Vaughan Brookfield

Published 11/12/2017


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

I have not formally studied photography outside of basic camera settings and film development etc in the darkroom at secondary school. I spent a considerable amount of time researching and studying art photography I liked, and techniques using light for years, in an almost obsessive way.

I ended up getting my lucky break while overseas in Salt Lake City, USA. I left high school and travelled there with two friends. We had all been saving for years and had big plans to become pro snowboarders. I ended up dislocating my shoulder that winter so I got my camera out and took photos of my mates. When I got back home I sent them into a snowboard magazine and didn’t expect to hear back. I ended up with the cover shot and a cheque in the mail. I was hooked after that.


What do you try to convey through your photos?

A story, a little mystery, I want people to dive deeper into the image and not just pass it by, and I want people to wonder what is that person doing? Or for them to imagine themselves in that moment.

Which photographic genre do you like working in the most?

Lifestyle, and location photography mostly. I love working to a great conceptual brief from a client or with an idea I have, then finding an amazing location to make it all happen.


How tough was it to carry out the "White Silk Road" project in Afghanistan? What sort of planning did you/your team undergo before the trip?

There was a lot of logistics and safety considerations. Let's just say it was almost impossible to get travel insurance, and the whole team were shitting themselves flying in. We were all sitting in Dubai the day before we landed in Kabul, and it came up on CNN that a group of US soldiers had burnt a copy of the Quran. This would mean big protests and unrest around the city of Kabul. We dressed up like locals and kept a very low profile. We also had constant contact with the military to avoid problem areas of the city. It was a life-changing experience and a trip I will never forget.


Your favourite destination?

There are so many great things about each of the destinations I have travelled to, that it would be impossible to pick a favorite - Japan, Alaska, Laos, Afganistan, Myanmar to name a few. Just about all of my work is now in advertising and a lot is done in amazing locations throughout New Zealand so I'm loving getting to know my own backyard really well. I work in some really special locations around the South Island now.


How do you start and what steps did you have to take to become a full-time photographer?

I worked in the editorial world for a long time, and once I got that first magazine cover I spent a few years travelling around the world shooting snowboarding. I would go to the Gold Coast of Australia in the off season between winters in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and work in factories or just whatever I could find. Over time my travel costs were all covered, as I was the Photo Editor for a snowboarding magazine. It was like an 'around the world' trip each year with my mates getting paid to travel and hone my skills with a heap of creative freedom. After seven years of that the editorial work started to dry up and companies decreased advertising in print.  I moved into doing more advertising work, mainly in New Zealand. Now I would say 90% of my work is in advertising.


What gear do you shoot with currently?

Canon 1DX M2, 5D M4 depending on the job and a range of lenses. I'm currently using Broncolor Siros lights. I use an old Mamiya RB67 for a lot of my personal work. I chop and change a lot depending on the brief but the 1DX is my workhorse.

Please talk us through some of your biggest challenges that you face as a photographer?

A constantly changing environment - the advertising world is constantly changing. The last few years I have found myself more often than not shooting stills off to the side of a television commercial with very little time for setup, but with a specific brief and huge shot list. People expect you to make miracles happen and you just have to do your best and communicate well with them so they understand. The other big one is the ups and downs - sometimes I will be busy for months on end I feel I should hire more help, then I might hit a lull and have no work for weeks. You have to be good at managing your income and focus on a personal project in the slow times, but it is also important to have some quieter times for personal work and to recharge your creativity.


How do you approach strangers to be photographed during your travels?

It really depends on the situation. I find people usually look most natural when they have no idea you are taking a photo. I will sometimes take a photo without them knowing then show them afterwards on the back of my camera to get their approval. Other times if I'm trying to take a portrait, and I don't know their language, I might gesture to my camera and give them a smile, but it’s always much easier if you have someone with you that knows the language.

Your favourite assignment to date?

There are too many to mention but it's usually the ones I'm working on right now. I just got back from a great trip around the lower South Island and Stewart Island shooting for an export company. It was a lot of fun and very diverse. One day I was shooting underwater, the next day out of a plane, then on to a processing factory shooting workers with lighting. Before that, I had a job for a large American corporation shooting alongside a TVC for a week promoting their winter Olympic team. We had athletes from all around the world fly in, it was high pressure, but it all worked out well in the end.


You are given an unlimited budget to work with your dream team on your dream project - what would it be and where?

I really want to take this personal project further. Promoting stability and looking after our environment is a the top of my list. Canon supported us on the recent Tasman Glacier project but we really want to step it up again.  


Any advice for people wanting to pursue a career in photography?

There is going to be a lot of ups and downs so be prepared for the rough times. Think about what you really love to photograph, and why you love it, then over time refine your style and try to be very niche, and become a specialist. I think the biggest thing most people forget about making photography their job is that it is about 20% behind the camera and the other 80% of the time you are an accountant, marketer, doing preproduction and postproduction, communicating, and the list goes on. You have to be prepared to learn it all to be successful.

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