An interview with fashion photographer Jay McLaughlin

Fashion pro Jay McLaughlin talks passion, people skills & the importance of your shooting height… 

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You specialise in fashion and portraits – what is it that you find so fascinating about people?
The underlying thing that drives my work is a combination of story and feeling. Having worked in various genres during my career, it has always been working with people that enables me to capture feelings, and fashion allows me to create stories and narratives within my work.

What are the key ingredients to successful portrait photography?
I would say that the key ingredient to any kind of photography is a passion for your subject. There are many things I don’t shoot, purely because I have no real interest in them. When photographing people, it’s important to understand that 95% of your results will come from your skills as a person, rather than as a photographer. It’s your ability to relate and build rapport with your subject that matters.

What’s the best way to get started with portrait photography?
There’s no real secret here – it’s all about learning by doing. Shoot lots and use what and who you have available. It takes time, but it’s really the only route to success.

How important is location and background?
This depends. If I’m shooting celebrity portraits, I prefer a studio so that I can focus entirely on the subject and who they are. When shooting fashion stories, I prefer shooting on location because it can contextualise the clothes and add to the narrative. That being said, a location only needs to give context, and shouldn’t come before the subject of the image.

Talk us through your compositional process – where do you start?
My composition is very simple and fairly organic. It also changes and evolves. I hate being stuck in a conscious ‘style’ mindset. At the moment, I’m favouring wide lenses (see panel to the right), as they allow me to get more context into my images. I think it’s important to spend time learning about various compositional rules, but to not be bound by them. Ultimately, I just compose in a way that feels right.

What’s the best piece of portrait advice you’ve ever been given?
Not so much specifically about portrait photography, but when I first started out, I was watching a YouTube video and the photographer said ‘the best way to get ahead is to help those around you to get ahead’. This has stuck with me and is something I live by.

Are there are any rookie mistakes or common misconceptions to avoid?
Stop looking at the back of the camera! Shooting people is all about energy and flow. Every time you stop, you not only disrupt the flow, but there’s also a chance you could create negative emotions in your subject, which usually isn’t what you want to be doing. Once you know your exposure is good, just focus on their energy levels. You have to be skilled at reading people, but this comes with time and experience.

Are there any technique ‘secrets’ you’ve learned over the years?
Think about your height in relation to your subject. We all know phrases like ‘I look up to them’ or ‘down on them’ in relation to how strong or weak a person is; the same is true photographically. You always see a superhero from below, never from above, because it makes them look strong. I mainly photograph women’s fashion and as such I want women to look good, so I always shoot from their eye level or below in order to make them look strong and empowered.

Jay McLaughlin is a fashion and portrait photographer who secured his first magazine cover within six months of turning pro. He now works for the likes of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. He also runs workshops and has sat on judging panels for the Scottish Fashion Awards. See more of his work here.

An interview with photojournalist Mike Inkley

Photojournalist Mike Inkley lets us in on the action, sharing his years of sporting experience...

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You specialise in sport and action – what do you find so fascinating about movement?
I guess a lot of people have an attraction to excitement and I’m lucky enough to have made a career out of it. As a photographer, the unexpected way that action photography can go at a moment’s notice means that you can never relax. More importantly, when shooting live, the pressure and adrenalin of no second-takes is quite addictive. It’s an all-or-nothing environment.

What’s the key to successful action photography?
The crucial thing for me is an understanding of what you’re shooting as that allows you to have an element of prediction while you’re working. You also need to have the ability to use peripheral senses while looking down the barrel of a lens so that you don’t miss what’s going on around you. This could be crowd noise, tyre noise or something similar that tells you something else is happening.

How important is timing?
Timing is everything, whether it’s action or sport, and this is where the high-speed capability of a modern camera is crucial. Quite often the perfect image is a combination of anticipation and a high frame rate. It’s quite common to see a burst of, say, ten images where only one will be the money shot. I often see people shooting single shot or a slow frame rate for action and this is commercial suicide as the chance of success is minimal.

