Chasing the Ambient

I started out out, like most people with a camera, just shooting pictures with natural light. I hadn’t yet got to grips with flash and I loved the simplicity and spontaneity of daylight.
I served my apprenticeship on the ambient. Forever studying the play and complexity of light, I developed an awareness of it that is now like a ‘sixth sense’.
I see the world in the way the light transforms it.
There are so many things in a room I fail to notice but light is definitely not one of them.
Ironically there are now so many aspiring photographers and film makers that I meet who just want to fast track their way into the business of making images.
Bypassing the process of learning the most basic concepts of light and an ability to craft a still image they just want to race on to ‘higher’ things.
For me, as a photographer, the road to ‘higher’ things was a long, hard and challenging ride.
When I finally achieved commercial success and moved into global advertising my world was flooded with flash…..Assistants, light meters, strobes, flags, soft boxes, – the whole caboodle needed to produce the slick glossy images that I was tagged with.
As a photographer if I get asked one question more than any other it’s…….. ‘how do you achieve the ‘flash’ in your pictures?
Nobody really wants to know how – they just want to be told the formula and move on.
And that’s the point…how can you understand the use of artificial light if you have no knowledge of the natural?
So that’s my advice…start with the the most basic and beautiful light there is – daylight, and work your way on from there.

portrait by John Hicks portrait by John Hicks

portrait by John Hicks


thoughts on photography

I photographed these black and white double exposures in Paris years ago – back in the day when I still used film and there was no photoshop, no lightroom, no presets and everything was done in camera. I  pulled them from the archive because I wanted to do some more double exposures recently and discovered that with digital cameras I can no longer do this!!! It got me thinking about the ‘decisive moment’ and our ability, as photographers, to capture that frame in the split second that it passes across our vision.
I took the colour ‘pool splash’ photo in Cape Town for an editorial where the budget only allowed 2 rolls of film per shot. Shooting medium format it meant I only had 24 frames to nail it. In order to get the water splash back lit against the sky I was shooting directly into the sun. Using the model’s body to partially block the sun, but still allow enough flare to create the shot, I also had to perfectly time it with the assistant throwing a bucket of water off camera.
It’s hard to describe the anticipation of waiting for that ‘decisive moment’ and the exhilaration of just knowing you’ve got it. Instinctively I ‘knew’ the minute I pressed the shutter button, and before I wound the film cartridge on, that I already had the image I wanted. I didn’t need to look at the back of the camera to check – because you couldn’t.
Call me a purist but I’m proud of the fact that I took these shots ‘in camera’. I guess it’s an obsolete skill to have but in the modern photographic world we seem to have forgotten the very basics of photography. The internet is full of second rate photographs taken in terrible light and with no clue as to a half decent composition. The people who take these pictures then blog/brag about how to make them look decent using an array of quick click post production tools.
Actually I admire the honesty of these ‘before and after’ artists. It’s a bit like celebrities who have plastic surgery and don’t try to hide it. I’ve never used more than minimal retouching in my own work – preferring, even now, to get as much as I can ‘in camera’  because I can and because, personally, I think it’s lazy not to.
It’s a skill that’s served me well in motion capture and the move to cinematography and I’m grateful for it.





5 Extra Years

As we all start a New Year and face new challenges, hopes, dreams fears and disappointments in our lives think on the fact that today’s kids are the first generation with a shorter life expectancy than their parents….
So the question Nike asks in this video here is what would you do with 5 Extra Years




Shooting Sports Action with Digital Photographer

I’ve always liked style and moving images and have a natural instinct for ‘the decisive moment’ so shooting sports photography was a natural progression for me in my commercial career.
I started in photojournalism, moved into fashion and got well paid to shoot sports advertising.
I’ve shot celebrity athletes like Lance Armstrong, Ellen MacArthur, Barry McGuigan and both the Spanish and British Olympic Teams so it was great to be asked by Digital Photographer to contribute to their article on shooting sport – just in time for London 2012,
Click on the image to find out more