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Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a fashion and portrait photographer from Dublin, currently living in New York. I spent some time here during the summer last year, and came back in February on a J1 graduate visa. I’m currently working full-time as a photographer and videographer for a marketing agency named Silvercast Media, and doing fashion shoots on the weekends.
You studied multimedia in DCU, why were you interested in that area of study?
At the time, I had already a deep passion for photography, having done work experience with three different photography studios in transition year, but was advised by several people not to study just photography, as that would pigeonhole [me] and there [weren’t many] jobs in Ireland. Considering that advice now, it was fairly sensible. I didn’t learn photography through traditional methods, [it was] entirely self-taught, and I think that helps to keep my work fresh and unique.
Also, multimedia exposed me to a wide variety of topics, such as writing, illustration, animation, video, photography, advertising, and audio which let me concretely decide what I loved and hated.
How did you develop an interest in fashion photography?
It is a long process that began when I was very young, about 6 or 7 years old when I got the chance to shoot with disposable cameras while on holiday. I really enjoyed composing and framing shots and had a natural intuition for how scenes should be visually weighted. I continued my passion when I received my first mobile phone, always snapping away. Then finally [I] got a good DSLR in secondary school. From there, I began my process of trying to figure out what I wanted to shoot.
I took pictures of literally everything; street shots, nature (I was always in the Phoenix Park harassing/bartering with deer for their picture in exchange for some carrots from Tesco) night time landscapes, macros etc. I still hadn’t found my true niche until I began college in 2015, when one of my friends asked me to take pictures of her as she recently broke up with her boyfriend.
We went into the city centre, and I did my darnedest to imitate glossy mag images with her hair blowing, full of smiles, hand on the hip, the full nine yards. The polar opposite of the type of work I create now. However, it was during that shoot [that] I realised how much fun I had, and that I liked to make other people look and feel good through photoshoots.
Since I just began college, I had an abundance of attractive people to ask to do photoshoots. I did my best to make them look like actual models as I built my portfolio. From there, I sent these shots to a model agency in Dublin. They gave me actual models, and I suppose it snowballed from there to now, when I got to work with a NYC-based model named Carola Remer this month, who was on the cover of magazines such as Vogue, Elle, and L’Officiel.
What attracted you about New York?
The first time around, I wanted to go for a few reasons. Mainly, to get a sense of my own independence, having lived with my family for my whole life. I wanted a challenge, to push myself outside of my comfort zone, to make new friends, have a completely fresh start in a different country I’ve never been to and which was 3000 miles away from everyone I knew. Also, the competitive spirit in me wanted to test myself by trying to work with some of the best creatives and agencies in the world.
None of the agencies replied to my emails for a month, but then I met some amazingly cool people in the industry. I have to specially thank Kevin Alexander for giving me a [big hand with setting up]. From then [on] I began setting up my own weekly shoots. On top of the portfolio building, I got to shoot fashion week in September 2018 at the New York Fashion Gallery. I also shot backstage for one of the coolest designer brands in NY called Telfar.
The second time around, I knew I belonged in New York. My portfolio had skyrocketed in quality. Pretty much the first thing anyone said to me back in Ireland was “I love the photos you took in New York!” There was no question in my mind that I had to return as soon as I could.
What do you think about the photography scene in Dublin/Ireland?
Dublin is filled with amazingly creative people. There is a strong community and talent. One of the harder parts of moving was leaving behind my creative team in Dublin and having to build a new one. It’s so important to always work with people who are great at what they do, but also people you get on well with and are on a similar wavelength.
What or who inspires and informs your work?
My work and its inspirations have constantly changed over the years as I evolve as a person. I think the consistent factor is that I always want to express whatever emotions I am feeling at that period in my life. I had a slightly depressed and frustrated period shortly after committing to portrait and fashion photography for a few months where I took extremely moody black and white portraits as my way of expressing what I was going through. At the time, I drew inspiration from Peter Lindbergh’s work.
I’m in a much better place now. I still like to keep a somewhat similar intensity and fierceness in my work. I’m often inspired by locations, and working on the concept for styling and direction from there. I had an idea to shoot in Des Kellys, the carpet store, for a couple [of] months. No one, even Des Kellys, understood why or how a photoshoot in the store was a good idea. The team and I love the results though.
I like to tear sheets from magazines like Hunger, Dazed, Metal and Another as inspiration.
How would you approach a fashion shoot? Do you go into a shoot with clear ideas in your mind or do you use some degree of improvisation?
Preparation can take weeks, and can have seven people on the shoot. Or it can take one day’s prep with three people in total. It depends on what the shoot is. For an editorial shoot, at least two weeks’ prep is needed to flesh out a story from an initial concept and developing the mood board to final shoot.
