ProFiles | Steve Best

As both a stand-up comedian and a photographer, Steve Best enjoys unparalleled access behind the closed doors of the comedy circuit. His stylish, artful images show a different side of people we recognise from panel shows and comedy clubs. Sometimes they’re nervous, sometimes they’re excited, sometimes they seem decidedly contemplative.

It’s this knack for capturing a different side of his funny-people subjects that has made Steve such a popular figure on the comedy circuit – a popularity that has also translated to two successful photobooks. 

Steve owns a few bits of kit from Fixation, so we were thrilled when he agreed for a sit-down to chat about his work and his ongoing ‘Comedians’ project. So, let’s get into it!

Steve Best, . Photo Steve Best
Photo Steve Best

Fixation: Thanks for talking with us Steve. Your ‘Comedians’ project is a favourite on the comedy circuit and beyond – how did it all come about?

Steve Best: I’ve always been interested in photography. I’d been doing stand-up for years and years, and I had a little Ricoh point-and-shoot film camera which I’d take on my holidays. I really loved that camera, and then I got the digital version of it. Because it was so small, I used to just slip the camera into my pocket, and so I’d take it to gigs. And there, I would just take a snapshot of a comedian backstage I was speaking with at the time. That was how it started. 

That must have been the year two thousand and… something! But eventually I did that first little book, Comedy Snapshot. It’s a chunky little book with more than four hundred comedians – I took a snapshot of them, and then they all gave me a one-liner joke, and four or five facts.

They were just little portrait snapshots, but they went down so well with the comedy community that I decided to lose a lot more money and do another book!

So we did another book, very similar to the first, called Joker Face. It was nearly twice the size, chunky-wise – which I got told off for, because the spec was meant to be the same, but I just kept on adding comedians. 

And for my photography, that was when I started upping my game a bit. I got into Fujifilm – I had the X-Pro1 at the time. The pictures are still snapshots; they’re not, you know, ‘proper’ portrait shots, but that’s what I want it to be. It was never meant to be stylish; it was just me being backstage, having access to these comedians. 

Mike Gunn, through the curtain at the Hammersmith Apollo. Photo Steve Best
Mike Gunn through the curtain at the Hammersmith Apollo. Photo Steve Best

Fixation: I was wondering about your shooting process – do you approach different people in a different way? Or do you have a more set process that seems to work every time?

Steve Best: I think because I’m accepted in that world – I’m ‘one of them’, as they say – their guard does kind of come down slightly. So I know that they will not play up to the camera, and I can just chat with them. For instance, there are quite a lot of mirror shots where I’m looking at the comedian, I’m chatting with them as well, and I’m just surreptitiously pinging the shutter.

That kind of backstage work is actually one of the reasons why recently I got a Leica Q, which I really love because it’s so quiet. It’s so nice. So I can just muck around – even with the big names, as I know most of them now. That’s how you’re kind of let into this world. I think the backstage photographs are slightly more interesting than the front-of-stage photographs – because people see the front of the stage, but most people don’t see backstage.

Fixation: You mentioned you’re shooting on the Leica Q, which is a gorgeous camera. Do you have much else in your setup at the moment?

Steve Best: I’ve always had a Fuji. Fujifilm has been really good to me. I bought myself a Fujifilm X-Pro1 to start with, and Fujifilm lent me a load of gear early on, so I’m very loyal to Fuji and I really love their stuff. I’ve moved on to the medium format for my portrait stuff – a GFX 50S, which I bought second-hand through Fixation. I’ve got the 32-64mm lens, and the 80mm. The 80mm has taken me so long to get used to the focusing, but for portrait work it’s really great.

I’ve actually used medium format live as well – I’ve found a way of using it for shooting live performances, which I love, I think it’s fantastic. It’s sluggish, but it’s great to get a different kind of image. 

Michael Fabbri and Joe Rowntree, Photo Steve Best
Michael Fabbri and Joe Rowntree, waiting to go on stage, and you can see he’s a bit stressed. Photo Steve Best

Fixation: Is there a particular image of yours that’s a favourite, or one you look on most fondly?

