Chris Thomson

Photographer & Director

How long have you been into photography?

Chris: Too Long! I started my career as an Photo assistant in a Chelsea studio in London in the "Swinging Sixties" washing floors and making cups of tea for the clients.

How did you start?

Chris: I Started my own studio in London in 1970 when I was approached by Terence Conran (Now Sir Terence Conran) to set up a studio to shoot the product Catalogues for HABITAT, his international chain of furniture stores, and the CONRAN Shop.

What type of photos are your preference?

Chris: My background and training was lighting studio still life and Tabletop. Shooting on 8 x10 large format cameras creating images for press billboards and advertising campaigns for major international Ad agencies, but in the late 1970s I was offered an opportunity to shoot the Heineken Calendar featuring nude girls in exotic tropical locations. Because of the success of this and other calendars that I shot that year my career changed from working in a dark studio on large format to shooting on beaches worldwide with medium format & 35mm film cameras and then I was sponsored by OLYMPUS Cameras and FUJI Film.

Are your photos more your taste or demand from others?

Chris: I have always shot my style - simple graphic images with strong colours and attention to lighting, this in turn created a demand for my style of imagery from my clients, the advertising agencies.

Do you develop scenery ideas with the models or more yourself?

Chris: I usually have a basic visual idea once I have chosen the country, location and models for a particular shoot, then I expect the model to contribute also once she is in front of the camera. Originally polaroid, and now digital playback really helps photographers and models to fine tune the shoot before the final images.

Do you try to create, display or express something special with your photos?

Chris: I try to tell a story with my images and I like to give the viewer enough information so that they are encouraged to finish the story with their imagination. My main aim is to visually entertain and stimulate.

What  styles of photography have you shot?

Chris: I have shot studio still life, drinks, food, cars, trucks, fashion, industrial & architecture which are all great experience and training for the genre that I enjoy best - photographing women!

Are you a tech freak or an artist?

Chris: I am technically educated and trained in Photography and am a engineer and problem solver. Photography is a technical medium for creating images so if you are technically ignorant your ability to create visually what you imagine will be limited by lack of knowledge how to create the best result with what you have available. I keep informed technically but I am not a tech freak.

Rowald: Do you use a lot of equipment

Chris: As I work mainly on location I only take what I can carry (about 50 Kilos) including lights, props, Mac laptop and minimal clothing! This is especially important now with luggage and security restrictions.

Do you do analog photography also?

Chris: I was trained on large format film and as a darkroom technician, but commercially I have been digital for years. Black and white printing is still my hobby.

What cameras do you use?

Chris: I always find this a strange question! I started my career with a wood and brass plate camera on which I viewed an upside down image under a black cloth. Then I went to medium format with Hasselblad. After that Olympus sponsored me for years with the last of their excellent film cameras the OM4. I now use Canon, but none of this matters! Photographers should use what they like, at certain price levels cameras are all pretty good. The important thing to remember is that it is the imagination and eye of the person behind the camera that makes the image - NOT the camera. You can take a great image on a phone and at the same time many people spend a fortune on expensive cameras and still take lousy photos!

What are your hobbies?

Chris: Photography, I still take personal photos for enjoyment. Travel, Food & Wine are my obsession

What are your plans or visions for your future?

Chris: To produce more Photo books, not how to do, just photos!

How do you get along with models?

Chris: I usually shoot female models, and I like female company and the female mentality so usually I get on well as I like shopping with them for props, shoes and clothes.

Do you travel a great deal?

Chris: Where have I not been? over 35 years of traveling I have shot on all continents from shooting Trucks in Central Africa to Celebrities in Monaco, apart from Antarctica and in over 100 countries

Can you give some tips to aspiring photographers?

Chris: Easy advice, but not so easy! The best advice is to study the arts, movies, painting, graphics & photography. See what affects you visually and try to analyze why an image is successful. Do not try to copy someone elses style exactly, that is just plagiarism, see what works and use that as a basis for your own ideas and imagination.

