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The Business of Photography

Lesson 2 of 22

The Early Years

Nigel Barker

The Business of Photography

Nigel Barker

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Lesson Info

2. The Early Years


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
1 Class Introduction Duration:12:46
2 The Early Years Duration:24:31
4 Developing Your Style Duration:12:57
5 Creating Your Brand Duration:11:03
6 Confidence Duration:11:20
7 Personal Work Duration:08:21
8 Marketing Duration:12:14
10 Side Lighting Duration:08:30
11 Hollywood Lighting Duration:10:27
12 Dancer Lighting Duration:08:50
13 Editorial Lighting Duration:09:06
14 Tunnel of Light Duration:12:24
15 Back Light Duration:06:09
16 Image Review Duration:06:03
18 Connection Duration:09:31
19 Provoking Reaction Duration:11:11
21 Raw Series - Image Review Duration:08:57
22 Image Critique Duration:1:01:29

Lesson Info

The Early Years

So please laugh. (laughing) I've never shown anyone this picture before, I don't think. (laughing) Yes, that's me, that's me. Can you believe? I know, yes, yes, yes. Well, now you can see why I shave my head, right? (laughing) This is me when I was about 17 years old. Think big, dream bigger. Now, I was studying biology, chemistry, physics, and maths. Right, for A level in England, that's my equivalent of high school, right. And we specialize quite early on in England. And my parents wanted me to go to medical school. And I was all set to go, that was what was happening, that's what I was gonna do. I didn't realize ask too many questions. But, my passions lay elsewhere. And in my own time, I studied pattern cutting, weaving, I made clothes, all these bits of clothes in the background here, leather jackets. I created a hat and I actually got the hat to be sold by a store in London. And, which was very exciting when you're 17 years old. And my father, I remember him telling me, "What are...

