Q&A With our Very Own Garry Edwards.
Garry Edwards is one of the most experienced photographers you could ever wish meet. Having had a career that spans over 50 years, there isn’t much he hasn’t seen or worked on. He started his photographic career in London in 1960, working for both big generalist firms and smaller specialists, including a top fashion photographer – all part of the learning process – before spending several years working at advertising studios, mainly in Germany, Italy and the USA.
After returning to the UK Garry moved to West Yorkshire, ran his own very successful advertising & commercial studio and wrote several books on photographic lighting. He started working with Lencarta in 2008 and retired in 2016 at the age of 70. He now spends most of his spare time clay pigeon shooting and doing voluntary work for a small charity. We got together to discuss his career, how he got into photography, and if he is still taking pictures!
My first question, in the spirit of starting off, how did you get started in photography?
By accident really, I was born at the end of the 2nd World war, the education system was terrible, and I struggled to follow my dream, studying law, because it wasn’t possible to get any qualifications at school. I’d been a keen amateur photographer since the age of 11 and when I was offered a job at Wallace Heaton, a massive photographic and retailing firm, I took it simply because it put food on the table and allowed me to go to evening classes to get my ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels.
I started in the stores, like everyone else, and should have spent 6 months in every department before, after 5 years, ending up in their commercial photography department but by pure luck I ended up there after just a year, and I learned loads. They were very good to me and sponsored my higher education.
Can you remember what your first camera was?
My very first ‘real’ camera was a Kodak folder, which I saved up for when I was 11, it took months. Next up was a 35mm SLR at the age of 15, an Edixaflex, it cost me £44.60, which was 9 weeks wages at the time – modern cameras are so much better and far cheaper in real terms.
Who were your early influences?
Probably Ansel Adams, who shot incredible landscapes, and David Bailey, who had a totally fresh approach to fashion photography.
It seems like a simple question, but is actually a very complicated one; what makes a good photographer?
I think it’s an eclectic mix of technical expertise and artistry. It’s a waste of time creating a technically perfect shot of a subject that hasn’t been visualised in an artistic way, and it’s also a waste of time to be artistic without a pretty high level of technical expertise, because good results tend to be achieved by accident and can’t be replicated. Basically, if we know the technical stuff we can apply that knowledge without even thinking about it, which allows us to concentrate on the artistic stuff.
It goes a lot further than that of course, it’s pretty much essential to have a real interest in the subject; for example I’ve never shot any sports because sport doesn’t interest me, so I leave it to the people who do. With product photography I view every subject as if I actually own or made it, because if it’s mine I’m going to photograph it in a way that shows its real qualities. And, for most products, it’s difficult to get really good results without the client standing next to me, explaining the USP and the benefits of the product. And, if I’m photographing people it really helps to like them and to see their personality and show it in the photos. Fashion is really just a type of product photography that involves people, so it’s a big help if I find the model attractive – I’ve always done better photographing women than men, possibly because of this.
Looking to the future of photography now, we are a culture saturated in images: are mobile phones and Instagram a menace?
No, they’re the future and we need to embrace them. They’re just a different kind of photography, and good enough for most people most of the time. But they can never replace the skills and equipment of either amateur or professional photographers – the people who put time, skill and effort into creating outstanding images. And, looking on selling platforms where people put little or no thought into the product photos, it’s very clear that money saved on photography is a false economy, because the images that are good enough to actually sell products (not just show what they look like) are well worth their cost and effort.
How did you find the shift from film to digital?
It was a process that took a few years, and I didn’t start using digital professionally until 2000, because until that time the quality was hopeless, and it also took a while before computers were available to process the large files that we handle today. I was still shooting on medium format film until about 2010, and I carried on with my 5”x4” and 10”x8” large format monorail cameras for much longer, for specialised work. Today’s digital cameras (and the available software) are fantastic and digital techniques such as focus stacking have pretty much replaced large format photography.
What is the gear you have used past and present?
Just about everything in the past, back in the old days I used to use mainly Bron, Elinchrom and Bowens lighting but changed to Lencarta about 12 years ago because I was helping to design first class new products such as softboxes and beauty dishes as well as improving the performance of the studio flashes and the previous advantages of using the expensive brands just disappeared.
And I’ve used most of the pro cameras over the years. All that I use now is my Nikon D3 and D700 cameras, they’re old but they’re better than I am so I see no point in replacing them – and anyway, I like the build quality.
Do you feel equipment is important to taking good images?
Of course it is, but we need to be sensible because knowledge is key, and knowledge always trumps gear. What I mean by this is that the photographers who have a good technical understanding can usually find workarounds if they haven’t got all of the equipment that they’d like, which is why we need to understand how light works before we make decisions about equipment. And basically that’s why Lencarta set up their “Learning Centre” blog, so that people can learn the basics before buying gear that they may not need. We also did a few YouTube videos for the same reason, but YouTube can be a dangerous learning platform because so many of the videos are either wrong or just plain deceptive.
Is there any field of photography you wish you worked in?
No, I’ve been lucky.
Is there a certain procedure you use when taking a product photo, what do you think makes a great product photography image?
Yes, and it applies to pretty much all photography, not just product shots. The first thing is always to work out the pose for the shot that will show the subject at its best, the next thing is to work out the camera position and finally we arrange the lighting (if only using natural light the same thing applies, we move the subject to suit they available light) And I never arrange more than one light at a time, the key light does 80-90% of the work and if extra lights are used they are only added to mitigate problems caused by the key light, or to create emphasis lighting. The general principle, which never changes, is that good lighting is actually about creating the right shadows in the right places.
If you were to recommend a studio set up to someone looking to work in studio photography is there anything in particular you would recommend?
Not really, so much depends on the type of photography and the amount of space that’s available. Once we know that it becomes easy to make good recommendations, which is why it’s important to buy from a specialist firm and to talk to them about the specific needs.
How do you get inspired? And what inspires you the most? Movies, books or magazines? Or is it just what’s around you?
Films are high on my list, especially some of the old black and white classics, because the movie industry really appreciates the importance of outstanding lighting and their people are the real experts. Other than that, I just see things. I see light striking a building, a person or a tree in a certain way and this often inspires me.
You are now an author of a popular lighting series of books, how did this come about?
I’ve written a few books over the years, they are now all out of print, so I thought I’d bring out updated versions to make money for a charity that I support, All For Horses www.allforhorses.org.uk
They do good work, they need the money and I don’t.
Are you still busy with photography?
Not really, after 55 very happy years I finally retired when I was 70, and now spend every second week helping the horse charity. This does include some horse photography, but it’s mainly driving and labouring.
Finally, what advice would you give to people looking to start a career in photography or professionals currently working in the field?
Just do everything you possibly can to constantly improve both your technical and business skills and knowledge. Back in the bad old days I learned by working for other professionals, that option hardly exists today so people need to work with other people, assisting them in exchange for knowledge and experience, and of course by constantly practicing, experimenting and reading. The world of pro photography is over-populated, so it pays to be the best, it never pays to be the cheapest.
Garry’s e-book can be found on Amazon: