This week I welcome Brett Harkness. Apart from being an awesome photographer, Brett is a super cool human and somebody Crash Taylor calls a friend! He is continually pushing the boundaries and is always helping other aspiring photographers to become the best photographers they can be. That is something I admire big time in others, people who enjoy giving and not always taking. A few months ago, I attended one of Brett's photographic training courses as a guest. It was awesome and if you are thinking about taking a training course to be inspired or take your photography to the next level, I highly recommend Brett Harkness Photographic Training. Enjoy the interview, you will unquestionably feel inspired after reading the interview and checking out his engaging imagery.
Tell us a little bit about Brett Harkness?
Well, I left Nottingham Trent University in 1995 and got a job working in a kitchen! 5 days later I was aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean working as a photographer. It lasted 6 years!! I am 38 yrs old. Have a great,busy life and work very hard with my wife/partner/friend/ everything - Kristie...
Where is home?
Home is Heywood outside Manchester, UK.
If you could live anywhere on this awesome planet where would you build your dream home?
Mmmm, tough one. Probably have an “in town” apartment in a city somewhere in Canada and a house by the lake.
What is your current state of mind before we continue with the interview?
ideas,calm,busy,alive,...coffee,sunshine...,next shoot,new website,football,cameras, course, Pocket Wizards, new things.....,airport,weddings,
Did you go to school to study photography?
Yes, I studied photography at GCSE level & A level. I then went to Nottingham Trent Uni for 3 years to study it. I learnt little about photography, learning more about drinking, life , bowling & relationships. I learnt my photography whilst working aboard the cruise ships for 6 years. Thrown into the fire with an old Nikon FM2!
How long have you been a photographer?
I have been taking pictures since I was 14 yrs old when my mother bought me my first camera, a Practika. I have been a pro for 14 years.
How long have you been a wedding photographer?
I used to shoot weddings aboard the ships but using 1 roll of film. I started shooting weddings back in the UK in 2001, with our first full year of weddings in 2002. I class myself as social photographer, covering all aspects of human nature.
What or who got you started in wedding photography?
I would probably say my mother when she first bought me my camera. My photography teacher back during my GCSE’s said that I should give it up because I didn’t have the eye! I thought I would show him! As far as shooting weddings goes it was probably a progression from working on the ships. A friend and model once described my work as “ a class mixture of bridal, high fashion, romanticism and fresh energy- with great use of landscapes and colour.” Think that about sums it up for me.
How would you describe your style?
Free, fun, creative, funky, expressive, real, experimental.
How many weddings do you average per year?
Do you have some wedding images you can share with us?
What type of cameras do you shoot with?
I used to use Leica R8 cameras which I still have and do get out now and then and put a roll or two through them. Moved onto canon 1V cameras and now I use Canon EOS 1DS Mark III cameras.
What is your favourite photography accessory, other than your camera?
Apart from Kristie, who is reflector holder, kids entertainer, bag holder, flash holder, card changer, CF card Backer upper!, battery charger, time keeper, coffee maker it would have to be my Think Tank belt system. I couldn’t imagine doing a wedding without it.
If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why?
For weddings it would have to be my 70-200 IS 2.8 L lens. For my own work it would have to be my 50 mm 1.2 II L. I have recently started to integrate the two and using the 50 mm at weddings also.
A beautiful piece of glass, when you nail it on 1.2 its like being born again!
What lighting equipment do you take on a shoot?
3-4 Canon 580 EX II flash guns with Lastolite Ezy boxes, Pocket Wizards, gels,
Can you describe how and when you use flash, video light, reflectors and natural light during a wedding?
It is important to know that our wedding clients hire us because we can do what we do in a fraction of the time that it may take other photographers, therefore a lot of the time we have to work with what natural light is available. If we do get the chance to “play” with lights then great but it is not a priority. We use a Lastolite reflector for the 10-15 mins that we get with the client on a 1-1 basis. If we get another ten mins then I may get the off camera flashes out. Usually more so in Winter Weddings. I will bring out the flashes always for the first dance, cake cutting, speeches, the parts of a wedding that need spicing up a bit. I have to remember that a lot of our clients are high profile and they want to get on with their day, not spend an hour or so with me. If I can grab 10-15 mins then I need to work quickly, make it fun and get killer shots. When the pressure is on I work at my best. I would love to use the lights more and the faster I get with them the more I might be able squeeze them in.
