I recently had the pleasure of meeting one of the UK’s top portrait photographers. Andy Fallon is at the top of his game. Over the past decade, he has been the go-to photographer for the top music magazines to capture their cover stars. Andy’s now moving on from the world of music and branching into new realms of portraiture. We met up with him to find out more.
QHi Andy, tell us a bit about how you first got into photography.
When I was 14 years old, I collected a supplement in the Sunday Times Magazine by Patrick Litchfield called something like ‘A Ten Step Guide to Photography.’ It inspired me to save up for a second-hand Olympus OM10 and I bought myself a Patterson Darkroom kit, which I set up in our garden shed.
My interest whilst studying at Art school in Manchester was to become an illustrator and I enjoyed a work placement at Spitting Image, but I always had my camera with me and I pursued photography in my own time.
At university, I changed over my degree to Photography and became interested in social documentary portraits. Then I got an amazing break working with a backstage fashion photographer for a work placement and traveled with him for six weeks, which nearly resulted in getting kicked off my degree course.
The placement was only supposed to be for a week. You’ve got to grab chances in this business and that experience introduced me to the commercial world of photography.
Photo of Dizzee Rascal
QWhat is it about portrait photography that excites you?
It’s a freedom to enter a personal space that few people have access to. I remember sitting in Abbey Road Studios photographing Sir George Martin and it was just the two of us sitting in Studio 2 talking about The Beatles.
Photo of George Martin
QDo you have a portrait shot that you’re particularly proud of?
As a photographer, it’s important not to rest on your laurels, so often my proudest work is the current project that I’m working on.
Photo of The Killers
QWhen working on a shoot, how do you go about commanding the environment in order to get the shots you want?
I prefer to shoot one on one. If a journalist carries on talking to the sitter I will often ask them politely to leave, as I need their full attention. If your camera jams or it starts to rain, I always keep calm and work with the situation.
Photo of Lily Allen
QCould you explain how you might prepare for a portrait shoot. Do you have to do much research on the subject?
I always try to research as much as possible. I’ll try to find out if a celebrity has an interest in something unrelated to their career so we can talk about something we might have common ground over. No one wants to give his or her promotional pitch to the photographer.
Photo of Morrissey
QI’ve heard you mention in the past that you’d describe yourself as a photographer, but also an art director. What do you mean by that?
I like my portraits to tell a story. If you are photographing someone well known then a simple shot works fantastic. Shooting a new band in a clean studio shot will often tell you nothing about them.
I like to plan a shot, whether it is with location, styling or props. Although, when working with an advertising or magazine art director, I make sure I fulfill their vision and ideas on the shoot.
Photo of Beth Ditto
QDo you have any specific cameras or equipment that you’d use for a portrait shoot?
I shoot on a Hasselblad 503CW with a CFV digital back. I love the lenses, using the 40mm and 50mm and a 80mm with extension rings for close up.
For detail and reportage shots I have a FUJI X-Pro1 that never leaves my side.
I’ve started to always carry a Zoom H1 recorder in my camera bag for capturing interviews for personal projects.
Photo of Peter Gabriel
QBy what means do you control the lighting of your subjects?
Over the years I’ve trimmed my kit to a minimum set up… almost.
I try to be able to carry all equipment myself, in case I’m not able to use an assistant, which isn’t always possible when shooting personal projects. When push comes to shove, I like to be able to take the same equipment set up on a plane, train or automobile.
My Peli Case not only acts as a trolley but I use it to stand on all the time. Lowepro trekker backpacks are a great bit of kit.
I exclusively use Quantum QPAQs with Qflash on location. They can shoot all day and have the flexibility to shoot plugged into the mains or by battery. They’re rugged and have never let me down, touch wood.
Sometimes I use Stroboframe brackets if I’m on the move, but mostly I use Photek Soft Lighters on Manfrotto nano stands, which can stand on the ground or be held by my assistant. I always carry a 5-in-1 reflector in my bag.
I tend not to upgrade gear unless it breaks and even then there’s always gaffa tape to fix.
I met a great one-eyed photography legend called Jimmy Forsyth whilst studying in Newcastle. He documented the city throughout the 40s, 50s and 60s. I asked him about his beautiful lighting techniques. His answered, “the fancy shades were there already, the sun put them there.” It’s now a little mantra of mine that I try to remember when lighting a shot.
Photo of Mighty Boosh
QWhat advice might you be able to offer to aspiring portrait photographers?
It seems like obvious advice, but only show a portfolio of work you want to shoot. I’ve just had a new portfolio made as I felt the need to have more face time with clients rather than sending my website.
If you don’t love to photograph then get out now because it’s the only thing to get you through the tough times when starting your career. Forget about all the thousands of photographers and take it one client at a time.
Review your portfolio every six months and don’t be afraid to scrap it and take a new direction.
Photo of The Noisettes
QWhat projects are you currently working on?
I currently working on a book called SOHO Heroes with writer and musician Tim Arnold. It’s a hard study of a square mile in central London’s Red Light District and Theatreland. The finished project will be a multimedia piece with audio interviews, songs, live readings and exhibition.”
Photo of Robert Plant
QIf you could only take one more portrait shot, who would it be?
The Queen of England.