Shooting on Film is Like Painting
Nick Thompson is a photographer, creative director, and film director who resides in London and works in Europe and the US. Nick has been developing his unique style and aesthetics in the fashion world by focusing mainly on telling a story through the personal perspective on elements as shape, colour, and composition. Photographing on film has been emphasized as a more sophisticated approach that allows time and space to create a more thought-through frame and build a narrative.
In this interview we discuss the aspects of shooting on film, establishing one’s own style, the importance of being relevant, and the language that is created when film and still images collide. Nick tells us about one of his recent shoots with Indira Varma and the visual idea for the FENDI AW18 / HIGHSNOBIETY campaign.
Nick worked with clients like Chanel, Fendi, British Vogue, Burberry, L'Officiel and others.
Hi Nick, what is your story? How did it all start for you?
I initially came down to London when I was 17 to study at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. When I graduated, I went away to travel for a year and naturally, I took more of an interest in taking pictures and documenting this.
When I returned to London, I took a job in a bar to pay the bills, and I was fortunate enough to work with someone who was assisting photographers. I managed to get a few introductions and jobs and eventually one thing led to another. I had always had a keen interest in photography, I always collected cameras and enjoyed taking photographs from a young age. I think what I enjoyed most about it was the instantaneous capturing of an image and having to wait to see how it turned out from the prints.
How was it working with the beautiful Indira Varma?
Really great, we did the shoot at my London studio. I am an avid watcher of Game of Thrones, so I was very excited to meet Indira after previously having met and shot Jacob Anderson who is also on the show. As a person she is very down to earth and effortlessly beautiful, we didn’t have to force anything, the pictures just happened, it all flowed very easily.
What was the main idea behind this work?
We approached this with a very classical aesthetic, I wanted to refrain from using any overly complicated lighting setups and keep it quite natural. As it was summer the daylight was very good, so we shot it on film in the daylight studio. I suppose it was a classical photography style similar to the black and white works that Averdon and Lindbergh would have done in their studios.
Who are the most inspiring people in your life? What was the element that they helped you realize or change in your approach to work, personal life, or worldview?
For me, it’s not one particular person, or a person necessarily, it's everything around me, everyday things like the way people walk across the street, a piece of music, a film. Sometimes I’ll look at certain things, and that will create a chain reaction of a vision I have, a thought process that I can develop into an idea or a narrative.
When you shoot a story for an editorial on film what is different in approaching the set when compared to the digital shoot?
I think, obviously, you don’t have the instantaneous reaction of reviewing an image as soon as you’ve shot it like you would with digital. Shooting on film, it slows the pace down and allows yourself time to think about composition and what you're trying to say in the photograph.
There is a tendency in digital photography to shoot more than necessary at a rapid pace with the hope you are going to capture something else. With film, you don’t have that luxury, so you make extra care that every shot counts. It sounds a bit corny, but there is something a bit more mysterious about shooting on film. It feels more organic and natural like a painting would.
"Shooting on film, it slows the pace down and allows yourself time to think about composition and what you're trying to say in the photograph".
What is the last book you read and what insight can you share?
I recently picked up ‘Redheads’ a photography book shot by Joel Meyerowitz. It’s quite a sweet book that celebrates all redheaded people, young and old, male and female. My mother is a redhead, so I guess you could say I have a slight affinity with redheads. To me, it shows how sometimes the simplest ideas can be the loveliest ones.
What do you think is a trend today in fashion photography worldwide?
Shooting on film has seen a massive increase in the past few years. Due to the fact that people have become very used to digital photography, social media, etc. people are reverting back to the old ways as it looks and feels different.
There has been a huge increase in film sales (Kodak Portra), at times I have to stockpile it as there can be shortages.
Tell us about the FENDI AW18 / HIGHSNOBIETY campaign? What was the driving force for the visual idea for the shoot and the short film?
The idea was to look at how we can cross over the two mediums of print and moving image. I really wanted the two formats to bleed into one another, so we looked at creating a photography series for the editorial magazine. There was a live video feed recording the subjects which were then playing back on monitors. We also used this in the moving image film that accompanied the editorial shoot. What was quite nice about it was that it opened up to what we were shooting, I didn’t just have to take photographs of the subjects themselves, I could also take photographs of the monitor screens and also there was that echo effect running through the photography of the images of the subjects.
What is one of the personal characteristics you can say you are proud that you had developed it throughout the years and professional work?
I think it’s a difficult question to answer but looking at my work I try to focus a lot on shape and colour and how composition sits within a box within a photograph. These elements are quite important to me. There is also an element of trying to tell a story in a way that is different to how other people do it.
Do you think one should go with the trend or against it to succeed?
It’s important to have your work speak out for itself. I mean obviously working in fashion is quite difficult because there is a very current aesthetic at the moment in certain types of fashion. I think the way that you should always position your work is to try not to feel too influenced by what people are doing around you but strive to do something unique that’s not already been done. It’s also very important at the same time to make it current and have some sort of cross-reference to the times.
"I think the way that you should always position your work is to try not to feel too influenced by what people are doing around you but strive to do something unique".
Tell us about Nick Thompson Studio. What is the aesthetic it offers and believes in?
I think my studio is multi-disciplinary. I am a photographer, creative director, and film director. I try not to categorise myself and say I strictly only take photographs or only direct films. I try and perceive myself more as a fashion image maker that creates imagery. A lot of the moving image that I shoot, sometimes I treat it in a way where it’s more like moving photographs, I will even use the same crop aspect ratio as my cameras. I think ultimately for a photographer or anybody in this industry to go with the times you need to adapt and be able to be versatile in the content that you produce. I would say one of my strengths is the fact that I obviously work a lot in film and photography but that I also conceptualise all of my own work.
What is your dream collaboration and with whom would you like to see it come to life?
In terms of dream collaborations, it comes to creative freedom… I would love to do a large denim campaign or work with a large denim brand. It would be really great to work alongside some of the big influential designers that have been in the industry forever.
My ultimate goal would be to really push into the fragrance world and shoot some big fragrance pieces, similar to the Chanel and Dior campaigns you see worldwide. I would like to be able to curate a whole story that’s shot on film, and then there’s also the accompanying stills that support it.
What are your plans for 2019?
Finalising my VISA. I am in the process of doing my 01 VISA to the States so I can work more frequently in the US. I love the US market as well as I love Europe and I see myself spending my time between the two. I would like to expand out on what I do, I recently just shot my first fragrance campaign for a brand called Strangelove NYC, and I would love to build on this and start to work more within the perfume market for brands like Coty and Puig, that is a big goal of mine.