the shots due to physical exhaustion.
  3. No amount of training could have prepared me for how physically demanding this trip was going to be, but I was flattered in a perverse way when Nick said at the end that it was one of the hardest physical things he'd ever done.
  4. It was quite a lot of effort to go to, just to have a romantic poo.
An edited set of piccies is on Flickr, and you can read Nick's article, which differs slightly in approach from mine, in the current (May 2008) Issue of Men's Fitness. The only real downside to the trip was that after 4 days of not eating/drinking/sleeping enough whilst exerting myself quite a lot physically, it left me a bit vulnerable, and the cold that developed almost as soon as we got home very quickly matured into a proper flu that knocked me for six.

Now, I know what you're saying - "he only had man flu", and I shan't protest too much, only to add that it's the first time I'd been ill in 5 years (the last time under almost identical circumstances after an expedition to Borneo), and it caused me to take the unprecedented step of cancelling a job at the very last minute as I knew I was simply not physically capable of shooting it! Given that I don't get any sick pay, being laid out by illness is not something I do very often - in fact that's only the 2nd time in 10 years, and I hated every second of it.

Apart from lying on the sofa watching Ferris Bueller's Day Off, which I rather enjoyed.

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01/12/07

Shooting Celebrities - A Beginner's Guide.


Jonah Lomu in a small bath.

Taking portraits of celebrities is not something every photographer ends up doing, or even aspires to end up doing, so this may be something of a specialised post. All the same, I feel that much of the advice I'm going to offer is relevant to any portrait shoot, as there's so much common ground. These days, with the exception of absolute A-listers, I treat a celebrity shoot just the same as any other portrait job. That is to say that I approach all my jobs with the same level of professionalism, regardless of whether the subject has just released a new album, or if they're the secretary of a golf club.

So I can validate some of what I'm saying, here's a brief list of some famous folk I've shot over the years:

Richard Branson, Tim Westwood, Ian Woosnam, Colin Montgomerie, Ricky Hatton, Jean Claude Van-Damme, Dara O Briain, Darren Campbell, Dermot Murnaghan, Jerry Springer, Armand Assante, Jonah Lomu, Jodie Kidd, Bobby George, Danielle lloyd, John Reid, Tessa Jowell, Andrew Strauss, Sophie Wessex, Matt Dawson, Jimmy Carr, Darren Clarke, Retief Goosen, Devilfish, Victoria Coren, Eammon Holmes, Kyran Bracken, Sir Roger Bannister, Phil Hellmuth, Goldie Lookin' Chain, Gilberto Silva

This is only an edited list (and it's a pretty odd list when you look at it)- there's several others, but I think I've made my point! All the links got to the relevant page on Wikipedia, just in case they're not as famous as they think they are and you've never heard of them! There's lots of others I could add from my assisting days, but since I wasn't actually behind the camera I think that would be cheating.

Anyway, enough of blowing my own trumpet, how do you turn what could potentially be a very intimidating encounter into a memorable shot that keeps your client happy? Well, in one word: Preparation.

Be Prepared. (And yes, I was a boy scout once upon a time)

