This week we got the chance to talk to Neil Shearer, a Manchester, UK based photographer, in the process of turning to photography full time. He achieved the SWPP Licentiate qualification earlier this year, and this is a great acknowledgement of his level of skill already reached. We asked him about his journey so far.
PortraitPro: What is your favorite use of PortraitPro?
Neil Shearer: I'm a relatively new convert to PortraitPro, I’ve been using it now for around 6 months, but it has improved my workflow immensely. I try it on all my people shots as the very first step. I use it mostly for adjusting the intensity in the eyes, it amazes me just what it can do!
PortraitPro: Who or what is your main inspiration in Photography?
Neil Shearer: I love light. That is basically it! Whenever I shoot I am aiming to create a beautiful light that my subject can interact with. I am always looking for new ways to manipulate light in order to get out the shot that is in my head.
PortraitPro: How did you begin with Photography?
Neil Shearer: I was a late starter to photography. I never had a camera as a child, but growing up a lot of my friends were quite arty, so I was exposed to it without really knowing much about it. I first bought a camera when I was planning a long trip around Brazil. I knew that there would be so much color and excitement going on and I wanted to capture a piece of it. So I took my Nikon F80 and about 20 rolls of film, and this lasted me about 6 months! I knew nothing about my camera and never took it out of auto! But I was hooked. The reaction I got to the photos that I brought back cemented it. Even now I still have a few of the pictures framed on my wall, and this is going back about 10 years... But it’s only really been the last three years when I started actually learning about lighting and technique.
PortraitPro: Did you study photography, if so, where or how did you learn?
Neil Shearer: I was entirely self-taught until a year ago when I was lucky enough to be accepted on a mentoring course with Damian McGillicuddy, one of the best photographers in the UK. Since then I have really gone back to basics and started undoing some of the bad habits I had picked up over the years. My photography has gone from strength to strength in that time.
PP: We saw Damian’s demos at the Photography Show this year.
PortraitPro: What is your everyday work? Or tell us about the variety of things you shoot?
Neil Shearer: I am still in the process of setting up my business, with an aim to be shooting full time by the end of the year, but at the moment I am doing a lot of test shoots with different models and MUA's, (Make-up artists) mostly to build up a strong portfolio, but also to try and get together a small team of people that will be able to work with me on more commercial work in the future. I am also shooting more editorial work now with an aim to getting published in magazines. I think this is where my creative side comes out and I can really go crazy with the styling and ideas!
PP: That’s a great idea, Pedro told us that he started out this way too.
NS: I am also planning a series of sports portraits to coincide with the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup in the summer. These involve some composite work and are a new challenge for me, but are an area which I am really excited about exploring further.
PortraitPro: Do you do a lot of post processing or just a little?
Neil Shearer: I take each image on its own merits. I try to get as much right in camera as possible, but I will almost always do some level of skin retouching and then color grading to enhance the photo and add my own style to it.
PortraitPro: Do you find it easy to achieve the look you want with PortraitPro?
Neil Shearer: I'm getting better! I think PortraitPro has far more functionality than I have mastered yet and I’m excited to try out the new release soon. But for ease of use it is second to none, the automatic settings often only need tweaking slightly until I am happy.
PortraitPro: Do you use Photoshop in your workflow, or just PortraitPro?
Neil Shearer: I use Photoshop for all my editing. PortraitPro is my first tool after RAW conversion and then I go from there. I have been editing fewer images from my shoots recently, only focusing on the very best 2 or 3 rather than trying to edit 20 or 30 and then choosing the best. It is a method that is working really well for me as the photos that I post on my website or on social media have more impact that way.
PortraitPro: Tell us about your favorite portrait shoot?
Neil Shearer: Last year I was doing a shoot with a friend who is an amazing opera singer, but we decided to do something a bit different style wise. I chose to shoot her as a 1940's jazz singer and decided to hire a jazz club and shoot with smoke machines and make it really atmospheric. But I was unable to find anywhere suitable that fit the vision in my head. So, applying a bit of thought and lighting technique, I figured out that we could create the same photo on a purpose built set. So that was what we did. We constructed the set in a friend’s back garden and despite the sun being out; I was able to light it so that it looked sufficiently dark and gloomy! We still had the smoke machine too! The thing I like most about this shoot was that it involved so many people all coming together and working to achieve a common goal, and I think the results are outstanding!
PortraitPro: Congratulations on receiving the Licentiate level Qualification from the Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers. What does this mean in real terms for your business?
Neil Shearer: Hopefully it will give clients peace of mind that they are hiring someone who has been recognized as being able to shoot at a certain standard. It has also given me a lot of confidence that what I'm doing works and is appreciated by more than just me!
PP: PortraitProfessional was awarded The Societies 2013 Trade Award for Best Professional Imaging Innovation, and Best Professional Photo Finishing Product, so we’re in good company.
PortraitPro: How important is it to continue to study and receive professional recognition for your work?
Neil Shearer: I think it is very important for me. I have seen such a huge improvement in my work over the last 12 months and by continuing to study and improve then my results can only get better. I think professional recognition is a great thing to have, but it’s not what motivates me to get better. Hopefully the two will go hand in hand.
PortraitPro: Do you have assistants or do you work alone?
Neil Shearer: If I am shooting a model test then I will usually just have a make-up artist with me. If I'm shooting something more elaborate then I will often have 2 or 3 or more people on set helping out. I think the most was around 10 when we did the jazz singer shoot, everyone got involved and it was great fun!
PortraitPro: How do you find work, or how does your paid work find you?
Neil Shearer: Most of my enquiries have come through my website and social media. I have not yet started properly advertising or marketing myself yet as I’m currently going through a logo design and branding exercise, and I want everything to be cohesive. I have lots of ideas for low cost guerilla marketing and I will be ramping them up over the summer months!
PP: We hope this gives you a good start then!
PortraitPro: Can you tell us a little about some of your past paid projects?
Neil Shearer: In all honesty, I have not had many paid projects yet. This is still not a full time job for me at the moment. But the paid work that I have had has all been around sports portraiture. I've shot a lot of promotional images for Capoeira, Yoga and Cross-fit. And this is certainly a direction I will be going in in the future.
PortraitPro: Where can we see more of your work?
Neil Shearer: You can see my new website here.
I'm also pretty active on social media, so drop by and say hello!
Download the free trial today, and see what you can do with PortraitPro.