Steve Best: I think maybe there are two. The one of Mike Gunn through the curtain at the Hammersmith Apollo is the one people often comment on, and it got shortlisted for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. I like that one because although it’s an on-stage image, I’m backstage, peeking through the curtain. I like the light, and the fact that he’s on his own – even though he’s actually in front of three and a half thousand people, it’s quite a lonely picture. 

I do also like the one of Barry Cryer. But the other one I was thinking of is one of the first pictures I took, which is one of Michael Fabbri and Joe Rowntree. Joe’s head is on the doorframe; he’s waiting to go on stage, and you can see he’s a bit stressed. And Michael Fabbri, he’s just finished his set, so he’s lying on the couch, and is very relaxed.

Barry Cryer, . Photo Steve Best
Barry Cryer, relaxing. Photo Steve Best

Fixation: Lastly, you’ve photographed absolutely loads of comedians, but are there any you haven’t photographed yet whom you’d like to?

Steve Best: Tim Minchin. I think he’s a great performer. And I’ve never got hold of Bill Bailey, which would be nice as well. There are still a few people out there. I’m always trying to collect people.

Steve Best was talking to Jon Stapley. See more of his books and prints at


ProFiles | Sean Smith

How much can change in six months. When we got in touch with Guardian photographer and filmmaker Sean Smith to see if he’d be interested in a ProFile on the blog, the year 2019 was coming to a close and the December election was weeks away. People were already making predictions for what 2020 might look like, and it seems likely that pretty much all of them were very, very wrong.

We originally spoke to Sean because he was in trying out the new Sony A9 II – its whip-fast autofocus and sophisticated tracking makes it ideal for his kind of work, where a matter of split seconds might be the difference between getting and missing the critical shot.

We were able to set Sean up with an A9 II and appropriate lenses to try out, and after a few days, we checked in with him to see how he was getting on with it. While we had to hit pause on our content for a while due to the onset of COVID-19, this is the kind of question that photographers are very much still wrestling with today. So let’s find out a little more about Sean’s experiences with the Sony A9 II…

Thanks for talking with us, Sean. What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve been working on a feature on Corbyn. It’s coming out on the 30th [November], I think, but it’s from earlier, before the election was called, with a little bit from now. I’ve been to Liverpool, Telford – will probably go up to Lancaster tomorrow.

Jeremy Corbyn, waiting for train from Morecombe. Photo Sean Smith
Jeremy Corbyn, waiting for train from Morecombe. Photo Sean Smith

And you’ve been trying out the Sony A9 II?

I just started with it the other day.

What are your impressions?

I think I’m convinced.

Were you not expecting to be?

No [laughs].

I mean – I knew [Getty photographer] Chris Furlong had started using it, then I talked to [PR and editorial photographer] Jeff Moore about it, and then I went on a trip to Turkey with it, and that was when I started changing my opinion.

Normally cameras come out over the years that change things a bit – they’ve maybe got quicker processing, or a big change to the autofocus, but the principle is that you can pick it up and start using it. And while you can do that with the Sony, there’s much more getting used to it.

What actually got me was [sports photographer] Bob Martin talking about hating the electronic viewfinder to start with, but now really preferring it. And that made me think, I’m gonna have to get my head around this, I’m going to have to learn a little bit, and it’s going to be significantly different, but if people like Bob can see the advantages of it, I’m a little more open to it.

Definitely the autofocus tracking and the eye stuff [Eye AF] works a lot better than other cameras, so if you’re going to be doing something using a lot of autofocus, it seems like a good camera to go with.

Think you’ll stick with it?

I think I probably will. I’m using two cameras at the moment – a Canon and a Leica manual-focus camera for completely different things. I’m not doing much news stuff at the moment, but I do need to use longer lenses and I’ve got a job coming up in the new year that I can see the A9’s silent shutter being being very useful for. I wouldn’t view it as a replacement for the Leica M; it’s horses for courses. But I could see myself using it instead of the Canon, and trading in my Canon stuff.

You’ve done some interesting projects throughout 2019, like your work in Baghdad, among others. Any personal highlights?

This year? Awful year. I’ve done hardly anything [laughs].