you doing this for? "Why are you learning how to sew "and stitch and all that kind of stuff? And I used to say, "Well, Dad, when I become a plastic surgeon, "I'll be the best person to stitch you up." And he thought, oh, oh, he sort of believed that. And to be honest with you, I wasn't sure, I just knew I loved it and I was doing photography on the sidelines shooting my friends and what have you. But, the point here is that, by learning about the business in a way, by learning about fashion, by learning about sewing and weaving and patent cutting and making clothes, it taught me all these different aspects of a business that I was gonna do later on in life. And I didn't know it at the time. Just like every one of you probably don't. When you're doing things, it wasn't like I had some grand plan is my point. I didn't know I was gonna do this when I'm, you know, in 10 years time, I'm gonna be a photographer. I just followed my passions. And I did things that I loved. And it was really helpful though. And so, that, so now going back on it, if I can give you advice, it's like, whatever area of photography you're into, try and learn all aspects of it. And we're gonna be talking about that too because it's, so crucial now. And when I give people direction and when I talk to a designer and I understand about cutting on the bias and I understand about fabrics and I understand about the way-- How much effort went in to make something, because I've done it too. Because I've sort of-- And I know, I didn't necessarily do it well and it was, you know, some of this stuff, the colors and everything, I'm like, "Oh my goodness, this is horrendous, this is horrible." But, you know, I tried, and I was a kid and this was also another time, that's why my hair looks like that. But, it was this sort of big learning process that was very valuable for me. And to this day, I reference where I started. And I mention how I took pictures when I was at school. Well, you know, I actually sort of got a bit of my business start then as well because I used to take pictures of kids playing football and cricket and rugby and all those English sports. And I was just shooting on the sidelines and I would make little prints and my biology teacher taught me how to print. And I would stick them up on the walls at school and we had these public walls and kids could buy them if they wanted. And I noticed early on that the shots that sold, and I wasn't really trying to make money out of it, I was just doing it for fun and to really practice shooting. Money, the shots that were the money shots really were the pictures where the subject looked sort of majestic or they were scoring or it was some special moment. It wasn't just like here's a football game. I know it sounds obvious, but when you're only a kid and you're taking pictures, learning that and realizing, okay-- So, I then went, okay, I'm not just gonna go the match and shoot everything happening. I'm gonna pull the players off and shoot portraits of them. I'm gonna ask people to kick the ball into the goal, set it up, and capture the shot. I started creating safe shots that I had, that I sort of got the shot. And then, when I printed those pictures up, they only wanted to buy that shot. They didn't care about the shot of the actual match, they just wanted these-- And so, I started to realize in people's minds, like, what I needed to do. So, that was just sort of an early moment of realization for me on, okay, that's interesting, that's how this works. You know, and so I started to sort of guess, create these sorts of pictures that people like to see themselves in, these roles. And so that was a very interesting moment. Now, you can probably laugh again, I don't think I've ever shown anyone this either. And by the way, I don't smoke. And you can probably tell, I'm not very good at it. When I was trying-- And this is also me. Now, the reason why I'm showing you things like this too is because how I started, I didn't think about becoming a photographer. When I was a kid, there was no degree in photography. Well, not college courses. You know, there were other ways to become a photographer but, yeah, I go this break as being a model. And be careful, parents, what you allow your children to do because my mother entered me into this competition, very similar to America's Next Top Model, back in the 80's, yes, I'm very old, and I didn't win, I got in the top three, but I got offered a modeling contract. And I thought, my gap year, between, you know, high school and college, I was gonna do a bit of modeling and make a bit of money. And of course, one year led to five years, led to me never going to medical school, and my parents not being very happy. But, of course, I'm here, and it's part of who I am, and my story, but what I learned, and I didn't love modeling, I'm gonna be honest with you, I didn't love it, but it was fascinating. And what I sort of learned, was being photographed by so many photographers, I was constantly looking at what they were doing, how they were doing it, how they spoke to me, the way that they treated me, the way that they talked to people on their set, how they commanded respect with their team. How they dealt with the clients and some of them did it really well, some of them not so well, some things that I liked. Some people were really successful but I still didn't like the way they did it. So, it was about finding what was right for me at that time. And in a way, you know, you having this opportunity at Creative Live, gives you the opportunity too to hear from so many photographers, how they're doing it. And it's a great opportunity for you to say, "Well, actually, that could work for me. "I like that approach. "Ooh, I like that style of photography that he had." So, that's really for me, what was the sort of most interesting part of modeling and many respects too, my hand was pushed because I started modeling in the late 80's, early 90's and it was this sort of era of the supermodel. You know, Claudia Schiffer, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, and I had an opportunity to work with these incredible models and I began to hone my eye. You know, I started taking pictures of all these, my model friends and what have you and that's really how I sort of started and of course, the industry changed as you may know in the 90's. You know, if you've done your fashion research, you'll know that that's when grunge and androgyny and models like Kate Moss showed up and everything changed drastically. And I was not very grungy and I was not very androgynous and I'm six foot four and I can't change that. You know, so I was never gonna be this small guy that perhaps had that androgynous look. But, I didn't want to throw away what I had learned. I'd done it for six years and I thought, and I could see that this was a real business now. And like, I didn't know that photographers worked like that until I got into the fashion business. So, I really started to transition. And I did that by testing models, my friends. So, this is how I did it. And people often ask me, yeah, well that's-- You know, you had access to all these things, but that's-- You have to try and find people to photograph, that's a big part of it obviously. And, certainly in my career, because I was working in that business, I had access to my friends and what have you and my wife who I met 25 years ago with her twin sister. I had access to them, and what