People envy you traveling and shooting. What do you say to this?

Chris: I am very fortunate and I enjoy what I do but it is not for most people who like a comfortable structured existence. I spent the first 5 years working other jobs to make money to work as a photo assistant virtually unpaid but for a unique apprenticeship training. I work irregular hours, sometimes 24 hours at a time often nights and weekends. when I was married, my wife was very understanding but often did not see me for a month and then only for a few days before I was off on another job. Any social arrangements that I might have, theatre, dinner with friends etc. are cancelled more often than not at the last minute because of work! Anyone who envies this should seriously consider not being married or in a real relationship, living alone is the best option for me

Want to give some tips for up coming photographers?

Chris: Have a day job and treat photography as a hobby. If you want to take up photography commercially work for another photographer as an assistant, unpaid if necessary first to understand the world of commercial photography, There are many good photographers out there and not so much work so do not expect to make a good living even if you are good. Luck and being a good businessman are more important for success that being just a creative image maker.

What you think about the work of other photographers?

Chris: I am always intrigued by other peoples work because you can always find exciting images and not just from professionals, some of the most interesting images come from amateurs with a good eye.

What is your best or favorite  photo?

Chris: My next shoot, I have not done my best yet. I am always trying to improve. You learn something new each day.

How do you create a good atmosphere for shootings?

Chris: Organization, planning and calm. Models react well to feeling good, they perform better, look better and are less inhibited if you look after them and keep them informed about the shoot. I make them feel appreciated and compliment them when it is deserved. Creature comforts are also important for motivating models, good music food and some wine also helps.

Do you have ethnic preference with models?

Chris: I appreciate all types of women, I like the sculpted bonestructure and clear skin of some Asian girls. Fit Black girls often have amazing muscle tone and posture. Eastern European girls often have a elegant quality which is unique, and I love the sensuous sexy character of Latin women. My least favorite and usually most disappointing because they look superficially interesting are the bleached blond silicone Baywatch clones who are somehow inhibited so you have this fake exterior and no personality inside! Real Scandinavian blonds are great!

When meeting a model, what do you see first?

Chris: I usually video a girl for a couple of minutes while talking to her at a casting from this I can see if she is at ease with her body and can move easily. Conversation is also important and usually gives some clue to intellect, as communication eye as well as conversation is important to good images. Communication is international, some of the best models that I have worked with do not speak much English or any other language that I have in common with them but they can communicate with the camera.

What attracts you to a model or inspires you?

Chris: I am attracted initially to the physical "Golden Mean" with a girl, body tone, defined waist, and proportional bust and hips, then comes the eyes and the communication of intellect that I explained.

How do you pose and direct your models?

Chris: I like to direct initially, but not to pose them as I like my model to move as I shoot and I like them and use there imagination to give me there own look

Any special preferences in props and locations?

Chris: I like simple minimal locations, deserts, coral beaches, waterfalls, primary strong colours. none of this looks good in flat light, give me strong clear sunlight or some location strobes

Are there models you don't like to work with?

Chris: Of course! Primadonnas, girls who think that they know best and tell me how fabulous they are but a complete  mess, bad skin, out of condition with ruined hair and broken fingernails and bruises bad attude -  and worse dirty wardrobe. Should I go on?

Where are you from?

Chris: I am British but was born overseas as my father was in the army and I was moved every two years around the world as a child, I do not live anywhere for long now, my suitcase is my home.

Do you or did you have idols?

Chris: Of course, Irving Penn, the father of modern commercial photography, Richard Avedon, Francis Giacobetti, Don McCullin, Man Ray, Helmut Newton, etc.


Chris: Single, I have to be, who would put up with me and my job?

Happiest Accomplishment?

Chris: My first Billboard!

Do you have or pursue other talents?

Chris: I love to cook and entertain, even on location with models I will cook or barbecue at the villa in the evening after work

Final Shout?

Chris: Remember most people never realize their potential, although life is tough and a gamble you must believe in yourself and follow your dreams. You only get one chance, don't waste it!


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