All photos © Joshua Carroll
How did you get started?
I took a surprisingly normal route into the whole photography business. I started at the age of about 17, studied it in school, hated Biology and Chemistry and despised Business Studies (despite being rather good at all of them). So naturally I went to an arts college. I studied it for a couple of years doing your usual college-style photos, with zero budget and very little sense of style or taste. After then went about creating a style of my own.
I could tell a rather more dramatic version of events, but I think that since this is what it actually boils down to, this is how I’m going to tell it. The arts world is so full of sensationalistic stories. I think it’s good for people to know that you can get somewhere without having to be incredibly fortuitous. Hard graft works. All I did really was stuck with it and believed in myself. Make your own luck.
What is the single-most challenging component of your business?
Organization. When it comes down to it, the hardest thing to do is find that magic day when everyone can come together. I’m careful when organizing shoots, I don’t like people coming from one shoot straight to mine, they’re often drained and they tend to be prepared to settle for less. Being picky can be hard, but I think it’s worth it. But when you’ve got the right people at the right time in the right place, everything sort of takes it’s own course.
I suppose that choosing people can be tricky as well. People can choose to represent themselves how they want and often talk themselves up a lot, which is often required to get the big jobs. But it also means that it can be difficult to tell who actually has the connections to get you the stuff you want to shoot.
How do you attract new customers?
Mostly by word of mouth. I’m quite picky when it comes to work, which probably means I could be earning a lot more than I do. But I think that working with people I don’t want to work with would be doing myself a disservice – I find it often saps creativity rather than adding to it, so I end up doing something that I’ve done before and playing it safe – which I don’t particularly like doing.
I’m quite lucky in that people who work with me seem to pass on my name a fair amount. So I’d say my way of attracting new customers is keeping my existing customers happy.
I’m impressed at the amount of business some people can generate with social media sites.
All photos © Joshua Carroll
How are you leveraging technology in your creative process?
Goodness, how DON’T I leverage technology would be an easier question. I use Photoshop to sketch out ideas, I use Action Method to help plan shoots, I use Aperture to basic editing, I use Photoshop to do anything that needs to be a little more extreme. I often wish I could write applications for myself so that I could make my workflow even shorter. I have loads of little applications I’d love to make. Little things that would just make my life that little bit easier.
I also keep a massive amount of RSS feeds coming through, from Paranaiv, Contributing Editor, Thanks for the Submission and Foto Decadence. Just some of the blogs I find invaluable for inspiration.
Also, as someone who hates cutting things out of books (I have OCD) I keep a folder on my desktop which I regularly fill up with inspiration. Images I’ve just dragged off the net that made me go “Oooh…” at the time. I find it far easier than bookmarking because otherwise I’d fill up my bookmarks with so much stuff that I’d never be able to find anything.
Do you leverage any Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to generate business?
I’ve been a little bit slow on the uptake on this front, I really only use Facebook when I absolutely have to. Twitter I joined mainly for social reasons, I’m only just getting to grips with how it can be used for business! I have quite a few friends that I keep track of on there so a lot of my tweets are social.
I’m impressed at the amount of business some people can generate with social media sites, but I haven’t gleaned that skill yet. I might have to sit down and learn it some day. I used to be a big deviantART user. I no longer have the time to keep it updated, which is a bit of a shame – but I don’t think it represents my target market very well, and I don’t know if I’d generate any business from it anyway.
What is your favorite camera and lens to shoot with?
Oh, I’m a real lens-o-phile so I could go on for ages about this! My Leica is my true love when it comes to cameras, hence my Twitter username. I shoot stuff which I don’t show people, a long term project.
And that’s all shot with a Leica M6 and either a 35mm f/2 Zeiss Biogon or a 50mm f/1.4 Summilux – the Summilux is beautiful, with bokeh so creamy you could melt when you see it – it’s almost as old as I am and it’s still going. It’s seen so much and it still has so much to give.
But my real workhorse, and a lens which is a bargain for the price, is the Canon 24-105mm f/4 L – make sure you test one before you buy it though, there are some lemons out there.
It’s an easy studio choice, means very little switching between lenses and it’s sharp from 24mm to 105mm, so I can move around and change the flatness of the field as I wish. I love a lot of L lenses, but this one stays on my camera for a very large portion of the time.
I know that a lot of people love Hasselblad, and I think that they’re beautiful cameras, but I don’t feel it suits me or my style. I’d like to shoot 5” x 4” sometimes, there’s a real art to it and I love how much you have to slow down to use it. Give me a digital 5” x 4” and I’d love it! Unfortunately, I can’t quite justify the costs of the film at the moment. So that’s on hold.
And I want to put in a good word for the Yashica T3 and T4, I use them as on-the-go cameras that I can take anywhere and I’ve taken some lovely portraits with them. It’s a real snapper camera, and I used to be so against that.