I used to do, and this is just how it worked for me, is I would ask them, when you come back from work, don't wash your face at work, try to keep the hair the way it was done on the shoot. When you come back, I'm gonna photograph you, and I everyday, and I lived in this building which had loads of models in it, 'cause that's how they used to have these little warrens of models living in these buildings. When you're in places like Paris, Milan, and what have you, the agents put you in one building, in a sort of rent controlled scenario full of models, it's kind of bizarre, but that's actually how it works for all of you who don't know out there. But, for me, it was this huge opportunity, it was like a sort of factory of people who like to have their picture taken who were coming back form jobs every day with fabulous hair and makeup, done by the top professionals and so I built my portfolio by every day, sort of, waiting there as they came back saying, "Up against the wall." Boom, boom. "You next." You know, and shooting and creating this sort of portfolio and I developed this, my very first portfolio, really, over those, I think it was 94 to 96. But there were different ways to becoming a photographer. You know, there are obviously, you can get a degree right now, and interning and assisting are obviously other very important ways. I was lucky, I actually never assisted. But, that's just my story. You know, I kind of just started taking pictures and becoming a test photographer, actually, is what they call it in the fashion business. And when you test people, you get to... The job is capturing something special. Those test pictures are meant to sell that model. That model goes out with those pictures and they have to get a job. So, it's not just, you know, you're trying to work something out. If that model gets a job because of your picture, then your picture kind of worked, right. And then that model comes back and other people come back, and not just that, clients look at those pictures and they know that they booked that model because of that picture and they ask, "Who shot that picture?" Alright, so, you know, they would create comp cards, my name would be on the side and after-- It took a while by the way. It was two years of shooting nonstop, and I'm pretty sure that I... I mean, you know, I shot about 1,000 models in two years. I mean, that's, it's a lot. And if you just do the math on it, there were weeks when I was shooting two or three people a day. And you know, I said earlier, like I put them up against that wall and, you know, shoot them. When I was sort of testing, it's a bigger process. It would be a couple of hours and I learnt from each one, a couple of hours for each person and I did it for free initially. So, you know, obviously, eventually, you've gotta make a living. And people often say to me, well, you know, I can't afford to do this, I can't afford to do photography, or it's really expensive, or absolutely, get another job. I waited tables, you know, I worked in a bar. I did all those things too. And that's a part of the story, that's a part of learning how to do it, but also, back when I started, I had to buy film. I had to process film. I had to make prints. There was no digital, right, so it was expensive, I get it. And so, don't think that I don't understand those things, and what I did was, I started by shooting for free. And because I believe in that I could do this, and I hoped that when people started to see what I could do for them, that they would begin to hopefully pay me. And then the next step was just getting them to cover my costs. And just pay for the film, pay for the processing, and again, once that worked, people came back. And more people come back and this is a sort of a line, so to speak. You can say, "Well, okay, now I'm gonna charge "a reasonable amount of money." You know. "So, that I can afford to buy more equipment." And it just took a couple of years to do that. So, already, I've been talking since 1989, I'm now at about 1996, it's almost a decade, and I'm still not really a photographer. Now, that's not to say that you can't do it quicker. And it's different-- But that was sort of-- This is like my way, and how one has to push through and have the vision. And, for me, a lot of it is just the creative process. And I borrowed gear from people. You know, I didn't have everything, so I would borrow gear from different people. And learn in the process. Like can I borrow this light, can I borrow this hot light, this strobe, can you show me how to use it. Practice, practice, practice, honing my eye, working out how to do things. Until really, it became second nature. And I started very early on, pushing the envelope. I mean, that's kind of what I was known for. Was getting people to do things that would cause a reaction. Where, it'd sort of like... Jump them, they would look at it and they'd be rested, like, "What's happening here?" And that's part of, like, I guess, what I like to do. Now, that's my wife and my sister in law. And I started photographing them, I guess, 25 years ago. And one of the things, I guess, you... By shooting someone for so long, is that you develop a style and a brand too. It was style specifically. And by shooting someone, and shooting constantly, it helped me develop that brand. So, those first, sort of, two, three, years of shooting all those models, I guess, the picture you saw before and the ones, just, those black and white ones, that was me developing my early brand. Developing a sort of a look and a feel and a style. I didn't necessarily know that's what I was doing at the time, but now looking back, I realize that just that's exactly what was happening. And it was so important to have that look and I'm gonna talk about that. About why a style is so important and how to brand yourself. Well, knowledge is power, clearly. So, this is a huge shoot. And, I got I don't know how many heads and lights there, it looks like sort of, I think we had like 12 or 14 lights going off. There were like 30 models on set. Multiple of these models were supermodels, this was a shoot for Nine West. It was one of the biggest campaigns that they had ever done. We had, I don't know even know how many people were on set with me, multiple hair and makeup. You don't just get there, okay. It's by practice, practice, practice. If I was thrown into this, you know, 25 years ago, I probably couldn't have done it. But, it's by pushing yourself, and certainly with me, by the way I pushed myself. And starting very simply, by asking questions. And borrowing equipment and working out how to do it. I grew confident that I could. And every time I do a shoot like, something like this, you step onto set and you're kind of terrified, you know. Is this all going to work? Is this all going to come together? Am I gonna make this happen? But, you have to basically, and you even see here, you have to do all aspects of it, and I talked earlier on saying how I learned to weave and pat and cut and sew and what have you. But, I also, doing those test shoots, would do makeup on people if I needed to. I didn't know how, I was really trying to learn. I mostly was a mess, then I'd ask people to help me and I would try and watch what they were doing. I did hair every once in a while. Clearly, I wasn't very good at it, so I shaved my head. But, you know, I learned styling. And it wasn't that I was gonna be a great stylist, but, putting