Behind the Scenes at Acton Gardens’ Concierge Area
Neil Hewison has been working with us to capture our unique spaces for over three years, helping us to stand out visually and inspire our customers.
With over 20 years experience in interior photography, we talk to Neil Hewison about all things photography, from the perfect dusk shots, to small spaces, and some of his favourite projects!
How did you get into photography?
At home, from an early age, anything arty or creative was encouraged and we all spent a lot of time painting or constructing things. My older brother got seriously into photography to the extent that he developed his own pictures in a darkroom in the loft, so I think that’s where it started. I remember dabbling with cameras and enjoying the whole thing of filling up a film and waiting to see how the pictures came out.
Commercially, it was when I was working in marketing at my first job that I found it difficult to get hold of the images I needed for brochures and leaflets, so it was the natural route to take my own photos. That was great training, using transparency film – which had to be viewed on a lightbox with a magnifying glass then scanned in to the computer – it really taught me to take time and care in setting up my shots, which still applies just as much today even with the advances in digital.
What are your biggest bug-bears in interior photography?
There are some things that you can’t do much about that can be really ugly, such as cables – especially on commercial office shoots. That’s got to be number one. Otherwise I think it often comes down to preparation – or lack of it. Small things like fingerprints, dirty windows/glass, dust can add a lot of time and difficulty to an assignment, or just a messy space with blinds at different heights, or office chairs at different levels and angles.
"It’s a style thing really, but I personally don’t think you need studio lights to take good interior shots"
Do you need studio lights to take good interior shots? If not, how do you work with the natural lighting?
It’s a style thing really, but I personally don’t think you need studio lights to take good interior shots – providing of course there is enough light to work with, either natural or artificial. I choose to use available light where possible as I feel it gives a much warmer and more natural look, more like the human eye sees the space, and it allows for the quirks of colour temperature that make a picture look realistic rather than sanitised.
The dusks shots you capture for Focus Experiential are amazing, how can you ensure you capture this perfectly? Any top tips for taking the perfect dusk shot?
I must say I’ve been very lucky with the weather, that’s a big part of it! My top tips would be: plan what you want to achieve first, start earlier rather than later (don’t wait for it to get too dark), and always use a tripod.
How much of the magic happens in post-production?
That’s a great way to put it. While the shot itself must be right compositionally, correctly exposed and focussed and so on (there’s not much you can do about a bad shot in Photoshop), I think post-production is a vital part of the whole process. I allow 50% or more of the total time for post-production work, and this can make the difference between what looks an amateur picture and what is a professional one.
What’s your photography approach when it comes to shooting retail spaces/marketing suites?
I think the main thing is to be clear about what we need to achieve for the client, so firstly a detailed brief or shot list is helpful, and secondly a good walk about of the space to check out lighting, potential shots/angles and make sure each area is ready to shoot.
What was your favourite Focus Experiential project to shoot?
I can honestly say I enjoy them all – which is a credit to the team at Focus Experiential. I think one of my favourites was Royal Albert Wharf, as it was a great design with some really distinctive details, the weather was amazing, and the location was so interesting.
Now and then I have a laugh about the fact that we had to capture dusk shots as well as the day time ones, and we picked one of the longest days of the year so spent hours waiting for it to start getting dark! Definitely worth the wait though.
"We spent hours waiting for it to start getting dark! Definitely worth the wait though."
What’s the most important part of your kit – excluding the camera itself?
Definitely the tripod.
What’s been one of your favourite shoots of all time?
It’s very difficult to choose! Certainly one of the most memorable was at what was ‘the most expensive residential property on the open UK market’ at the time, a beautifully restored mansion in North London.
"I have a vivid memory of standing in one of the luxurious bedroom suites and realising that I have a very special and interesting job!"
The thing I particularly remember was late in the afternoon discovering that I appeared to be alone in this huge place, with every room beautifully dressed and soft music playing wherever I went, but absolutely no signs of any other human life. It was really eerie, and I have a vivid memory of standing in one of the luxurious bedroom suites and realising that I have a very special and interesting job!
The Acton Garden concierge project was a really small space to shoot – what are your top tips for shooting small spaces?
Two things: firstly, use a very good quality wide-angle lens for the wide shots; secondly focus on the details. Acton Gardens Concierge had lots of great design and finish details that absolutely made the space, and it was really fun to bring out how much creativity was in the project even though it was just a small area.
"It was really fun to bring out how much creativity was in the project even though it was just a small area."
What’s the first thing you look for when choosing a shot?
Usually I’m shooting to a client brief, so composition is the starting point to make sure we get a great photo that meets the client’s needs. However, if I’m shooting for myself then it’s the light every time – amazing lighting can make an amazing picture of something mundane, whereas if the lighting is dull even the most inspiring subject can look dull.
How much do your tactics change for a retail shoot compared to a regular interior design shoot?
"That’s the beauty of art, there’s no right or wrong as such."
Really, I look at every assignment as individual with its own brief and priorities, and therefore each needs a fresh set of tactics every time. You have to be flexible and ready to think on your feet too, as you never know what you will encounter on the day.
Where do you get your inspiration from? Do you have a favourite photographer?
Light and texture are the two main features that I get excited about, so I can be inspired by anything really – nature, art, design, architecture, construction, photography, people…
There are so many great photographers past and present that I couldn’t pick anyone specific, and to be objective I prefer to focus on the pictures rather than the person. It’s amazing to see personality shining through in pictures though – ask two photographers to take a shot of the same subject and usually you will get two very different results. That’s the beauty of art, there’s no right or wrong as such.
What project of Focus Experiential’s was the most challenging to capture?
That’s an easy one to answer – it was the Pod at Gilden Park. Inside was a challenge because it was brightly lit from a glass wall one end, with fairly dim artificial lighting only at the other end, so we had wild contrasts of light to work with in a long and narrow space. Outside, it was in the middle of the summer and all the turf had dried out and gone brown and curly – we had some major work to do afterwards to make it look green and lush. I thought it came out really good in the end though.
Do you struggle on shoots if there isn’t a clear focal point to capture? How do you get around this?
A lack of clarity of what the focal point is can be a challenge, yes, although in some ways it can be liberating. It can give the freedom to look at things from a different perspective, to see them from more of an artistic point of view and look for special lighting, or textures, contrasts etc. It just requires more discipline to ensure we keep to the purpose of the shoot and not get distracted with personal interests.
What was your favourite exterior to photograph out of Focus Experiential’s projects?
I’ve already mentioned Royal Albert Wharf, so this time I nominate Blackwall Reach – a really special suite that was great fun to shoot. It was a challenge as it was raining on and off, but on the flip side there was this amazing stormy sky and unique lighting which kept changing. I thought it really suited the urban environment the suite was set in.
Do you have any locations that inspire you? Especially around London…
Wow, where do I start? In London, I particularly love the Southbank area of SE1. There’s just so much going on, with iconic landmarks such as Tower Bridge; the amazing Borough Market; the view over London from the Shard; places to visit such as The Tate Modern, HMS Belfast, Globe Theatre, the London Eye; world class facilities including the Evelina Children’s Hospital (very special to me as my son is under their care) – and so much more. Outside of London, one of my favourite cities is Washington DC. If anyone gets a chance to visit there I would say grab it, it’s just such a special place.
What’s next in line for you?
The main thing is to keep learning and developing my skills, as anyone who stands still gets left behind. It will be great to see where the design world goes in 2019 and of course I’m looking forward to more shoots for Focus Experiential – each project is so different and creative, they just get better and better.
"I’m looking forward to more shoots for Focus Experiential – each project is so different and creative, they just get better and better."