  1. At a really basic level, do your essential pre-production work. The link goes to a post that will give you more detail, but at the risk of repetition - know where you're supposed to be, when, how to get there, what you're taking, who you're meeting, what facilities you can expect, how much time you'll have, what sort of shot the client is after and so on. This is the same for any shoot, but celebrity shoots have a tendency to be very short and sweet, so you need to have everything ready. To give you some idea of how short and sweet, I photographed Jean Claude Van-Damme in 45 seconds, and Tessa Jowell in 12. Both of these were official shoots - not grabbed on the street or anything like that. That's simply how much time they permitted me. It's not the time to run out of batteries, or try out a new lighting technique. Mind you, I did spend all afternoon in the pub with Dara O'Briain earlier this year, so it's not always like this.
  2. Do some background research on who you're shooting. Primarily this is so you can get a grasp on who they are, what they've been up to lately and so on. This can give you ideas for shots to try and get, provide subjects for conversation (or subjects to avoid!), as well as preventing you from shooting something that's already been shot. Some of this might seem daft - surely these people are famous and we all know what they're up to? Well, I for one don't watch the telly, and I hardly bother to read the papers either. I certainly have no idea what's happening at the "tabloid" end of the market, and neither do I want to. Yes, I'm a cultural snob and proud of it! On a recent shoot I had to do the full monty and read up as much as I could about the subject I was photographing, as even though she's been on the front page of the tabloids many times, I didn't know her from Adam.
  3. Get your technical stuff well sorted in advance. Make sure every bit of gear is functioning properly, fully charged, cleaned and so on. If the opportunity to set the shot up beforehand is available - do it, and get someone to stand in (the art director, your assistant, a passing dog) for some test shots. Then once the real deal arrives simply slot them into place, and away you go. I've still got stacks of polaroids from my assisting days of me "sitting in" for people prior to them turning up on set. If you think you'll be able to get (or have been requested to get) several set ups done, then prep as many of them as time permits. It's at this point that the stuff you've been doing in No.1 above will tie-in nicely, as you'll already have a good idea of the location and so on, so you should be able to set up and shoot accordingly.
  4. Have your ideas already sketched out and as ready to go as possible. Obviously your ideas will be tying closely in to the brief you've been given by your client, but at the same time it's worth having a range of them. This is for two main reasons, the first is that you can never be sure which ones will work, or which ones the celeb will simply go "no" to, and the second is to try and present your client with something more than they were hoping for. The first of these is perhaps the most critical, and I tend to have a few "fallback" ideas in mind in case my hero shot doesn't come off. Despite the impression given above of quite rigid sounding setups, the key thing is actually to be flexible. Lots can change on shoots like this - the subject can turn up late, refuse to be shot outdoors/indoors, the weather can change, they might refuse to take their shades off (it's happened to me twice!) and so on. If you've got a range of ideas to play with, you can just roll with the punches on this one.
  5. Now is not the time to try a brand new lighting technique, or give some new equipment a test run. By all means, if you've got lots of time with the celeb, and they seem amenable to it, go ahead and muck about - you may get some fantastic results. However, your client is expecting something usable on their desk, and if all they get are lots of unprintable experiments there may be trouble ahead! If you're keen to shoot something particularly interesting and arresting, brilliant, but make sure it's something you've already perfected elsewhere. The other facet of this problem is that if you're mucking about, and generally looking unsure of what you're doing you will give off the impression that you don't know what you're doing to your subject. This can be a bad thing. At worst they may simply leave (no, really), and at best you'll destroy any rapport you've managed to build up. This applies on both a creative level, with respect to the ideas you come up with, and a technical level, with regard to how you shoot and light something.
So that's the basics. Now onto something a little less tangible - the psychological side of things. I'd be the first to admit that if you're just starting out, being asked to go and shoot someone famous can be more than a little intimidating. If you didn't feel nervous, you wouldn't be human. One of the best ways to build your confidence is by following the methods prescribed above. If you know that all your equipment works, that you've got lots of ideas to fall back on, that you've got lots to chat with the celebrity about, and you arrive nice and early with ample time to set up, then your confidence in yourself and your abilities will naturally rise as well.

Part of this nervousness seems to develop because in our current culture we seem to think of people who've gained some level of fame as superhuman, when of course in reality they're pretty much the same as you and me. Admittedly they might earn a bit more, and get recognised on the street, but they still have good days and bad days, and in my experience the best way to behave around them is to act normal. Just be friendly and polite - though not too friendly! Out of all the celebs I've worked with down the years, the vast majority have been polite, down-to-earth, and businesslike. From their point of view, things like photoshoots are part of the job, and although they may get tired of being asked to jump through the same hoops over and over again, they all understand that part of their fame is based upon working and collaborating with us in the media.

That's not to say I haven't seen my fair share of tantrums now and again, or had to deal with someone who got out of bed on the wrong side that morning. For reasons that should be blatantly obvious, I will not be going in any details about those!

