An Interview with Professional Photographer Alex Wallace
On this live Photography Talk Show, Karl was joined by Alex Wallace, a commercial and industrial photographer from New Zealand who in just 8 years has managed to build a successful photography business from scratch. Karl and Alex traded tips and techniques for both natural light and speedlite flash photography. Alex was live on July 25th at 18:00 BST. – You can watch again in the Live Shows archive on this page Photography Talk Show LIVE.
We caught up with Alex ahead of his appearance on the show to ask him a few questions about what he carries in a typical kit and how he approaches different subjects and scenes. Here’s what he had to say.
Q & A with international photographer Alex Wallace.
What’s one of the more difficult environments you’ve shot in from a technical perspective?
The most challenging environments are those where the subject matter itself is particularly un-photogenic.
Often I am working in situations where the ground is muddy, the buildings are grey concrete monoliths, or the people are a covered in dirt and very reluctant to be photographed.
Sometimes even all three of those factors may be true! Last week, I was asked to shoot a roading project for a company that supplies geotechnical cloth. It sounds exciting but it’s basically a roll of black or white sheeting that gets laid down beneath the road while it’s being built. These are products that are made without concern for how they look. They will always be covered up and forgotten about so their appearance is of little relevance to the producer, customer, or end user. I arrived on site to find a vast open work site that was partly covered in my client’s cloth. Large trucks and diggers are working around you and the site contractor doesn’t really want you there — since to them, you are a potential health and safety hazard, or at the very least a pain in the neck. I did get lucky with some dramatic clouds above and that coupled with a low winter sun was definitely helping my cause. It was a classic situation where the customer wanted you to turn their ugly duckling into a glorious swan. As it happened, I made the most of a difficult task and got some shots that the client described as “fantastic.” They were far from that in my book and won’t be making my portfolio any time soon, but realistically given the environment, the product, the budget, and the time constraints I was working to, I was pleased with the results I shot and very happy with the client’s comments. At the end of the day, that’s why you are there.
Whats in your gear bag on a typical industrial shoot?
I just carry the basics in my shoulder bag while on an industrial shoot — body (Canon 1 DX mkII) and the usual three zooms: 16-35mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm. I also carry a 50mm 1.4 as it’s good for cameo details and portraits — always used at f/1.4. The other must-haves are a polarising filter and a 2-stop ND grad to darken skies and hold detail in any hot areas of the frame. I used to use Lee resin grads but working in the environments I do they get scratched all the time, and those scratches prove expensive. I tried a couple of different of brands of glass filters before settling on NISI.
I’ll also carry two small collapsible reflector disks — one silver/black and one white/gold (though I never use gold since it always gives a nasty colour cast).
Invariably, I’ll have my wheeled Pelican case close to hand with a set of speedlites. I’ll drag this out when I’ve the time to set up and shoot with flash. I carry eight EOS 600RTs and these are amazing lights! Their wireless connectivity and on-camera control is a godsend. In that case, I’ll also have a few other lenses (Sigma Art series primes in 24mm, 35mm, and 85mm). These are great lenses — better than many of their older Canon equivalents and at less than half the price. Why wouldn’t you buy them?
How does your approach to personal work differ from your professional work?
The biggest difference is in the quantity. I don’t shoot much personal stuff whereas I shoot a ton of commercial stuff — often thousands of frames per week. It’s been a very busy year so I’ve done next to no personal shooting. It’s a shame, but then it’s very hard to turn away paid jobs for an experimental personal shoot.
As far as my approach to personal work, it’s usually something experimental. Often something I’ve been wanting to explore — a new light, a new lens, or a new style. Usually it will be something I see could be of interest to commercial clients and it’s always an easier sell if you have images you can show in advance. Non-creative clients (by that I mean jobs where you are dealing directly with the client, rather than through an ad agency) are often less imaginative and harder to sell on the promise of what could be. It’s no good explaining to them what you intend to do and what the shots might look like. It’s so much better to show them something you have already shot, wave it under their noses, and say, “this is exactly what you will get.” I shot a series of young kids holding glowing lights last year. It was an experimentation with tiny LED panels that, once complete, caught the attention of a bedding manufacturer who asked me to shoot a whole series of commissioned works in a similar style.
What do you enjoy more, shooting natural light or strobes?
My current favourite — and it changes — is to shoot with strobes, but to have that daylight feel. A lot of my recent work is super shallow focus, shot hard into the light with a resulting bright, crisp, and airy feel. Often there’s sunbursts and lens flare in the frame — you know the stuff. Everyone’s shooting it and every client wants it. But it’s the current look and I’m really enjoying shooting it.
What’s more of a challenge, shooting a great product shot or making a great portrait?
In short, they can both be hard, depending upon your subject. Very often I am asked to make the most ugly product look sexy — and the same could be said of some of the people I shoot too! But seriously, they can both be difficult. A beautiful, talented model in a stunning location wearing flawless make-up and styled hair is an easy one to get right. Convincing an oiled mine worker to pose and smile for the camera after an 8-hour shift at the rock face is by far the harder task.
Visit Alex’s website at: http://www.alexwallace.co.nz/
Be sure to watch Alex on the Photography Talk Show LIVE on July 25th at 18:00 BST. (13:00 EST)