Interview With Portrait Photographer Paul Hurst
Interview With Paul Hurst, Leicester Based Portrait Photographer And A Gallery Of His Works
Tell us briefly about yourself
I was born and raised in Leicestershire, England and still live in the wonderful county today with my wife and two young daughters.
I have a background in IT but always held an interest in photography, using and owning many different cameras over the years. The link between IT and digital photography has helped me enormously in developing my craft and taking it to the next level.
How long have you been a photographer ?
I started work seriously as a photographer in 2004 when looking for my next challenge. My first commission was for a small wedding for a family friend, and from that point on I was up and running.
How did you get into photography?
I purchased my first serious camera in 1985 at the age of 13. Of course all cameras were film then and so practise and experimentation was limited to what I could afford on film and processing.
I loved flicking through photography books, seeing images representing moments in time, history of which I was not present. One of my favourite images is entitled ‘Migrant Mother’ by Dorothea Lange taken in 1936 in California during the Great Depression. It is an image of a mother with her two sons, an image representing despair and hope. There is great beauty in the image.
The real turning point came in 2000, when I moved with my wife and daughter to the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean on a 2 year IT contract. Grand Cayman is full of wonderful colours and scenery, and I just knew I had to document as much of this wonderful opportunity as possible. But as with everything in Cayman, film and processing was prohibitively expensive, so I turned to digital camera technology which was just starting to become mainstream in the consumer photographic market.
I took over 10,000 images over the two year period for my personal archive. I won prizes in the national photography competition and had work published in the local media. Photography became my main interest, and I began to focus on professional techniques, influences and creative ideas.
On returning to the UK, I started to invest in professional equipment and training and marketed myself as a wedding and portrait photographer.
Click an image to view gallery
What excites you about photography and what do you enjoy photographing most?
I love the concept of creating a ‘wow’ image from an idea in my head. An image that asks the viewer who the subject is, what they are thinking, what life experiences they have been through. A moment in time that is documented forever as a digital image or print on a wall.
How would you classify yourself as a photographer?
A portrait photographer with an editorial style.
What is your favourite kind of portrait photography, and what is it that interests you so much?
I always remember a black and white photography of my Aunt as a young adult in profile that was wonderfully lit. It hung on my Grandmothers wall and I used to gauze at its simplicity. The image had a sense of quietness that made you want to look into her soul, to understand her, to see what she had experienced and see what the future would hold.
I love simple headshots of people where the eyes are the main part of the image, where the viewer is not distracted by what is being worn by the subject or what room they are in. It is a personal relationship between subject and viewer for a brief moment of time.
Tell us more about Urban Portrait?
Urban portraiture is a relatively new theme of portrait photography. Whereas street photography is a documentary style of candid photography made famous by Henri Cartier-Bresson and his Leica, urban portrait photography is a method of using the streets of a town or city as a studio for your subject. An urban area will contain a fantastic variety of coloured and textured backgrounds – brick walls, garage doors, shop fronts – some new some old, bright, dull, flaking paint, graffiti covered. And all within a few metres of each other. Urban Portraits sessions use these features as a background to create modern stylized portrait photography.
Explain the ritual of photographing urban portrait
I am based in a great city where once proud industries have moved overseas to cheaper labour. But the buildings left behind cover the city and provide a great background to create a urban portrait.
I am constantly searching for city locations where, within a few hundred square metres, there are small areas of interest to use as a backdrop for a portrait.
A shoot location has to be within a small area to save time walking and include all the elements I would need to create a variety of images for a client within a few. Ideally this location will be away from the crowd where attention can stay between photographer and subject.
Urban Photography does not lend itself well to lugging large amounts of equipment around a city, so I keep my equipment as simple as possible – one camera bag with camera and lenses, one off camera flash with stand and softbox/brolly and a monopod or tripod.
I shoot using a mix of natural light and flash. Off camera flash can lift colours and contrast to create highly stylized images which look great as works of art on a canvas print on a wall or framed print.
On a one hour session I may use 10 or more different areas as backdrops, shooting headshots, half and full length and incorporating walls, doors with flaking paint, signs, window reflections and high gloss painted areas into the image.
Weather can sometime be an issue, especially in England, but even rain can be used as a feature, with umbrellas creating great props for portrait images.
Although I have several ideas in my head for a particular shoot, I also have examples of work on my phone to reference and to show to the client. Ideas and reference material can only be treated as a base to work on. I like to keep a shoot as fluid as possible and will adapt ideas as the shoot progresses to incorporate client expectations and dynamics of an urban area.
Describe your post image process
After returning from a shoot I will not look at the images for 24 hours. This gives me time to separate myself from the shoot experience and look at the images in a more impartial way so that only the very best images are selected for the client.
I do an initial selection of images which are then grouped together in Adobe Lightroom for cropping and colour correction. Each selected image is then imported into Adobe Photoshop for creating the exact look I am after.
Each completed image is then exported and uploaded into a web gallery for viewing and selection by the client.
How do you decide between using color or black and white?
A great punchy image with a colourful background lit with off camera flash will look great in colour, but an image where the focus of attention needs to be the subject and the rest of the scene should just be texture can look very powerful as black and white.
Is there such a thing as “the perfect image”?
I believe only the viewer can decide whether an image is perfect for them. A blurry discoloured snapshot taken on a cheap toy camera of a long lost family member or friend can be perfect if it holds invaluable memories for the viewer. Photographs are just splashes of chemicals on a paper or pixels on a computer screen, but it is what an image represents and what it stirs within people that is truly important.
Do you feel that photographer need to build a relationship with their subjects or do they need to remain detached?
I try to find out a little about my subject before the shoot so I can start to create ideas for a set of images within my head. But sometimes that is not possible and it is not until you take the first shot that you can start to converse with a subject and try to find out what makes them tick.
Great portraiture will show a little of the subjects personality, whether it is a glint in the eye, a little smile or an expression. Sometimes that moment is captured at the beginning of a shoot, sometimes at the end, less so in the middle. Photographers have to work at finding that door to their personality.
Explain your relationship with the people you photograph and what makes your work different than the typical photographer-model relationship
I see each client as a friend rather than a business customer. My priority is to ensure client expectations are met and everyone is happy with the final product. I will always go the extra mile to make this the case.
Could you leave our readers with one last practical piece of advice on shooting portraits that stand out from the rest?
Bend your knees and shoot just below your subject’s eyeline to create the sense of power in your subject.
Follow Paul Hurst on Twitter: http://twitter.com/phurst_f11
Telephone: 07810 693231