Interview – Featured Photographer : Jake Hicks

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How long have you been a photographer? How long have you worked with models?
I’ve been shooting commercially for about ten years. I started out when I left Uni and even then my first jobs were with models for hair shoots. Back then we were shooting loads of hair campaigns so you got to work with a lot of brand new models, some had never been in front of the camera before either so I guess it was a learning experience for both sides.

What do you enjoy most about being a photographer?
I think it’s the process really for me, sure as a professional photographer you have to shoot strange things to pay the bills once in awhile but my passion definitely lies with photographing models. Yes its great to photograph beautiful women but they are artists in their own right too and I love the collaboration that happens in the lens. I’m pretty techie when it comes to lighting and I love it to be perfect but when we start shooting I like the shoot to take its own course and allow the model creative freedom to do what she’s best at, you always get the best shots that way and I love it when that happens.

At what point did you realize that you wanted to pursue photography as more than a hobby?
Strangely it never was a hobby for me, It wasn’t until I got to college and had failed everything else that I found my love for the craft. I have been extremely lucky with my education and have been taught by so many incredibly passionate photographers who really encouraged me so I carried it right the way through, did my degree, left and started shooting.

What kind of personality do you have? How would your friends describe you?
Haha they’d probably describe me as pretty laid back, I’m definitely not somebody who chases the rat race dream. I love to chill out and have a few beers with friends and discuss ideas and theories and I’m certainly not somebody who enjoys the drama of being the centre of attention at pubs and clubs anymore though haha. Those days are long behind me now.

What are some of your other interests or hobbies?
Jeez this isn’t pretty, but I’m afraid to say that these days I literally do eat, sleep and breath photography. During the day I manage a team of photographers in a studio then I come home and crack on with my own work. Retouching, networking writing my blog and then at the weekend I shoot some more. I know I can’t maintain that forever so I’ll enjoy the creative freedom while I can.

What surprises people about you, after they get to know you?
A lot of the time I think people expect me to be older than I am, I’m not entirely sure why. I think the industry has a large proportion of photographers who are exploring their ‘second’ career at the moment and as such they tend to be a little older as they have the time and the money to do so. Other than that I think people are surprised at how laid back I am on shoots. I’mfortunate enough to have been able to do this for over a decade now and there aren’t many things I haven’t seen happen on set so I like to go with the flow a bit more. Sure my work looks technical and involves a lot of kit but once its all set up we can just concentrate on creating the images relatively stress free.

Tell us about your first muse. How did she inspire you?
Hmmm good question and I’m certainly fortunate enough to have my first muse, the model Jaye in my portfolio as my partner now. We met and started chatting and it turned out she was a modeltographer so we really started bouncing ideas off one another. I’d been going through a phase of relatively safe and boring photography for a while, you know the guy who just records what’s in front of him and I really hated that. With Jaye we had the opportunity to try things and make mistakes and most importantly learn from them, something that is becoming more and more devoid in this digital age. After that I never looked back and kept pushing myself to always try something different in each and every shoot.

If you could photograph any model (living or dead), who would it be? Why?
It’s got to be Coco Rocha, that girl can model. I love it when a model really brings something to the table that you couldn’t ask her to do yourself. I mean crazy faces or really passionate expressions, sure you can ask any model to give that but I can assure you that you won’t get it with any real conviction. Even at her level Coco Rocha isn’t afraid to make mistakes or look a fool but its those shots that will always stand out without fail.

Tell us about your most memorable photo shoot.
90% of my work is studio based so when I had the opportunity to shoot in an old English manor house with a photographer friend of mine I jumped at the chance. I was just really getting into coloured gelled lighting and it was more of a spur of the moment thing but I decided to do the whole shoot with coloured lighting when I arrived. This by the way is why I hate providing mood boards and all that fuss before a shoot. There are far too many variables at work on a good photo shoot and if you want to do anything even remotely interesting and creative then you always have to be open to new ideas that present themselves. That can’t happen if you’ve mood-boarded yourself into a corner of prior expectations from the rest of the team, hence why my briefs are always extremely vague at best.

Besides your camera body, what piece of equipment that you own do you find indispensable?
It has to be my lighting kit, natural light bores me to tears so I like to have full control of my shoot to ensure its eye-catching and interesting for the viewer. The model looks stunning so the photograph should be to. As soon as I left Uni I picked up 4 Bowens 500w heads and I’ve picked up a couple more since then to augment the set in really big environments or complex lighting situations but I don’t think I’ve taken a natural light shot outside my holiday snaps in a very long time indeed.

What photographers do you find inspirational?
Really its anybody who I feel is actually pushing the medium, trying new things and pushing themselves. I haven’t followed any specific photographers for many years now and I find that I’m getting inspired by lighting in films and even in art and anime. Photographers work whose work I admire right now though are Khoa Bui, Jed Root, Greg Kadel and Bruno Dayan.

What qualities do you look for in a model?
For me they need to be confident, I love it when a model can bring some awesome facial expressions to the table and really look like they are pushing themselves with extreme poses that are eye-catching and provocative. I mentioned confidence before and sometimes this can be seen as cocky and arrogant but I’m cool with that, hey we’re here to do a job and what great models do is very hard indeed. If they need to be borderline egomaniacal for us all to get outstanding images I’m down with that. It doesn’t mean I’m going to want to spend any more time than absolutely necessary with them though haha.

What styles of photography do you find most personally rewarding?
I love shooting the editorial style, I say this over fashion as I see fashion as being very staged recently and probably more reserved for catalogues and look books. Unfortunately that’s the work that pays but the editorial style allows for far greater creative freedom. There aren’t to many clothing designers out there who want a catalogue of my crazy coloured lighting distracting from their pride and joy creations.

Tell us something funny that has happened during one of your shoots.
Unfortunately I work in studios so the stories end at models passing out and the stylists toy dog peeing on the light stand. That being said on the rare occasion that I do get let out usually something odd happens.

Many years ago we were shooting at an abandoned brick factory (it looked more exciting than it sounds I promise). It was near the end of a long day and we were starting to wrap up when the ‘supposed’ owner turned up shaking fists and swearing at us asking us what we were doing there. I promptly turned around and reciprocated the gesture as we had gotten permission to shoot there. It wasn’t until a very angry half hour later when we were driving home that the stylist thought I’d gotten permission and I thought the stylist had been the one who’d gotten permission so I’d actually been shouting in the face of the owner who had no idea at all about who we were, whoops.

What advice can you offer to novice or aspiring photographers?
In short, work hard and after you’ve worked really hard, work harder. I think if we all took a look at those people we really admire in the industry right now we would find strong evidence showing them to be outrageously dedicated. I could name a few right now that I know will go far purely based on the irrefutable fact that they will get better at something the more they do it and they’re doing a lot of it a lot of the time.

If you do something a few hours a week you might be alright at it in 10 years time, do something 80 hours a week and you’ll be great at it in 2 years. If you don’t want to have a creative career then tell yourself that up front, be honest with yourself and about your goals, enjoy your hobby and you’ll be far happier with your results and probably far more creative for it to. Those people who enjoy being creative and think it might be ‘nice’ to make it into a career are in for a miserable journey.


See more from Jake Hicks