Here’s the second half of our interview with Pedro Aguilar, a commercial photographer based in London.
We enjoyed chatting to him so much, we just had to share it all with you…
PortraitPro: Who has been your most interesting client so far and why?
Pedro Aguilar: A client in Italy, a magazine called Riders, (Hearst Magazines Italia) they’re not that well known, but I’ve been commissioned a lot by the art director there, the fashion director. It’s very interesting because he’s very, ‘let you do what you want’, which is quite unusual.
I work with FCB (Football Club Barcelona), it’s very interesting because you get to meet all the players, and it is quite a high profile job.
With FC Barcelona, I do a session with the players at the beginning of the season, and I go to some of the football matches as well. It’s a bit of a mix of studio photography and real action.
Nespresso is another client. It’s quite interesting in terms of seeing the structure of such a huge company, and how precise they are about how they want things. From how many centimeters of foam needs to be on the coffee; it’s very precise.
You know these big brands, and then you realize, that they’re not just big for no reason, they have a very particular way, how they like things, and you have to respect the way they do things.
PortraitPro: How do your commercial clients find you?
Pedro Aguilar: As some advice to people I would say, you’re not going to get an advertising job straight away, editorial is the way to get into it.
I started working, commissioned by ‘How to Spend It’ Magazine. (The financial guide) Through them I started to get access to things like expensive watches, stuff that you get, to then show what you can do. Editorial is a good way of starting to get into that sort of commercial work. Because still, (especially nowadays) there’s not that much money in it, so you find that sometimes magazines struggle to find photographers to work for them because really established photographers don’t want to work for such a little fee.
I have an agent in London, and an agent in Spain. They’ve got their network with advertising agencies.
‘Archive’ is a German magazine who specialize in advertisement.
There are sort of companies that specialize in targeting advertising companies. Like the yellow pages of advertising photography.
Social networking of course nowadays is very, very important. Things like Behance, Instagram, and Facebook. I think, to have, and to build a big group of followers, especially with people who work already with advertising agencies, in the advertising industry, yes your website is important, but your social profiles are more important. If people go to your website, that's for something specific, but if you have three people in an advertising agency that are following your tweets or your Behance, every time you put something, you know they’re going to see it. It’s very important.
PortraitPro: Are you very critical of your own work? How do you teach yourself to produce more interesting pictures?
Pedro Aguilar: It’s a tricky thing; I tend to step away from the stuff for a while. It’s quite difficult to be critical of your own work, but I have learned that there is always room for improvement. I think when I started, I was a little bit more of the attitude, ‘this is how I’ve done it, this is great, and no one needs to tell me how I have to do things.’ And I think, actually, you learn with experience that, yes things improve when you take on board comments and criticism. I think commercial, advertising photography is team work, you’ve got, not just the photographer, but you’ve got the stylist, and art directors that come up with the idea, and the client, and I think it’s important to take these things on board, and get a second opinion, on everything you do. Just embrace the attitude that no matter how good you have done something, you can always improve it, go back to the image and change it.
It is good to allow other people to let you know what they think. Usually I like to step away for a while and let other people, and then have some time, because when you work on something… Last night I was working until midnight retouching, this picture, and you forget about it, you’re so into it; you’re almost not looking properly any more. You need to go away a couple of days and look at it fresh. But specifically in advertising, Art Direction is important. I like to work with Art Directors, it’s like having a creative partner that you can rely on, to look at your work and tell you what they think you could improve. Nowadays I mean, you can always go back to what you had before. Just have the attitude of changing, see how it looks, and then look at them together, and say ‘oh, yes its better now’ or ‘I like it better how it was before’. No one likes a Prima Donna attitude in this business. It’s a commercial, it’s a business, and yes, even if you think you’re right and if you think that you’ve done the best you can do, you are working for a client, a brand that has their own way to do things, you have to respect that as well.
PortraitPro: How do you balance your own creativity with the requirements of your commercial clients?
Pedro Aguilar: You do things outside your commercial practice as well. You find commercial clients are very interested in what you do for your personal work. The best way is to, aside of your commercial work; carry on with your personal work. Clients, you might find, want you to do that for them, or you find the client that wants to do something like that. To be honest, I think there is not such a big distinction in a way. You have to have a passion for it. Your personal work is not on a different or lower level.
