“…the best feeling is when you know you have an absolute killer team all working at the tops of their games. “
Jake,can you give us a little intro as to who you are and how you got started? I’m currently based here in Reading UK and have been for over a decade. I came up here from my motherland of Cornwall to study photography back when there were only two courses in the country that were introducing ‘digital imaging’ in their course structure. Pretty sure that ages me terribly haha
You have a very fresh and unique style. Can you talk a bit about the importance of a photographer’s style, and how did you develop your style? How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen it? I get told that I have a fairly distinctive style and it’s certainly something that is helping me in my current career path. There’s a phrase that tries to quantify a successful business model ‘you can either be the cheapest, you can be the best or you can be different’. I think that pretty much defines any successful artist, their ability to be different and to own it.
Style with photography is synonymously incredibly illusive and inevitable. Everybody strives to find it and then without realising it you suddenly have it. Without sounding to airy-fairy style finds you only after you’ve been shooting long enough, you can’t shortcut it I’m afraid.
My style is probably best described as bright bold and colourful but I’d like to think there’s a certain amount of playfulness in there to as I love to always experiment with my photography.
How do you keep productive and retain your creative edge? I post an image, write an article, share and discuss a photographer’s work or discuss an idea on my mind every single weekday on my Facebook page and have done for many years. This has probably been the most successful creative catalyst for me in recent years as it forces me every day to look at something like an image, style or concept with the mindset of discussing it with my community. It was silly talking to myself on there for a long while but now I have this phenomenal group of interactive people on a similar wavelength to me that we can bounce ideas around and inspire one another.
What do you love the most about your job? Obviously the shooting aspect but the best feeling is when you know you have an absolute killer team all working at the tops of their games. My lighting can be pretty dominating in the overall finished image but its when my lighting gets pushed back and other team members fight for that visually arresting moment like outstanding makeup, unique styling or really passionate modeling, that’s when I get the buzz of an amazing image and is definitely the best part of my job.
Describe a day at a shoot, what happens and what from your point of view makes the shoot successful? I pretty much solely shoot studio shots because I’m a control freak with my lighting so each shoot has a similar trajectory. My mornings tend to be fairly easy as makeup and styling can take hours. I tinker with the lights a bit whilst that’s happening but I tend to work a lot more spontaneously with my lighting so I can only get a feel for how its actually looking when the models in place. The key to a successful shoot in my opinion is staying calm. For whatever reason the rest of the team will tend to look to you for affirmation that everything is going well, even if it isn’t going as well as you’d hoped you still need to be super positive about it and coax the team in the right direction where necessary. Creatives are often incredibly defensive of their work, myself included, so telling people what they’ve done isn’t good enough is only going to make your job harder not easier.
How do you go about conducting a photo shoot, what are the steps? I try to let each member of a team shine, I usually only work with these people because I believe they are exceptional at what they do so I want to hear what they have to say. I do not presume to think I know what’s best for hair and makeup anymore that I expect my makeup artist to know what’s best for my lighting. By standing back sometimes and letting your team do well at what they excel at can often be easiest path to success.
How much time do you spend taking photos, versus retouching photos? What is your retouching/production philosophy? I have a tag line on my site stating ‘keeping the skill in the camera not just on the screen’. This basically sums up my beliefs on where I see a lot of photography going. I firmly believe that you have to get the shot as close to perfect as you possibly can in-camera before you can justifiably start punishing pixels. Don’t get me wrong though I don’t actually believe you can achieve some of my saturation and colour mixing in-camera alone so I love post-pro but only to enhance not to create.
