A Candid Conversation with Peter Jackson

A Candid Conversation with Peter Jackson

Earlier this year, TouchNote embarked on our most ambitious photo shoot yet spanning across three floors at the quirky One Friendly Place. With 10 shots to complete in a single day, and over twice as many models, this was no mean feat. Each set needed to be dressed to perfection, and countless props turned empty spaces into realistic living rooms, cafés and restaurants. We wanted to celebrate the everyday stories and relationships that TouchNote plays a part in, and made a conscious effort to include real couples who were also genuine TouchNoters.

Our photographer for the day was the talented Peter Jackson, a professional hospitality, lifestyle, and travel photographer. Since 2007 he’s travelled around the world taking photos for hotels, magazines and more.

“I knew it was going to be an intense day! I relished the challenge, though”

Peter is also experienced in capturing the essence of people in his photographs, which helped make ours as authentic as possible. His inspiring ‘Long Service: London’ project focuses on staff who’ve been working in London’s restaurants and cafes for decades.

Read on as Peter tells us about his experience of this substantial shoot, and take a look at the final results.

How did you first get into photography?

My dad was a keen amateur so I learned the basics from him: how to compose a shot, getting the exposure right by juggling the aperture/shutter speed etc. all with fully manual cameras and film. While at University, I sold an image to a huge company looking for campaign shots. They’d just found it on my Flickr profile and I thought It seemed like a fun way of making a living.

Tell us about your photography background

I began working in the hospitality genre after travelling with a friend to Thailand. I offered a couple of high-end resorts a few images in return for a free stay and food and they accepted. I used the results to get more (and paid) shoots and I’ve been commissioned in 35 countries so far. Apart from learning the basics from my father, I’m self-taught. I often shoot lifestyle and people as well, and occasionally work at London Fashion Week shooting backstage portraits.

What makes a great portrait photograph?

I always get the best results when you get to know the subject first, even if just a little. If they’re comfortable in your presence, it’ll always show on the photograph. A portrait that provokes curiosity and a desire to know more about the subject is always more interesting.

How do you go about capturing someone’s personality or character?

As well as getting to know someone a little first, making them laugh is always a good way of making them comfortable and revealing their true character.

What camera and equipment did you use for this shoot?

I used a Canon DLSR and various Profoto lighting equipment with various accessories such as softboxes and umbrellas.

What did you think of the task of setting up 10 shots in one day? How did you feel about the challenge ahead?

I knew it was going to be an intense day! I relished the challenge, though, and without the help and pre-planning of the TouchNote production team, it definitely wouldn’t have been possible. Scouting out the venue beforehand to figure out potential angles and lighting setups was crucial as well, so it was really just a case of turning up on the day fully caffeinated with a willingness to be flexible and an understanding of potential problems. Being fit (ish) didn’t hurt with lugging all the gear up and down stairs too…

What’s the process for setting up the perfect shot?

Pre-planning and scouting, and plenty of time to set up the lighting is ideal. In reality such timing luxuries rarely happen, though! I’m also not sure a perfect shot exists…

Have you ever worked on a shoot like this before?

I’ve never done anything quite so ambitious in terms of shot list (with the level of production that I wanted to achieve) and sheer variety of angles and scenarios involved. Again, the team were brilliant in terms of making sure each couple knew where to be and when, and helping to get the required reactions or expressions! Without them the day would have been almost impossibly tough.

What was the trickiest aspect of the day? Any fun hacks you put into action?

The lack of lift didn’t help and not having quite as much time as I’d have liked to get the lighting perfect was tricky, but you always want more time to be honest and the pressure focuses the creative mind! It was a great shout by Jesse, the creative director, to have a semi-permanent lighting setup in place for one particular scene which definitely saved some sweat and tears.

How do you make real people feel at ease in a shoot setting?

Take the time to chat a little before starting, let them know it’ll be quick and painless, and give them a scenario to play out — always useful with non-models. Saying the odd random/funny thing always relaxes people too.

Any tips for how to plan and execute a shoot like this?

Surround yourself with organised and fun people and it’ll all work out well in the end!

Which was your favourite set to shoot?

I enjoyed the lighting challenges of the spiral staircase scene. The difficulties of the piano scene in terms of set limitations and lack of space for the lights pushed me to nail a couple of extra satisfying shots as well. Sometimes problems like this can force you to take a step back for a minute and try other options.

Do you have any advice for young, budding photographers?

Don’t give up. There’s a lot of rejection as competition is fierce, but keep creating images and putting them out there. Don’t undersell yourself either — it’s difficult to raise your rates later on.

Any funny moments from your times shooting with real people?

I’m currently doing a side project ‘Long Service: London’ featuring London’s longest-serving restaurant workers. I’ve had the chance to chat with and photograph some real characters with often hilarious stories.

Where can we see more of your work?

My professional site is peter-jackson.co.uk and follow me on Instagram (@pjjphotographer) to see my latest projects.

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