Engage Live photography training will be hosting a three-day live exploration of Experimental Portraiture delivered by one the industry’s most innovative and exciting photographers, the award-winning Richard P.Walton, which takes place on September 8-10. Live stream the classes free at engagelive.co/live.
To get in the mood, the Welshman took time out from his busy schedule to talk about a creative career unlike any other.
When did you first fall in love with photography?
I got into photography at the age of 18. I left school at the age of 16, and never had an idea of what I wanted to do, so I just tried loads of different things. I must have gone through over ten jobs and a bunch of college courses. They never lasted more than a couple of months though. When I decided to check out college again, my younger brother had mentioned photography, so I went to check it out. As soon as I saw the darkroom I was very interested. A couple of months passed and I was waiting for the time when I would get bored and move on to the next thing. But I didn’t get bored. Photography seemed to have endless possibilities. Photography is infinite really.
Did you start collect cameras and equipment like rock nerds collect CDs?
Not really, I never had enough money! I always got by with limited kit. I’m glad though, because it made me concentrate on trying to take better photographs with the limited kit I had. Later, down the line, I did get a bit of a geek with Lomo cameras. I have around ten these days, though they just sit looking pretty in my office. The iPhone did away with actually using them.
When did you do your first professional job, and how did it go?
I photographed a wedding whilst I was in my second year of college. I remember it vividly. I was young and dumb, charged them £100 and even got a college friend to film it, which was included in that price. It was 35mm back then too; I even gave them an album. I think I was out of pocket by a fair bit. I remember going to a local album supplier for the first time and he absolutely bollocked me when I told him how much I had charged. He told me that I should never charge less than £800, as it would effect the industry and bring prices down. It was a great learning experience though. I never made those mistakes again.
Did you have any photography heroes when you were starting out?
I absolutely loved David La Chappelle after going on a college trip to one of his exhibitions in London. I still admire his work today. His portfolio is just amazing. He was doing things 20 years ago that people are still copying today. Very little Photoshop too, which is inspiring. Later down the line, I discovered Joey L, Dave Hill, Joel Grimes and a bunch more. They all influenced my work a lot.
These days though I don’t really look at other photographers, as I find it can influence me to much. I don’t want others to effect the style I am developing, which is always changing, and what I would consider to be getting better. It’s very hard to be original these days but I’ve always strived to be as original as I can. I want my own life and experiences to be the real influence on my work and ideas. It’s easier then to stand out from the crowd.
How would you describe your style?
My style varies. It’s taken me a long time to understand the technical side of things. However, now I’m in a position where I can choose what style to shoot something in. On a professional working level, this is great because I can turn my hand to most jobs out there.
One thing that has always been a big part of my style is getting the camera in different angles, whether I’m lying on the ground or climbing a tree I’ll always shoot something a bit different after I’ve got the safe shots. I want to show people the world from a different angle – my angle.
Imagination has a lot to do with it – can you teach imagination?
Imagination is something that can be developed. I always try to encourage people to look within rather than without. We are all individuals with different ideas, so dig deep down and ask yourself who do you want to be, not what but who. (That last bit is taken from Arnold Schwarzenegger.) I really believe that if we think for ourselves we can be successful and make a living from photography. Don’t look at the photographer down the street, but if you do make sure you are looking at what he’s not doing so you can do it different from him/her.
How do you keep your aesthetic fresh?
I always push myself. I’ll shoot the safe shots, shoot my style shots and then push the boat out and try something new. I’ve always been a keen user of artificial lighting, off camera flash, but lately I’ve been using available light a lot more. It’s quicker and all around us. I don’t use Photoshop as much as I used to, as I like to have a life outside of photography and hate being sat on a computer. So getting shots right in camera is important for me. Most of the time.
What has been your biggest learning curve?
The business side of things. I was terrible at it for a long time. I was no good at pricing jobs and always under-charged. I joined the SWPP, met some great people and all that changed. I’ve got some easy ‘tricks’ that I now use. I’m still not an amazing businessman, but I have a formula that ties in with my work and it seems to be working good for me.
I’m not looking to be a millionaire from photography, I value experiences much higher. I’ve been fortunate to travel the world meeting amazing people and seeing some great places. Photography is the best job out there, in my eyes. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. As long as I make what I consider to be a comfortable living, I’m happy.
And what would you rather forget?
Signing a five-year lease on a studio. I got rid of it back last year. Great at times and nice to have, but it came with a lot of stress. I now work from home and love it.
You photograph the Gumball Rally regularly. It looks like amazing fun. Why do you keep going back?
Yes, I’ve been fortunate to photograph the rally five times. It’s an eye opener, a chance to see how the other half live. It’s pretty sickening at times, to be honest. Billionaires and millionaires going all out for a week, money is literally not a worry for those guys. I’ve met some amazing people through it and seen some great places. It’s a tough week but I’m always drawn to it closer to the time.
Last year I got paid the most I’ve ever been paid for one job so that was nice, Maxim magazine used six of my photos and it paid for my wedding this year. I have some crazy stories and some nice photographs from the adventures. It’s actually starting in Ireland (Dublin) next year. Hopefully I’ll be back on it. I’m very fortunate to have landed the Gumball gig. Most people pay £30,000 upwards to enter it!
You’re all about variety, working at lots of different things. How does your edgy style work with weddings, for example?
Variety is the spice of life, as they say. I get bored easily, so I have to mix it up. The edgy stuff works great at weddings because it is different to the norm. People either love it or hate it, which is a good thing. I’ve never wanted to just be booked as a photographer but more an artist.
My aim is to take bookings from people who want what I offer and not what everyone else offers. I don’t follow trends and don’t care about what other photographers are doing. I once had a phone call from somebody asking, ‘Are you the photographer who climbs trees?’ I got known for that and people are disappointed if I don’t climb one on their wedding.
What are the three main things that people will take away from your Engage Live photography training class?
Hopefully people will learn to think outside the box a little. I want people to realise that it’s OK to be an individual. Being yourself is one of the hardest things you can do in society but when you discover that it’s actually OK and some people will appreciate you, you can be free to search for the artist within. This will set you apart from the competition and lead to a far more rewarding life than just trying to be a good photographer would. Remember, you’re not trying to please everyone, just enough people to give you enough money to have the lifestyle you want to lead. I’ll also be sharing my mindset, business ideas, money-making tricks, lighting techniques, camera techniques, attitude, posing, Photoshop tricks, compositing – I basically want to share everything I know. You’ll get plenty of chance to see me shoot too!