I mean, Baghdad is an interesting case in point. I took the Leicas there – I didn’t have a press permit, had to get it a few days later – and if I’d had the other cameras, I probably would have had them get impounded. You have to have a list of equipment to take in, which has to go through a press centre. Video cameras they’ll immediately stop, and fancy-looking SLRs and that kind of thing they’ll quite often impound until you get your permit.

But anyway, I’ve been spending a reasonable amount of time on the Corbyn thing on and off throughout the year. Hopefully it’ll look okay when it comes out in the magazine.

Baghdad, Iraq, for Guardian CITIES. Muhammed Samir on stilts about to go on stage. part of the “Bombi band for children” troupe who put on a show once a week at Zawraa park. Photo Sean Smith
November 2019. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn backstage at the Manchester Apollo about to go on stage. Photo Sean Smith

Were you trying to do something different with it?

Yes, I was trying to get something a little bit different, following him on and off with varying degrees of success and cooperation. They [the Labour Party] are fairly guarded, understandably, as they’ve not got many supporters in the media. Strangely, every time they get upset about something, which is usually to do with something someone’s written, they tend to blame the photographers, who aren’t really anything to do with it! They don’t say outright, “We’re blaming you for this.” But the shutters come down again and it gets harder, and you’re like, have a go at the writers, not the photographers!

Have you seen much change in terms of political access or hostility to the press and photographers in recent years?

I think because of the unparalleled level of hostility to Corbyn since his election as party leader – most of the papers, including the Guardian, weren’t exactly in favour – I can understand the urge to close ranks and try to do everything through social media.

Blair was much more open to favoured press and favoured journalists. General elections have become very different to when I first started covering them – you’d have lots of stopping and campaigning in fairly public places, going through shopping centres. It was much more accessible to the public, and therefore to photographers. That completely started changing around the last election, though I think this one may be a bit like going back a bit in time. I think they will all have to get out and meet people who aren’t all hand-picked.

Do you like covering this kind of thing – elections and politics?

Not really [laughs]. It’s the teams minding people that tend to be more difficult than the actual politicians themselves. But I’ve sometimes enjoyed covering Corbyn. I preferred it earlier when there was less interest, and some quieter moments, but I think I’d rather be covering some other events.

Anbar province, Iraq near the Syrian border, 2005. The soldiers are US marines putting plastic explosives on an I.E.D ( the shells wire together). To the side of the shells you can see the pressure plate, a couple of bits of wood taped together, with foot prints (including mine), very close. Photo Sean Smith

So do you have any dream subjects, things you’d like to cover but haven’t?

Not really, I’d just like to carry on doing the kind of things I have been doing, trying to tell the stories of ordinary people in difficult circumstances.

The stuff that doesn’t get enough attention?

I don’t think it does. The press talk more and more about how they supposedly want to give those things attention. That doesn’t seem to be the case to me. Some of the international conflict stories I’ve covered are not divorced from politics in this country, or in America or in Europe for that matter. So I think they should be looked at. But, you know, things cost money. I don’t know what I’ll be able to do. It depends whether they’ll give me the money or let me do it!

29/11/2014 Tchula Mississippi USA. Patrolman Willie Phillips Jnr born in the town back 7 years at the scene of a shooting where the young man died. Photo Sean Smith
29/11/2014 Tchula Mississippi USA. Patrolman Willie Phillips Jnr, born in the town, at the scene of a shooting where a young man died. Photo Sean Smith

How much autonomy do you have in what you cover?

The times I’ve got editors’ support to do conflict stuff, it was usually not with support from the picture desk. Corbyn was something I put forward. I thought, agree with him or don’t agree with him, whether he succeeded or lost, it’d be an important debate about two different ways the country should go forward. No one was very keen on that. but I did it. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything that I thought was worthwhile where people were saying, “Great, go and do that.” I think with every single one there’s been an opposition from people, saying, “What’s the point, we can get this from here, we don’t need to do it.” It’s never been, “Yes, go ahead and do that.”

2003. Iraq. Baghdad. A team of burial volunteers at Yamouk hospital. The hospital was forced to close and the patients evacuated. A small team of stayed behind to bury the dead and try a stop it from being looted. Photo Sean Smith

Do you have a project you’re proudest of?

