FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Last updated August 2021

I wish I had time to answer the questions and e-mails I get from students and other photographers, it’s honestly incredibly flattering you feel that I can help or that my opinion is worth the e-mail it’s written on.

Since starting the Exposed Negative Podcast (link) I have been inundated with tech requests and haven’t been able to answer these e-mails as I would like to do. I should mention, we cover a lot of ground on the Podcast so please take a listen.

I had promised on the podcast to make an FAQ featuring answers to the most common questions I get asked. I hope the following page is useful.

I am thinking of swapping camera systems, do you think I should?

Oh hell no, and take it from someone who’s wasted money doing 9 system swaps in three years. You won’t find what you are looking for, the trouble isn’t the kit. Unless you genuinely feel like your kit is holding you back (probably isn’t) or you feel like a big change is going to benefit you (i.e the move from DSLR to Mirrorless for example for the AF) Take the money you would have spent buying all the latest and greatest and put it into shooting some more personal projects.

What camera/lighting do you use?

I’ve actually written all this up on its own page – you can find this here – www.tombarnes.com/gear

Where can I find out more about the podcast?

You can find all the episodes show notes on the Exposed Negative website and we are on all good podcast services. I tend to listen to the show on Apple Podcasts but I know some people get it on Google Podcasts.

What backup system should I use?

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What software/apps do you find useful?

Dark Sky Sunseeker  Later Dropbox

What is the best bag you have ever used?

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What gear could you not live without?

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Did you study photography?

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How did you get started in photography?

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The first photographer that comes to your mind and why?

I enjoy the work of a lot of photographers but I love Wee-gee’s (Wikipedia) story and work. A fantastic american photographer and a pioneer of using flash. Warning: some of his work is quite graphic, it’s of police crime scenes etc but his cinema work is really cool (infra-red flash etc)

How did you get started in photography?

I was first given a camera by my dad when I was five years old at family gatherings, they were surprised at the results, and I loved taking pictures. That love continued and my parents would kindly buy me films and get them developed in Boots, it used to be cheap and you would get a free film, it was great.

I started going to gigs at 13/14 years old but I wasn’t talented musically in any way, I did have my camera. The more gigs we went to in our local youth centre, the more bands I met and the better I got. In 2003 I moved to Sheffield for university and found myself with spare time outside of lectures. I filled the time by taking pictures all over Sheffield and the Peak District. Most importantly I started going to gigs there and taking my camera.

I met a few local bands who needed press shots, we got chatting and organised shoots. Some of those bands started to get popular, we started touring the UK, then Europe and America. Other bands reached out to shoot, which was followed by clothing companies, magazines and record labels. Then, in 2011 the touring schedule started to drag, I was always away from home, family and friends and I wanted to spend more time focusing on my portrait work. I opened a studio and stopped touring and this is where I say my career properly started.

Where (if) did study photography?

I’m self-taught, I did study at University but I took an Urban Land Economics degree, so by trade, I was going to be a chartered surveyor! Photography seemed a bit more exciting.

I don’t actually believe in studying photography, I think you should learn this job by doing and there’s never been such a huge amount of information available. When I first learnt I was learning from books I could buy in charity shops using the money earned from my paper round. Now you can find anything about any technique on youtube!

How did you start your career out of university?

I didn’t, I actually started it whilst at university. I got progressively busier with photography whilst studying that by the final year came around my attendance was down to around 18%. I even had a call from the faculty leader asking me if I wanted to continue, that call came in whilst I was working in America on a commission for one of the biggest music magazines at the time.

Who (if) were you assisting and what were you shooting?

I have never assisted anyone, I learnt by working as a photographer. I often think that I should have assisted another photographer as I’m sure I would have made fewer mistakes in my career but I’m a big fan of learning by doing.

In the early days of my career I was shooting bands and clothing brands but soon moved over to portraiture when I realised that was where my passion lay.

Describe your digital work-flow and the software you use?

As soon as the image has been taken, it is transferred to the laptop into a Capture One session. At the end of the shoot, everything is backed up before heading to the office.

The files are backed up to the main office server and the off-site, then the session is opened and the shoot culled (removing the duds) I will make an edit and send it to the client for them to make their selects.