What’s the best way to get started in action photography?
I suggest looking at the lower end of sport like club or park football and cricket, or go to a motorsport event at a circuit where you have public access without a big fence in the way. But make sure you have permission for the shots. The smaller club or circuit might use those images and that exposure can help you move on. Never be afraid to get things wrong.

Talk us through your compositional process – where do you start?
Composition is definitely in the eye of the beholder in action and sport work, but it’s normally key for the image to tell the story. The majority of the time that will be action-stopping images that really grab the attention. Filling the frame is important for maximum impact, as whatever you’re shooting is the key. I often include a small amount of background to give context.

What’s the best piece of action advice you’ve ever been given?
That’s an interesting question as when I started we were using film and high frame rates meant lots of cost. I suppose the best advice was that when you start on a new project or sport, look at the kind of images that get published and the best spots and angles to choose at your venue. There are reasons that certain pictures get used a lot, so learn from them.

Are there are any rookie mistakes or common misconceptions to avoid?
A rookie mistake is to apply camera settings from other types of photography. I recently covered a rugby game where a new photographer couldn’t work out why his pictures were blurred and mine weren’t. He was shooting in aperture-priority mode at 1/100sec and I was shooting in shutter-priority at 1/1000sec. Guess who was freezing the action…

Are there any ‘secrets’ you’ve learned over the years that could help our students?
My best piece of advice would be for anyone trying to pan a subject at a slow shutter speed. Most people try to pan a whole car or aeroplane or person and – the first time, at least – it doesn’t work and is blurred. Forget the big item and pan just a wing mirror or small marking on your subject. Keep this small element in the same place in the frame and your hit rate will improve dramatically.

Mike Inkley is an experienced photojournalist whose images have been used by BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and CNN. He has covered motorsports for 30 years as well as cricket and rugby. Mike has also supplied images to the RAF, USAF and many other clients. See more of his work here

An interview with street photographer Craig Reilly

Street pro Craig Reilly talks observation, timing and the wisdom of Dorothy Bohm...

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You specialise in street photography – what do you find so interesting about people and places?
I’m fascinated by human interactions and love to people watch, so capturing these fleeting moments really appeals to me. Trying to find the interesting in the mundane, and to create artistic images from everyday life, is very exciting as well as challenging. In regards to places, I’m interested in the geometry of the urban landscape. The shapes, the lead-in lines and the sharp edges – these are things I use when composing a scene.

What are the key ingredients to successful street photography?
There are so many! From a photographer’s perspective I think patience, knowledge, control, intuition, quick reactions, skill and luck all play their part in being successful. 

How important is observation and timing?
Hugely important. I constantly observe what’s going on around me, and I don’t just mean my close surroundings. I look yards ahead, down side roads, above and below me where possible. This allows me to predict potential moments, which is where the importance of timing comes in. On a crowded street, elements sometimes go against you in getting to a certain position, but with practice you’ll find a way to get there if you know there’s a shot to be had.

How do you know when you’ve got the shot?
When the light, subject and composition come together, your idea is unique and you capture exactly what you were trying to show your audience. It’s a strange phenomenon really – you just know when you’ve got it. I compare it to how a bride-to-be knows the wedding dress she’s going to wear for her big day.

Talk us through your compositional process – where do you start?
I start by just seeing a particular scene, and then move around it to see which angle works best for filling the frame, while at the same time not having too many distractions inside it. Then I look through my viewfinder, checking all around the frame, again to eliminate any distractions. I do this by making minor adjustments to mine and my camera’s position. Once I’m happy with the composition, I make a point of reference for the position and then move away, trying to look inconspicuous, and wait for someone of interest to walk into my scene. Once they do, I move quickly to my pre-set position and get the shot.

What’s the best piece of street advice you’ve ever been given?
When interviewing street photography legend Dorothy Bohm, I asked her what advice she would give to her younger self if she were starting her career in photography again. Her answer was, “Be alive and cherish the life you have, and try at the end of each day to say that I have done nothing that I am ashamed of. I think it’s very, very important that one should lead the sort of life that they can be proud of.” I’ve really tried to take this wisdom on board.

