Since the start of February, we are featuring eight Stocksy photographers who use Fujifilm X Series cameras to capture their images for commercial use. Discover what they like about their kit and how they utilise the equipment to obtain the best results.
Our fifth interview is with Adelaide Hill’s based photographer, Gillian Vann.
Can you tell us about yourself and what you love about photography?
I’m a forty-something photographer, and I came into the industry later in life, after many years in hospitality, retail and small business. I’ve got a businesslike approach to photography as opposed to artistic. I feel a bit like people who collect bugs…. I see a beautiful moment and want to preserve it. I really love photography because it’s something you can do every day, anywhere, anytime. There are rules, but then there are no rules.
We noticed you have recently used a Fujifilm X100T to take some stock images. What was your experience like when using this camera considering you mainly have used a digital SLR?
The Fujifilm is a great camera to take in situations where you don’t want to lug a heavier kit or you only have a pocket in your jacket. For example at the Polling Booth where I took a photo of the ‘iconic’ sausage sizzle, it was so much easier to get that shot having the little Fujifilm with me. It’s great for wandering the streets when travelling, as well as having in my bag in everyday life.
I have shot so many cafe breakfast images with the Fujifilm; I like how unassuming it is. Being able to hand hold at a lower shutter speed is a significant advantage too. I took some fun blurry images while waiting at the airport that I really love. I also took the X100T out skiing, as I’m not quite a good enough skier to trust myself with my bigger DSLR, but the Fujifilm fit inside my jacket where it stayed warm and accessible.
As a photographer how do you best portray emotion in a photograph?
Well at the risk of sounding obvious, have your subject show genuine emotion. You have to put your subject at ease, which isn’t always easy in the case of a quick shoot where you don’t really know the person. A good trick to help achieve this is to shoot through the moment. Once you think you’ve got the shot, keep shooting while the subject recovers and becomes more relaxed and genuine. Sometimes I will act as though I’ve got the shot, look away but keep the camera where it was and take a few more shots. Usually, it’s the final few shots of any shoot that are the best. For me when I shoot my own teens they are already very relaxed with me, so I don’t have to distract them like this, but if I find they aren’t quite in the mood, I’ll get them talking about themselves. Involving other people to talk to your subject is a good trick, a little side banter creates some genuine emotion.
How do you go about choosing your still life subjects to photograph? Do you do any research into what is selling or do you capture whatever you feel?
Both! I usually shoot food that I’m going to eat, which is why I have more ingredient shots than final shots. My family are patient but only to a point. For non-food still life it happens in a variety of ways. I might see some fun props that will spark an idea, so I’ll buy them and ‘hopefully’ will get around to shooting with them. I know I’m not alone in having a large prop cupboard full of guilty purchases (like the gold salt & pepper and mustard I bought at a deli recently, the gold cutlery set I purchased to go with it, I’m still wondering how to pull it all together).
Sometimes I’ll notice a trend or concept and I’ll try to think of a way to shoot it that might be good for stock, but to be honest, I find these types of shots much more difficult and they can become a big formulaic. Of course, there are the seasonal things like bottlebrush at Christmas time or spring fruit tree blossoms and I know I only have a limited time frame in which to shoot something. My teenagers are also a big help. They are into every latest trend and have all sorts of trinkets in their rooms that inspire me, and they enjoy getting involved to help create a concept.
There’s all sorts of stuff in every home that can be photographed. And while apples, flowers, keyboards and keys have been done to death, there’s plenty of things that haven’t, so I research looking for gaps. I just bought charcoal bamboo toothbrushes and they are so pretty, so I’ll be playing around with that next.
Do you edit any of your images with post-processing to improve their look or do you find the image from the Fujifilm X100T is good enough?
I shoot in RAW, so I do have to do some editing. I do all my basics in Adobe Camera Raw (I make presets for each camera and lighting situation and it’s just one click to be 90% done) and then into Photoshop if there’s skin to fix or tricky clones (for logos etc). I am in love with the wifi transfer on the Fujifilm X100T though. I indeed find the in-camera jpeg conversion good enough to send images straight to social media.
Based on your style and experience what would you say is the best type of lighting for photos? Can you share the story behind one of your images taken with an X100T that portrays this light?
Every photographer loves early morning or late afternoon light, but also window light, or a shaded spot under an awning that still allows soft light onto the subject, these are all perfect. There’s an image I took on an early morning walk with my husband at Whale Beach, Sydney that I just love. Again, when we are just going for a walk in the mornings I don’t want to take my big camera, but I always like to have a camera with me (in case we see a unicorn), so the Fujifilm X100T is perfect, and I really loved the set of images I took that morning.
Do you have any tips on how to work with teens to obtain the best photographs?
Now on this, I think I could write a book! I have three teenage daughters with different personalities. Ask your teens to be involved in the creative process, from wardrobe to styling and to posing. They will have their ideas about what looks cool and it’s usually opposite to mine, so when we collaborate we get some interesting shots.
At some point, be it in the beginning or perhaps when you suspect they are getting bored, let them do what they want, no matter how silly. They are teens and usually quite egocentric, no point working against that. Some want direction, and some want to do their own thing, you have to be able to go with it, but also pull out your mum voice and get some control back. I teach them about light, where it is and how to stand in the light, how to pose their bodies (they all like that part!). I pay my daughters a % when an image sells, or of anything they helped create/assisted on, so they are usually really willing to be a model for me. Most teens have at least one social media account, and they love having heaps of fun photos to post, so that’s also a good motivator for them too. I often play music when shooting kids, including teens; it’s easier than trying to entertain them myself. So we pick a few songs, whatever they like, and it gets them happy and dancing.
What advice can you give someone who wishes to make their start as a photographer and why did you choose Stocky to represent your work?
It’s a tough industry, no one is handing out jobs, you have to go and find them yourself, and you have to be able to show up, on time, deal with the shooting conditions, edit and deliver work to the client. There’s no one available to teach you these things, so you really need to be a self-starter and be able to critique your work honestly. Nowadays everyone thinks they are a photographer, and while they may get plenty of likes and followers, that isn’t always a reflection of quality work.
We all now have access to fantastic gear and editing that help create great images, but there’s more to it than that, just as being able to put some paint onto a canvas doesn’t make you a painter, nor does nicely rearranging your living room make you an interior designer.
Buy gear you love (not just gear everyone is talking about), watch tutorials online, intern with professional photographers (just ask them, many will be more than happy to have an assistant, and even carrying gear, changing and cleaning lenses, holding the flash/reflector, watching models and stylists, are amazing skills to learn). Shoot what you love, then the work will never seem a chore. Stock is a great place to help improve your skills. Any of the stock agencies will critique your work and the rejections will be part of your learning process (more than client work ever will be).
I am incredibly grateful that Stocksy chose me. It’s such an amazing place full of mind-blowing talent from around a world. The nerd in me likes having my work critiqued by the editors, it’s humbling and I have improved so much as a photographer since joining Stocksy in 2013. Of course the co-op platform is unique to any stock agency, and the community is very supportive. I have direct access to talk with anyone, right up to the CEO. Add in the generous commissions and you’ve got the best agency to be with.