As far as the shoot itself goes, one thing that will always help is trying to establish some sort of connection or rapport with them as soon as possible. This is where some of your background research can come in handy, as it can give you something to talk about. Beware of being sycophantic - it won't get you anywhere. The best trick I've found is when discussing something they've done, talk ABOUT it rather than going "oh my god, you were brilliant in that film, I loved that stunt you did!" This way you can appear interested without being awestruck, though I must admit it has happened to me once. Try also to keep your chatter to a polite minimum, don't overwhelm them with your own stories/problems etc, and
it's here that I want to bring in the one golden rule I've not mentioned so far - there's only room for one ego on a shoot, and it should be that of the person in FRONT of the camera. The reasons for this should be self-explanatory.

Bear in mind also, that there may be a lot of personnel around on shoots like these, the star may have brought their own entourage with them, you may have your own people (assistants, make-up etc), and the client may have a presence as well, and all this will create it's own atmosphere and something of a performance, as well as an opportunity for egos to flourish. I well remember in my early days of assisting, looking round the studio and going:

"OK, he's the photographer, that's the celeb, there's the stylist, that's the make-up artist, that's the journalist to do the interview - who are those other 5 people?"

Celebs can turn up with any number of people in tow - agents, publicists, friends, their own personal make-up artists/stylists, pets, family - the list is endless. 99% of the time these people will have no bearing on a shoot, though agents particularly can be a touch overbearing now and again. On a recent shoot the celeb I was shooting got so pissed off with the agent moaning at him to keep the sponsor's label visible, that he removed it from his shirt and stuck it over his mouth! I of course, was more than happy to photograph him like this. As always, a calm confident air around these people is all that's required, many of them are actually there because it's preferable to a day in the office, and who can blame them? If you're working with an assistant, then one of their jobs should be to keep this crowd off your back so you can concentrate on taking the picture.

One last thought, as this has already rambled on longer than I'd planned. With respect to equipment, I've already
pointed out that it should be in proper working order and so on, but what I haven't mentioned is that it should also look the part. I'm in grave danger here of sounding like an equipment snob, which I'm most certainly not, but if you'll indulge me a moment I'll try and explain why. Put yourself in the shoes of the celeb you may be photographing. They walk off a film or TV set where everything is hugely expensive and lavishly produced, and waiting for them in the green room to do a quick portrait is you, with your tiny little camera, your cardboard and silver foil reflector and your cheap plastic tripod. This appearance may reflect badly on you, and similarly the client you are representing, and anything that undermines your confidence is a bad thing!

This not to say that you need a full set of Profoto flashes, a Hasselblad with a P45 back and so on, but a little investment here and there can work wonders. Buy a grip for your DSLR, and instantly it looks bigger and more professional, get some monoblocs rather than hand-held flashes and so on. None of this costs the earth, and helps to create the right impression. Along the same lines try and dress appropriately - not necessarily your wedding suit, but looking like you just rolled out of bed might not give the correct professional impression! I hate to sound like I'm cow-towing to celeb's ego's here - but effective;y that's exactly what I'm doing. At this sort of level a lot of stuff is actually about show, performance and looking the part (sad but true). It's quite a holistic thing, and as part of the whole picture your confidence will count for far more than a fancy camera, but it's best not overlook the details.

At a glance lots of this may seem very "celeb specific", and of no interest or use to those who shoot Joe Public. However, I firmly believe that the fundamental principles are exactly the same whomever you're taking pictures of. Being properly prepared at every level, and ensuring that the person in front of the camera is the only one in the room with an ego will serve you well whether you're shooting your mates or the Prime Minister of Azerbaijan. Though it is particularly useful when you've only got 45 seconds with Jean Claude Van-Damme!

P.S. I just know that the only comments I get are going to be about my last statement about equipment. Ah well, so be it.

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11/11/07

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Photographer


British Miltary fitness in Hyde Park - 8.30 am on Monday Morning.

OK, normally if I want to talk about my working life, I'll pick a specific shoot, and hopefully there'll be a similarly specific lesson to be learnt. However, in this post I want to talk about 5 shoots, the reasons being that they all took place within 3 days; August 6th, 7th and 8th 2007. The main lesson I'm trying to impart here is that the job can sometimes be very demanding physically, and that by being organised and doing your homework beforehand, lots of potential lumps can be smoothed out.

