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Friday, June 15, 2007

James Brown - The English Beat

With a fresh style, a young professional's obsession for creating high-fashion images is getting noticed

Lighting The Look

In fashion photography, as in all other aspects of that profession, nothing is as important as developing your own style and, over the years, Brown has worked hard to accomplish that. Whether his photographs bring to mind the bold energized youth of London nightlife or his stark lighting creates a world reminiscent of the seductive film noir, his lighting is instrumental in shaping his images.

“To me, lighting is the most important tool to understand as a photographer,” says Brown, “because if you don't understand the basic principles, it's easy to make huge mistakes later on. I tried to develop my style around something that I like—moody images. I think they have more of an impact. I like to play on the borderline of dark and clean. I never shoot perfectly clean shots. I prefer to have a few shadows here and there to give it more life and not be so flat.”

Adds Brown, “I've used all makes of lighting equipment over the past few years, and I do like to mix and match lights. My day-to-day gear, Bowens, never lets me down. They're so well made and durable, which is something that gives me peace of mind while I'm working. My kit can be used in the studio or on location, which is great because I can just throw them in a bag and off I go. Bowens has started to develop all sorts of attachments, which have given me the chance to expand my creative skills. And I'm always in anticipation of the next new attachment, so I can play around and offer clients something different with my lighting. I use the super-soft reflector and diffuser kit and the grid diffuser for quite a lot of my work, as they provide such nice effects, and I can mix and match them to give me even more effects.”

Says Brown of a recent shoot at an abandoned WWII air force base, “It was very strange and had a mellow, dramatic feel to it. I was shooting for a designer who's making a huge name for himself in London. I was on location and had a million things on my mind. I knew I didn't have to worry one bit about the lights, as they're very durable. Once I had the generator started, the lights pinged on and didn't give me any trouble throughout the shoot, which went on well into the night.”

Brown's seductive, moody imagery is influenced by his love for the Italian style. “I love everything about Italy,” he says. “I think the Italians set the trend throughout the world—the designs have so much class about them and still have a classic look that never seems too dry. If you look at any campaign, such as Gucci or Armani, they really play with ideas and style and, to me, give such an impact visually. I like nothing more than looking through Italian Vogue to help me with ideas and inspiration. I think Italian women are the most beautiful people to photograph; they have such passion and fire in everything they do.”

Preparation And Inspiration

Brown's perfectly sculpted photographs start long before he enters the studio or sets up a single light. His passion for his work consumes much of his daily life.

Says Brown, “I'm always working in my mind, always doing 100 miles an hour. I'm one of those people who has to get things right all the time, so if I'm working on an image, I'll have to make sure everything is perfect before I even pick up my camera. Most of my inspiration also comes from everyday situations. I think being creative is a constant development, so I'm always switched on with my surroundings and people around me. You never know when something or someone will just hit you right in the face, which could then generate a big idea.”

Although much of Brown's work is mapped out well before it's actually shot, he's a self-described “on-the-spot thinker.” From his early days working at the newspaper and throughout his professional career with clients, Brown has been faced with having to make split-second creative decisions that would please a variety of people. Where he used to grow nervous, he's now able to feel at ease and under control of the situation, even under pressure.

It's this level of comfort that makes Brown so easy to work with. His rapport with his models makes his images dynamic. Says Brown, “I tend to get them on set and let them get used to the surroundings and have a chat—make a few jokes and then just ease into the shoot slowly. I also show them what I'm doing so they feel more relaxed. I sometimes will just stop throughout the shoot and have a 10-minute conversation and then—click—I take a picture and think, ‘Got ya!'”


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