Special Feature

Interview photographer Chris Thomson

  • Rowald: How are you today?
  • Chris: I have just returned my European base in Southern Spain after a one month shoot in Miami, the Bahamas and the Florida Keys so this is a good time to talk as I am editing and not shooting this week
  • Rowald: How long have you been into photography?
  • Chris: Too Long! I started my apprentiship in a studio in London in the "Swinging Sixties" Cleaning the studio and making cups of tea.
  • Rowald: How did you start?
  • Chris: I Started my own studio in London in 1970 when I was approached by Terence Conran (Now Sir Terence Conran) to set up a studio to shoot the product Catalogues for HABITAT his international chain of furniture stores and the CONRAN Shop.
  • Rowald: What type of photos are your preference?
  • Chris: My background and training was lighting studio still life and Tabletop shooting on 8 x10 large format cameras creating images for press billboards and advertising campaigns for major international Ad agencies, but in the mid 1970s I was offered an opportunity to shoot the Heineken Calendar featuring nude girls in exotic tropical locations. Because of the success of this and other Glamour calendars that I shot that year my career changed from working in a dark studio on large format to shooting on beaches worldwide with 35mm film cameras and I was sponsored by OLYMPUS Cameras and FUJI Film.
  • Rowald: Are your photos more your taste or demand from others?
  • Chris: I have always shot my style - simple graphic images with strong colours and attention to lighting, this in turn created a demand for my style of imagery from my clients the advertising agencies.
  • Rowald: Do you develop scenery ideas with the models or more yourself?
  • Chris: I usually have a basic visual idea once I have chosen the country, location and models for a particular shoot, then I expect the model to contribute also once she is in front of the camera. Originally polaroid, and now digital playback really helps photographers and models to fine tune the shoot before the final images.
  • Rowald: Do you try to create, display or express something special with your photos?
  • Chris: I try to tell a story with my images and I like to give the viewer enough information so that they are encouraged to finish the story with their imagination. My main aim is to visually entertain and stimulate.
  • Rowald: Would you like to do other types?
  • Chris: I have shot studio still life, drinks, food, cars, trucks, fashion, industrial & architecture which are all great experience and training for the genre that I enjoy best - photographing women!
  • Rowald: Are you a tech freak or an artist?
  • Chris: I am technically educated and trained in Photography and am a engineer and problem solver. Photography is a technical medium for creating artistic images so if you are technically ignorant your ability to create visually what you imagine will be limited by lack of knowledge how to create the best result with what you have available. I keep informed technically but I am not a tech freak.
  • Rowald: Do you use a lot of equipment or try to stay light-weight?
  • Chris: As I work mainly on location I only take what I can carry (about 50 Kilos) including lights, props, Mac laptop and minimal clothing! This is especially important now with luggage and security restrictions.
  • Rowald: Do you do analog photography also?
  • Chris: I was trained on large format film and as a darkroomel, food & Wine technician, but commercially I have been digital for about six years. Black and white printing is still my hobby.
  • Rowald: What cameras do you use?
  • Chris: I always find this a strange question! I started my career with a wood and brass plate camera on which I viewed an upside down image under a black cloth. Then I went to medium format with Hasselblad. After that Olympus sponsored me for years with the last of their excellent film cameras the OM4. I now use Canon Digital, but none of this matters! Photographers should use what they like, at certain price levels cameras are all pretty good. The important thing to remember is that it is the imagination and eye of the person behind the camera that makes the image - NOT the camera. You can take a great image on a $10 throw away camera and at the same time many people spend a fortune on expensive cameras and still take lousy photos!
  • Rowald: What are your hobbies?
  • Chris: Photography, I still take personal photos for enjoyment. Travel, Food & Wine are a close second.
  • Rowald: What are your plans or visions for your future?
  • Chris: To produce more Photo books, not how to do, just photos!
  • Rowald: How do you get along with models?
  • Chris: I usually shoot female models, and I like female company and the female mentality so usually I get on well as I like shopping with them for props, shoes and clothes.
  • Rowald: I think you traveled a lot. Where did you go to?
  • Chris: Where have I not been? over 35 years of travelling I have shot on all continents apart from Antarctica and in over 100 countries
  • Rowald: How does one make such good photos? Can you give some tips to the readers?
  • Chris: Easy advice, but not so easy! The best advice is to study the arts, movies, painting, graphics & photography. See what affects you visually and try to analyze why an image is successful. Do not try to copy someone elses style exactly, that is just plagiarism, see what works and use that as a basis for your own ideas and imagination.
  • Rowald: People envy you doing these shootings with models. What do you say to this?
