Fixation: Thanks for talking to us, Brian. Could you take us through the different types of photography you do?
Brian Lloyd Duckett: I basically wear two hats: I’m a street photographer first, and an editorial / commercial photographer second.
I’ve been photographing the on streets of London for about 12 years and I also love shooting in other parts of the UK such as Liverpool, as well as European cities like Rome, Venice and Prague.
I have always enjoyed teaching and I think I’m good at putting ideas and information across, so the idea of combining this with my passion for street photography was an obvious route for me. I set up StreetSnappers in 2014 to provide street photography workshops to people of any ability – from a complete beginner with an iPhone to the guy who’s just spent £4,000 on a new Leica. I now organise workshops across the UK and Europe and I’m still managing to teach every single course myself. Next week I’m off to Venice to do some one-to-one workshops.
Street photography is notoriously difficult to make a living out of. There’s not a huge market for print sales and commissions are rare. However, there is an interesting overlap between street photography and commercial commissions – it just needs a client with the right mindset to spot the possibilities. I love bringing a touch of humour to the corporate world.
My commercial work is quite varied. I do a lot of editorial and corporate portraits, I shoot for annual reports and I work a fair bit in the healthcare and education sectors.
I also shoot extensively for the legal sector. It’s very niche but I’m quite well known and it’s the sort of world where word gets around. It’s an unforgiving and challenging environment and you’ve got to have a certain ‘presence’ to make it work for you; fortunately I’m not fazed by having to ask an eminent QC to get rid of his dandruff! I now shoot for law firms’ websites, annual reports and media campaigns – it certainly keeps you on your toes working with very bright people.
For the editorial and commercial stuff I love working on location with natural light (or just one light) and reflectors. I try to avoid working in the studio as I feel feel constrained.
F: How did you get involved in your various fields? Where did it all start?
BLD: It all started at the age of 15 when I got a job on a newspaper picture desk in the summer holidays. I was smitten from day one. I learnt darkroom techniques, how to squeeze maximum news value out of an otherwise mundane scene – and, of course, world class tea making skills. I even had some pictures published: the first was of a dead dog in a litter bin. Over the years I developed a specialism in shooting editorial portraits, which led to more corporate commissions – and the rest is history.
These early press experiences got me thinking about life on the streets. I’ve always enjoyed people-watching, observing how ordinary folk go about their daily lives. Stick a camera in my hand and I’ve always been able to spot something funny or provocative in otherwise mundane scenes.
I originally shot on film but many of my early negatives were destroyed in a flood, so I had to start re-building a body of work.
I had a break from photography and spent 12 years in corporate PR; this allowed me to see the corporate world in a different light and clients really appreciate my ability to see the job through their eyes.
F: How would you describe your style of street photography? And your style of corporate photography? Does one ever influence the other?
BLD: I think I would describe my style of street photography as witty or playful. I love looking for things which stand out or don’t fit together – the ‘unusual in the usual’. It’s good to include people in a shot, but I don’t think it’s as essential as some people do – you can produce great street photography without the human form. I have a leaning towards monochrome but this is a preference rather than a fixation; some pictures will only work in colour – others in mono.
The style of my corporate work is quite light and airy. If the client is up for it, I treat a commission as more of a lifestyle shoot than a corporate job.
F: I understand you’re working on a book on street photography – could you tell us more?
BLD: I’ve been commissioned by Ammonite Press to write a book called ‘Mastering Street Photography’. It’s part of their ‘Mastering’ series, which is sold globally, and is due for publication this autumn.
The book is one of the few which focuses on the technique – as well as the art – of street photography. It’s aimed at those with a reasonable grasp of photographic techniques but who are looking for some extra coaching in street photography. It covers the essential stuff such as how to build your confidence, shooting techniques, being invisible on the streets and the legal issues surrounding street photography.
I was very flattered to be approached by such a prestigious publishing house as Ammonite and I can’t wait to see my book on the shelves. I’ve really enjoyed the writing process, which has been challenging at times, and I’m now thinking about my next book!
F: What camera do you use at the moment? What do you like about it?
BLD: I’m a great believer that in street photography ‘less in more’. Cameras need to be small, quiet and discrete and able to be operated with one hand. For me, the new Olympus Pen F presses all the right buttons. Although I shoot in RAW, I also generate JPEGs, which are terrific straight out of the camera and need little, if any, post-production.
I’m also a believer that street photographers should at least experiment with a film camera and understand some of the darkroom processes. I use a Leica M4 with a Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f/1.4 lens, which produces stunning monochrome images – especially in low light.
For the editorial and commercial work I use Canon gear. There’s not much difference between the major manufacturers and for me it comes down to ergonomics – if the camera feels good in the hand I’ll produce good work with it. My ‘go to’ lens for portraits is the Canon 85mm f/1.2, which is simply gorgeous. I use portable flash and reflectors for location work.
My workflow is very straightforward and I use a combination of Photomechanic and Photoshop; I’ve always found Lightroom a little slow and clunky but I’m now experimenting with Capture One Pro, which is just about perfect for tethered shooting.