Peter Dazeley on shooting stock, playing with ideas
I recently attended a creative shoot in London with the successful photographer Peter Dazeley, with the goal of understanding what goes into what it takes to shoot a great creative image.
Dazeley has shot for some of the most influential brands in advertising. He has developed many imaging techniques in advertising photography that are now the norm in the commercial world, including the use of limited depth of field and the out of focus anamorphic figures as used in the Assume Nothing Campaign for the Terrence Higgins Trust. He has also been prominent in using x-ray photography for artistic purposes — making the ordinary look extraordinary.
During the shoot we had time to discuss his thoughts on photography and how the stock industry has evolved over the past 20 years.
First of all, I wanted to ask you what it is about photography that makes you happy?
Essentially it’s the freedom to create. What I like about shooting for stock is playing with ideas and having a clean sheet of paper to start from. It’s not all about giving people what they want, but about giving them what they will want next. I’m into problem solving, anticipating what they need.
Then of course, there’s the wonderful sense of achievement, seeing a picture used in an ad, with the copy space you planned used exactly as you intended.
How do you know when you’ve seen something with the potential to make a great photograph?
It’s not really as simple as that. You may start with an idea but there is always the influence of other people who are part of creating the images. I have a team who I brainstorm ideas with as part of the process; my agent, my assistants, stylists — they are part of the planning.
Hours are spent researching for stock shots, brainstorming ideas, finding locations, street casting real models, producing mood boards, pre-visualizing and planning shoots that are more like military operations than photo shoots.
So you are taking input but ultimately in control of what is created?
Yes, that is why I love the Photographer’s Choice [collection on Getty Images]. It’s gambling on ideas. I have to put my money on my beliefs about what the people will want, it’s like putting money on a horse and that really focuses the attention!
What are your views on the evolution of commercial photography over the past decade?
Photographers’ income today from stock is most likely to be made up from lots and lots of small sales with occasional big ones, and quantity is the name of the game — which has lead to an oversupply of the same subjects.
And I think that there is less and less room for experimentation in what is becoming a numbers game. For that reason I think it is I think it’s very hard for young people to enter the industry and be successful.
Another change is that there is a culture of not valuing creativity that I see in the ad industry, which is a worrying trend, and is leading to a commoditisation of imagery.
To be successful in this environment, the challenge is to shoot differently: constantly chasing the next new trend, and modernising classic themes. To do that well there has to be experimentation, rather than duplication.
What are your views on the current thirst for ‘authenticity’ as a photographic style?
I’d say that it is very difficult to achieve successfully. But a problem should always be seen as an opportunity. I recently shot my son’s birth, which was extremely authentic (see photo), but it was too real to be used commercially. The images carry a powerful emotion that people aren’t comfortable with using commercially. So my view is that as a photographer you can make your life into a Getty Images opportunity (i.e.: shoot the events of your life ) for authenticity but the reality is that the real world is too uncomposed to sell.
You have to create the feeling of authenticity, which is different.
So why do customers pay for, on the surface, simple shots?
In my opinion it’s to do with time and not being able to produce and shoot the subject themselves, the risk of so many things going wrong in the shoot because lack of resources to plan properly, the risk of commissioning ‘going wrong’ and then not getting what they needed for their ad; stock takes care of their problems and the risk is taken away with pre-shot.
That is what you are paying for.
A perfect similar example of this is what happens in the Apple store. It is always full of people there willing to solve your problem, and for that you are willing to pay a premium price.
What are you working on now?
One favourite on-going project is recording unseen locations in London, called Hidden London. The work involves blagging your way into these places to get access, which appeals to my nature.
Another recent project which I enjoyed was shooting the Kray twins memorabilia. It is interesting that the photographs of these objects are fascinating for what the objects are rather than what they look like. There is an unsophisticated quality in the simplicity of the items, yet they represent so much.