I’m glad I persisted in covering Iraq. I’m glad I was there before the invasion. I think it was a watershed moment in terms of foreign policy. Not just for this country – the narrative that we were being told for a long time was that it was all a rip-roaring success with a few little difficulties. I thought my job as a photographer was to go and have a look, see what was happening. Certainly quite a bit was happening. And the same with Afghanistan.

I’d like to be covering that stuff again. I’d like to be talking to people, trying to let people talk, and taking pictures.

North west Iraq. Ubaydi. A soldier passes a burning building. US troops took over the town yesterday, after a two day battle as part of an ongoing offensive against insurgents in the north west. Residents had to flee the town . All men of military age were detained. Photo Sean Smith
Iraq, Ubaydi. Operation Steel Curtain. US marines took over the town yesterday, as part of an ongoing offensive against insurgents in the North west. Iraqi residents had to flee the town. All men of military age were detained, November 16, 2005. Photo Sean Smith / The Guardian
North west Iraq. Operation Steel Curtain nears its end with a sweep along the north Euphrates river at Ramana, near the border with Syria. Detainees with their hands in cuffs, are taken by helicopter for questioning.
This photo subsequently won the Photograph of the year in the 2006 Press Photographer’s Year awards.
Photo Sean Smith

You can see more of Sean’s projects over on his profile page on the Guardian, and follow him on Twitter. Copies of Sean’s book, Frontlines, are available from the Fixation showroom.

Guardian articles:
Sean’s photo essay on the Corbyn election campaign.
Feature on Tchula, Mississippi.


ProFiles | Louise Murray

ProFiles | Louise Murray

For more than two decades, Louise Murray has been a freelance photojournalist at the forefront of issues around ecology, nature, environmentalism and science. She has traveled from pole to pole, the Arctic to the Antarctic, to shoot critical stories on the natural world, and Fixation has been proud to keep her gear in tip-top shape while she does it.

Louise is also a keen diver – a passion she shares with Fixation’s Mick Edwards whom she helped get his first drysuit – and she brings that love of the underwater world into her photography, where she has thoroughly explored the limits of underwater photography, not to mention her own endurance. We’ve featured some of her amazing stories on the blog before.

As Louise was resting between projects a couple of weeks ago, we managed to find time to chat with her about her career, travels and photography. Join us as we learn all about what it’s like to photograph in minus-40 temperatures, how Louise got deported from Canada, and what it is that keeps her coming back to diving…

Copyright Louise Murray© Louise Murray

Thanks for chatting with us, Louise! What have you been working on lately?

I had a month in the Philippines in March, and there was a whole lot of marine science stuff I was doing, including a piece for The Economist. I was also photographing thresher sharks – they are these very beautiful, quite elusive sharks, and the Philippines are one of the rare places you can reliably see them. I did some travel pieces, one just published that was about macro and macro lighting with lots of close-up photography.

I was also shooting fluorescence in marine life. You shoot it at night stimulating hidden pigments in the corals with blue light – I’ve been trying to get wide-angle shots for a couple of years now and finally succeeded. I think the Nikon D850 really made a difference, and the more powerful lights – it’s been a long time coming! I shot a funny little timelapse of the three of us trying to work together in pitch blackness with blue lights, trying to make the shot.

Copyright Louise Murray© Louise Murray

That sounds quite difficult…

It’s very difficult. You start off on land, in daylight. You need expert divers with you who understand what you’re trying to do, and you have to have a full-on briefing before you even start. Often the local guide who’s with you has never experienced this and he doesn’t know what to expect, so you have to cover all this in your briefing. And then still it ends up being a bit of a nightmare as everybody works out how to work together in the dark without getting nailed by spiny, stingy urchins that come out at night.

Copyright Louise Murray© Louise Murray

Of course, you’ve done lots of marine work if I remember correctly?

Loads of marine stuff, loads of Arctic stuff, loads of Antarctic stuff. I’ve also been doing a lot of work with robots over the last two years, and they’re always challenging. Photographing
them for stories about robotics – so whether that’s autonomous vehicles, or robots in horticulture, or robots in forensic science conducting autopsies. I went to Switzerland for that one. It’s a huge variety of different things, most of which are not on my website because I’m too lazy to update it!

