Interview with Will Reid
Pixel’s Leyla Sitki spoke to Will Reid, a freelance photographer and creative director with a passion for music videos. After working with the likes of Nike and Supreme, he spoke to us about creative control, the foundations of photography and keeping your head together in a hectic industry.
“I was a fairly obsessive teenager, I remember the Christmas I got my first DSLR … I wasn’t in the house for three years because I was out constantly taking photographs.”
L – What attracts you to a job, what makes you want to take it on?
W – I guess there are a couple of different tiers to it, a few different reasons for taking on a job. Obviously, some jobs aren’t going to be as creatively fulfilling because of what they are, if they are something like product shots which are very cut and dry commercial, the attraction there is quite honestly the money. You have to make a living to support the other type of job which would be something with no money, but a good crew and an interesting concept, that is something that would be very creatively fulfilling, and it is more of an art project. That to me is the definition of a passion project.
The third category, which is what you would strive for most of the time would be something that pays well and is also very creatively fulfilling. There is a balance of course but largely it is about how much I will get out of it as a creative and so if the money is good enough even if it is not the most interesting project then I can afford to work on the things I really care about. It is all a bit of a give and take.
L – How much involvement do you have in a job? Do you get a free creative run or are you more rigidly stuck to a brief?
W – If it is a more commercial job, often on a smaller level it is usually a case of what they want, here is a brief that their creative agency has sent over and it is very much working to an existing brief. However, on the nicer commercial jobs where the brand wants to work with you for what you bring to the project as a creative, they want you to bring yourself and your personality to the job. For example, for music videos you win a job based on your interpretation of the track, the treatment and your creative style. I think often it depends on these factors, there is a real divide between heavily commercial jobs and more creative jobs and that is the defining difference in my career at the moment.
L - Do you think it is important to be very versatile or do you think it is more important to have a recognisable style?
W – I think it is important to be flexible rather than versatile, although that seems like a complete contradiction. If you are going to start doing well as a photographer or director for your own creative projects then yes, you need a style that others can recognise as “yep that is what Will does and that is what I need for my project”, that is how you win the job over someone who is maybe equally as competent with a camera but doesn’t have that same flair and style as you do. At the same time, you have to also be able to put that to one side and do something that is maybe a little cleaner or glossier for certain types of commercial work. It is more just about knowing how to push your voice in the projects where you are allowed to and where you have been hired for your voice. It’s important to understand the tone of a job and be able to put that to one side and not have a little tantrum if your style doesn’t fit the particular job you are doing.
L – What are your thoughts on modern photography? Almost everyone has a phone today with a good camera, does this mean anyone can be a photographer?
W – I think anyone can take nice pictures nowadays. Due to the influx of social media in our brains, everyone is staring at photography all day, Instagram is nothing but a photo gallery. I think because of this, almost by osmosis people are starting to pick up more and more photography knowledge just through looking at a lot of photography. By nature, now, some people who may not have understood the rule of thirds ten years ago now may take a photo and consider that, not because they understand it but because they have become so familiar with it through looking at photos all the time. That being said, I do think there is still a place for photographers because it is a craft and there is more to it than just taking a photograph. A lot of good photographers know how to use a camera, they know about composition and the technical stuff, but that becomes totally secondary. The emotion and the narrative of a picture and being able to make someone feel something is much harder to do and takes far more skill. The photographers who understand that sit in the higher tier of their industry for me, someone like Henri Carter-Bresson who understood how a photo can tell a story and how it can make you feel something versus just shooting an editorial.
L – When you started out and got your first camera, did you know anything about photography or did you learn everything through trial and error?
W – I was a fairly obsessive teenager and I remember the Christmas I got my first DSLR and my brother got an Xbox at the same time, so he disappeared into his bedroom for three years and I wasn’t in the house for three years because I was out constantly taking photos. Prior to that, I actually dug out my dad’s old 35mm Pentax from the loft and had pretty much taught myself all of the fundamentals of how to operate a camera and how to take photographs before I then had the option to use digital. So that was something that I did on my own that was actually really valuable because I then knew all about exposure, shutter speed, aperture and how they all relate to each other before I had a camera that would do all of that for me. I think so many people will shoot on auto for years before they actually set it to manual or semi auto, whereas I was shooting on manual from the start. So, when I had my digital camera it was more about taking photos that meant something emotionally as I had the technical foundations, I then did that for about three years non-stop. There is a quote that I really like, I can’t remember who said it, but it was;
“you can’t take a good picture until you have taken ten thousand bad ones.”
I definitely took ten thousand bad photos until I started taking good ones.
L – What do you find most difficult about being in the creative industry?
W – Just the incessant competition from everywhere and always feeling like you are slightly drowning in the sea of people, it is quite terrifying!
You have to work quite hard to keep your head together and know that you are happy doing what you are doing, and you are fulfilled by it, not cutting corners to make a cheap bit of money for something because you know it will move you forward even if it is in a direction you don’t necessarily want to go in. I think that is the hardest thing for me, I don’t necessarily want to work in the fashion industry for the rest of life doing stuff that is very commercial, I want to create things that are personal to me but can maybe be used to tell stories for other brands. It is just about sticking to your guns and being aware that it is a slightly longer game. Keeping your head together, staying focused and staying positive about stuff can get really difficult sometimes because it is a very busy industry. Most importantly, I think you just have to be confident.