What is your favourite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer?
My Wacom tablet and my Apple Cinema HD 30” flat panel display.
How important is Photoshop in your final images?
Photoshop is a necessary tool just as much as developer and fix were to film. It is an enhancing and finishing tool to get the best from your files. I don’t see it as a surgical tool to completely change the way my images look. I see it as a finisher.
What is your most used Photoshop tool, plug-in, action set etc.?
Probably Colour Efex Pro
Are you a MAC or PC lover?
Once you’ve had Mac you’ll never go back!!!
Do you plan on buying any new equipment and if so what do you have your eyes on?
Will be getting a 5D mark II for Kristie soon. Have ordered the new PW’s from USA also for my own work.
I finally feel I have mastered my Crash-Art workflow, can you briefly describe for the readers your photographic workflow after a wedding?
Fairly simple really. There are probably better and more efficient ways of doing things I am sure but this is the way we have always done things and if it aint broke....
We get back from a wedding or any job and of course download everything.
*Rename and number.
*Everything then gets burnt onto two drives that are kept in two different places.
* Then two copies are burnt onto DVD, again kept in different places.
* The whole job then gets imported and downsized to a more manageable size. A slight action added, slight sharpen and colour tweak.
* Then we have three go throughs, getting the wedding down to a number that the client can view- Approx. 500-600 images.
* The show is then put together, BW files made and a story put together for viewing. We use i-view media pro for this at the moment.
* The final images purchased are then worked on individually by Ria , our photoshop girl. I have a final look over and the album designed by Kristie is FTP’d off to Queensberry.
I use Queensberry albums, what wedding albums do you supply your clients with and do you design them yourself or outsource the design?
We also use Queensberry albums. Although not cheap our clients demand the best in quality. Kristie always designs the albums. I believe that the person designing should have been at the wedding or at least have done the viewing also. To know the wedding demographic, who should go next to each other etc..
How do you feel about cropping an image?
I am a great believer in getting it right in camera and will only crop if someone buys a frame with square images in them. Some of our acrylic range only come in squares. If an album needs a slice of an image then no problem. I am a great believer that if you don’t want it in when you are shooting then crop it then not after.
I choose photographers for these interviews because their work really inspires me and gets my creative juices flowing, hence the interview. What gives you ideas and inspires you to create such amazing imagery?
Well , firstly thanks for the compliment Crash. I constantly look at imagery, usually not wedding photography to be honest. Usually high fashion imagery, big corporate campaigns, looking at how they light or pose or use backgrounds.
6 years ago we did the Annabel William's course and she gave me the insight to be a little more free with backgrounds and light etc.. so thanks to her. I do take inspiration from a lot of older photographers, namely Cartier Bresson, Josef Koudelka, Sabastio Selgado, Don McCullin, the way in which they approach there subjects namely and how they work around their subjects. I am a believer that you get what you give as a photographer. That can be sometimes how you are without even opening your mouth. Just the ambience that you bring with you into a shoot, it feeds off to your subject, thus you get what you give.
What has been your most memorable assignment and why?
I would think probably last year when I spent 10 days in India with fellow photographer Henry Aarvold. We spent 10 days walking around the streets of Varanassi in India. The 20 mins that we managed to have in a train yard where the men were shovelling the coal into the trucks was probably the most rewarding 20 mins of my photographic life. I am looking forward to spending the day with an undertaker soon, can’t wait.
If you could shoot a wedding with another photographer who would it be and why?
Probably Josef Koudelka. I believe he saw things in such a beautiful, honest way that the moment was captured forever and remains timeless in its simplicity.
Do you have an assistant/2nd shooter that accompanies you on wedding assignments?
When you have Kristie you don’t need anyone else! Kris has started shooting now also and gets some great moments.
Photographer Henry Aarvold sometimes second shoots with us and Paul Atherton also does jobs for us.
How many images do you average per wedding and how many do you usually present to your clients?
I usually take around 1400-1700 images a wedding. I just like taking pictures! The client usually views around 500-600.
Where would be your dream destination wedding?
I would have to say I would love to shoot a wedding in New York. Have the couple to myself on the streets of New York for an hour would be great.
How do you make the bride and groom, bridal party etc… feel relaxed in front of your Canon 1DS Mark III?
