Russ does not conform to any photographic trends – he merely shoots what he wants, how he wants. Check out his story below.
Say hello to Russ:
Where are you from?
What’s your favorite place in the world?
I loved Florida when I was over there many years ago, pre-photography; however, much has changed since then. I’d love to visit Tokyo, but I have no affinity to anywhere really. I like being on the edge of opportunity, but being able to distance myself from the circus – I couldn’t live in London, I don’t think.
What’s on your “bucket list” of ideas to create?
Now those are secrets! I have a few scribbled notes, but no spoilers.
How would you describe your visual style?
Such a hard question to answer modestly and without delusion. Integrity, creative, quirky, layered sometimes a little silly.
Tell us the significance behind the name of your studio, Fight the Light Photography.
I used to play in bands, so my introduction to photographers on a one-on-one basis was mainly via live music. When I picked up my first camera, I naturally gravitated towards shooting music and often the lighting at rock shows in Birmingham is pants. Add to that the naivety when you first start out and it being a pretty catchy phrase, and Fight the Light was born. I find photographers over think it and hate it, and everyone else likes it. It’s more a general tag name for my stuff as a whole than a studio name – my studio is a home, but in a semi-dedicated space rather than a living room.
Tell us about when you found out your work was being published for the first time.
I remember early on selling a photo to be included in leaflets after being approached personally via Flickr for the sale. I thought, “this photography stuff is easy, a couple of these a week and I’m laughing.” Obviously stuff doesn’t pan out like that, and I have a bad memory, so I’d prefer to keep moving forward than being excited by the past. There’s a few things that make me smile still but in general it’s just CV fodder.
Tell us about your career. How did you get into it?
As mentioned above, playing in bands. Being naive and thinking that these big fancy cameras should be getting better photos than they are, so it was a put up or shut up moment. Of course, looking back now with digi-tech then and knowing what I do about low light, it’s much easier to appreciate the efforts. I’d fallen out of love with the music industry and needed a creative release that I was (naively again) in control of.
What types of photography do you do? What’s your favorite?
Aside from the music, which I’ve eased off recently, I shoot Corporate and Eventing a lot. You have a brief, but also freedom. You’re hired because of how you shoot, and as long as you’re aware of the key shots expected of you, you can move around quite freely within your own style. I love playing with lighting though, so portraits are a biggie. I like quite quirky, narrative driven, layered morality, big, bold, brash and provocative kind of work.
What was the moment you decided to become a photographer?
I’ve let it be a natural evolution, really. I care for it and take it serious enough to class it as work, but I don’t go chasing trends, jobs and crying about the industry every five minutes, that’s just not me.
What has been your biggest setback as a photographer?
I’m self-taught, so everything and nothing. I’ve been given no guidance short of passing opinions, no leg-up, and head-butted my fair share of brick walls, all while turning my back on trends that don’t interest me. If you love something enough, you’ll keep chipping away, learning and prioritizing it in the way it works for you, hence, the earlier mention of integrity.
What are your three favorite photos you’ve taken?
Yeah, that is tough and changes with my mood. As said, I don’t tend to dwell too much, so I don’t have anything put aside I can instantly draw upon, but I suppose number one would be the Bird’s Eye Ballet shot.
It’s one of those photos that everyone seems to love and often does well in competitions. It’s been photo of the day in Smithsonian Magazine and Professional Photographer Magazine and such. It haunts me and will be on my grave.
My favourite shoots tend to die a death in the public arena – I’m not sure I’ve found my audience yet. They are the shoots that don’t really get much attention, but when a model or someone pulls me aside, they’re the ones they mention. That can be frustrating, but hey.
My first time working with Zoe Page – less of a photo and more of a set.
We shot it in a cold leaking shed on a rainy day and then in my shower just using a modeling light. It’s layered in narratives and metaphors, should you wish to look at it in such a way.
And as we’re being slightly weird and provocative, I still love this set with Neena.
