Posted to on July 9, 2020

What is your photography story – how did you get to here?

I have worked in the commercial photographic industry for over 20 years. Starting as a commercial model in the late 90’s, I then became a model booker at a model agency. I moved on to make-up artist and styling work before taking time out to have my children, and it was around this time that I got my first camera, and started my photography journey.  

In 2013 I started working at a production company as a producer, art director and location scout, and I also started my blog, where I shared photos of my home and my vintage finds. I went freelance in 2016, and my blog won an award for Best Use of Photography in 2018. I now work as a photographer, interior/prop stylist, and a photographic assistant. So I’ve worked in pretty much every role on the typical photographic shoot, which has given me a unique, all round experience, and brought me to where I am today!

Which photographers influenced you and how?

I remember pouring over a huge coffee table book about Cindy Sherman when I was at art college, and I completely fell in love with her style. Those incredibly atmospheric film stills she created early on in her career, and then later on the theatrical, slightly sinister self portraits using prosthetics and costumes. I loved the drama of it all. I went to her exhibition last year at the National Portrait Gallery, and it blew my mind seeing these works of art that I had admired as a teenager, up close. 

Another favourite photographer is Tim Walker, his incredible fairy tale images are so playful and surreal – although I fully appreciate that he has an amazing team of stylists, prop stylist, models and make up artists that all play a part in creating those images!

TMS02020RF001 Four pink dried straw flowers in a row.

How would you describe your personal style?

My personal style is very colourful, usually floral, with a big vintage vibe. I love the challenge of creating atmosphere, and I also love to add a touch of fairytale here and there, whether that’s playing with scale or lighting, or trying to portray a concept.   

What motivates you to continue working aside from your economic needs?

I am a very creative person, and I still have that art student side of me that wants to create art, and photography is my medium. I absolutely love the buzz I get when I make something beautiful and engaging, that feeling never gets old! I decided that if I was going to be working a long time, I needed to do something that made me happy, so I’m really lucky that I’ve turned something from a hobby that I love, into a career.

TMS03020RF009 Bath with bath salts in glass jars and natural soaps.

What is your strategy when approaching something you need to shoot?

If I’m photographing a product for a client, I always ask to see a mood board or a Pinterest board, so I can clearly see the feel and vibe of the photos they are looking for, and to make sure we are singing from the same hymn sheet! It really helps that they’ve already got in touch with me because they love my aesthetic/photography style, so usually it’s a case of adapting that to their product. Ideally, I love having the client with me to art direct and style, but increasingly (and obviously 100% since lockdown!) I can work remotely with clients, sending them my progress as I go along.

If I’m shooting a home tour for a magazine, my strategy is to approach it from an angle that might not be so obvious. I don’t want to just shoot the same angle every other photographer would pick. My favourite interior shots are ones that really capture details and how they add atmosphere to a room, and really draw you into a photograph.  

How and where do you find inspiration?

I see inspiration absolutely everywhere, in my home, in my garden, nature, the coast…I am pretty lucky that I have so many ideas in my head, there will never be enough time to get them all done! I take a lot of inspiration from fairy tales, and I’m a huge movie fan, and have recently become really interested in cinematography.     

TMS05820RF015 Still life of primrose with blossom and forget me not.

How has having a digital darkroom changed the way you shoot?

I’ll be honest, the only time I have ever spent in an actual darkroom was when I was 18 and doing my art foundation course! (I have however, just started shooting on film for the first time in years as I really want to experience photography again with a bit of unpredictability and imperfection!)  

So when it comes to the digital darkroom, it’s all I’ve ever known really. I definitely explore the possibilities a bit more when it comes to personal projects, so I can really push the magical element of my photos. When it comes to client work, the aim is to get the image as perfect as possible in the camera, so that all I have to do is enhance and clean up images.

Briefly, what is your workflow?

My assisting work with a brilliant commercial photographer has taught me so much. I always, without fail, shoot tethered to the laptop, so I can clearly see how my composition and styling is working and whether I’m sharp etc. I use Lightroom which I’m a big fan of, with a little bit of Photoshop on the side if necessary.  