Well the pre-wedding shoot is a big part of that and goes to serve the purpose of getting the B&G on your side. I treat the ten mins of posing with the B&G as a time to get away from the guests and spend a little time alone. I get what I need but it has to be fun, relaxed and all about the relationship and showing the love that the couple have for each other. I work quickly and think two or three shots ahead which makes the shoot flow smoothly. The rest of the wedding day is documentary and its all about being in the right place at the right time.
Have you ever had anything go wrong at a wedding and if so, how did you handle it?
There have been a few occasions where things have gone a little wrong. One particular occasions was the drowning of my 16-35 mm 2.8 lens. All I can say it was my fault! There was another photographer with us at the time so we took over with his for the big groups etc.. Hey it’s only a lens, a tool of the trade. We also got lost once and ended up in a cow field instead of at the church! A few more hairs were lost that day I can tell you.
What are your favourite three images you have shot recently? Can you describe their creation in regards to location, lighting, composition, camera settings etc, also your thoughts when creating the images and what they mean to you?
Mmmmm, tough one . As you have not stated from weddings I am going to throw a few into the mix.I am going to choose two images from my sisters wedding that we had in France last week so hot off the press. Also a travel shot from India & one from our BHP training sessions, ooo that makes it 4, go on Crash give me that?
The first is a shot taken the day after the wedding. Just a beautiful moment for me. Laying down on the grass at the back of the vineyard with the couple, a dog just came out of no-where and started licking them. You can feel the summer in this shot. Shot on a Canon EOS 1ds mark III, 50 mm 1.2/ 50 ISO/ 1/1600th sec @ 1.2. Shooting wide open is scary as it only takes a slight movement of photographer or subject to lose the focus. But when you nail it there is no better feeling.
The second shot was taken at night as the sun was going down. We had to wait until after the meal at around 9pm until the sun was less harsh. I really wanted to capture a haunting yet timeless moment between them and I think I did.
Canon EOS 1ds mark III ,100ISO/ 1/1000th sec @ f8. 70-200 2.8 IS L.
The third shot is from a training session that we had at the studio a couple of weeks ago.
Canon EOS 1ds Mark III, 16-35 mm, 200ISO/ 1/200th sec @ f8. I try and do my best every time I have a camera in my hands and try and push my own boundaries also. On this Funky Flash training day at the studio we shot in a nearly pitch black underground car park, to get a funky shot like this was great for me and great for the photographers on the course to emulate.
The fourth shot is from a trip to India. I don’t often re-visit my images but there is something about this shot that draws me back every time. Taken during a 10 minute shoot in a coal yard ( before we were asked to leave!) His gaze says it all to me. Canon EOS 1ds Mark III, 50 mm 1.2L/ 400 ISO/ 800th sec @ 2.8
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about photographing weddings?
Making it look easy whilst your brain is running like a steam engine, where’s the best light?, which lens?, composition?,make them laugh, capture the moment, watch out for the vicar, get my timings right, which pose next?Have I shot enough? make new contacts. A lot to worry about. Great wedding photography is an under appreciated art for sure because you have to be a master of all trades.
What do you think of the wedding photography industry at the moment and where do you see it in 5 years from now?
For me the wedding photography industry is at a strange place. There are a lot of photographers out there which is great for the industry but I feel that there are not a lot of styles and passion out there which is sad. I feel as if it has taken me 5-6 years to create my own style . I have nothing wrong with people copying me or whoever else, indeed we run our own training courses now but I feel that you should take from any photographer that excites you and turn it into something different, mold it into your style. 10 or 15 years ago it was easy to have your own style but with the advent of digital everyone has a camera and this is why it is important to work on your own style and become someone different. I also feel that a lot of photographers just do it by the numbers, charge minimum, no products just to make a fast buck! on the flip side the ones that do care and that are passionate about their art make it worth it and thus bring the standards up and thus the prices that photographers can charge. As far as the style of the wedding photography market, well I don’t think there has been a more exciting time with so many approaches on the market. Documentary, fashion based, quick shoots , long shoots, cheesy, not cheesy, turn up at the church, all day coverage, pre-wed shoot, trash the dress, etc.... There is a photographer out there for every bride.
A wedding photographer who inspires you?