Copyright Louise Murray© Louise Murray

Do any projects stick out as your favourites?

I think this fluorescent stuff recently. I love diving, so I’ll take any excuse to do it. It looks like I’ve got another couple of big underwater projects coming up – for most of October I’ll be back in the Philippines, which will be great fun. Then back to Baja Mexico in November.

Sounds awesome! Are you hunting for anything in particular?

I’m doing an environmental story on the world’s biggest fish in the Philippines, then freediving with hunting Striped marlin in Mexico.

A lot of what you have covered in the past concerns ecology and climate change.

It’s been a while since I’ve written about climate change, but yes. I had a picture on the front page of the Guardian illustrating climate change. It’s a shot you can only get at a certain time of year; when the sea ice is melting, it melts during the day then refreezes at night. You get protruding blocks of ice forming where it has broken up and refrozen, and in early May those start to melt and drip during the day in earnest. If you get there at the right time and then shoot into the sun, you produce an image with a concept of sun, heat, and melting ice that encapsulates what is happening with the climate emergency in the Arctic. That’s why those particular sets of pictures do very well.

Copyright Louise Murray© Louise Murray

Are there other aspects of the climate emergency you would like to cover?

I would kill just to be back up in the Arctic, but I got deported from Canada. You have to try very hard to do that. I would very much like to be able to go back up to Nunavut, where I used to lead expeditions helping film crews make feature-length movies about wildlife up there. I was working illegally without a work permit. So I rocked up a year or two later thinking, “Well that’s all done and dusted, and now I’m here with several thousand pounds of commissions.” But the immigration officer didn’t see it that way, and they held me in immigration and sent me back on the next plane, which wasn’t very pleasant. Haven’t been back to Canada since.

So where else might you head instead?

I had to turn it down this year, but the Siberian Ice Marathon, where people run across the frozen surface of Lake Baikal. It clashed with the Philippines this year, but I’ll be going back next year. It’s great fun.

Copyright Louise Murray© Louise Murray

You do enjoy the cold, don’t you?

Once you’ve got the right clothes. It’s down to having the right gloves and the right boots. I’ve worked in minus-40 with the Danish military – that was an amazing job. In Eastern Greenland they have a unit called the Sirius Patrol – pairs of guys patrol with dog sleds over that uninhabited part of Greenland, right up to the extreme north to protect Denmark’s sovereignty over the land. That was an amazing cold shoot – quite painful, but not impossible.

Copyright Louise Murray© Louise Murray

Copyright Louise Murray© Louise Murray

I can’t even imagine how you’d take photos in those conditions.

You have to have a lot of batteries inside your coat. That’s the key thing. When we used film it used to freeze, but with digital, it’s the batteries. You can practically see the battery gauge going down.

Copyright Louise Murray© Louise Murray

I suppose digital has unlocked a few interesting possibilities in your line of work.

The marine stuff is much easier to do now than it ever used to be, because we used to go down with a tank of air and one roll of film, which was 36 or 37 frames if you were lucky. To change the film, you had to come back up, open up the housing, open up the camera, change it, and then go back down. And this is dangerous, because you don’t want to be popping up and down when you’re diving. You can’t do it repeatedly – it isn’t safe. So it’s marvellous to have high-capacity cards and be only limited by however long your air lasts. And the poor bastards who have to dive with me tend to find out just how long I can make a tank last!

Copyright Louise Murray© Louise Murray

Copyright Louise Murray© Louise Murray

What is it that keeps you coming back to diving and underwater shooting?

Well, it’s very calm down there. And no matter where you dive, even if you’ve dived somewhere a thousand times, it is still quite possible to go down and see something that you’ve never seen before. It still happens to me, after all these years working underwater – I can still go on a dive and see a behaviour or a creature that is entirely new to me, though not new to science. Although when we go to Indonesia in October, it’s possible that we’ll see stuff that is new to science!

We look forward to finding out!


Louise was talking to Jon Stapley. See more from Louise at her website:

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