INSPIRE ME – with Zoe McConnell

As someone who uses the point and shoot technique when it comes to taking photo’s  – I grabbed the opportunity recently to ask celebrity and fashion photographer, Zoe McConnell some advice… and then I sneaked in some questions about her recent work…. ;)

How did you get into photography?

My venture into photography was an unexpected one – I was a model for quite a few years and had always been intrigued by the other side of the lens. I was on a modelling assignment in Majorca and the client asked me if I would be interested in shooting for them. I jumped at the chance – straight away I was calling up model friends and inviting myself to their houses to do shoots with them, learning as I went, building up my portfolio and developing my style. It felt right. I started out in the mens lifestyle market and had a very clear idea of how I thought the girls should be portrayed – I wanted to bring out their personality as well as making them look sexy. I was lucky as my style seemed to hit a cord and I was very soon published and things moved on from there!

You work with lots of high profile singers, actors and models – Did this come about quite early on in your career or did it take time to get so many good gigs ?

It took a few years to build up to celebrity work – At the beginning I was shooting friends and models, shooting a lot for myself and exploring my style and establishing relationships with clients. It takes time to build up trust and get yourself known. I was fortunate to have a two day shoot with Rihanna recently, which was a real pleasure as her energy and vibe are right up my street.

What kind of qualities are important to have if you want to be a successful photographer ?

Before doing photography professionally myself, I thought it was as simple as pressing a button and being creative – as it turns out that is a very basic part of it !

Patience, energy, the ability to problem solve, people skills – it’s important to be able to lift people’s spirits and keep your team motivated. On a shoot, as well as being photographer, I am a clown – I’m not sure that makes me successful, but it helps the day and it gets the models laughing !

What do you love most about your job ?

Being able to express myself creatively and more often than not, getting paid to do so! I love to make people look good, making them feel good about themselves.

After a good shoot you get a rush of adrenalin and want to do it all again, much like a performer leaving the stage – that feeling is addictive and motivates you on to the next one. Travel. There isn’t much I don’t like really – that in itself is a great and rare thing.

Where do you find most of your inspiration for your work ?

Inspiration comes from all around – clothing and how clothes can be used in a sexy way is a big one for me.

I search the internet and magazines for visual references on a daily basis, it’s important to know what other people are doing and inspire new ideas, but overall the inspiration comes from the people I shoot. For my personal work, I style a lot of my own shoots as I love to tailor the looks to the subject and my idea of how they should be seen for that particular shoot.

Two ends of the spectrum … What’s the most lavish photo shoot you have found yourself on and the… erm, most challenging… ?

My most challenging photo-shoot was an advertising shoot with a famous face. I will avoid naming names, but there wasn’t much about the shoot that wasn’t a stress. We had travelled to an old vintage location in the middle of no-where to do the shoot and even though it provided some cool backdrops it was freezing cold – add to this a very grouchy, unwilling model, we were never going to be in for a good day !

I’m not sure if lavish is the correct term for any of my shoots, I tend to find myself in East end studios that are lit like airports or waiting around for celebrities – but I love it and the outcome is lavish to the viewer and that is what matters ! It’s all smoke and mirrors and very bright lights !

Your photo’s always looks beautifully lit – is this an important factor in your work ?

Thankyou! : ) I’m all about immediacy and high impact, so high powered flash is the way I go – it’s also incredibly flattering in most cases which never gets complaints. I like my lighting to be very bright and punchy, with the odd exception. I like to keep it simple, raw, but polished.

What kind of first camera would you recommend to someone wanting to become a fashion or portrait photographer ?

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it professionally, but the Canon Powershot series are great little cameras and come in at an affordable price – I have a g12 that I use regularly and it’s great in both manual and auto modes. Also, never cut out the possibility of using film – play around with lomography and vintage cameras to work out the look that is right for you and sees out your vision.

I started out with a Canon 1DS Markii – it was a fab camera and really allowed me to work how I wanted to. I still work with Canon (now a 1DS Markiii) and also a Hasselblad which are truly beautiful cameras – perfect for crisp portraits with lots of detail and integrity, but rather pricey – so something to build up to !

Can you offer some advice on how to have a long career in the media industry ?

Work hard, keep learning and moving on in what you do – don’t stand still as no -one will wait for you. Meeting people and self promotion are really important – although the latter is the one thing I really struggle with !

Is this year going to be a busy one for you ? What’s coming up ?  

This year is looking positive so far – I’m looking forward to a couple of trips to Ibiza this month ( one for a fashion campaign and the other a celebrity cover shoot ) – it’s always great to explore new locations, get out of the studio and get some sunshine !

There are few more cover shoots on the horizon and this year I am keen to shoot a great deal more for myself – expanding the portfolio. Things tend to come up last minute, so you never know what could be round the corner…

Thanks so much, Zoe. So nice to learn more about someone with such passion for their work. Her energy is very inspiring.

I recently went for a Canon Powershot too – glad it was a good choice … just got to learn how to use it well now !

If you’d like to see more of Zoe’s photography, she has a website www.zoemcconnellphotography.com or follow her on Twitter – @ZOEMCCONNELL

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All images copyright of Zoe McConnell.

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