Sam Dickinson is a frequent contributor to the Phottix Group on flickr. His images are stunning and have been previously featured on the Phottix Journal. How does Sam do it? What makes him tick? Read the following Q&A and get some insight into how he works on Phottix’s Photog Friday.
Name: Sam Dickinson
Country of residence: Australia
I’ve always been a geek, I studied Computer Science at university and I work as a programmer. I’ve always enjoyed pulling things apart to see how they work. I guess that’s why I’ve always liked photography. The technical side (lighting, exposure, etc) and building something from the ground up (adding and removing elements from a photo).
How did you first get interested in photography?
As a child, my father always was taking photos with his Pentax SLR (ME Super to be exact) which used to inspire me to use it to take my own. I think in those days, I was more interested in changing the settings and clicking the shutter more than the end result.
When I was at secondary school, I did a photography class which got me more interested in the composition side of things, along with developing my own prints (typically taken with a pinhole camera made in class).
Once at university studying Computer Science, we had to do subjects unrelated to our course. One that I chose was photography which helped develop the artistic side of my brain a bit more, looking for more compositional elements.
Beyond university, I always had a digital camera of some sort, but didn’t really get right into photography until my wife bought me an SLR. From there, after doing a couple of glamour and fashion workshops, I was hooked. Funnily enough up until that point I thought I was going to be a landscape photographer, but as it turns out, I’m much better at setting up a shot and taking photos of people than waiting for conditions to be right and composing a landscape.
What do you like to shoot?
Mens Magazine style glamour photography, but I also enjoy branching out into other areas of model photography such as fashion and beauty.
What’s your approach to photography, your philosophy? What do you look for? How do you set-up a shot?
My approach is typically to go into a shoot with only a very basic idea on what I want out of it. Things such as location, outfit and a few poses. I find the more I plan a shoot, the less fluid my work is and don’t get as good results.
Shooting primarily glamour, I mainly look for nice lines in the female form and beautiful expressions, along with some technical details like not having poles/trees/etc coming out of a models head.
Setting up a shot can vary depending on how I’m shooting. Typically I shoot outdoors using strobes, so I’ll often have the model with her back to the sun to use it as a rim light, then have a nice big softbox and light filling in the rest of the details on the opposite side (so if the sun is behind to the right, I’ll have the softbox in front to the left).
I’ve recently been getting more into natural light shooting. What I typically look for there is nice soft lighting on the face of the model. So on a bright sunny day, under the shadow of a tree (pretty close to the edge of a shadow) or with the model wearing a hat work quite well. On an overcast day, anywhere out in the open typically looks good, so it will depend on which background looks best (even though normally that will be fairly blurry).
What is the best photo you have taken? Why? Background and details, please…
There’s no one way to answer this one. Best can mean different things to different people. Some of it is emotionally best, so only the photographer and the model know the real story behind the photo. Another might be the first time you absolutely nailed all the technical details. It could also be a recent shoot from where your skills have developed the most. So I’ll give my top picks in each category.
Emotionally it would have to be my first published image. It was a photo of Jessica Louise Street on Culburra Beach on the south coast in New South Wales (Australia) taken at a workshop early one morning. It can be found at:- sdphoto.com.au/wp-content/gallery/glamour/jessica-1.jpg On the technical side it was taken with a Nikon D5000 with a 70-200 f/2.8 VRII @ f/11 1/125. Lighting was a Mola Setti with an Elinchrom Ranger RX Action head firing through it. Triggered with Phottix Atlas triggers (in which we managed to drop one in the water not long after that – whoops!)
The first time I REALLY technically nailed a shot was a photo taken at Black Rock in Victoria (Australia). It was something were I just judged the conditions on this really warm and bright winter’s day set up a light, and had everything else just fall into place first time. The photo was of Rachael Lee Perks who I have gone on to work with MANY times and was deliberately over processed to make her look more like a Barbie doll. It can be found at:- sdphoto.com.au/wp-content/gallery/glamour/rachael-2-4.jpg The technical details are:- Nikon D5000 with a 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 kit lens @ f/16 1/200. Lighting was an Elinchrom Rotalux 135cm Octabank to camera left with a Ranger RX pack and action head lighting it, once again triggered with Phottix Atlas triggers.
My most recent favourite shot would have to be one of Jackel Aitchison (a model that I believe is going to be big this year) once again taken at Black Rock (about 500m from the shot described above). I just really like the curve of her body and the expression on her face, and while you can’t see her eyes directly, you can still feel emotion in the image. It can be found atwww.flickr.com/photos/25937209@N03/6887526878/in/photostream - technical details are D5000 with a 70-200 f/2.8 @ f/13 1/200. Once again lighting was an Elinchrom Ranger RX with an action head firing through an Elinchrom Rotalux 135cm Octabank to camera right and the sun providing a rim light on the model. As always, triggered with Phottix Atlas triggers.
What gear are you using? What else do you want to buy?
Gear wise I’m just using a
Nikon D5000 body (with a Phottix battery grip attached), Nikkor 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 kit lens, Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 VRII, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 (G version) and a Tokina 12-24 f/4.
Lighting wise I have an Elinchrom Ranger RX battery pack with two action heads for it, Elinchrom Rotalux 135cm Octabank, Elinchrom 70cm Beauty Dish, Westcott 30cm x 90cm Stripbank, a Nikon SB-600, Yongnuo YN-460II, and I trigger the lot with Phottix Atlas triggers.
I’m of the strong belief that lighting is the most important part of the type of shoots that I do. Followed by lenses, finishing up with the camera body (especially when lighting is fully controlled). As for things I’d like to buy, I’d love more lighting for indoor studio style shots, a 24-70 f/2.8 lens and eventually a full frame camera body. I recently got to take a Nikon D4 on a couple of my shoots, so currently would love one of those. That said, for studio shots, the 36MP of the D800 looks very tempting! I do love my Phottix gear too, and there are a lot of lighting modifiers in your store that I have my eyes on!
Which area of photography would you like to explore further (macro, landscapes, portraits)
I’m currently pretty deep into portrait photography and would to explore more styles of it. Shoot a bit more fashion and beauty, a few more concept shoots, some art nudes, etc.
Where do you see your photography 5 years from now?
Wow, 5 years from now sounds so far away. Ideally I’d love to be doing this full time along with my wife who is a professional makeup artist (I’d better give her Facebook page a bit of a plug otherwise I’ll be sleeping on the couch for a month! www.facebook.com/StaceyDMUA). Realistically it’s probably going to be more of a part time thing, so in 5 years, I’d like to be sought out by models internationally, even to the degree where I can travel to various locations and pay for it from shoots.
What’s the best advice you would give to fellow photographers?
Don’t get too bogged down in gear. While it’s nice to shoot without restrictions, some of the best photos come from when you need to compromise. That 50mm you took to a family function, yep, too long for a group shot, but get in close and you’ll take some lovely portraits. That second light you’re missing? Head outside and use the sun as your other light source. Weather too windy for lighting modifiers? Throw a speedlight on your camera and use it to fill in the shadows. These are all examples of things I’ve had to do in the past, and all have become part of my shooting style and all because I was lacking some particular piece of equipment.