I was up at 5am on the 6th (Monday) to be in Hyde Park for a shoot starting at 7am. But not just any shoot. This was a feature on British Military Fitness, for Men's Fitness magazine, which involved the features editor joining in a class. Of course, if I was to photograph it properly, it also required me to keep up with them as well. The session takes the form of sets of exercises, linked together with runs of 1/4 to 1/2 a mile, all performed without any apparatus, and all outdoors. Needless to say, I wasn't expected to join in with the pressups, but then the other guys weren't carrying several kilos of camera gear with them! The session lasted an hour, and was very, very tough indeed. I've worked with the features editor before, and he's proper fit, but the army tested him very close to his limit. I also found it very hard going, as though I run fairly often, I run at my own pace, not the army's, and I don't normally go running with a 1D mark II and a 70-200 f2.8 hanging off my neck.

After getting our breath back, we sat in a nearby cafe to eat a suitably unhealthy breakfast, and to allow me to process the images and burn a disk. I'd already prepared both the box, and a pre-printed disk, so after punting the files through lightroom, and burning them off, I could head home.

A quick turnaround, to collect all my location gear (lighting case, stand bag, tripod bag, webbing gear, vagabond power pack, laptop, camera bag, sandbags, grip/tool bag, full set of chargers) and overnight kit, then a drive up to Hertfordshire to photograph a competition winner for Golf Monthly. The brief was fairly simple - just get some good action shots of the winner enjoying his round, as well as a few of him receiving tuition with one of GM's "Top 25" coaches. Essentially I was on foot again, though luckily not running this time. I probably walked a few miles with and ahead of the group, then, as we passed close to the clubhouse, I took the opportunity to sneak inside and do the post-processing work on the images. As with the BMF shoot, I'd got a pre-printed disk and box ready, and as soon as they came in off the course handed a finished disk to the journalist from GM. Then it was back in the car to drive down to Southampton for tomorrow's job.

I was staying overnight with Katie Dawkins, a golf pro, and her husband, as we were both doing a shoot for Women and Golf magazine the next day, at Katie's club about 20 miles away. I arrived about 7 ish, was fed a very fine meal, then managed to grab a relatively early night, as we were starting early the next morning.

Up at 5am again, and on the course and shooting by 6.30. We were producing loads of instruction features (hold the club this way up, hit the ball towards the flag and the hole), and we had a lot to get done. Many of the shots were supplemented by flash, and I was using my Alien Bees heads running off a vagabond power pack. This gives lots of power, and is a very versatile system, but it's not the quickest to move or set up, so care has to be taken when choosing locations. Also, when shooting under occluded skies, it's possible to spend a great deal of the day waiting for the clouds to position themselves so you can shoot in the right light. We shot until about 9am, took a quick breakfast break, then carried on until about 2pm, when we stopped for a brief lunch. After this point it decided to rain, so we had to alter our plans and shoot from under trees, and claim that rain was what we'd needed all along. We also shot some "setup" shots inside, where it was both warm and dry.

At the end of the day I sat down in front of the laptop, processed everything through lightroom, and burnt off a disk (again, one that I'd prepared earlier). Then it was back to London, arriving relatively late at night, and quite tired to boot.

Up at 5.30 the next morning (oh goody, a lie-in) to collect the art director of Men's Fitness from Docklands, then drive out to Kent to photograph John Hamer, a figure skater for a feature on alternative sports and
fitness. This was great fun, and I enjoyed sliding about on the ice whilst John performed seemingly impossible and very dangerous manoeuvres, sometimes over my head. Due to the nature of shooting on ice, I opted to use my small flashes for this shot, rather then have to run cables anywhere, and the final picture graced a nice double page spread in the magazine when it came out. John was superb to work with, full of ideas of his own and very patient with me setting things up. He even gave the art director (a somewhat ungainly fellow) a basic lesson in ice-skating for free.

