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Interview with Adam Taylor


Adam Taylor is a commercial photographer based in Sydney, Australia. His clients include Coca-Cola, Olympus, Rogaine, and Canon. Visit his website here.


PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself and what you do?

Adam Taylor: My name is Adam Robert Taylor. I am a photographer. I work mostly here in Australia and increasingly throughout other parts of the world.

PP: How did you get started in photography?

AT: My dad was into it. I remember being 5 or 6 and discovering his collection of kodachrome slides from all his travels before he met my mum, and also some beautiful stuff from when they first met and the beach parties they used to have with all their friends. I was super fascinated with the feel and colour of those images. I remember having slide nights with our family and friends and the atmosphere within the darkened room , the images projected onto the wall and all that gorgeous colour massive on our lounge-room wall, and everyone just looked so young and attractive! It was totally intoxicating!

So that was the early seed being planted or blueprinted into my imagination and it just grew from that. Setting up my own darkroom under our house in the cellar. Digital hadn’t arrived just yet so I was processing and printing all my own black & white film.

I remember having a really interesting art teacher in high school, she was into photography and we had another darkroom there that we could use during art lessons. All this gave me a wonderful base to start from with photography. I developed a real passion with photography and a way of interpreting my world. Also I was incredibly shy as a teenager and it was a great way to be a little isolated and outside of things with a camera and a darkroom. I used to photograph my family, friends and girlfriends. The whole feel of being the “director” when you’re doing a portrait session was just awesome.

When I was about 20 I went for this job as a photojournalist and I had no experience at all in journalism but the editor really liked my photos, so I got the job and was thrown in the deep end and really learned a lot. I had to work quickly with the capturing of images and juggling the interview side of things as well. I became quite social, the shy teenager had disappeared . I did that for a while then decided it wasn’t really my thing and then went onto a wonderful art school in Sydney “National Art School” for 4 years and majored in photography – this was very liberating and such a discovery. I finished Art school and went over to London and assisted advertising and fashion guys for a couple of years, I traveled and explored some incredible cultures and peoples with my camera during that time. My first jobs as a freelance photographer were doing portraits and fashion stories for surf and music magazines.


PP: What was your first camera?

AT: A Canon F1 – which was stolen from our car! Then I saved up and got a Hasselblad.

PP: What gear do you use now?

AT: I like to shoot with the Canon 1Ds Mark 3 – or the Hasselblad with a phase, leaf or imacon back – I don’t really mind through – whatever is available.

Mostly broncolor lighting – but profoto is good too.

PP: How do you go about taking a portrait? Can you tell us about your process?

AT: I do my homework and have a few cards up my sleeve for the day of the portrait. By “homework” I mean having worked out a creative angle for the shoot. Also if the person is well known, I do research on the Internet. This is always helpful. I see how that person has been photographed before, this helps me find my own path for the portrait. I do all the work beforehand in my head. I pre-visualize the image that I am aiming for and I also have backup image(s) that I’m thinking about as well.

My approach is to find the “humanness” to break down the barriers and the power. I go a lot on my intuition and gut feeling with people. Sometimes you have to ease your way into the portrait slowly, other times “wow” you can get the portrait in the first few frames.
I was a boy scout when I was about 11, and the scout’s motto’s was: “be prepared” !


PP: What advice do you have regarding photographing strangers? How do you go about doing this?

AT: Strangers, people in the street, someone you walk up to and say, “excuse me, can I take your photograph”. This is always so challenging and the fear of rejection is ever prevalent. I find that you really have to be totally 100% committed for approaching people like this. People can sense when you are honestly enthusiastic, excited and buzzing about them and will feed into that vibe and 95% of the time you will get a positive response.

Otherwise it’s a reportage approach and the trick is to capture your subject totally unaware — a moment of grace. This is very difficult with the large bulky 35mm SLRs. I find it works better with the smaller more discrete cameras.

PP: Is there anything you wish you had known before becoming a professional photographer?

AT: Not really – what I’ve learned is that there is no set path to becoming a professional photographer.

PP: What is the most challenging aspect of what you do?

I’m continually challenged – that’s what I love about it.


PP: Can you tell us a little about how the advertising photography business works?

AT: I will try my best to talk about this – but it’s such a large subject we could talk all day on just this subject !

I think the first thing is to have a really strong folio of your work. Once you have a great portfolio its time to get around and see as many art buyers and creatives as you can.

Its difficult, I started out in editorial – doing work for magazines before I moved over into advertising. I am pretty lucky now because people come to me for my unique style. I usually get to approach the project like I’d do if I did it on my own.

The creatives send over a layout, we talk about it, I try to understand and get my head around what they are trying to accomplish. Once you get an advertising job its up to the photographer to work out how you are going to achieve the results and put together
estimates and sometimes a treatment for the campaign. I work with my producer on the nuts and bolts of the shoot and I take control of the creative direction of the shoot.

I spend quite a lot of time researching and envisioning how I want the campaign to look. Usually you are bidding against other photographers at this stage until you win the job. Then its time to move ahead on the job. I always spend weeks of time and effort planning for the shoot. Double-checking everything to the nth degree so that I’m satisfied everything will go smoothly on the day of the shoot. Fine tuning the creative, location scouting, castings, pre-production meetings with the art director, copyrighter and the client. Then the shoot day(s). Usually a lot of people are involved – producer, talent, crew, agency people, clients, stylists, hair & makeup. Then into postproduction and working with my retouchers and the creative team for the final outcome of the image(s). Mostly my projects are quite involved and can take anything from a week to a few months. It’s a collaboration of a whole bunch of people – a team effort.


PP: Why did you choose to do advertising photography rather than other types of photography?

AT: I do like the collaboration of working with talented people on exciting concepts and ideas. I get to travel and make great pictures. I love it.

I get to do personal work too. At the moment I’m looking for a gallery to exhibit some of my personal work next year and publish my first photo book.


PP: Would you recommend a beginning photographer start out in film or digital? Why?

AT: That is a good question! I learned so much by starting out in film. You become more thoughtful and more considered when you are using film.

Digital gives the more instantaneous results that can be reviewed and applied. It’s so easy now to go out and buy a relatively cheap digital camera and just start shooting. Digital is great, you can craft and finesse angles and lighting a lot quicker than with film. A lot of the photographers that I really admire have started out in film and have that filmic sensibility and thoughtful composition to their work, even when they have gone on to shoot in digital.

But in saying all this – the most important thing is the strength of your vision, what you have to say and your passion for making images. This will shine through no matter the medium – digital or film.


PP: Are there any specific things you’ve learned along the way that caused big improvements in the quality of your work?

AT: Always try new things and take risks. Show your work to as many people as you can and seek out those people who you trust to give you honest constructive criticism on your work.

Surround yourself with good people, mentors and friends.

Don’t be in it for the money. Do it because you enjoy it. The money will come.

PP: If you weren’t a photographer, what do you think you might be doing?

AT: A painter or a sculptor.


PP: How many hours a week do you work?

AT: It’s a way of life, so I’m always working. I love it.

PP: Can you tell us a little about the Canon 1Ds Mark 3?

AT: Excellent camera. It works great for me for a lot of my work. Lots of great features – I like the zoom and toggle control for reviewing images on the back screen, also the focusing points to choose from are very helpful. Works wonderfully with all the canon lenses.

On the downside it is quite heavy and it’s taken them too long to finally get it all good for working tethered to the computer with the capture one software.


PP: Who are some photographers you’re a fan of?

AT: Henri Cartier Bresson, Irving Penn, and Larry Sultan.

PP: Who is one person you would choose to be interviewed by PetaPixel?

AT: Larry Sultan.