British by birth, and a New Yorker by choice, Jason Bell is arguably one of the world’s foremost celebrity and portrait photographers.
He currently shuttles between both sides of the Atlantic, practising portraiture. His impressive portraits includes those of Scarlett Johansson, Halle Berry, Kate Winslet, Nicole Kidman, Johnny Depp, Amy Whinehouse, etc. In addition, his creativity has donned the American and British editions of Vogue, Vanity Fair, Time Magazine, Newsweek and Rolling Stone to name a few. Jason’s work was seen in numerous ﬁlm posters, including Billy Elliot, About A Boy, Love Actually, Bridget Jones 2, and more recently Golden Compass and Inkheart.
Bollywood’s current leading diva, Katrina Kaif, is one of the few tinsel stars he had the rare opportunity to document. A graduate in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Oxford University, Jason shares his interesting take on life and photography. Excerpts:
Hollywood has plenty of celebrities and the stars always look their best. How much influence does the camera have, and how much the talent behind the camera?
I think just looking good is not what makes a photograph interesting. It is the idea behind that photograph or what it conveys that makes for a great photograph. So to that extent whether or not a photograph is good depends entirely on the photographer and their relationship with the subject, and not really about how beautiful that person is.
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about photographing celebrities? How do you go about eliciting the moods from your sub-jects that are communi-cated in your photos?
There is always a challenge in photographing people who have been photographed many times before. You want to show a different side to them – not just to repeat the popular image of them. I like to work with the people I photograph, so I suggest things but we have to do it together. I cannot do it all on my own. So the challenge is to get the subject to come on the journey with me.
What is the biggest challenge when setting up a shoot? What is the most common trait you see in the new and up coming models/celebrities?
As I’ve said the challenge is to get the person to work with me. The worst thing is when somebody turns up and they just really don’t want to be photographed. Luckily that doesn’t really happen any more. One of the advantages of working for better and better magazines or clients is that the people being photographed tend to be more invested in the shoot. So if it’s an actor who we are shooting with, for a big movie they have just made, they work harder to make a good image.
Do you pre-visualise your photos or do you put the components together as you move along? Comment
I try to do both. So I come to a shoot with some ideas that I have mapped out beforehand, but if they don’t work I try not to force them. And I also try to be open to other interesting things that may come up during the shoot.
Do you have any funny or crazy shoot experiences that you would like to share with our readers?
I have travelled to some amazing places for my work, but I can never forget shooting the opera singer Johan Reuter on an iceberg in Greenland. What you forget about icebergs is that they move. So he was standing on one and it was drifting and rotating at the same time, and I was on another one which was also drifting and rotating. Every time I got the shot set up that I wanted it would move and I would have to start again. It was very difficult. It was also -40 degrees and we were told that if we fell in the water we would have 45 seconds to get out or we would die. That doesn’t make for a very relaxing shoot. It was crazy!
If you could take only one photo of one par-ticular celebrity, who would that be and why?
I like working with nice people. It just makes it more fun and there is more of a chance of getting something interesting and really playing with an idea. So anyone who I think I can get along with is interesting to me. I can’t really say just one person because you can never be sure what someone is really like until you meet them. There are nice surprises often. Halle Berry was one of the funniest and most entertaining people I have shot, so was Ellen Barkin.
What programs/soft-ware do you use for ed-iting and conversions? What do you think about the excessive use of Photoshop?
I shoot into Capture One and use that for editing and for the first alterations of the image, such as exposure, colour balance and contrast. Then I take the images into Photoshop for more detailed work.
Of course Photoshop is overused and often very badly. I always say that really good retouching is when you are not sure whether the image has been retouched at all. If the first thing you think when you view an image is “oh! retouching”, then you know the image has been worked on extensively.
Photoshop has freed up photographers to some extent. You might find a beautiful landscape spoilt by a lampost and you can just take out the lampost and still get the landscape. But I think Photoshop can also make photographers lazy. There is a tendency to think on a shoot “Oh, I will just sort that out afterwards”, which I think is a bad attitude, which gives you weak shots.