yourself in all these different job roles helps you and helped me direct my team. At least having an idea of what you like, having an opinion. Also understanding what they're doing. How difficult it is. How much time it takes to do it. You know, if you don't know these things, and you just hire people and you have no idea what they're doing, it's hard to manage. And so, for me, learning all aspects of the business was absolutely crucial. And in fact, in the black and white shot at the bottom there that's actually my wife assisting me, holding a huge silk over the shoot. We would do it together. And she was learning too, she was assisting me, I didn't have an assistant. I remember getting my apartment in New York City, which was a tiny studio apartment and every morning, getting all the furniture and piling it up against the wall, dropping a backdrop in front of it, and then getting as far back into the wall as I could on the other side of my apartment, having my model there, which by the way, wasn't very far. But, I had to get it, just so I could get a full length shot. To try and create these test shoots. So, you know, you've just gotta do whatever it takes to get the picture and learn, so that eventually, you can do shoots where there are 30 models onset with 15 lights, 12 photo assistants and everything else that you see in the picture. Now, when I actually put this picture in my presentation, Kathy, who's been my amazing producer at Creative Live, actually sort of wrote, "What's this?" (laughing) "What's this about," like it was a mistake. But, I put it in here because I feel that because I got to shoot film, and I'm not saying that-- 'Cause obviously, you don't shoot film, I get it, and most of you don't, at least, I would imagine, and most people don't. But, the great thing about the fact that I shot film and it's something that you can all still learn, is that, it teaches you a sort of a flow, a cadence. When you're working these days, I find, that... 'Cause you can put a... You lowered your camera, right, and you can just shoot forever. What does it tell you, how many pictures you can take. 3,700 pictures. Great, here we go. You know, and the model's sitting there and you know, just everyone's exhausted or you know, I've just shot 150 pictures on this one moment. Like, I love the fact that I started with film because on a roll, there were 36 shots. On a roll of 120, there were 10, 220, 20. And so, after each roll, you have to stop, slow down, reload, and it was a break. So that helped, that was very useful, both for the model and for yourself, to sort of stop, realize what you're doing, gather yourself and start shooting. And, know, that the industry was very different when I started, obviously, it was film. And for the first 10 years of my career, it was film. We actually got some of the very first digital cameras in America, there were Mamiya cameras, there were five of them, and it was my very first shoot on America's Next Top Model and they brought these cameras to set, and one by one they broke until there was only one left, and we actually shot the Garden of Eden shoot with that one that survived. And it was only one digital assistant in the city that I knew of, anyone knew of. He was like trained in assisting and understanding a digital camera, 'cause it was so new. So, it was exciting times, but it was also risky, but you know, it was a sort of dawn of a new era. And a lot of photographers who were, you know, didn't want it, didn't like it. And refused to sort of take that risk to move to new technology. And of course, as we all know, camera technology is changing all the time now. And, there are still people who are resisting every change that comes along. And it's up to you, it's up to you to sort of work out what's gonna work and what's not gonna work. But, I am all about taking that risk and totally going 100% into whatever the new technology is. And sort of, you know, trying to work it out. Passion. You have to love what you do. You've gotta be passionate about it. You know, it's hard to tell someone, "You gotta be passionate." But, you have to find it in yourself. If you're wondering why the inspiration isn't necessarily there, it's probably because you're just not passionate about it. But, I start with, first of all, being compassionate with myself. As in, not saying that I love myself, but you do have to love yourself a little bit. You gotta care for who you are to give yourself the opportunity. Yeah, you're gonna see photographers out there who are doing extraordinary work, who are doing amazing things on these crazy sets. And you may feel like, "Oh, I'm never gonna be that person. "I'm never gonna have that," or, "I don't have that opportunity." But, that's, for me, I'm like, I try and love every picture I take in a way and every time I go to set, it's that moment. However big it is, or however small it is. And I'm absolutely passionate about creating something magical every time I pick my camera up. And by the way, later on today, we're gonna be shooting. We're gonna have cameras in hand, we're gonna be shooting models and you're gonna see me in action, and I'm gonna go through whole bunch of different light setups. I'm also gonna show you how I communicate with models and give you all some clues, and I'm actually gonna also share with you a lighting setup that I've used for an entire exhibition of pictures. And you're gonna have that lighting setup and actually my entire equipment list and I'm gonna give you the measurements of how far away the lights are from one another, so you can absolutely replicate this particular light setup. I'm gonna be coming to that later on. Sharing is caring. (laughing) You know, being enthusiastic is incredibly important about what you do. This is a mood board of a shoot that I did and after I did this photo shoot, and actually if you look at these pictures, these weren't the shots that were meant to be shooting. So, we were shooting the models posed in these various setups, but because I'm so passionate about things and I'm so enthusiastic, and I'm sure you guys would like this too, I don't put my camera down very often. So, throughout the whole shoot, which was a couple of days, I'm taking pictures of everything. The car and the car park. The guys surfing, hanging out, having a laugh, a bonfire. You know, running around. You know, the deck with no one on it because I just walked out and thought, "Oh, it's nice, it's beautiful, I like this light." And it had nothing to do with what were meant to be shooting. And after the shoot, I laid it out, and I do this all the time, I used to keep a book. And of course, 'cause this is, again, film, right, you can see. And I would present my clients with a mood board. It's like, well here are the selects, but heres a general mood board for the feeling that I'm going for. And they liked this mood board so much they actually ran it in the magazine. So, again, being passionate, often translates to other people being passionate too and in being inspired. Your own sort of passion is contagious. And so, if you're wondering why some people you're working with aren't inspiring you, perhaps you need to be inspiring them, I guess is the point. And you can't expect people just to give give give, even though you're just sometimes, you photographers, sometimes think to themselves, just as capturing an image, I like to think I'm taking one. And that's just the way I am.

