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"So much has changed since I started out as a photographer shooting bands and artists for the music press on 35mm film, the digital age has been a revolution, and a revelation
Making great photographs today, out on location or in people’s homes and gardens is now so much easier thanks to technological advances with portable studio lighting . High speed synchronised flashes are powered by their own battery packs, 500 shots from each one, enabling me to light locations deep in rural landscapes , stables, gardens, anywhere that once would have been impossible only a few years ago
My very early work as a freelance photographer for the music press was pretty varied to say the least, one week The Stone Roses, the next week, Tom Jones , a lot of fun, late nights, rubbish pay.
During this time , and in order to make a reasonable living, I took a job as a black and white darkroom printer, lots of chemicals, lived in the dark, regular , but rather low pay. However, this helped me save up some money to equip myself to become a photojournalist. Incredibly varied, very dangerous, slightly better pay.
As a photojournalist you are in a privileged position, as you experience the vast highs and lows that life can give, and take away. Up close.
I have been lucky enough to shoot Wembley Cup Finals, images for the Olympic and Commonwealth Games, as well as be on the spot for the biggest news stories of the day. However, getting the best picture also puts you in the line of fire, and on occasions, in hospital.
Nowadays I shoot anything from fashion to home portraits to editorial to business headshots on location . Technology now allows me to load my full studio lighting kit plus my backdrops into my car and travel anywhere I am wanted - I don’t even need a power point. It’s very empowering
As a photographer I am self taught, and still learning, and I hope it stays that way. Luckily, people say I have an eye for a picture, but anything technical has to be learnt , and re-learnt because technology never stands still . Some of my early photographic influences are still favourites today. I think it’s important to reference the greats , it keeps you grounded - photojournalist Denis Thorpe, portrait photographer Irving Penn, the ballet photographer Philip Hitchman the enigmatic William Eggleston, all are worth checking out
I am told my style of work is still journalistic - if that’s a word,- even if I am no longer directly employed by news organisations . I still like to capture the decisive moment, work impulsively , look for the unusual, or the unplanned. Although there will always be a brief for any shoot , I am still looking for that extra something that turns an acceptable image into an exceptional one.
I am told by regular clients, that they can recognise my pictures from my photographic style , something I am not sure I see myself, but it’s very flattering to hear all the same.
Despite all the changes in tech, a good photograph will always be a good photograph , whether is was made by Irving Penn in the 1930’s or by someone on a smartphone this year. The image is everything and technology is simply an aid to the getting a better image.
Like any job that you really love it still doesn’t really feel like work, however, as a full-time professional photographer I still have to put the hours in to bring in the work and this is something I have had to teach myself
My main marketing tool is Google, and I spend a lot of unseen hours working on SEO, Search Engine Optimisation. This is tedious to say the least, but it enables people to find me and hire me for a wide range of photoshoots, so the rewards of meeting new and interesting people justifies the many hours in front of a screen
I get my ideas from the everyday , I particularly notice shapes and anything graphic when on my travels . I also love painting and paintings, so when I am working away in a new town or city I try to get to see the local art galleries for inspiration.
I once shot a large wedding in Italy, along with 2 other photographers . After the wedding one of the guests, a motor vehicle designer, looked through all three sets of photographs and said: ‘ Paul sees shapes, he shoots shapes! ’ . Until that moment I had never considered that I see shapes, but ever since then I realise that I have always ‘seen shapes’ . It sounds a bit odd, but I get it now. Photography is part geometry, part personality. That probably sounds pretentious, I hope not
I have been extremely lucky to meet so many interesting and creative people on my travels with my camera , one of my earliest experiences as a youthful beginner was shooting Sophia Loren in a 2 metre square room, just the actress and I. Everyone else just left . I couldn’t believe it! She had this way of looking at you that made you swoon. And I don’t do swooning by the way, but she was the best flirt I ever met. And at the time, the most beautiful.
Actors can though, be some the most difficult people to photograph, not because they are being difficult, but because they are being themselves. They need a role to play, a character to get into. Some of my more recent work has been photographing new up and coming actors , a role I enjoy playing particularly as I like to mentor people and pass on any advice and tips I can offer. I remember shooting Midlands girl Bethany Antonia as a 17 year old helping her get her first actor headshots, and so it’s great to now see her on the BBC in the Get Even series. I also photographed a young Rachel Shenton at my studio when she started out, so understandably I was over the moon when she won an Oscar two years ago. It’s fantastic!, you just never know how things will turn out.
There can’t be many jobs where you find yourself stood in the middle of a field in the English Midlands at one o’clock on a summers morning, with Miss Diana Ross. ( She had been flown over from the States to perform at a client’s birthday party, we were just chilling out and chatting in the countryside , it’s amazing really, I used to play Tamla Motown records as a kid and here she is asking me about the Cotswolds and what it’s like living in England )
I always say my best picture is my next one , but if pushed to pick a favourite it would be a simple black and white print of a girl on horseback on a windswept beach in County Mayo .
Some of the brands I have worked with include Time Magazine, Levi’s, BBC, Costa, Joules, Selfridges and Save the Children . Branded shoots usually involve a large team of people and lots of planning. The best compliment you can get is when the art director on a three day location shoot tells you he is not going to bother coming back for the last two days because he knows I can see his vision and trusts me to deliver the best pictures. Praise indeed, Pressure too!
To be fair to any business - it’s an accomplishment to simply still be in business during a pandemic . Key factors to help keeping going include being honest with your communications, there is no point saying everything will be great unless you plan for something great to happen. Clients seem to like an honest appraisal and hopefully I have the experience to anticipate any hurdles that we can then overcome.
Just out of lockdown I needed to provide a set of fashion shots for knitwear business , at this time I was not allowed to use a make up artist or stylist because of social distancing rules and using a studio then just didn’t feel quite right. So we came up with a plan and headed for the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham , it has lots of old and interesting doorways which helped frame the shots and the models were photographed using a long lens from across the street.
An ideal client comes in 2 varieties . They either know absolutely what they want , down to the last detail, or they will simply say ‘we trust you’ just make some great shots. I like both, and the processes involved. Either way it usually involves a mood board, a collection of existing shots that the client likes , or I like, depending upon the scenario. These give me the direction for the shoot , and also the style of the finished look
Social Media has had a huge impact on photography and how people see themselves . We are more aware of self image than at any time in history , but is it all for the better? I think the jury is out on that one.
The perfect photoshoot and dream collaboration for me might well involve the actor Emily Blunt, an up and coming British fashion designer, and a beautiful Cotswold village location , all at 6am on a warm sunny spring morning. Not a bad combination at all !"