Stephen Tilley

Published 9/8/2016

Did you study photography? How did you get into it?

I started shooting professionally in London, after showing some of my travel pics to a publisher of a small Indie street culture magazine called 'Insync’. They asked me to work on the issue covering fashion, music etc. It was film in those days so I had a seemingly endless budget and countless rolls of film to explore the exciting London culture. We were based in the Truman Brewery which was the creative hub of London at the time, and it was an incredibly creative environment to learn and develop as a photographer.


What do you try to convey through your photos?

I was inspired early on by the "Face" magazine and in particular Corinne Days' iconic editorial of Kate Moss. I think ever since, I have tried to convey a reality to my photographs. I believe in honesty when it comes to fashion photographs and actually capturing the models personality rather than forging a made up situation and uncomfortably positioning the model into unnatural situations. I usually allow the model to express themselves and capture that energy. 


The importance of lighting and having an assistant during your editorial shoots?

Its important to have a really competent assistant on editorial shoots to allow yourself to completely concentrate on the story and telling that message in a series of stills. Lighting is very important as essentially, photography is the art form of capturing light. If you don’t have great lighting, you don’t have great images. That can also mean natural light - you have to know how to bend natural light to make beautiful pictures. That can mean either shooting at the right times (like late in the evening) or understanding how to craft strong mid afternoon light to suit your story (editorial).


How important is post processing editing for you?

Post processing is important. I usually do very little retouching. I am never inspired with overly retouched polished images, but a nice grade in Capture one is usually all thats needed - highlights, shadows, contrast and tone, a tiny bit of skin retouch and skin grading.


Equipment that you'd carry for an editorial shoot?

I shoot on Canon 1DX these days, and love using prime lenses such as 50mm or 85mm. I prefer to use Profoto B1s on location, although sometimes, they do not offer enough power - in which case I use my Broncolor Verso. When I am shooting editorial, I like to have an easy to manage set up in the interest of speed and versatility. So I keep the gear to a minimum. I find that when you start setting up a big scrims, etc. you tend to lose the energy of the model and the shoot loses its freedom. When shooting Advertisements, it's usually a lot more crafted for obvious reasons and usually requires a larger set-up.

What are some of the biggest challenges you've had to face as a photographer?

The biggest challenge as a photographer would be selling yourself to art directors at agencies. Along the way, there will invariably be people that don’t like your work, and you need to accept criticism. Rather than being offended, use that feedback to learn and improve. I think creatives have a difficult time selling themselves, and I have not used an agent in the past so have had to do this process myself - which is definitely out of my comfort zone.

Your most exciting project so far?

My most exciting project so far, would be - shooting a Vodafone campaign in Qatar-UAE. It was searing hot - 45 degrees and we were experiencing cultural differences that provided further challenges. The light was so different to NZ, so I learnt a lot in a very short period of time.


Also, another one would be the time I shot in an old film set at the Mojave desert for Fashion Quarterly. That shoot won an award for the best use of Photography and rates as one of my most exciting projects.

Mojave Desert


Mojave Desert

How would you prepare yourself before photographing famous personalities?

To be honest, I prepare myself exactly the same. Whether they are famous “celebrities" or just a person on the street. The end result is really all that matters. I did shoot Richie McCaw for Mercedes and have to admit that I am a bit of a fan, so had to maintain an air of professionalism.

Richie McCaw 

Richie McCaw

Advice for aspiring photographers?

Advice for aspiring photographers - is to constantly take pictures. Never stop. Find out what defines your style and constantly practice that. Be inspired by other photographers but don’t try and emulate their work, be true to yourself. Photography is an art form that you can never stop learning. Every single time I pick up the camera, I learn something. That's what keeps the passion alive. I think it's important to shoot images just for yourself (outside of your commissioned day to day work).

Find something you are passionate about and explore that.


See more of Stephen's work below:




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