To be honest,which I am all too often! I don’t take my wedding inspiration from any wedding photographers at all . Yes I admire the work of some. I look at the work of a lot of social photographers within the industry. News photographers, fashion photographers, travel shooters. SO many different influences that make up my world. A lot of the well known wedding photographers seem only to concentrate on the couple. You see their albums and there is a little documentary and then 13 pages of the B&G and that’s it. No ambience of the day, no details, no other people! Ok, I do treat my own ten mins as a bit of a relaxed fashion shoot but not to the extent where I have 2 hours with them on 10 different backgrounds, That’s not what a wedding is about for me. I like the clean , true nature of Jeff Ascoughs work, shooting with prime lenses only is an art in itself. I try and mix up all my styles at a wedding depending upon the character, age & needs of the client.
It’s almost that time of year for a Harkness family portrait. Is there any photographer out there that you would be stoked to say - he took my portrait?
Mmm, don’t know really, maybe Greg Gorman based in LA. Very striking stuff for sure.
A website and/or blog you visit often?
( possibly the funniest website out there for wedding shooters!) Take a look if you get chance.
The first photographer that comes to your mind and why?
Joey Lawrence, as I think he shoots way beyond his years and produces amazing imagery.
The last workshop or seminar you attended and why?
Haven’t done one since I went to a Bambi Cantrell talk a couple of years ago. You are never beyond learning new things but I just haven’t had the time really.
Can you tell the readers about Brett Harkness Photographic Training?
We started our own training course a couple of years ago when we extended our studio space. Keeping the courses small, usually no bigger than 9 photographers we cover subjects such as:
Off camera flash
Fashion, urban Portraiture
We run 1-1 and small bespoke group sessions also. The training is a great part of the business and I enjoy it very much. We are still very much a full working photography studio and marching at the forefront of the social photography market so the training reflects that . We probably run 12-15 courses per year and run a 1-1 or group session once a week for photographers that want to spend more 1-1 time with me. Usually done on a 1-1 basis or small group that gets together and we cover bespoke topics that are particular to the group. I love the training, it is an arm of the business that is growing. I love to share and help people become better, it inspires me to try harder also and embrace new technologies. We get all kinds of photographers at our studio. Ones that have been in business for years and others who are just starting out and want to learn the basics. If you haven’t given our courses a go yet then take a look at the website or blog for new courses coming out this year.
What photographic organisations do you belong to?
I think I used to be in the MPA and may go back to join a few organisations soon. They can be helpful.
One way you market Brett Harkness Photography?
Very much believe in word of mouth marketing. If we do a good enough job for our clients then there is no reason they won’t talk about us. This in turn gets us more clients. I wouldn’t waste too much money on magazine adverts, not for weddings anyway. For the training again it is word of mouth.
Do you advertise? If so where?
No, not really any more. We advertise for BHP Training in numerous photography magazines. For weddings & portraiture we let our clients do the talking. We also do the Designer Wedding Show in London every year which means we spread our wedding net a little further.
How important is an awesome website for your business?
Yes, this is pretty important for us. It is usually our prospective clients first port of call. So it has to engage them enough for them to want to know more. We are currently changing our website again from scratch and are due to launch in a month or so. Very exciting. I think also that Blogs are a great thing. Our blog can de updated instantaneously and often without any fuss.
If not a photographer, I would have liked to be a marine biologist studying the great white shark. What would you have been?
Yeah, funnily enough it was always an initial dream of mine to do the same! To be a David Attenborough type person( Naturalist not Naturist!) . I think I even wrote to him on “ Jim’ll Fix it” Crash you won’t know what that is!
I realise that each great photographer has a particular penchant or love for photographing a particular subject whether it be nature, portraits, sea or landscapes, shadow and light, etc. as a result I would love to have you talk about and share whatever images you feel appropriate of your own private obsession in the magical world of photography.
My personal work is probably as varied as what I shoot for “work” if you can call it that?. To me they are all one and the same. If I am lucky enough to have a camera in my hand then I am very lucky whether I am shooting a fashion campaign, a wedding or walking the streets of India. As I said before I don’t consider myself to be a designated photographer of anything, just everything.
When I have my 50 mm 1.2 Lens on my camera I do go into a different mind set. I don’t angle the camera as I may do for “work”. I tend to think a little more about the surrounding scene as part of the image. In my “ work” shooting I use backgrounds a little differently,usually for texture or effect,probably due to my lens choice, 70-200. When you have a 50 mm on you have to look more at the scene. Whatever I am shooting I love to engage with the subject. Just to wait and look. I am a great believer of getting the shot in your head first and then picking up the camera. If you can see the shot with your eyes then the rest is simple. I will very rarely look through the camera and think “ok, what now!”
