Whether you’ve flicked through a glossy magazine, browsed online or ventured into a gallery, you’ve probably wondered what kind of person takes those amazing photos. You’ve probably been curious as to whether that kind of job enables a world of glitz, excitement and more importantly though, exotic travels.
Today’s travel job interview features Richard Stow. He’s a Fashion and Beauty Photographer who has travelled the world capturing backstage moments at VIP catwalk shows and on bespoke assignments. He’s an experienced and respected photographer, so if it’s a route you’d like to pursue, read on for his tips and advice. Even if it’s not something you’d like to do, his stories about A-Listers and sorts are worth a read. It’s a juicy one, so grab a cup of tea and a biscuit or two…
Q. What’s an average working day like?
There really is no such thing as an average day. That is one of the things I love about it. One day you could be photographing a celebrity in their mansion in Ibiza, the next you could be in the countryside photographing models riding motorbikes, and then the next you’re in the desert in L.A. shooting a personal project. Obviously that is the good part – the dream.
The reality is that you actually spend much more time editing, archiving, trying to keep up with your social media and website. Basically your ‘to-do list’is NEVER done. The lifestyle isn’t for everyone. There’s no job security – things can be tough at times. It’s very much feast & famine, like many creative jobs. There are no set hours, you will often work late into the night or over weekends, but the freedom of being self-employed is something that’s really important to me and I really enjoy it.
Q. Where has your job taken you?
I have been extremely fortunate to have seen so much of the world with my work. On assignments in Paris, Tuscany, Greece, Iceland, Monaco, Ibiza, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Thailand – for a variety of clients & magazines.
Q. Do you have a favourite ‘on-set’ location?
I love to go to places that are very remote. I spent a month in Micronesia, diving & learning underwater photography – that was a great experience that I am unlikely to top! It’s one of the few ‘garden of Eden’ type places in the world – truly unspoilt.
When I was trekking in the Himalayas I would often go entire days not seeing another person (other than the mate I was trekking with) and that sense of isolation in such an awe inspiring landscape was something I will never forget. I took all my medium format film camera equipment with me (there was rarely electricity so digital equipment would have been a nightmare to charge up), and shot some of the most incredible landscape images, which I have then used in my editorial fashion work as backdrops.
Q. Do you get to decide the shoot location?
Yes and no. I have been flown in to some places because that’s where the client’shome is: Ibiza, Tuscany, France, etc. I’ve been lucky enough to have clients that have taken me to their home towns and because of their local knowledge they have taken the shoot to locations that we would never have known existed. We’ve got access to places that we’d have otherwise not been allowed to shoot.
Quite commonly the location will be decided by the client based on what their requirement is and if they can wrangle a deal with a hotel in a particular place for the whole crew. People are often surprised how big a team can be needed for a photoshoot, so when shooting on location, accommodation can be a big consideration. Sometimes I get asked to suggest locations, and then it’s great to have an input from that early stage of the job.
Q. Are some destinations easier to shoot than others?
I really loved my most recent trip was around Sri Lanka. It’s one of those countries where you can’t really go wrong as a photographer. The landscape is stunning, there is such a colourful culture and not to mention, incredible nature.
Q. Do things ever go wrong?
When shooting a well-known actress in Bilbao, on arrival it transpired that the airline had lost all of my baggage – the lighting, computer, everything! Luckily I had refused to let them check the camera in, so at least I could take a picture. We planned to get by with natural light (no bad thing!), but that didn’t go plan to either.
On arrival at our hotel it turned out that we were staying in the middle of the International Film Festival and the actress could not leave her room or be spotted by the press. The entire job had to be shot in almost darkness – just lit by a bedside lamp. Her bedroom window was directly in front of the crowd & paparazzi outside, so we couldn’t even open up the curtains to let the light in! In the end we got some great images but that involved a lot of quick thinking…
Q. What’s it like working with famous people?
I photographed an A-List singer (a global pop-diva) for her birthday party; the only photographer allowed in the club (this was before everyone had a camera phone in their pocket!). Contrary to the stories, she was one of the nicest people I have ever dealt with (her ‘people’ on the other hand…).
There was a moment on the dance floor when I was dancing next to her and her guy. Just as she leaned in to kiss him, she spotted my camera and stopped because she didn’t want her private moment to be photographed. I told her not to worry and to have her moment as it was her birthday. She later came and found me to give me a big hug and to say thanks for being so courteous. The club owner was furious with me for not getting that shot! However, in the long run I was invited to be there for good reason – I’m not the paparazzi type.
Q. Who or what is your favourite thing to shoot?
I know it sounds corny, but I don’t really have a single favourite. The reason being, and what largely attracted me into the fashion and beauty industries in the first place, is that they are such fast paced worlds. You have an idea, shoot it, get it out there, and then you’re already on to the next job. I love variety in life, it keeps things interesting. I’d get bored if I just photographed the same thing again and again.
