Hotseat: Stu Williamson
Award-winning photographer Stu Williamson reveals the fib that got him into photography and his tips for tiny snappers
How did you get into photography? Did you take pictures as a child?
Photography was instilled into me from a young age after seeing my father [who was a keen amateur] develop and print images in a darkroom when we lived in Canada. When I was 12 I took lots of pictures youth hostelling with the school and then when I was 19 I bought my first serious camera. A friend of mine who was a top wedding photographer in the UK gave me the needed push to turn pro after he said I would make a good photographer. Years later I bumped into him and he said he was only joking! By that time it was too late, I was smitten.
Don’t you think, though, that these days, with digital cameras, much of the work is done for you?
What the manufacturers have done is enabled the amateur to capture an image at a basic level of exposure. As a professional we look on the capture as the sketch and after processing the file in Photoshop we produce what we say is the painting. That’s why we don’t give a disc with a hundred ‘sketches’ on it, only to be left in a drawer half finished.
Now you can buy cameras for kids as young as four years old. What’s your view on this?
I think it’s brilliant that children can capture instant images from their perspective. Sometimes we forget that kids do have a different view on the world and we never see it from their level. My five-year-old son loves taking pictures. We were at a christening recently and he wanted to photograph all the guests sitting at the tables. It was amazing to see the angles and the expressions he captured. They were totally different from an adult’s perspective.
What’s a good way to get kids snapping away at an early age?
Give kids a cheap digi camera and leave them to experiment with it. Make it fun by giving them little projects, such as photographing the dog, the garden or friends at the park. Download the pictures to show them what they’ve shot. It’s a big achievement for them.
What do you bring to your work that’s different from anyone with a fancy camera?
A person once said to me at a wedding, ‘That’s a nice camera, it must take great pictures.’ It is definitely the person taking the pictures that creates the art, not the kit!
You take a lot of family photos and we’ve never seen a bad/ugly photo shot by you. We don’t believe all the families in your pictures are models, so how do you get them looking so good?
Every one of us can be photographed well. It’s down to the skill of the photographer. What a lot of people don’t realise is there are specific guidelines regarding the shape of faces and how you light them to flatter the person. Round faces, long faces etcetera all require the correct lighting to bring out the best. An inexperienced photographer who doesn’t understand lighting often tells the sitter, ‘Sorry, you’re un-photogenic’ as a get-out.
We’ve photographed a few kids ourselves (being parents, but also professionally for the magazine) so we know it can be tricky. What are your thoughts on getting the best out of kids on camera?
Most kids are very wary about going into a room with strange lights and people so it’s paramount to make it kiddy friendly. We have toys and music playing and we always let the children explore the studio and show them the lights flashing and let them acclimatise.
What tips would you offer budding photographers of all ages?
Learn the basics in photography such as how to crop photographs and the rule of thirds. Try to get an understanding of light and its effects, such as soft light [clouds], hard light [sun], reflective light [off walls]. Don’t get hung up on the technical side of things. Just go out and shoot your world as you see it.
What would be your advice to kids who fancy a career in photography?
Go for it! No matter whether you want to be a fashion, wedding, school, commercial or portrait photographer, do it because you love it and not for any financial reward. It has to be your passion.
Time Out Dubai,