When you look at the paintings of Caravaggio, he also had a business – he had clients. He had a studio and assistants, you think he was this kind of a mad artist, but in reality he had a business. It’s more like a modern idea of the Van Gogh type, away from everything, but if you look at the history of art, the greatest artists were businessmen; they had to sell their paintings to clients. When you look at the history of art, you see that they had a business, they had clients, and they had to deal with the requirements of their clients. I try to see both things as part of the same creative process.
What do you do for your own creative purposes?
Pedro Aguilar: I like portraiture that is not specifically about beauty. I like things that are more… ugly. Not that I find them ugly, but sometimes when you do commercial photography, and spend a lot of time photographing people that have perfect skin, you want also to see, going back to what we were talking about earlier, photography as a scientific tool.
I’ve been doing a series of portraits on people in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. I’m enjoying the wrinkles and even making more apparent the imperfections in the skin.
Also, I’ve got two kids; I take a lot of pictures of them.
I think, it’s not so much, I’ve finished work, now I’ll do my personal thing, both things have to happen together. If you want to do photography, you have to have a real passion for it.
I’m experimenting with high-speed flash; I like to do that a lot as well.
PortraitPro: Do you travel to meet your clients? How much of your time is spent on location?
Pedro Aguilar: Not that much. In general, forget about location, actually taking pictures is 10% of my time. I thought when I started that being a photographer was just that, you know, just take pictures. – You quickly realize that you spend more time preparing the photo shoots, production organizing, casting models, looking for locations, and writing budgets! Fighting with the client about the budget… and because of the sort of photography I do, then in Post Production. I do my own Post Production, other people outsource it, but maybe because I have a background in Fine Art, I like to do it myself, it’s my signature style.
You don’t spend that much time actually taking pictures, so then maybe half of those happen on location. I do a lot of studio based stuff as well.
So not that much, but I’ve had the chance to travel, to LA, Las Vegas, Italy, France, Spain. You do get to travel a bit, but the majority of the stuff I do is London based. It’s a center where you can work for clients around the world, because you find that international companies often have a main office in London anyway, but not all of them. Also you have very good facilities in London, in terms of the talent for photo stylists, or special effects technicians, you don’t find the same level of production services in other places.
I like travelling, so I am happy to do it when they ask me.
PortraitPro: If you haven't already done it, what would be your dream shoot?
Pedro Aguilar: Dream shoot…. At the moment I am quite interested in high speed photography; explosions. I’d like to be able to experiment a bit more with that… I’d like to maybe find a client interested in exploding TV’s! Things like that. I think that’s quite good.
With the World Cup coming up, I quite like sport and I think doing anything with maybe the World Cup winners would be interesting - anything that allows you to do what you want.
PortraitPro: Is there anyone whose work has influenced you and what is the significance of this influence in your photography career?
Pedro Aguilar: Not just photographers. Painters as well. When I started, I think people like Caravaggio, the Dutch still life masters; I find the Dutch school of painters, the Renaissance painters, Van Eyck, the crispiness of the image is quite important for me.
In terms of photographers, I always like people who experiment. They are almost like scientists. Muybridge, with the horse.
Phillipe Halsman, again who did high-speed photography, and Man Ray.
I like anyone who has liked to experiment with the medium; the almost scientific, technical side of photography. Especially with Muybridge, like I was talking about at the beginning, you find out about something; photography is almost like a scientific tool. I think science and art are sometimes quiet related and I think that's very interesting.
Richard Avedon, is probably in a different category of photographers, but I remember even before I knew much about photography, when I was doing drawings and stuff, I seemed to pick up a lot of his photographs, to copy, with drawing, with the skin; his black and white stuff is amazing.
And I think, more and more, recently Nick Knight, he is, for me, in the same category as Man Ray, with more digital. He’s kind of pushing the boundaries of the technical. So, they’re quite a big influence for me.
PortraitPro: You’ve just launched a new website; in what direction is your work developing?
Pedro Aguilar: I’ve got two different categories, in what I do. There’s the still life, which is developing into more photographic and less post produced. Still doing post production, but giving more importance to the first stage of lighting and photography. And then sports stuff as well, so my challenge is how to present both together. It’s a little unusual to be a still life, luxury brand photographer and a sports photographer.
I think the thing that links them both is my style; my style of post-production, my style of lighting and the way I like to finish and so on, there’s a lot of new work that I’m waiting for to be published, so I’m looking forward to that.
That’s great news for us, we’re also looking forward to seeing what Pedro does next; but meanwhile you can check out his new site here: connect with him on social media.
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