"To be successful, you have to be excited by what you do."
snapshotsInsights from Neal Wilson
I love Moscow. It's fantastic. There was a great job I had once to shoot on top of a big hotel right next to the Kremlin. This being the days of the Soviet Union, it took almost a week to get permission for me to go up on the roof, to actually photograph across Red Square and over to the Kremlin. We wanted to do a nighttime shoot, and it had been snowing most of the day, and I remember thinking this is not going to be good. But by the time we got to the hotel, around sunset, the snow had stopped, and when we got to the roof and opened the door it was like the beginning of a Spielberg film. Around the Kremlin, there are red stars on different buildings, and just above all that was this incredible strip of red sky and blackness above that. All I could think was, "Get me my camera!"
Making portrait subjects comfortable
Different people have different approaches. Snowdon [Anthony Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon], who I've always rated as a great portrait photographer, wouldn't talk to his subjects. Now, I don't do that; I do the opposite. But, how I actually get people to do what's necessary, well, it's a subconscious thing. I don't really calculate or think about it. It's not like I have a particular script, I just go into it and see where it goes. Really, it all just comes from experience.
The client's role
I really enjoy working with people, but if the client isn't present at the shoot, that equally doesn't faze me. I just kind of take situations as they occur. I try to get as much information as possible and ask the relevant questions necessary. I find that most clients are very thorough, so I get what I need. It's quite nice, if there's time, to do a reccy [scouting] to see what's available. Then I like to talk to the designers, talk through the shot. It gives them a lot of confidence as well. It's always the unknown, especially when they're using someone from another country. It's quite reassuring for them, if it‚' possible, to see something beforehand, what the location's going to look like, so that can be quite handy.
In working with designers or directors, I understand that they are going to risk sending you in to their client. And if you come over as a really unpleasant character who happens to take great photographs, they're not really going to understand that. They're going to say, "Why the hell did you send him in to shoot our CEO! It's a fantastic shot, but my boss is really upset." I am always aware that, at the end of the day, the last thing you want is bad press coming back.
Cameras on holiday
I normally just take the smallest happy-snap camera I can get my hands on. I very rarely take a big professional camera with me. I remember I was in Venice with my family, my wife and four children, and I bought all of them disposable, happy-snap cameras and told them, "Right, just shoot whatever you want." And that was fantastic. You don't need a big expensive camera.
Neal Wilson Camera Ready
Born in England in 1955 to a family with a distinguished heritage, Neal Wilson spent a lot of time as a child exploring the home of his grandparents in northern Wales. This house in the country wasn't exactly a cottage; the ancestral home was a big Elizabethan mansion filled with tapestries and paintings--portraits and landscapes˜and it was a very fine place indeed for young Neal to develop his visual acuity. Surrounded by art, Neal began taking pictures at the age of nine. Later, as a teenager, he studied photography in London, and soon left college to begin his professional career. His first jobs were in fashion, but it was his penchant for shooting pop musicians that got him notice. His range of subjects read like a top ten chart as he shot portraits of everyone from Meatloaf to George Michael, from Barry Manilow to Annie Lennox. After all that, Wilson got serious about his role as a photographer and began doing commissioned work that specialized in advertising and annual reports. Soon his client roster started to read like the Financial Times: from Barclay's to Coca-Cola, from British Petroleum to HSBC. At one point, he was so busy shooting that he set a personal record taking thirty-two flights in thirty-six days. While he enjoys assignments that offer creative freedom, this English gentleman understands that ultimately he is one who provides a service and that real-world business constraints and concerns are a fact of professional life. "To be successful, you have to be excited by what you do," says Neal. "Creative freedom is often something you have to leave behind when you work commercially, but to continue to be successful, you have to keep striking the right balance." No one strikes that balance better than this accomplished Englishman whose photographic skills and service are second to none.