Are there are any rookie mistakes or common misconceptions to avoid?
One of the most common mistakes we all make as beginners is being in too much of a hurry to get somewhere else. If you take your time and actually study a particular location, by looking at all available points of view, you’ll find your eye will improve and will see shots sooner, and you’ll see where you need to be positioned to compose. It’s a common misconception that there’s a best lens, mode and setting for street photography. There isn’t a ‘best’ of any of these factors – the best is what helps you get the shots you’re seeing with your eye.

Are there any technique ‘secrets’ you’ve learned over the years that could help our students?
One ‘secret’ technique I like to use, especially when close up to my subject, is disguising what I’m trying to capture by looking a few feet above or beyond where my subject is positioned. I then bring the camera to my eye and frame them as I wish. Once I have eye contact, I press the shutter to capture the shot. The important part of the technique is when you bring the camera away from your eye – make sure you’re looking in the same point beyond them to make them think you’re taking a photo behind them. This technique hasn’t failed me yet, and people often look behind them to see what I was taking a photo of.

Craig Reilly is a London-based street photographer and co-founder of the Street Photography International Collective (SPi), which has over 500,000 Instagram followers. His work has been featured in Time Out, Creative Boom and MirrorLessons. See more of his work here

An interview with architectural photographer Martina Govindraj

Architectural expert Martina Govindraj talks light, shade & symmetry…

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You specialise in architecture – what do you find so fascinating about the built environment?
I’m attracted to good design and clean lines and how light interacts with the space around it. Most people will ignore their surroundings as they’re focused on something else like their commute to work. It’s easy to get distracted and miss the details of the world around you, especially when you’re glued to your mobile phone.

What are the key ingredients to successful architectural photography?
Composition and light. If you’re not sure about what angle to take your photo, try several different options. I like to use scale by including a person in a number of my photos to give the shot some perspective, but focusing on details and shooting a façade of a building can work just as well. I like to take photos with lead-in lines such as spiral staircases that draw the eye.

Do you have a preferred style of architecture or environment?
I enjoy taking photos in metro stations mainly because of the symmetry, lighting and the industrial feel that I can produce in my photos. I’m also drawn to modern architecture and how the architects have applied their vision into an urban landscape. 

How important is light and shade?
Light and shade give you an opportunity to be more creative with your shots. It can be used to provide definition, texture or add drama. Lots of people like to stick to shooting in auto mode, but shooting in full manual gives you control of the light in your photo. 

Talk us through your compositional process – where do you start?
More often than not I’m drawn to light when I’m out shooting. I also think about what I’m going out to shoot and choose my lens accordingly. Often, I like to take minimal shots focusing on a specific detail and utilising the negative space. On the flip side, I also enjoy creating a sense of scale to put the building or structure into perspective for the viewer.

What’s your best piece of architectural advice?
There are purists who will tell you to follow the ‘rules’ of photography. However, breaking these rules can result in great photos. Think about negative space and don’t try too hard, just keep shooting and don’t give up. It will take a while for you to find your own style.

Are there are any rookie mistakes or common misconceptions to avoid?
Sometimes it’s easy to try too hard to capture every aspect of a place. Instead, try to focus on details rather than trying to fit everything into one shot if you don’t have a wide-angle lens. You have to work with the equipment that you’ve got. 

Are there any technique ‘secrets’ you’ve learned over the years that could help our Camera School students?
I don’t think it’s a secret, but having patience is essential for the style of photos that I take. You may need to accept that you just have to come back to a place because the light isn’t right, or the building is closed. It happens, and when it does, you just have to accept it and be flexible. Whatever you shoot, make sure you like it because ultimately that’s what counts.

