INTERVIEW // HUGH WHITAKER
An interview this week with British born, Canada based wedding photographer, Hugh Whitaker. Hugh is also joining us at The Experience // ARC next month in Vancouver for our Fast Paced attendee presentations. Alongside helping organise this portion of the event, Hugh has shared some tips on creating and presenting in this style which you can read here.
Interview by Sachin Khona // September 2016
PHOTOGRAPHY WORK & PRACTICES
When did you know you wanted to be a photographer?
For as long as I can remember I have always had a camera on me but I became really addicted at around 14 when I discovered black and white printing. Luckily my parents let me convert one of our bathrooms into a darkroom. I’m not sure if I ever consciously decided I was going to be a photographer, it was just a hobby that took over so much of my life that I eventually realized I needed to be making money from it!
Where is home for you and where do you work?
I live in Peterborough Ontario, which is a small city about 90 minutes from Toronto.
Have you always lived there or was there a conscious choice to move there?
I moved here from the UK about 7 years ago. Before this point I had travelled a lot and had seen a lot of different places but nowhere really felt like home as instantly as Canada. I love the seasons, love the outdoors and love the attitude and positive outlook on life of the people around me. I’ve had so much support and encouragement growing my business here and I know that I’ll be here forever. Most of my work is in and around Toronto but I have the luxury of living in a smaller community, which suits my personality better.
In what way does your location influence your work?
I think location influences me less and less these days as I become more influenced by people.
When I started shooting I was always heavily influenced by landscape, but both my commercial and personal work has shifted to the point now, that for me the story and emotion of the people in my photos is really what influences me most. That being said whenever I’m in a different environment from my norm, I’m instantly inspired to shoot. If I go away for a bit as soon as I’m back to Canada I’m inspired to shoot here again. Change is a good thing for me.
Do you have a designated workspace or office?
I do. Jennifer Moher and I share an office. I like to work in a controlled environment with not too many distractions. It’s a small square room with two desks so it’s not the most interesting room to look at!
What has been the most defining moment in your career? OR
Do you feel there was a turning point, monumental time, or series of events in your life that you were felt as though you were on the right path in regards to your photography career that BROUGHT you to where you are now?
For many years I photographed anything and everything without any real direction. I did random jobs that covered the bills and spent my spare time shooting. Coming to Canada and meeting a network of supportive photographers was what really made me realize that I could actually make a career out of photography. I’m not particularly business orientated and a bit of a dreamer so Jennifer Moher is definitely the reason that I have a successful career at the moment. It’s actually mind-blowingly easy to start up a photography business, but for me I needed that kick. (Thanks Jen!) This is also one of the reasons that I try to give back now.
The photography community helped me so much to get where I am today, hopefully I can do that for others.
Can you describe your style via a series of 10 photos that you feel define the work you’ve done in the last year and where possible describe why each one was included?
Defining my own style has always been a question in my head. For most of my shooting career I’ve never really thought of myself having a defined style. It took me actually taking the time to sit down and write out what I thought my images are made up, focusing on what I liked and what attracted me to create an image. This last year has largely been about really understanding this and trying to apply it more to my work as a whole. The first couple of images came from a totally spontaneous shoot. I was shooting a wedding in Vancouver and crashed at a couple of my close friend’s house. At the time they were weeks away from expecting their first child and spent most evenings cruising around in their old car and watching the sunset. I always carry a camera and as we headed out the light was perfect. I shot for the sake of shooting and without really thinking but when I loaded the set of images later I loved the story that it told.
This lead to me trying to create short stories of personal images whenever we traveled. It always seems that they follow the same pattern, dark images full of blues usually taken in lower light.
Interestingly enough this started to flow across into the images that I create for my clients.
I really am most interested in telling short stories, summarizing events and moments in a collection of images like a trailer to a movie. Or in some instances a visual haiku. I challenge myself to post three contrasting but complementary images to give a feeling of a moment. I spend hours procrastinating in lightroom selecting images and looking at how they relate. Because I spend time with my personal work looking for the images with more of a narrative I find it’s flowed over into my wedding work. I love the quiet moments, the small gestures, as well as producing the imagery that people expect at a wedding.