  • Chris: I am very fortunate and I enjoy what I do but it is not for most people who like a comfortable structured existence. I spent the first 5 years working other jobs to make money to work as a photo assistant virtually unpaid but for a unique apprenticeship training. I work irregular hours, sometimes 24 hours at a time often nights and weekends. when I was married, my wife was very understanding but often did not see me for a month and then only for a few days before I was off on another job. Any social arrangements that I might have, theatre, dinner dates etc. are cancelled more often than not at the last minute because of work! Anyone who envies this should seriously consider not being married or in a real relationship, living alone is the best option.
  • Rowald: Wanna give some tips for up coming photographers?
  • Chris: Have a day job and treat photography as a hobby. If you want to take up photography commercially work for another photographer as an assistant, unpaid if necessary first. There are many good photographers out there and not much work so do not expect to make a good living even if you are good. Luck and being a good businessman are more important for success that being just a creative image maker.
  • Rowald: What you think about photos taken by others?
  • Chris: I am always excited by other peoples photos because you can always find exciting images and not just from professionals, some of the most interesting images come from amateurs with a good eye.
  • Rowald: What is your best photo?
  • Chris: My next shoot, I have not done my best yet. I am always trying to improve and learn something new each day
  • Rowald: How do you create a good atmosphere for shootings?
  • Chris: Organization, planning and calm. Models react well to feeling good, they perform better, look better and are less inhibited if you look after them and keep them informed about the shoot. I make them feel appreciated and compliment them when it is deserved. Creature comforts are also important for motivating models, good music food and some wine also helps.
  • Rowald: Do you have ethnic preferences?
  • Chris: I appreciate all types of women, I like the sculpted bonestructure and clear skin of some Asian girls. Fit Black girls often have amazing muscle tone and posture. Eastern European girls often have a elegant quality which is unique, and I love the sensuous sexy character of Latin women. My least favourite and usually most disappointing because they look superficially interesting are the bleached blond silicone Baywatch clones who are somehow inhibited so you have this fake exterior and no personality inside! Real Scandinavian blonds are great!
  • Rowald: When meeting a girl, where do you look first at?
  • Chris: I usually video a girl for a couple of minutes while talking to her at a casting from this I can see if she is at ease with her body and can move easily. Conversation is also important and usually gives some clue to intellect, as communication eye as well as conversation is important to good images. Communication is international, some of the best models that I have worked with do not speak much English or any other language that I have in common with them but they can communicate with the camera.
  • Rowald: What attracts or inspires you?
  • Chris: I am attracted initially to the physical "Golden Mean" with a girl, body tone, defined waist, and proportional bust and hips, then comes the eyes and the communication that I explained.
  • Rowald: Do you let them pose or do you direct more?
  • Chris: I like to direct initially, but not pose as I like my model to move as I shoot and I like them and use there imagination to give me there own look
  • Rowald: Any special preferences in scenery or outfit?
  • Chris: I like simple minimal locations, deserts, coral beaches, waterfalls primary strong colours. none of this looks good in flat light, give me strong clear sunlight!
  • Rowald: Are there models you don't like to work with?
  • Chris: Of course! Primadonnas, girls who think that they know best and tell me how good they are but have bad skin or are out of condition with ruined hair and broken fingernails and bruises and worse dirty wardrobe. Should I go on?
  • Rowald: Where are you from?
  • Chris: I am British but was born overseas as my father was in the army and I was moved every two years around the world as a child, I do not live anywhere now for long, my suitcase is my home.
  • Rowald: Do you or did you have idols?
  • Chris: Of course, Irving Penn, the father of modern commercial photography and Richard Avedon.
  • Rowald: Are you single?
  • Chris: I have to be, who would put up with me and my job?
  • Rowald: Happiest Accomplishment?
  • Chris: My first Billboard!
  • Rowald: Do you have or pursue other talents?
  • Chris: I love to cook and entertain, even on location with models I will cook or barbecue at the villa in the evening after work
  • Rowald: Favorite Movie or Television Show?
  • Chris: Blade Runner
  • Rowald: Preferred color, food and drinks?
  • Chris: Primaries and contrast, Honest well cooked peasant food and good red wine
  • Rowald: Do you speak any language besides English?
  • Chris: French badly, some Spanish Italian and German
  • Rowald: How would you describe your personality?
  • Chris: Private, Just a few real friends
  • Rowald: Wanna give a final shout out?
  • Chris: Remember most people never realize their potential, life is a gamble so you must believe in yourself and follow your dreams. You only get one chance, don't waste it!


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