Interview with Photographer Andrew Clifton Brown

“It can be really daunting putting your work out for the world to judge.” – photographer Andrew Clifton Brown

cover shot by Andrew Clifton Brown
2016 Sept/Oct VOL I cover shot by Andrew Clifton Brown

Andrew, at what point did you realize that photography is what you wanted to do as a career? It really only happened in the last five or six years to be honest.  Before that I was doubtful that I could take a shot that anyone would actually look twice at. It can be really daunting putting your work out for the world to judge. And what with social media being the jungle it is you have to have to have a little self-belief.

How has photography experience changed you as a person? I honestly don’t feel it has changed me. I’m still intolerant of bigots, I still have occasional Friday/Saturday night rants on social media and I still say “sorry” far too much (I feel like a Hugh Grant tribute act at times!). It’s changed life for the people around me though. They have to wait around if I have a camera on me!

What do you love the most about your profession? What is the best part of your job? What is most rewarding? It’s when you shoot with someone you have literally just met.  And they don’t know you and you don’t know them, but they are trusting you based on what they have seen of your work or a referral from someone else.  And you both have to work through the session in pursuit of what’s required.

How would you describe your photographic style to someone who has never seen it? What is one last impression you want to leave in your photos? Maybe one word: ‘Clean’. I see myself as a bit of a chameleon and a bit of a magpie on the whole. Every image speaks to you about how it should be processed.  I don’t have a formula as such when I process images.  I just process as I see that end creation being (hopefully). The impression I’d like to leave? It’s about the image not the person who pushed the button, who did the makeup, etc.

Do you remember your very first paid photography gig? How did it go? From the client’s perspective it went well with the feedback I received afterwards. I had a good poker face but I sweated the whole way through it and the post work was mammoth. I made silly mistakes with time management/organisational aspects that it took me far longer than it should have. It was a huge learning curve under pressure. When people say prepare everything up front they generally say it because they’ve learnt that lesson. Make a checklist. Make sure you have clear instructions from the client what they expect, where you will be shooting, etc. Make sure you have duplicate kit. If you can’t yet afford duplicate kit and you are being paid, it isn’t the client’s fault you haven’t got a spare camera body if yours breaks on the shoot. Borrow friend’s kit if you have to but make sure you have backups of everything. From lights to lenses. Some shoots can just go wrong and things are out of your control, and that’s just life. However, if any of your gear breaks, you are the point of failure. And people will more than likely complain to other potential clients if they’ve had a bad experience with you. Ultimately your name is your brand.

So, how did you move specifically towards portrait photography? I’ve always been fascinated by people’s faces. I am a sucker for a decent portrait and I love the stories people emotions can play across their faces. I used to be primarily landscape/cityscape shooting and would sell prints from my website. Then a few years ago I developed back problems (discs L4 and L5 having no fluid left in them) and it then meant it was hard to carry all my bulky gear about (I suspect my being a pro bmxer freestyle ramp rider didn’t help my back).  So, I still loved photography and I had to have an outlet for it and so I then decided to build a home studio (or rather my actor friend Jason Lambert did. I made him coffee while he did it) which meant I could at least still shoot. But, I had an almost morbid fear of flashes and strobes. It all just looked so complicated! I knew however that studio shooting would allow me to continue being a photographer and so I jumped in and bought some strobes and having some spectacularly awful results I started to learn. Haydn Mowbray really started me off on the road to strobe discovery and shooting for a few months with Nick Redman was absolutely invaluable and a good laugh so kudos to those gents.

What gives you ideas and what inspires you to create your beautiful images? What motivates you to do your best on the job? Anything can give me an idea. I can be sitting on a train and get an idea for a shoot, just talking to someone about something completely unrelated or staring vacantly out of the window. If I sit down and try and think of ideas, they don’t really appear on the whole.

And as for motivation you always want to do the best you can. Nearly every shoot for me is an opportunity to do something just that little bit better if I am able and to have clients happy at what I produce for them or for projects I’m involved in.

Could you take us through the typical planning process for your images? What is your mental checklist before a shoot? So, any shoot, for me has to be methodically organized. Gear first, I go through my checklist and put all my gear together the night before, charge batteries, check lights are still good, multiple cards, etc. Then days or weeks before that I lock down what the client’s expectations of the shoot are and what they can do to help the shoot be the best it can be. Depending on the shoot, if it’s say headshots, I give the person in question a few ideas what to wear and say it’s handy to get a few good nights’ sleep, drink lots of water, etc.  I ask if it’s studio/location and if they have thoughts on specific backgrounds and images they have seen that they like.

If it’s a bigger shoot with model(s),HMUAs, stylists, etc. I contact everyone involved (if it has been locked in) and run through expectations so there shouldn’t be any surprises on the day! I also try and pay attention to everyone on the shoot and try to see if anyone is feeling ‘off’ (could be lack of sleep, bad train journey, anything at all) so that it doesn’t upset the flow of the shoot. Normally this entails me telling lots of bad jokes and just trying to cheerlead and quarterback at the same time.

What are your favorite type of projects to work on, and why? Vanity projects without a doubt. Ideas that come together over true collaborations. I’ve been really lucky to work with so many talented people.

shot by Andrew Clifton BrownWhat is the key to getting the best out of someone for portrait and beauty shots? Would you have any special portrait posing tips? How important is communication during a shoot? Communication is massive during a shoot.  As is honesty from all involved. I shoot tethered in the studio so I know exactly what we are getting results wise.  Sometimes it helps for the model/client to see the output as we are shooting, so then I can say I’d like to try this, etc. and they can see the path we are on.