I also produce the images that satisfy my curiosity.
Maybe it’s a couple still in the dining room whilst everyone else dances
Or a bridesmaid’s nervous hand as she waits.
Even when I’m photographing the bride I aim for in-between shots that I’ve never seen before like her veil catching the wind. This all then goes together with the more traditional shots to hopefully build a bigger story and perception of the day.
What inspires and motivates you to create?
Quite simply, if I haven’t created anything good in a while I feel empty. The number one way of maintaining my personal happiness is through creating something I’m proud off. Happiness and satisfaction are probably the best motivators you can have!
Do you do any creative training outside of your work?
I studied photography at The Arts Institute at Bournemouth in the UK I then interned and assisted a couple of Commercial advertising photographers for two years. I learnt a huge amount during this period. But Digital photography came a little later (I’m old!) so most of my current knowledge base is self-taught and learnt from watching and talking to other photographers.
When you get stuck creatively, what is the first thing you do to get unstuck?
Shoot something that I’m not paid or asked to shoot. Something that makes no difference how I shoot it. A lot of my ideas come from looking at mistakes and lucky shots in my personal work.
How do you know when a piece of your work is finished and needs no additional work?
I move on from things I’ve shot very quickly. It’s satisfying for a moment and then I want to shoot something else. I have a few long-term projects that I would like to add more images too, but if I’m brutally honest with myself I’ll probably never revisit them.
Are there any key lessons in your career that you’d like to share? OR Best piece of career advice you were ever given?
I have two heavily clichéd responses! Keep shooting and David Alan Harvey’s well known quote,
“Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like.”
— David Alan Harvey
For me I keep both of those in the back of my head whenever I shoot. “Keep shooting” is so important. We all get despondent, we all get down, the photographers I admire and look up to are all creating inspiring work because they’re relentless and determined and never stopped shooting.
“Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like” is taking me longer to really figure out. There are so many occasions where I’m in a situation shooting bad images thinking “what the f*** does this actually feel like!?” It’s a reminder for me to stop and engage my brain as opposed to wildly shooting from the hip.
Do you have a photograph burned in your memory that you never took but wish you had?
I used to have a lot more. I’d constantly see moments happen at weddings and raise my camera 2 seconds too late. It happens less often now. I taught myself to predict what was going to happen before it did and to be ready with my composition and light figured out.
Can you share one creative tip that you use when you are working?
For me creativity comes from hard work. I think it’s easy to look at talented photographers and think that they’re born that way, but they’re really not. They’re just working hard. I find the more effort I put in, the more creative I am.
Can you share an image that you’re particularly proud of and tell us why?
For me the image I’m most proud of is usually the last one I shot. It will be replaced by the time I’ve submitted this! Buuut currently I like this image. I love walking at dusk, I love the period of day when the daylight balances with interior light, it’s such a soft magical time. I was walking and saw this guy standing in the window on his phone from a distance. It’s the type of image that I always like, but by the time I had got there he had moved so I framed the shot and waited. He then paced around his room but it seemed like he was never coming back to the window. I nearly gave up as the light had pretty much gone and I felt kind of conspicuous standing in a dark alley pointing a camera at his window but he came back stared at me, I shot it quickly and walked off. I like it because it can be viewed in many different ways. It’s a story but it lets the viewer create their own narrative.
What are the 3 most important things in your personal life?
My wife, Jennifer Moher, my family and friends, and making time to enjoy my surroundings.
I love nothing more than being in a canoe, on a surfboard or in the woods in beautiful light.
Do you work in any other fields of business?
I shoot a bit of stock, I should really be shooting more!
Can you share a bit about your daily schedule? Do you have a morning/evening routine?
I don’t really have a routine. It depends on external factors. In an ideal world I like to swim first thing in the morning. It’s not always possible but my best days start of that way.
What within your work do you not like to do and why?
Taxes and paperwork. I wasn’t programmed that way!