Q. Where are your favourite, and least favourite, places to shoot?
Whenever I have had the chance to shoot in big, open spaces, like in the desert between L.A. & Vegas or in the Himalayas, I’ve loved it. I guess really my favourite place to shoot is anywhere that I get taken on location. I love being flown to a country I have never visited before and to be able to call it work.
My least favourite place has to be outdoors, in the winter, in the UK. You can’t rely on the weather, it’s getting dark by 3.30pm, everything can have that very British-grey look. And at that time of year the fashion industry is shooting spring-summer collections, so your model is often freezing and not happy about it!
Q. How did you get into this job?
I moved into London in 1999 and did the foundation year at St. Martins. At the time I had no real interest in fashion, or really photography. I just loved life drawing and portraits. I had started taking photographs of people because I couldn’t find many people to sit for three hours for me, and was drawing / painting from those photos.
It wasn’t long before some of the fashion design students were asking me to photograph their creations and then the fashion design tutor took me aside and suggested I think about photography as a serious career. He pointed out that there aren’t that many career prospects in life drawing and at that time fashion photography had been going through somewhat of a renaissance. He put me in a kind of class of my own – within the fashion department, as there was no fashion photography course that I could join. At the end of that year I moved to the London College Of Fashion, and from there I was lucky enough to start assisting a few different fashion photographers.
Q. What tips and advice would you give to somebody looking to follow in your footsteps?
The industry has changed enormously in the years since I graduated. Personally I still think that assisting an established photographer will teach you the most. I feel that photography is going through what the music industry went through over the last 10 years – budgets are being cut and everyone’s considered a photographer now, in some form.
It’s easy to feel like it is a constant uphill struggle and there is more competition than ever because of technology becoming so affordable, BUT there are so many channels to showcase your work now that didn’t exist when I was starting out; social media channels, 500px, Instagram etc. It’s much easier to get your work seen, have a platform – and most importantly, there is the opportunity to create great work without it having to cost you a fortune.
When I started, you had to be able to afford the film, processing, printing, portfolios, etc etc – if you had a creative idea but weren’t sure if it would work, it could be an expensive experiment! But now with a digital camera and a laptop you can be up and running and experimenting to your heart’s content. I suppose one of the most important bits of advice is: be as varied as you can. Try everything out. Don’t just stick to one thing and think you’ve reinvented the wheel. There is always more to learn. There is no such thing as a right and a wrong – it’s more important to find your own voice.
Q. Is the pay good or is it more about the perks of travel?
Like any creative industry, you take the risk – there is a lot of money to be made, but then you might have a quiet period. You have to remember to take those times to work on personal projects and to travel. Don’t be intimidated by the prospect of self employment and all that comes with that – just get on with it!
The industry has changed in recent years in terms of the way budgets are structured, what clients are willing or not willing to pay for. But being able to travel the world because of my job is one of the things that I always feel excited about – not knowing where work will take me is great.
One of the great perks of a recent trip was being able to do a deal with a 5* boutique resort. In return for a penthouse suite for four days, I shot images for the resort’s social media channels. It was great. That’s a new phenomenon that I am starting to appreciate. The power of being an ‘influencer’ means there’s opportunity to do that sort of thing when travelling.
Q. What’s your thought on equipment? Do you think you can get great shots with a phone/cheap camera or do you need an expensive one?
This question has been asked since long before camera phones and digital cameras have been available. There is a saying that goes: “The best camera is the one you have with you.” That’s always been true. And in that respect there’s no ‘best’ – it’s more important to just have the right tool for the job.
You can’t realistically take a 10’x8’ large format studio camera out and do street photography where you want to blend into the crowd! Similarly a small point and shoot camera is not necessarily going to do the job when you have a commercial client with a big production. Most professional photographers I know don’t really care about cameras – they are simply the tool of their trade, and that’s it. Sometimes you need different tools for different jobs.
Q. I hear you have a very special assistant. Is that true?!
My dog comes on most photoshoots – you can follow her on twitter (@LucilleBoston) & Instagram (@LucilleStow) – She always ends up trying to upstage the models with her charming, but bolshie attitude. She normally ends up in the shoot. She’s had her picture taken with Mr. Hudson, David Gandy, Paul Sculfor… She’s been shot by Rankin, and been on The Outnet, has shot for the Religion campaign, the cover of Phoenix magazine…to name a few! She travels with me when possible. She’s been to Italy, France and she’s coming skiing in January too.
See, I told you today’s interview is a good sneaky peak into another way of travelling round the world. Massive thanks to Richard for sharing his tips and insights. If you’d love to find out more about him or his work, visit his website or find him on Twitter: @RichardStow and Instagram: @RichardStow.
What do you think of Richard’s job? Is it something that you’d like to do or are you doing something similar? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.
There are plenty of other options to make your travel job dream a reality. Every month I share suggestions and insights through interviews with real people – people who are actually travelling the world, or part of it, through their job. Visit the ‘Travel Jobs‘ section of Taylor Hearts Travel to discover more. If you fancy taking part, get in touch.