We returned to London, and back to my flat, where I processed the images and burned off the disk, then after a very quick lunch I grabbed my camera bag, and the lighting case (now attached to a rolling trolley) and headed off, via the bus and the tube, to the City for another Men's Fitness shoot. This one was less elaborate, as it was simply fitness instruction, with a bloke waving things called "kettlebells" around. My only opportunity for creativity came in the form of the opening shot, which you see pictured here.

I got back home by early evening, processed all the images from that afternoon, and had an early night. Which I felt I had earned.

Now, what's the point of all this? For one thing this is not a typical week, though I'd say I get stretches like this roughly 4-5 times a year. My personal record was shooting for 15 days straight, with 8 of those spent abroad. Likewise I can have a week when I'm hardly booked at all, so I guess the first lesson is a psychological one. Work as a freelance is going to come and go, and if you're the sort of person who craves the security and predictability of a 9 to 5 - I'd think very long and hard about a career in photography. Quiet periods can be as difficult to deal with as busy periods, as cabin fever takes the place of tiredness, and the fear of work never turning up again takes over from the stress of meeting deadlines.

On a practical level, periods like this prove the worth of having versatile, robust and capable professional equipment, and not just cameras but tripods, lights, laptops and so on. Being carted about the place constantly, strapped to the back of golf buggies, thrown in the boots of cars, rained on, and dropped on ice-rinks will soon start to take their toll on any equipment, and stuff that's cheap and badly made really is a false economy if it has to be replaced often. A stretch like this also covers almost every type of job I'm asked to do, and it becomes very important to pick the right tools, and have them properly prepared before I leave. The BMF shoot had different requirements to the Women and Golf Shoots, for example, and I used the appropriate equipment.

Every bit as practical is the back-room organisation that's required to keep the wheels turning. Phone numbers, addresses, briefs, blank discs, fully charged laptops and mobile phones - without all these sort of things, the job would be nigh-on impossible, and would quickly unravel into a chaotic mess. I made frequent mention of stopping and processing on the laptop - without this quick turnaround it's almost impossible to shoot so much in a short space of time. If I'd not done things this way, I'd have been fielding calls from Men's Fitness whilst I was in the middle of shooting for Women and Golf and so on.

A few scores on the board:

Number of shots taken (after the initial edit - any utterly useless frames disappear quite quickly):

Monday am: 109
Monday pm: 212
Tuesday: 573
Wednesday am: 81
Wednesday pm: 91

Total: 1066

I also clocked up about 350 miles, not including any taken on my 2 round trips on public transport, and my total turnover for these 3 days was £1320 ex-VAT. I'm not breaking it down any more than that - I've got to keep SOME secrets!

These cold facts aren't meant to set any records (and they're not even close to my own records, which are 2100 shots in a day, and 1700 miles in a week), but simply to further illustrate the notion of working as an editorial photographer. I'd love to have more time to set up every shot properly, but often the nature of the job, or the conditions I'm working under simply mean that's impossible, and I have to do the best I can whilst still producing an acceptable result for the client. However, the far more positive side, is that I get to lead a really varied life, and the opportunity for adventures and interesting experiences is always there.

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21/10/07

A Case of Mistaken Identity



Back in June I had another "pint glass" shoot, just like the one with Dara O'Briain, but this time with the comedians Alexander Armstrong and Ben Miller in a pub in Primrose Hill.

Same drill as before, as far as the questions go, and both lads were very intelligent and entertaining - quick to laugh and very friendly. The interest in this shoot arose from the behaviour of some other photographers, and for matters of professional interest I shall expound upon them herein!

On arriving at the pub myself and the journalist were greeted by the landlord, who was very pleased to see us, and very happy to have us shoot in, and thereby promote his drinking establishment. However, he pointed out to us that a small gang (is that the correct collective noun?) of paparazzi were drinking in one corner. He promised that as soon as they got out of hand he'd kick them out. I began setting up my lights, much to the interest of the paps, whom I treated to one of my "special" stares.

Ben playing with his invisible ball. It kept him occupied for hours.