When the selects have been made the files will be processed in Capture One, then exported to Photoshop for further retouch and final grading before being returned to Capture One for export using the custom process recipes for delivery.

Why did you choose portrait photography?

I love meeting people, finding out their stories and hearing their perspectives, I’m fascinated by different cultures and peoples skills. Watching people work and create is completely fascinating to me.

I have always said that my camera is a passport, it enables me to parachute into peoples lives for a period of time. I know of no other thing that enables you to do that.

What three qualities have helped you in your craft and business?

Organisation has to be one of the top ones, being able to stay on top of multiple tasks across multiple shoots at any one time is often necessary.

Friendliness/professionalism: People want to enjoy a shoot, but they also want to enjoy the whole process. Being friendly and professional from start to finish is a no brainer.

Reliability: If you don’t deliver or turn up late the phone might not ring again from that client. I once got told the following… if you’re early then you’re on time, if you’re on time you’re late and if you’re late you’re fired.

How would you describe your style?

I used to describe my work as gritty cinematic but as my style has changed I think it’s slightly more like an enhanced reality. It’s honest portraits with a bit of grit, capturing people in an honest, flattering and heroic way. My goal is always to flatter my subject and to capture an image that they’d be happy to have represent them.

What are your favourite types of projects to work on, and why?

My personal shoots are always my favourite shoots to work on, they are often just me and the subject and I can really spend the time getting to know the person. I always like trying out new things as well and on personal shoots, there is no one to please but myself and the subject. I love it when a brief comes in that is like my personal work, my worlds collide there is the best way. Getting paid to shoot what you love? That’s the dream, surely!

What is most challenging about shooting portraits?

The first 15-30 seconds of any portrait shoot is the most difficult, you have to make your subject feel at ease instantly and make sure you make them feel confident that it’s going to be a good shoot. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Do you ever face "creativity blocks"?

Of course, I think we all do, it’s part and parcel of working in a creative role. It’s how we overcome them that will help make or break our careers. I use mind maps to map out what is causing the blocks and slowly work through each item. Though sometimes it’s great to turn off all your screens, grab a camera and just walk about with no reason, I try and this to reset from time to time.

What advice do you have for photographers just starting out?

  1. Don’t burn yourself out, you’ll see people boast about working through the night and how they are working a 70 hour week, it’s not cool or productive. Look after your mind and you’ll be twice as productive. I wish someone had told me this when I started out.
  2. Shoot what you enjoy, people can see work that has been created from passion. My portfolio is almost exclusively my personal work and no commissions, people want to see what you can create when you are fully invested.
  3. Don’t buy all the latest and greatest equipment, you probably don’t need them. G.A.S is a serious problem in our industry. Learn how to use what you have and only upgrade or invest when it’s necessary. If you are buying equipment make sure it will either make you money or move your work forward creatively.

Which mistakes have you made that you'd advise others to avoid?

See the above point on G.A.S, I’ve spent a lot of money on equipment that wasn’t needed and I wish I had avoided that. I also worked too much in the early days of my career, whilst it was a great time I missed quite a lot and I didn’t really see how important a good work/life balance is.

What do you most love about photography?

My camera is a passport, it allows me into places others can’t go and to meet people you wouldn’t be able to meet without it. It’s allowed me to see more of the world by the time I hit 25 than I ever thought I would see in my lifetime.

I love meeting people from all walks of life and hearing their stories and seeing their lives, it’s a great honour that they allow me in.

As well as the people side I love the feeling of shooting, I always have, it is when I am at my most comfortable, I have never enjoyed anything else as much.

The tech side of the business keeps me interested as well, this is forever changing and I love building systems to help me work more efficiently or solve problems.

All in all, I love it across the board, nothing comes close and I am forever thankful I have this as my career. It is a real privilege.

Can I assist you? / Can I come on a shoot for work experience?

I get asked this a lot, often it is sadly not the answer you were hoping for. I work regularly with people who are familiar with myself, my work and my equipment. Some of my crew I have worked with for almost a decade, they know what I need without asking. In a fast-paced shoot, this can help make or break the result. I was planning to start having people on shoots more but this has become impossible with Covid protocols, sadly we now need to keep numbers down to a minimum and it is often me, an assistant and a digital tech. Maybe in the future but currently it isn’t possible.