How do you achieve work/life balance?
I only really feel like I’m working when I have to do paperwork, which isn’t too often so it feels like I’m balancing it pretty well! When I’m deep in editing season I do make a real effort to get away from the computer and do something outside but it still doesn’t really feel like work.
What was your hardest / painful creative failure to deal with and what did it teach you?
I feel my career is made up of missed and failed images, normally from lack of concentration. I’m hard on myself in this aspect but it just pushes me to concentrate more and shoot better next time.
What will you be doing (or hope to be doing) 5/10 years from now?
Shooting weddings hopefully!
THE CORE // FOUNDATION
If you could change one aspect of our society through your work, what would it be?
If someone looked at one of my images and from it realized that they had to live more in the moment and appreciate the people in their life I would be happy.
If you were no longer able to use a camera, how else would you express your creativity?
I don’t think I would. I’d just spend my days daydreaming.
Are there any mantras that you live by?
Be nice and avoid negativity.
If you only had 24 hours to live, how would you spend your day?
In the ocean followed by a mid-afternoon nap in the shade and surrounded by the people I love.
Have you ever doubted your talent? If so, how did you work through your doubt?
Every day, I just keep plugging away!
The will to create something that I’m really proud of keeps me going through every image that isn’t quite there yet.
JOIN HUGH AT THE EXPERIENCE // ARC
This is NOT your typical photography conference.
Welcome to The Experience // ARC, a one-of-a-kind event for passionate photographers and creatives.
We’ll have 10 expert speakers from all over the world joining us over 3 days.
alongside our host James Moes
Fast Paced Presentations with Hugh Whitaker
Live Interviews // Live Judging of your images
6 BIG IDEAS, mini presentations
Food Trucks // Concert // After Party // Live Bands and DJ’s
find your voice . challenge your perspective . refine your vision
You’ll experience expert training, creative challenges, bold new techniques, powerful connections, amazing adventures and have a hell of a good time, all in one of the most breathtaking cities in the world as our backdrop, Vancouver, BC.
Learn more by visiting our site for The Experience.
Limited tickets remain!
Grab yours HERE!
QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS WITH HUGH WHITAKER
Your favourite podcast(s)
Hmmm don’t have one!
Fav Music // Share a (Spotify) playlist
Dirty Three today, probably something else tomorrow!
Film / Documentary that is a must watch?
Your favourite book // A book you are currently reading
I’m working my way through Donna Morrissey’s books at the moment. I read Sylvanus Now and got hooked on the imagery and the portrayal of Canada.
A website you regularly follow?
Last place you travelled?
Favourite photographer or photo project outside of your genre?
I have to pick one!? Lauren Withrow currently, but I have so many photographers in my head. So many people are creating such incredible imagery.
Do you have a favourite poem or quote?
Lemonade (North American)
Favourite TED talk
Your Elusive Creative Genius By Elizabeth Gilbert
Last gallery / exhibit you visited
Outsiders at the Ago
Your favourite photography book
A creative you’d love to see interviewed on ARC?
Thank you Hugh for introducing us to João. His interview is coming up soon!
Links to your personal work // projects?
Here’s a couple of links to some personal short stories. The necessity of having to blog my wedding work ended up turning into a love of telling an abbreviated story through a set of images. I started focusing on small stories purely for personal satisfaction. Finding a way that personal work both influences and is influenced by the work you create for paying clients is really important.
Can you share a short assignment / project that has benefited you in the past?
This set of images was actually created because I wanted to try back button focusing. It was purely an exercise in learning how to use my camera more efficiently. The friend that I talked into standing in front of my camera for 10 mins got delayed so we ended up shooting later, after the light had gone. 30 seconds in I went from mechanically shooting for practice to being really inspired.
If you’re worried you’re not creating anything, go figure out a way of putting anything in front of your camera. You could be amazed at what happens.
THANK YOU, HUGH!
You can see more of Hugh Whitaker’s work here // Web
UP NEXT …
Stay tuned for an interview next week with Canberra based Wedding Photographer Kelly Tunney.
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