Martina Govindraj is an architectural and urban photographer who has been exhibited internationally. She has collaborated with many brands, shooting everything from cars to London Fashion Week, as well as being the in-house photographer for Mondo Brewing. See more of her work here

An interview with landscape photographer Steve Gosling

Landscape pro Steve Gosling talks us through his ‘less is more’ approach...

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You specialise in minimalist landscapes. Is less really more?
I take what I call a ‘reductionist approach’ to composition – stripping out as much as I can in the frame to take the shot back to the core essentials of what I’m trying to say about the subject or the scene in front of me. My aim is to simplify and thereby hopefully strengthen the impact of what’s left in the photograph. The great Austrian photographer Ernst Haas summed it up when he said, “The less information, the more allusion; the less prose, the more poetry”.

Talk us through your compositional process – where do you start?
It’s important to think through, even before taking the camera out of the bag, why a particular subject appeals to you – is it shape, pattern, tone, texture, the light, colour? I ask myself, ‘Why am I taking this picture? What is it that attracts me?’ The answer provides a clarity of purpose that is essential to the whole process, from picture-taking to image processing and printing. It initially determines the compositional choices of viewpoint (where I set the camera up on my tripod), the design of the image (how lines and shapes relate to each other and how they lead to my chosen focal point, for example), and whether it’s best shot in horizontal, vertical or even square format. 

What are the key ingredients to successful landscape photography?
I believe that landscape photographers require the three P’s – planning, patience and persistence – to increase our chances of success. Planning: to work out the best position of the sun in relation to the landscape, the best time of year to visit a location or the weather conditions required for a particular shot. Patience: waiting several hours for the light and weather to co-operate with me is a regular occurrence. Persistence: sometimes I’ll have to revisit a location numerous times before everything comes together. Getting a fantastic landscape image usually involves a lot of hard work – turning up at random to a location to discover a perfect coincidence of conditions rarely (if ever) happens. 

Do you have a preferred time of day or weather?
It’s true that frequently the best time of day for landscape photography is early in the morning or late in the evening, just as the sun is rising or setting. The lower angle of the sun can create dramatic lighting conditions and bathe the landscape in a warm glow. However, I think good photographs can be found at any time of the day – the important factor is to match the choice of subject or location to the prevailing light and weather. In overcast conditions, I’ll go to woodland or search for water –rivers, lakes, waterfalls, the sea – or look for detailed, intimate images that don’t include the sky. For wider vistas, I like to work at the edge of a weather system, as stormy, wet weather is moving into or away from my chosen location. It’s at these times that the conditions, the light and the skies can be incredibly dramatic.

What’s the best piece of landscape photography advice anyone’s ever given you?
I think that a powerful image conveys a real sense of mood and should be seen as the photographer’s emotional response to the landscape before them. Sometimes the search for technical perfection can act as a barrier to achieving this – it’s easy to get overly focused on exposure, filtration, focus, or any of the other techy aspects. As the American photographer W. Eugene Smith once said, “What use is having a great depth-of-field if there is not an adequate depth of feelings?”

Are there any rookie mistakes or common misconceptions to avoid?
I come across a lot of photographers on workshops who are anxious to please other people – their friends and family, fellow photographers or the judges at the local camera club. The desire to win praise or recognition from others constrains the development of their own vision and discourages them from taking risks. The worrying consequence is that they’re then likely to play safe, to take photographs that are clones of images they’ve seen before. This is boring at best, but more importantly it stifles their creativity.

The only person you can guarantee to please is you, so my advice is don’t worry about anyone else’s opinion when you fire the shutter. Also, don’t just take landscapes with a wide-angle lens. Telephoto lenses are great for minimalist images as they enable you to isolate elements in the landscape and to remove unwanted distractions from the photograph by zooming in tight. Telephoto lenses can be an invaluable tool for demonstrating the ‘less is more’ principle.

