Tom Roberton

Published 7/8/2017


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

I never formally studied photography.  It was something that started as a hobby in my twenties. Whilst living in Scandinavia I had a friend who was a photography student who would lend me some of his gear and I would go out and do street photography around Copenhagen.   When I came back to New Zealand I did a bit of film and TV production work.  But the penny dropped whilst I was camera assisting on a documentary in Africa.  I was shooting some stills on the side and I remember the moment when I thought, I would love this as a career. So when I got back from the job I just focussed on being a photography assistant and learning everything I could about the profession.


An advertising photographer tackles many different genres/mediums of photography - is there a particular one you enjoy the most?

My first love in photography was probably reportagé.  So, even though I work in advertising, a lot of my work has an observational documentary feel to it. I like working with natural light and with real people.


What equipment do you shoot with these days?

Currently I shoot with a Canon 5Dmk4 and a bunch of primes and zoom lenses.

Your favourite lens?

It’s always horses for courses, but I do really enjoy the working with the Canon 85mm 1.2 prime. 

If not a photographer, what would you be? 

In another life I would be a furniture maker. 

How would you describe your photography to someone who has never seen it?

Natural situations … natural light … real people ... beautiful.  My mantra is am I creating an image that I would want to hang on my wall?


Your first commissioned job?

I shot a bunch of environmental portraits for Stolen Rum over about twelve months.  It was really cool because all the people I had to shoot were interesting in their own way. I was turning up to the location totally cold not knowing anything about the space that I was shooting in, so I had to think on my feet and create compelling images in the 30 minutes or so I had with them. That practice of problem solving under pressure has helped me in later shoots when I’ve got in a tight spot.


What would you say is the toughest aspect is off being a photographer? 

For me it’s probably dealing with the slow times.  When I was assisting one of the photographers I worked for he called it an emotional roller coaster that never ends no matter how successful you are … It’s the best job in the world when you’re busy and shooting good work, but in the slow times it can be a real head game. You need to keep your chin up, stay excited about the industry and stay excited about shooting personal work.

Your biggest achievement thus far and your worst setback? 

I think one of my biggest achievements was shooting the stills for the Rheumatic Fever ‘Twins’ campaign.  The imagery was everywhere and it was great to know it was making a difference in people’s lives.
I’ve never had one major setback, but there have been numerous times I have missed out on jobs that I really wanted and that I felt like I deserved to win.  


Describe your usual shoot day on location. How do you prepare yourself? 

No shoot day is ever the same, but preparation (ideally) starts weeks before the shoot with meetings with agency and client, casting for talent, location scouting and doing tech recce’s etc. I like to go into a shoot day with a clear plan of how the images can be executed (Plan A so to speak), but I also like to build in enough flexibility so I can make changes to my approach on the day.  The talent, the light and and the environment inform the creative process, so I like to also have a Plan B which evolves on the day.


Any advice that you'd like to give to aspiring photographers and students?

Professional photography is a bizarre combination of art, science and business.   I think you need to become really proficient at all three to succeed in the long term.  In terms of the business side, you need to be realistic in what kind of money you need to charge to make it a viable career. There is a tendency for new photographers to undercharge and undercut other photographers to get a foot in the door with a client or agency.  But the reality is that you are destroying your own long-term prospects by not not charging enough.  When you are a student or an emerging photographer it’s easy to be passionate about photography.  But one of the biggest dangers in professional photography is getting so busy with the grind of commercial work (or the hustle for it) that you can forget why you got into photography in the first place.  Regularly committing to shooting personal work for the sheer sake of artistic enjoyment helps to keep the passion burning. 



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