TMS03020RF002 Books and vintage suitcases in sand dunes.

What tech do you take with you when you travel?

I take two cameras (Canon 5d Mark iii, and an Olympus Pen with a 45mm lens), a couple of lenses for the Canon, my laptop, tether cable and tripod. And my phone of course!

Most embarrassing moment working as a photographer?

I really had to think about this one, and I don’t want to jinx it!  This was more frustrating and potentially scary rather than embarrassing, but I used to use an external hard drive out on shoots, and after a home tour one got accidentally disconnected from the laptop. I managed to move everything from it onto another drive that evening before it started making a ticking noise, and basically died!  It had two years worth of work on it. Now I’m a bit more sensible and don’t use them out on shoots, and have my content on multiple drives at home in case one fails.

What is your favourite picture you’ve taken, and why?

This is tricky, as I put so much love into my photographs, and therefore so many of them are special to me for so many reasons! This shot isn’t a mind-blowing technical shot by any means, but it captures a moment in time, and that’s why it’s one of my very favourites.  

Back in the day when Instagram wasn’t yet owned by Facebook, they used to do something called the weekend hashtag project (#whp). Every Friday they would announce the theme for the weekend project, and it was usually something very free that could be interpreted many ways, eg love, friendship, light etc. The following week they would then feature 4 or 5 photos from that weekend. I loved taking part, and it really forced me to be creative and have fun with it, plus it built up a great community, and it was so much fun on a Sunday afternoon seeing how other people had interpreted it. It was like being back at art college.

This particular weekend was in autumn 2018, so the weekend project was #whpseasonal. We had people coming for lunch in about half an hour, but I quickly grabbed some leaves from the lawn (they were still wet!) , my daughter laid down on a backdrop, I arranged the leaves over her hair and this is what I shot, very quickly, then got back to cooking. I love that the leaves are freshly covered with dew, I love the colours and the expression on her face. Instagram then featured this image on their page that following week, which was a huge ‘YES!!’ for me!

Sadly, the weekend projects faded away once Instagram were taken over, and I really miss having that quick, creative weekend prompt to push me out of my comfort zone. But I do have some really fun images to treasure from those weekend projects.

TMS05820RF036 Young woman in bed holding mug of tea.

What would be your dream photographic project?

I am really inspired by the idea of using photography as a medium in fine art. I have some projects in my head that would be much more of a fine art approach to story telling. So my dream photographic project would definitely be to have a body of work in an art exhibition. It must be so incredible to see your work on a large scale, up close like that, I think that’s the ultimate goal for me. I should get to work on those ideas!

What advice would you give anyone entering the industry in 2020?

Number one, assist a photographer, preferably a commercial photographer where you get to assist on a variety of shoots. It’s not the most glamorous work, and it involves a lot of hauling equipment around, but it’s been the best thing I have done in terms of developing my skills. The photographer who I assist has always been so generous with sharing his technical knowledge. I still love assisting, as I strongly believe that photography is a skill you need to keep learning, and you need to keep evolving, especially as technology changes so often.

Number two, it sounds obvious, but practice. Presumably you are doing it because you love it, so keep coming up with personal projects, keep trying new things. They won’t always work and you don’t have to share them, but it’s all part of the process.

Number three, never underestimate what a brilliant stylist can add to your shoot. Having worked on both sides I absolutely believe that a stylist can transform a photograph from mediocre to stunning. I think a lot of photographers forget this but it’s a real skill that brings so much value to a shoot!

Tamsyn’s recommendations:

Read Tim Walker: Wonderful Things

ListenIf ever I need guidance and support as a small business owner, I really enjoy Letters From a Hopeful Creative podcast

Watch – Cindy Sherman – Nobody’s Here But Me – a 1994 documentary about Cindy and her work on YouTube.

See more of Tamsyn’s work exclusively on Loop here

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