I thought that if you don’t have complete control over your settings you weren’t really making the photo. But ‘not thinking’ is sometimes a good thing. The simplicity of being able to just shoot reminds me to experiment.
Photos are like icebergs, you only really see 10%.
All photos © Joshua Carroll
I really like your use of light and the dramatic effects you get with your setup, can you explain how you achieve this?
Photos are like icebergs, you only really see 10%. You’d be amazed at the amount of photos where someone is just out of the frame with a piece of white foam-core. But a lot of of my setups are deceptively simple, two long softboxes and a large softbox or a beauty dish – and the two long softboxes are on the background. And flagging. Blocking light is just as important as creating it.
The best advice I can give is start with a base and build up. I always start with a very simple setup. Just one light. A softbox or a beauty dish, maybe a snoot. I look at how it works with the material, what it highlights, what it brings out, what’s left in shadow. I move it about until I’ve found the basic highlights, the basic shape.
I then add light, using snoots, beauty dishes, softboxes, whatever I feel is appropriate – there’s no set formula to what i do, I just try to keep a general ‘feeling’ throughout the shoot. I slowly increase and decrease the power of the output on each light individually until I’ve found the balance I need. The last thing I choose is the background, the last thing I decide is the tone that is best going to highlight and compliment whatever is in front of it.
A lot of people do this the other way around and go background first, but I find that when I think about it, doing the backdrop last actually makes more sense.
Often, the fewer lights you use, the more dramatic the effect because you naturally get harsher shadows and highlights. You can tell in one of my shots that it is shot with just one beauty dish, just by looking at the floor. I think it just worked nicely, it gave it the feel I wanted.
Poses also add a lot to the feel of a shot, dramatic lighting is only half the story – you can’t expect to light something and for it to magically be dramatic. You can use the same setups that I use for fashion for portraits and get quite a natural feel with some of them. So I think I also have to say a big thanks to my models for the dramatic effects, especially Alison. She was a real trooper.
Some of the poses we did were not easy to hold in those dresses (we are talking some clothes that weighed between 30 and 50 lbs). You’d never know that she was such a sweet girl who arrived in a cute battered leather jacket with a bit of a pixie cut.
How do you inspire yourself?
Many ways. Magazines are great as a source of inspiration, I particularly like Volt, Wonderland, 125, Noi. Se, Tush and Vogue Italia. If I take a bag out with me, likelihood is I have 3-4 fashion magazines on me. I spend far too much on magazines. RSS feeds, like I mentioned earlier, are also a fantastic (not to mention far cheaper) source of inspiration.
I love sitting in a quite café and studying people’s lighting – light is our medium as photographers and the more you understand it, the more you can control it and make it do what you want. I sketch out how think they might have done it, how I might modify it to get a similar effect, but more in my style.
What gets me going is a designer’s clothes. Gareth Pugh makes me go all weak at the knees. As does Alexander McQueen. I love seeing a good fashion designer’s work, it always makes me want to put something together. I try to keep up to date with a lot of the catwalk stuff. I look up stylists online, see what they’re doing. Some stylists out there are incredibly
What do you say to those folks looking to get into the business?
Work hard and be honest. There’s always someone out there that’s charging a cheaper rate than you. The thing is, cheap is cheap – and charging a cheap rate can often say something about you, whether you want it to or not. It’s worth sticking to your rates and being worth what you charge.
And on the line of being honest - if you’re not straight with people, people won’t be straight with you. Being bitchy helps no one. If you’re not a nice person, people won’t want to work with you, especially if it’s a long term project.
A kind word can work wonders, but mean it sincerely – compliments thrown about mean nothing. Mean what you say and say what you mean.
All photos © Joshua Carroll
Work with good people. I kid you not when I say that a good stylist can make something out of nothing (I have a preferred phrase for that, but I’m not sure if it’s appropriate for publishing!). It’s not cheating to hire someone to delegate to, it’s plain smart – I couldn’t get hold of Marko Mitanovski’s clothes myself, so I got someone who could to do it for me. You don’t have to do everything yourself.
It’s amazing how much other people are willing to help out when you say the words ‘fashion shoot’ – don’t be afraid to take advantage of this, it’s a key that can unlock some useful doors.
Go the extra mile. Even if it only works out 3-4 times out of ten, those times will stand out to potential clients, they’ll know that you’re really going for it. Successful risk taking is one of the biggest winning moves in almost any business.
And finally, love what you do. If you don’t love it, don’t do it. I can’t stress this enough. It’s what keeps you going when the chips are down.
Insert your shameless plug here:
I have a website – http://www.joshcarroll.co.uk/ which shall be updated at some point when I have a bit more time.
Also, check out http://www.krop.com/joshcarroll/ – they have the space to host my images nice and large, which I think is brilliant. They do great portfolio hosting.
In August, check out Page Fashion Magazine – http://www.pagethemagazine.com/ – my Shapes&Shadows set will be published with them. It looks awesome in print. So grab a copy!
All photos © Joshua Carroll