Photography for me is a release. I feel at ease when behind the lens ( although the brain- at weddings is working overtime!) It is this connection to the world that I love and am very thankful for. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Is there anybody or anything you would love to photograph?
Where do I start? I would love to go back to India again and again. I would love to shoot the ballet in Cuba. Diamond mines in Africa. New York street life. Various “day in the lives” in the UK, go back to the shipyards of India.... Back stage at a Paris fashion show, fishing trawlers, undertakers, Where do I stop?
When I was 2nd shooting I was picking everybody’s brain, I still am actually. That’s why I love these interviews so much. Every interview I learn something that makes me a better photographer. What advice do you have for somebody who wants to pursue wedding photography?
Go for it, but try and find your own style . Start off charging what you think you are worth, work hard and put your prices up as you progress, not down. Produce albums like an artist would produce a painting . Believe in yourself, be brave, shoot what you want and find the client to fit your style. Whatever you do don’t put your prices down, you will never be able to come back . Practice all the time .If you are bored with what you are shooting learn a new technique so that you can inject some life into it. Every time I pick up the camera I try something different. It doesn’t always work but if I don’t try I will never know. Variety is the spice of life. If you are picking up a camera because you can’t think of anything else to do then don’t. Photography has to be a passion, you have to believe in what you are doing. This will show in your images. I have always said that photography is not what I do, it is what I am.
We know that each of us has someone or something, which inspires our life and work. Can you tell us the true basis of your inspiration?
It’s hard to say really. In the beginning it was the will to prove my photography teacher wrong, that I could take a picture. My true inspiration is born from a deep and ever present need to improve, to do the best that I can. Sometimes all consuming ... To show to myself and others how I see the world. To leave a document of the tiny space in time that I inhabited this earth and the lives of the people that I was fortunate enough to photograph.
Is there anything you would have done differently during your photographic career?
I am pretty sure I can say nothing. Probably not to be as much of a perfectionist in all that I do.
Name a photographer you would like to take a portrait of?
If you could be invisible for one day with your camera...
Document a day in the life of an American President
I’ve learned the most from… myself. Practice, practice and practice again and when you think you have mastered it do it again.
What talent would you most like to have?
To be able to dance like my wife, to play the piano, to speak a language, I know boring and all things I could do if I had the time...well apart from dance!
Something you’re still learning?
Photography, it will never stop...
How to live life to the full!
How to relax!!
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My wife & my camera, a sure second though! 😉
What is your greatest fear?
Not being half the man my Grandad was to me and to never beat my twin brother at golf ever again!
Something that is overrated?
New Years Eve, Caviar, Champagne , Birthdays,
Something you’re saving up for?
My next trip.
What item do you wish you had designed?
Think Tank belt system , Pocket Wizards & ........... coffee shops!!
If you could have lunch with anyone who is famous who would it be?
Michael Mann or my Grandad again. He died a few years ago and I would have loved to have got all his war stories & life adventures on tape, so if you have the chance, do it now...
Where you'll find me on a Friday night at 9 p.m.?
Either cooking tea on the BBQ, in a hotel somewhere in the world with my wife getting ready for a wedding the day after or sat at work talking to Crash Taylor!!
Your favourite film (movie) of all time?
Heat with Robert De Niro & Al Pacino
Who would play you in a film (movie) of your life?
Daniel Craig! But I better get back to the gym, the 6 pack is merging into 1!!
First thing you would do if you won the lottery?
Do a little bit of wee.... then party!
Which five words would your friends use to describe you?
Hang on, I’ll ask one, let me text him......
funny, frustrating, dedicated, misunderstood, generous and genius......
I have some nice friends for sure! I think?
What ambition have you not yet achieved?
I’ll tell you in 20 years, doing pretty good me thinks.
What would you like to be doing in 5 years from now?
The same, but less. Driving to the beach in my camper van with my wife and kid or kids (whatever comes)
And the last question, if you had one wish…
To do it all again.
Oh, one more, if someone said ‘how can I be the next Brett Harkness?’ What would you say?
I would say be the next “you”. Learn from all that I and other photographers like me teach and shoot and show, then make it your own.
This is how photography will survive for another 200 years.
Your readers can find out more about me: In Digital Camera & Digital SLR photography magazines at the moment.