Now, I have a photographer friend who only shoots high-end editorial type stuff, and he questioned it and didn’t get it. I can see why at a technical level, but then I shot this purposefully using a projector as the main light source and on high ISO’s…so that was my intention from the off. It was my first nude shoot and was to accompany a blog: http://fightthelightphotography.blogspot.co.uk. I think it’s the grey areas and things you don’t know in photography that makes things interesting, but of course, every photographer when critiquing someone else’s work doesn’t know the original mindset and is doing so with the idea that there is limitless space and perfect equipment to work with. This whole set was an exploration of outside perceptions, so it’s kind of funny and apt that it would draw negative feedback.
Photography is competitive. How do you stand out?
Being myself. I get told a lot that my stuff stands out in people’s portfolios and that I work differently than others…whether that is a good or bad thing is for others to judge. I certainly don’t claim to be original – it’s near impossible in this day and age, but I do just try to make good on any crazy ideas I have that I think I can get together.
What’s the best advice you can think of for someone just starting in photography?
Just be yourself, but be prepared to learn, grow and be realistic equally. You’ll want to run before you can walk, but you’ll need that naivety to keep going, to learn, and then to turn into drive while everyone is trying to pull the rug from under you.
What is the best thing a model can do to make the most of a photoshoot?
Be a bit self-aware and practice poses and emotions. A photographer being in control of everything and giving perfect direction is great with joe public family portrait type stuff, but at the bespoke end with sets and creative lighting set ups, everyone should be doing their part and spreading the workload equally. Turn up with a few ideas. I personally really like models who can emote and let go – I’m not one for the “resting bitch face” fashion look in every photo.
If you could photograph anyone in the world, who would it be?
Ohhh, I don’t know. Cara Delevingne? She seems fun and playful for a fashion model. Miley Cyrus! As above – “models who can emote and let go” – there’s something I really like about Miley. I took that journey with the rest of the watching world in that judgmental, “What is she doing sense? We’re a shaved head away from a Britney and going crazy!” then I stayed on that journey with her. I genuinely think she’s just a big crazy ball of weird creativity that is letting loose after being restricted for so long. I’m not the biggest Terry Richardson fan, but I do love how confronting his work is and the juxtapositions he and say David Lachapelle manage to puts celebs in.
Who was the most unforgettable model you’ve ever met?
I love working with Zoe because she’s creative and open minded…a little chameleon yet self aware. She’s like the yin to my yang. I run around pre comms stressing over all the details and she just wants to know the date and the time, and then whatever goes, goes. That messes with OCD a little, but I’ll let it slide.
What are 3 tips you have for aspiring photographers?
Read then shoot.
Reread and then shoot some more.
What’s one lighting tip you’d like to share with other photographers?
Don’t take lighting tips too seriously – you’ll eventually refine your eye and learn ratios, have fun and break the rules.
What’s one post-processing tip you’d like to share with other photographers?
Do it right in camera! Ha ha, sorry! I like photoshop, but I’m not a huge fan of stylising images. I do all the usual exposure, contrast and colour tweaks in RAW and skin editing too, but I try to keep my photo real where possible rather than crossing over into digital art. I should really take my own advice and start using colour checkers in camera too.
What has photography done for you as a person? How has it changed you?
I’m really quite introverted and not particularly social. You have to get out there among people, and as said, if you love it enough, you will. I’m probably a lot less socially awkward these days. I can get on with most people at face value as I’m really easy going, but I’m more than happy in my own company, so that just feels fickle often given the actual realities of real friendship. If you can not speak to someone for two years and ring them up with no awkwardness, that’s a real friend – not small talk, gossip and crying at a lack of ego stroking…but I digress.
What’s one of your biggest fears?
The unknown. I like being anally prepared and in control of stuff I can’t control.
What will you be doing five years from now?
Vogue? Nahh, I think I’ll (or trends will) have to change quite dramatically before I have the fashion industry knocking at my door. The polar opposite to the question above. I haven’t got a clue, I’m just chipping away at what I love while trying to stay afloat – I’ll see where it takes me doing what I love. If you love something enough, you’ll achieve your dream in some guise or another, and if you’re unlucky not to, then you’ve only “wasted” your life doing exactly what you wanted…or you can hate your job, spend the weekend recovering from it and afford to be able to hate it next week too….
For anyone who wants to get in touch with Russ, here’s some contact information:
Russ, thanks for speaking so frankly about your journey!
If any artists out there want to collaborate with FStop, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.