For example, when I was in Los Angeles, I wanted to shoot a retro-themed vintage and colourful editorial. I spent days searching on Google Earth for the right locations. I had to find the right people to work on the project, and logistics for shooting eight different looks on a busy street with makeup and hair changes.
If a model agency emails me that they have a new face they want me to test with, I can do that with one or two days’ notice once I have a makeup artist and the model brings some clothes.
I always know what mood I want from a shoot, and I decide what aesthetic I want before also, whether I’m shooting film, digital and what colour grading will be done. I always like to keep the posing spontaneous though. In my opinion, no pre planned pose will look good. I have to see how the model moves and what looks genuine and authentic.
What do you think are the most distinct or unique qualities of your work?
I think it is a strong understanding of how to use light, good visual compositions, clever concepts, and that the models have a ‘fuck you’ attitude. Living in New York, I have the opportunity to capture some unique and interesting faces and personalities. That is something I want to do more of.
How do you direct your models to get the best performance out of them?
I won’t post a shot unless I believe the model is the character they are playing in the photoshoot. There has to be 100% commitment to the character, which comes through strong trust between the model and me. I don’t think there’s any magic secret. I see so many photographers always asking about building a rapport with your model.
Treat them as a normal person, as they are. Be nice, kind and friendly. I think it helps that I’m not afraid to look clumsy and silly during a photoshoot. I think that helps models be more comfortable with standing on top of a busy cafe table during the night. Or whatever crazy stuff we are shooting.
Are there any new trends in fashion photography that have you particularly excited?
Not sure if I’d call it a new trend, but I’m really into using 35mm for photoshoots. I think it adds something magic to the whole process and result.
Also not really new, but I’m excited for the ‘bad aesthetic’ trend. I find it funny to put so much work into a shoot only for everyone to think your blind-in-one-eye grandmother shot it after 8pm. A good example of this is the Balenciaga account, which I really love.
A couple of my friends over here have inspired me to be more creative with the final display of an image. For example, one of my filmmaker friends, Bren Cukier, experiments a lot with taking pictures of her pictures. She is extremely creative with curating images beside each other to tell a more full narrative.
What do you think sets fashion photography apart from conventional photography?
There’s a lot of cross over. I use many of the skills I learned about; composition, visually weighting a scene and knowing natural light properties from when I started out shooting everything. I think the main difference is how much pre production goes into a good fashion editorial over most other types of photography. Of course advertising shoots in any genre takes a lot of prep as well.
You’ve travelled a lot with your photography; what has been your favourite place to shoot?
The place I haven’t seen yet.
What are some important lessons you’ve learned throughout your career?
- Everyone thinks they’re so good at the start of their career, but we’re really not. It’s important in some respects to have that arrogance and overconfidence so you push through the actual part where you are bad without giving up.
- Be nice to everyone. Not because it’s needed to be successful, which I think it is, but because life’s better when you’re not a dick to everyone.
- Bring spares of everything. If you are [an] assistant to a photographer, bring stuff like batteries, tape, band aids, phone charger, other useful things, etc. This is entirely unnecessary, but you’ll thank me when everyone loves you for having that one thing someone needed.
- This one’s most important. Make work FOR YOURSELF! If you produce something you love and it gets 0 likes on Instagram, congratulations. You are now in the minority of photographers that are truly expressing themselves and will probably outlast all of them through pure passion for what you’re creating.
What is your greatest personal achievement to date?
I’ve won a couple of awards which is cool, but honestly I’m just happy with myself for risking everything and just going for it.
What is your ultimate ambition with your art and your career?
I want to collaborate with the best creatives in the world, while creating meaningful fashion photography contributing to magazines like Vogue, Hunger, Another, Dazed, and Metal magazine.
What advice would you have for someone looking to get into fashion photography?
Figure out if you want to do fashion, portraits, or both. I needed this advice. If you decide fashion, then start doing your research on current trends; maybe dabble in the history and stay up to date on magazines. One of my favourite things to do is go to Barnes and Noble in Union Square, grab a bunch of fashion magazines and plonk myself on the floor and go through all the editorials.
Find your reason for doing photography, and repeat that to yourself when you’re going through difficult times. Acknowledge the importance of being able to meet, converse and make friends with new people to work with. If you are not good at this, tough. Pretend you’re a social person while doing stuff that directly correlates to your success in photography. Submit to online magazines to build up your portfolio.
As mentioned before [when talking about] how I got started, ask your attractive and fashionable friends to model for you. Then reach out to agencies when you are good enough. Controversial opinion: do free work if it will lead to big opportunities. Use your best judgement to decide, e.g ‘exposure’ is useless, meeting important people is not.
Send me an email if you have any questions and I’ll help if I can.
You can view David’s portfolio here.