Class Description

“Think Big, Dream Bigger” - that’s the philosophy that internationally renowned photographer Nigel Barker has lived by his whole career. Join Nigel on CreativeLive as he shares how to make your dreams become reality.

Nigel will discuss his journey as a photographer and will teach through the moments that he learned from that ultimately led to his success. From developing your style, creating a brand, owning your confidence and going after and getting jobs, Nigel will help you become a successful photographer while still being yourself. In the class you’ll learn how to:

  • Create your brand by establishing who you are
  • Present yourself to the client so that they understand your style and abilities
  • Build a library of work for marketing your business
  • Use lighting to create emotion
  • Connect with your models and break the wall of posing

Be a fly on the wall as Nigel does a live shoot and shares his knowledge about equipment, environment, and how to work with models. And he’ll end the day with a live critique and discuss the best ways to use your images to present yourself to your clients and customers. By the end of this class, you’ll have the tools to set yourself up for success.


Michael Spatola

This is one of my favorite Creative Live classes so far. The storytelling and human interaction parts were my favorites! The ability for Nigel to get such amazing expressions in such a brief time shooting was amazing. Everything he demonstrated seemed almost effortless, and all without a shred of ego. Great class!

Margaret Lovell

Nigel is a wonderfully engaging instructor. I like that he walks his students through his photoshoots. The set ups. How to interact with the models. Even though there are a couple of genres I'm most active in, I appreciate that Nigel says that you can have different photographic interests, so long as you brand yourself properly. I like taking photos of lots of things, although my outdoor photos generate the most interest. I highly recommend all of Nigel's classes.

a Creativelive Student

Passion, personal, inspiring! Nigel, thanks for amazing class and a lot of great advices.