A slight digression at this point if you'll permit me. I don't look down on paparazzi, although from my experience they can often be relatively unpleasant people. Their job will always be essential as long as a large portion of society has an insatiable demand for pictures of complete nobodies getting out of cars, buying milk, going to the zoo and so on. Without this huge market demand there would be no paps, it's as simple as that, so please stop buying the Scun, and Heat magazine, and all the rest before you accuse them of anything. And don't even start me on the whole princess Di thing!

Sorry, back to the story.

5 minutes before they were expected, our 2 boys rocked up. The paps leapt into action - shooting them from within the pub. Both Alex and Ben didn't bat an eyelid, and the landlord promptly threw the paps out, where they continued to shoot through the windows for a few minutes before he fetched a broom. Then they retreated to a safer distance. About half an hour passed, and then Alexander announced he had to nip round the corner to put some more money in the parking meter. And then things started to get interesting.

Alexander steals the ball, and won't let him have it back.


A few minutes later he returned, almost bent double with laughter and barely able to contain his mirth. Eventually he was able to tell us what had happened. On leaving the pub one of the paps had started snapping away with a telephoto, and Alexander had thought nothing of it. Then, as he rounded a corner one of them started running alongside him holding a camcorder and shouting: "Paul, Paul, how does it feel Paul? Isn't it ironic 10 years after her death that you're still making money out of her? How do you feel about her children Paul?" and so on. Alexander was very confused indeed until it dawned on him that the idiot, sorry, Pap, had mistaken him for ex-royal butler Paul Burrel. Since Ben Miller bears a faint resemblance to Rob Brydon, we spent the rest of the interview concocting various evil schemes that the 2 of them would have been hatching if they'd been working together.

As with Dara, not a lot of business info to pass on here, but a reminder that the job can bring some very amusing moments, even if it is at the expense of other photographers!

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09/10/07

Poker Player Magazine Covers

A few weeks back the World Series of Poker came to the UK (specifically, dear old London Town) for the first time, and 2 of my clients (both Poker magazines, obviously) jumped at the chance to grab shots of various players whilst they were in the vicinity. So for a few weeks I seemed to be doing nothing other than running round after various gambling types and taking shots with big blank backgrounds that can have stuff comped in afterwards.

Marc Goodwin

The list included: Johnny Chan, Devilfish, Daniel Negreanu, Ram Vaswani, Marc Goodwin, Brian Townsend, and Paul Wasicka. Most of these (except Devilfish and Johnny Chan) were shot in Blank Space studios in Chalk Farm, which I hire from time to time. As always, I can't go sticking lots of photos up online just yet, as the magazine hasn't gone to print and I'll get my wrist slapped. In fact the situation is worse than usual in that since we were taking advantage of the glut of players in London, we shot several months worth, so most of them won't be visible for quite a while yet. All the studio shoots had a similar brief - to get a cover shot as well as a couple of feature portraits for use inside to accompany interviews etc.

Generic Cover Shot setup

Technically most of these shoots were pretty straightforward. The cover image was always shot the same way, as explained on the Marc Goodwin shoot, I would either turn the polyboards to white or black depending on how contrasty the art director wanted them to be, and on occasions I'd add a 2nd head to either backlight the subject, or throw some colour onto the back wall. All the "feature" shots/portraits were shot in a variety of different ways, including ringflash, softboxes and windowlight mix, ambient and flash mix outside, just ambient, slow-snyc flash and pretty much anything that helped to add a bit of mood or give something an edge when I had only a few minutes with someone.

The aftermath of opening a bottle of lucozade between my legs whilst driving home from shooting devilfish - oh the excitement!

As so often happens with jobs, it wasn't the technical side that was interesting, but the people involved. Poker Players are an idiosyncratic lot - maybe it's the gambling lifestyle that creates some of these idiosyncrasies, or maybe they're drawn to it in the first place. I can happily report that there were no ego explosions to speak of, though I was amused by the fact that the British players always turned up alone, and the Americans (and 1 Canadian) always brought an entourage. A couple of idiosyncracies: Johnny Chan had completely forgotten about the shoot, and had I not bumped into him as he was leaving his Hotel it would never have happened, Daniel Negreanu couldn't leave the golf club that we'd brought as a prop alone, and Devilfish was, well, Devilfish really.

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