If you have a nervous actor having a headshot you need to put them at ease. Cups of tea or coffee, don’t get frustrated even when the shoot isn’t going as well as you’d like. Talk to them about them as you’re shooting. Some of the candid moments while you’re chatting can yield some superb results. Experiment a little but not so much on your client’s dime.

You photograph both female and male models. From your experience what are the differences shooting male models vs. female? I find female models more imaginative hands down. I don’t seem to have a lot of luck with male models. So far for me they’ve just rocked the moody vibe and not really moved out of their comfort zone. And you get some fab shots, but that same shot has been taken thousands of times before. So you both come away with a ‘meh’ view of the shoot. I’m not a bully photographer. I like to think I can see if someone has that spark in them to jump off a wall or smear ketchup in their hair. I certainly wouldn’t force it. I’ve just yet to find those male models. However, it would be great for any male models reading this thinking ‘dude you haven’t worked with me. I’m epic!’ to get in touch with me to shoot.

Why is having a makeup artist essential to a photographer? Where to start? They’re artisans in their own right. Simply put, a good MUA halves and possibly three quarters the amount of time you need to spend processing an image. And that is if you’re competent with your lighting and Photoshop. They can change the look of a person so dramatically you just have to stop and stare at their work. I have the utmost respect for MUAs.
In your opinion, what makes the shoot successful? The team. It’s that simple. If it’s a portrait shoot and it’s just myself and the client, communication can make or break the shoot. And be flexible and ready to move fast. If you are shooting a CEO, chances are they aren’t going to want to hang about as they’re busy people. Have the scene scoped out and lit already if you are on location, even if that means doing it a week before (if you can get access to the venue). You might only be able to get a few shots off before they’re gone. Don’t assume just because they’ve paid you it’s all going to be rosy!

From your point of view, what are the biggest challenges for an independent photographer? Getting adverts right is one!  I seem to fail miserably at it but I get a lot of referrals by word of mouth which is quite handy.

Walking into studios for clients and realising the client or the studio has miss-sold you on the facilities there. Call ahead! I take lots of spare gear with me just in case.

And other shooters who will undercut you in a race to the bottom price wise. I’ve tendered for jobs and then didn’t get them. And then had call-backs to redo the shoot another photographer lowballed me on. Everyone and his dad is a photographer now so it’s a matter of really ‘finding your voice’ and hoping people like it. And of course getting clients to hear it amongst the sea of photographers.

shot by Andrew Clifton BrownTell us what are you proud of having reached? What is your highlight so far? 48 years of age! I’ve had so many accidents in my life I’m sure I shouldn’t still be here!
Highlights are pretty numerous so I’ll abridge.

I’m very proud of my kids. I married my best friend (I know, the cliché) and I’m blessed with loyal friends.

Is there somebody you are fascinated about and you’d like to work with in the future? Why?
I have soooo many models I like working with. If I name them, I’ll have forgotten someone and offend them! With regards to other creatives there are just far too many to name. I know far too few designers/stylists. That is something I have to address. Again, if any of you are still reading at this point…. ?

In your opinion, what role image editing programs play in today’s photography? What is your retouching/production philosophy? Ah now that’s a can of worms. The average person is now far more savvy about what is photoshopped and what isn’t. With regards to the effects on children, looking at some of the studies it can give children a really warped view of what is normal and the discussions about that need to continue. The subject is far too big too reply in just a few sentences in my opinion.

My philosophy on image editing is that for fashion shots or beauty I’ll line a jaw up if need be, switch an eye over if I happened to take the shot when one of the eyes was closed, and I won’t sweat it too much what I’m changing as you can still see the person in the shot.

For actors’ headshots, everything stays as it was. I just clean the shot up.

Portraits you can have a bit more fun with.

How do you choose which images you ultimately provide to your clients? I get the proofs to the clients and let them pick what they want and if they pick something I feel that there is a better shot of in the bunch I’ll mention it to them but only mention it to them. Ultimately it’s their money so their choice. If it’s a vanity project, then I canvas the team involved and we mutually make a decision.

photographer interview

In what ways have your blog and social media made an impact on your career and business? How did it help you to grow? Social media is a funny beast. I’m sure I’m not using it to its full potential.  I’ve had quite a lot of success with selling prints through social media, but not really with portrait work.  Again, that’s mainly all through word of mouth referrals. If anyone wants to advise me, I’m all ears!

What is the most important thing you want potential clients to know about you? I’m committed to providing the best service I can to my clients with the best possible experience, and nothing is out of reach.

Where can our readers keep up with your work and get connected with you?

What is happiness to you? When it’s unfettered. When you can’t affect anything around you so you just have to enjoy what’s there. Not the micro happiness of daily life and tiny wins.

Tell us one surprising fact about you. I woke up naked in Paddington Hospital with everything hanging out and my mum sitting next to the bed I was in (the paper gown I was wearing had torn off me). I’d stacked it on a ramp under the motorway in Paddington (Meanwhile 2) trying to learn Indian airs.  I crashed, turned blue and swallowed my tongue but my mates flipped me over and I started breathing again. I was unconscious for 5 hours.
Thank you, Andrew.

Published in 2016 September/October Volume I: BUY NOW