Are there any technique ‘secrets’ you’ve learned over the years that could help our students?
It’s not a secret but there are many photographers who choose to ignore the value of using a good, solid tripod. I acknowledge that they can be a pain to carry and to use, but a good quality tripod can do so much: 

  • It will give you more control over the image taking process (compositional choices can be more easily made, and the camera precisely placed).
  • It can provide more flexibility (enable long exposures that blur moving elements – water, windblown foliage and clouds – to create a sense of energy and dynamism in the image. 
  • It can enhance picture quality (no matter how good you think you are at handholding the camera, a tripod will give you a noticeable improvement in picture sharpness).
  • Most importantly, a tripod will slow you down, encouraging you to spend more time reflecting on the landscape in front of you and what you want to say about it in the final image.

Steve Gosling specialises in contemporary travel and landscape images. His work has won many awards and he runs successful workshops. Last year he published his second book, A Beautiful Silence, of images from South Georgia and Antarctica. See more of his work here

An interview with wildlife photographer Tesni Ward

Natural world expert Tesni Ward shares her advice for getting close-up to flora & fauna...

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You shoot all kinds of flora and fauna – what’s so special about ‘small world’ nature? 
It’s wonderful to observe and photograph the smaller details in nature that people would otherwise overlook. There are some things that simply can’t be seen or appreciated with the naked eye so photographing it and bringing it all to life can be very rewarding. 

What are the key ingredients to successful close-up nature photography? 
Depth-of-field and good light are two of the main things to consider when it comes to this style of photography, and when these elements come together you need the subject to be right. Spring can be a great time, particularly early in the morning, as this is when animals and small critters are slow and groggy, and also when there’s also a higher likelihood of dew droplets and low light for flora. 

Talk us through your compositional process – where do you start? 
It very much depends on the subject – am I trying to show just a small part of the flower or animal or all of it? I almost always try to ensure that if a larger portion of the subject is shown, that it looks into the frame. I also try to look for eye-catching textures or shapes in the petals, fur or feathers, which would work well for a natural world abstract image. 

How important is aperture in natural world close-ups? 
It’s absolutely essential. It’s important to carefully consider what style of image you want – do you want to focus purely on the eye of the subject and blur the foreground and background out, or would you like to show the subject in context with its surroundings? This will help not only with your choice of settings but also the lens you select. 

And what about light? What’s the best way to use and manipulate this? 
My personal preference has always been to try and achieve images with natural light. However, close-up images sometimes come with the requirement for additional light, mainly due to having to decrease your aperture to increase the depth of your image. First and foremost, if working with an animal, you must put the welfare before the image itself – don’t, for instance, go using a high-powered flash directly in the eye of a nocturnal animal, just to bring out the details of the iris. A reflector or a specific macro flash unit is usually the best option if you do want to go down the artificial light route.  

What’s the best piece of close-up advice you’ve ever been given? 
It’s important to know your subject when it comes to close-up photography. If working with flora, what time of the year is it flowering? Where can you find it? Where does the sun rise in relation to the location? With fauna, understanding its behaviour and habits will help you increase your chances of capturing something unique or quirky. Knowing certain plants or habitats where you can find insects or small animals will help decrease the time spent looking in the wrong place for them!  

Are there are any rookie mistakes or common misconceptions to avoid?
Depth-of-field can catch people out with this style of image, often accidentally having it too shallow and therefore having some areas out of focus that become a distraction. The great thing about Olympus’ system is that with a 2x crop sensor, the depth-of-field is naturally wider so I don’t have to sacrifice light, but there’s often still the requirement to decrease the aperture further to ensure the portion of the frame I’m interested in is all in focus. 

Are there any technique ‘secrets’ you’ve learned over the years that could help Camera School students?
Not secrets as such; it’s usually more a case of persistence. A perfect, crisp morning with great light and a good subject will produce fantastic images, although they can be taken throughout the day depending on the animal or flower you wish to find. Be observant in your surroundings, as the smaller things don’t usually stand out like a sore thumb.

Tesni Ward is a professional wildlife photographer based on the outskirts of the Peak District. While the majority of her work focuses on British wildlife, she also photographs projects across the world and aspires to promote conservation and education through her images. She runs workshops and tours throughout the UK. See more of her work here