Sometimes throwing any plans you had out of the window at the start of a shoot can result in the best photos. Its not always what I would recommend doing, but can sometimes work out great. Many of my jobs are pushed for time. Often the more important the person that I am photographing the less time I normally am given with them. A usual shoot for me goes like this: I arrive over an hour early, scout, find various options, get my camera settings tested with my assistant standing in for my talent, put up any lights and props that need putting in place and then wait patiently for the person I am photographing to arrive. This way even if we only have 5 minutes together I can still make beautifully lit and well planned photos.
Sometimes though, I decide to scrap my preparation completely when something else pops into my mind. Like when I went to the Houses of Parliament for Top Sante magazine to photograph Nicky Morgan MP. All had been arranged beforehand, I knew that we would not have long, in fact I knew that we would only have 30 minutes to set up and then shoot as we couldn't get access to our location without a permit. Nicky would bring the permit with her when she arrived, so we needed to set up with her standing and waiting. Normally you can persuade people to let you in early, but the friendly policemen in the Houses of Parliament could not be persuaded - probably a good thing to be honest.
So my plan was such: I'll do my best to scout out locations from the wrong side of the fence and prepare as much as possible from there. I even got my light set up, tested and ready to move the moment she arrived. But I wasn't happy to settle with something that wasn't the best that I could find. So as soon as Nicky arrived (unfortunately later than planned giving us only 15 minutes with her) I ran off around the location trying to find a better spot to photograph in (and yes I did actually run). A split second decision later and I had chosen to drop all my plans and do something completely different. There was an awesome tree that showed the amazing Palace of Westminster in the background and I just had to shoot there. So I moved my team, my lighting equipment, and Nicky to that spot for the first shot. I only found out later that I had been taking photos too near the wall and had set off automated alarms in another part of the building. Whoops.
Nicky was totally great, we had a good chat and she was completely unfazed by the situation. So we got the shot in the bag almost straight away. This left us a bit of extra time. in my head this means "time for more shots". So we headed to a nearby corridor where Nicky to strode up and down with the sunlight bursting through the gaps in the walls. It was nice, but not quite right. So I had a pause for a rethink. My thoughts: "This is a very busy and powerful woman, she must do a lot of walking around between meetings." So with about one minute to go I asked Nicky to do just that, or something a bit like that - I thought we would try another unplanned idea. Nicky walked back and forth over the cobbles of New Palace Yard making sure that any cars that were driving around it weren't going to run her over. I crouched and walked backwards in front of her in what is fast becoming my trademark uncomfortable position for taking photos. One of the last frames from the shoot was the image that Top Sante chose.
My take home message: always plan well, but more importantly be prepared to drop your plan at a moments notice if something better comes along.
Huge thanks to the Top Sante team who worked so efficiently on the shoot and were great fun all day.
Last year I photographed my first assignment for Tatler and it has just hit the shops.After showing them my People and Animals project they asked me to photograph their Pet Of The Month for February 2014: Andrew Neil's dog Molly...
On a cold and rainy night in London me and my assistant Phil parked the car on the quiet streets of Westminster. Our call time was 10pm - rather later than a typical start time. A calm TV studio was slowly starting to get into flow for its evening broadcast. After taking a quick tour we do the most important thing first, namely take photos of each other in the presenters chair for our instagram feeds.
I've never been in a studio like this before and it is fascinating to see everyone doing their thing. From the editors to the social media gurus everyone knows their job and they are each quietly going about the process of making a TV show, lights are getting tested, scripts are getting checked and dog photographing impostors are being helped to do their dog photographing.
When Molly arrived we realised that with her amazing talents this whole thing would be much easier than I was expecting. They say "never work with children or animals" but they should add at the end "unless you are working with Molly the dog". Susan (Molly's helpful owner and Andrew's partner) worked in flawless harmony with her fluffy friend. And although Molly did occasionally get over excited she generally did as she was told and worked through all her best poses for us.
However one vital element was missing - we needed Andrew in the background doing his presenting thing. And Andrew was running late. The stress was on, this was a live TV show and we could not shoot whilst they were filming. We had to get it done before they went on air. With just 5 minutes to go Andrew strolls around the corner. He drops down into his chair and starts rehearsing. Perfect. We start photographing Molly and she bashes out the top class poses she had practised for just this moment.
A minute later we move onto set up number two: Molly clambering all over the guest sofas whilst Andrew "interviews" in the side of the frame. Two minutes to go, the pressure is on. But she nails it again. A quick pack away and we are clear with seconds to go. Go team Molly!
Me sat in the presenters chair on set
Massive thanks to Tatler for the great fun commission, and to the team at This Week for accommodating my strange requests.