This week, Pedro Aguilar talks to us about his job shooting photography for commercial purposes, and his unusual combination of still life and sports photography. We met him at his office in London, and talked about getting into the commercial business and the balance between commercial and creative work. We had to postpone this interview a little while, but it was worth the wait…
PortraitPro: What is it about photography that interests you?
Pedro Aguilar: The first thing that interested me was to discover a new aspect of reality. I always think that I’m quite curious about things. For example, you take a portrait of someone and then you see things that you don’t see in reality, the skin, and the way things are that you don’t see normally. You can use photography to discover things that are not visible to the normal eye. I studied fine art in Seville, which is a university that is very traditional. In the third year we had an introduction to photography and that's when I realized actually you can use photography to create images with a relationship to painting as well. So, on the one side the scientific things, and then the relationship to painting and image making on the other.
PortraitPro: What advice would you give to any aspiring commercial photographers?
Pedro Aguilar: Assist. That is the main thing. Different photographers work in different ways, and the best way to learn is assisting. Be prepared, when you assist, not to get paid much. That’s a reality because there are so many people that want to get into this business and when you’ve got a lot of experience as an assistant then you could start charging a fee as an assistant photographer, but to start with, you’re probably going to be more of a burden to the photographer than a help. That’s really the main thing.
Don’t worry too much about gear. People think that you need to get a hundred megapixels, digital back, for your medium format camera, and at the end of the day you don’t need the latest thing. You can invest in second hand stuff; you can buy things that are not that expensive. At the end of the day it is more about creativity than the technical stuff.
Of course you need to learn your technique, but you quickly find that, in terms of technical stuff, there’s not that much to learn about photography, it’s more about what you put in front of the camera. There’s not a magic formula of gear that you need to create commercial photography. It’s more about your vision and what you put in front of the camera.
But assisting is the main thing, and to be honest, I think I didn’t assist that many photographers, and sometimes I regret it because I would like to know more about how other people work.
And also your personal work; if you want to work as a commercial photographer, the reality is that most of the advertising agencies when you go and see them, they want to see your personal work as well as your commercial work, because they don’t want to see what you’ve done already for other people. They are looking for what can you do that you haven’t done commercially yet, but is unique.
PortraitPro: How have you developed your career from a fine artist into a photographer?
Pedro Aguilar: I studied painting and printmaking, with a couple of exhibitions in Spain. I was still finding out my passion, but it’s all related in a way. There are so many artists, who exhibit in galleries that use photography as a medium of expression. But I think that that base of looking at painting and building an image. In terms of digital photography, I spend more time with the computer than with the camera. That stuff is my style. I don’t mean that everyone is like that, there is still space for someone who wants to be more of a photographer, even if they use digital, but just capture an image and leave it there.
I spend a lot of time with the computer. I studied painting as well, so you build an image from the canvas, starting with a sketch, and applying the colors and layers, which is something very like Photoshop in a way. I think it has helped me to develop my style.
PortraitPro: What gear do you shoot with?
Pedro Aguilar: Commercially, at the moment, I shoot with Hasselblad, medium format, especially for still life. 35mm SLR are really, really good, but when you get into high speed flash, synchronization, you need medium format cameras. The sharpness, especially for still life, you find that the bigger the negative, or the sensor in this case, the bigger, the better fill as well so you want to keep everything sharp. I’m thinking of investing in a technical camera, large format too.
The last job I had, in Spain, the studio had a Phase One, 80 megapixel back, so I used that. It was a very good camera as well, but I still use my Canon 5D too. It depends on the assignment, but of course, you need to use good gear for commercial. I own a Hasselblad, and a Canon 5D, and that’s what I’m using at the moment. Again, the Hasselblad is 5 years old. Probably for some people it’s a bit old, but I don’t think I need to invest in a lot of stuff, and you can rent.
Same with lighting. This Elinchrome which, again, it’s quite old, but they work very well. For high Speed capture photography I use Broncolor because you can adjust the flash duration independently to the power of the flash. For splashes you need a 1/6000 duration of a flash and you can go even higher. To photograph explosions you need 10,000 of a second flash. So it depends what you do.
PortraitPro: What would be a typical lighting setup for one of your portraits?
Pedro Aguilar: It depends, I like to use 3-4 lights, I would use a soft light, a big soft box to fill the whole image, and then a beauty dish. That’s the main light; it’s soft, but still directional. Soft light can be a bit flat, with soft light, everything is light, even the dark areas. It’s very important, even if you want to go with a Caravaggio style image, where half of the face is black, but you still have a fill, so it’s not really black, you can still see the detail of the skin. So, a soft light, a fill, a main beauty dish as a main light that gives you a little bit of direction. And then, for example, for sports photography, I like to use back light too, have a bit of back light behind the subject, and then, pointing at the subject, but from behind, so you get a sort side lines, a kind of halo. Mainly because that’s the way that it looks, in professional sports, when they are playing on the field you get 4 lights so you get light from all directions and you kind of want to simulate that. That would be a typical set up.
Check out Pedro’s new website here, and connect with him on his social media.
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