Tell us more about your teachings. I’ve always had a passion for teaching and sharing knowledge and as a result I’ve learnt so much about others photography and my own as a by-product. When you have to formulate an idea in a way to pass it onto others you learn so much more about it. I post a ‘Technique Tuesday’ every week and over the years as I’ve written those I have learned so much more than I realised about a technique I already knew. As time went on I was fortunate enough that things like Technique Tuesday became so popular and people wanted to learn more and more from me that I have finally just released some workshops that all sold out in a few days which is very humbling indeed. I plan to find the time to do more very soon and updates on that can be found at www.jakehicksphotography.com/training
What’s the most important thing you want potential clients to know about you? For those that would like to consider working with you, what’s the best way to start? I love this one. The most important thing a client needs to know is that I shoot a lot of colourful images using coloured lighting. Now that may seen insanely obvious but I cannot tell you the amount of client messages I get saying something like ‘myself and my company absolutely love your photographic style and we’d love you to shoot our next fashion line against this white background with a big softbox’. It literally stuns me every time, why on earth they contact me to shoot a campaign my mum could light never ceases to amaze me. I don’t go into a Chinese restaurant and ask for a roast dinner so please don’t get in touch with me and ask me to shoot your Gap advert.
What tips can you recommend to people looking to expand their portfolio? If you mean other photographers building their port then get yourself out there on the web. Join Model Mayhem, join Purple Port make a photography page on Facebook, start socialising online and make contacts and keep building your own personal network photoshoot dream team. I’ve been fortunate to grow alongside a lot of other creatives and the industry is far smaller than you think so most importantly be genuine and don’t screw anybody over otherwise you’ve just made your life ten times harder.
What project is held dearest to your heart and why? I don’t have any specific projects that I hold above others and that’s probably a good thing as it means you’re finally getting consistent. There have been a couple of shoots though that I hold dear but that’s for lighting reasons haha. They were shoots that broke the mold for me personally and other shoots from then on were built upon their shoulders. The first ever shoot I did with the model Amber Tutton a couple of years ago was where we defined some of my most popular lighting styles that I still use today. In that one afternoons work I took more outstanding images than I’ve taken in some entire years of my career. You get shoots like that, shoots where everything falls into place and everything you take is just gold.
Do you usually choose the models by yourself? Do you have any physical aesthetic preferences in the girls and boys you shoot? I always prefer to choose my own models, no that I have a problem with shooting with anybody but I do like more of a fashion/editorial look to my models. Models that are proportionally slender (I say proportionally as I never shoot full length so the model doesn’t necessarily need to be 5’10” if she can hold herself well) that can create very interesting and sometimes exaggerated poses to add a sense of movement and energy to a shot. I love models who are very passionate about what they do, I’m not really even to fuss if they are a pain in the ass, all I really care about is how they look in the shot. If they absolutely nail their posing and expressions then I could care less if they’re moaning about the air-con or the brand of their bottled water.
In your opinion what are the most difficult aspects of professional photography?
That’s pretty much it, you’ll be a far wealthier photographer if you’re a great business man and an average photographer than you will be if you’re a bad businessman and an amazing photographer. Its a saturated market and you have to be open, adaptive and responsive to how fast our industry changes to stay relevant and in demand.
If you could tell yourself anything when you first started out, what would you say? I have to say that I’m pretty happy with where I am and I feel incredibly fortunate to be here. I’ve worked hard for it but so have a lot of people so I consider myself somewhat lucky I guess. If I could offer myself any advice it would be to be wary of being to trusting all the time. Funny things happen when money is involved so just try to get as much in writing as you can before committing to anything to big.
What are you currently working on, and what do you have planned next? I am currently working on my training and workshops and also a couple of products that I have been fortunate enough to put together. I’ve recently released three coloured gel packs with filter giant LEE Filters which I’m over the moon about as they are the packs I wish I had when I was starting out. Plus I have a couple of other things in the pipeline line like colour pre-sets for Lightroom and post-production workshops as well. Very busy but busy is good.
Where can our readers keep up with your work? My website and main hub where you can find all my tips and techniques under the ‘techniques’ page:
Any final words of wisdom you would like to share? There’s a lot of us photographers out there and it can seem difficult to be heard sometimes but if you keep and shooting and sharing you will find your own voice and most importantly your own audience in the end.