An Interview with Portrait & Fashion Photographer Dave Kai Piper
Who Is Dave Kai Piper?
Professional photographer, re-toucher, educator, organizer, Fuji X-Photographer, teacher and one very busy guy.
I had the good fortune and pleasure of interviewing the man behind Ideas And Images and got a little insight into what it takes to run and sustain a successful photography business, how he creates the images you see here and much more, read on for all the details!
How would you describe your style?
You promised these questions would be easy! I guess for some people this is a really easy question, but I do struggle with this one. At the moment if someone was to log on to my website they would see a mix of headshots, landscapes, music photography and fashion. During 2013, I started to shoot much more with deeper depth and single lighting, I guess styles change, I feel 2014 will be my beauty year.
[REWIND: Canon 50mm Prime Len Wars]
This means you can expect lots of stunning close ups with some large emphasis on my Photoshop work. I am big fan of the baroque. Art that makes you stop and take note. Things that question and challenge. Subtle context and bold statements combine into single images. Mixing lingerie and portraiture is becoming more fun as I get more confident as an artist too.
Where do you find your inspiration / what inspires you?
Over the years I have tried to find a style, and bring this through all the different genres. Influences range from Helmut Newton, Cecil Beaton, Tim Walker, then on to Tim Wallace, Thomas Woland, Squiz Hamilton, Rebecca Litchfield and Lara Jade. As you could well imagine, that is quite a cross mix of styles and genres, but to me, they are all fantastic artists and use the camera as the delivery mechanism to whatever end is given.
I would say these 4 photographers are the people I enjoy the most at the moment.. all for different reasons. Thomas Woland is just a totally confident master of his craft. The style, the passion, the movement, his work has it all. Tim Wallace has this slick style, I have learned so much about how people view an image. When I see a photo of a car, I subconsciously think, “how would Tim of shot that?” – with a truck load of drama and story as a rule.
The images Tim creates are such a clever balance of his own view and the way people want to also view his subjects. Another interesting point, and a reason to why Tim has had the success he has had is that his images can be very hard to not like. There is something in each for everybody. They are not controversial in any way. Each image plays on what the common person would expect to see in an image, then tweaked to suit his style.
This is a very good way to work in the commercial world as it is a useful skill that commercial clients like. When people hire Tim, they know what they are getting. This is unlike Neil Snape, Neil has a very eclectic range of work and flirts with the edges of what the average person may or may not like. Above all, Neil has shown me that color is something to love as much as light. Shadow is powerful and that should be embraced too.
I guess in many ways Robert Voltaire and Squiz Hamilton are quite a similar influence to Neil. Voltaire is all about power though the female form. I don’t find Voltarie’s work sexual, but there are nudes, and breasts and all that jazz, it is the way that content is put to the viewer that I love. Squiz is just Squiz and you really do have to check out his work. The moment you do you will see why I love his work – In fact.. here are some links you just have to check out starting off with the incredible Sylvie Blum, Neil Snape, Woland, Ambient Life, Rebecca Litchfield and Lara Jade.
As far as where inspiration comes from, it can be a tweet, an image, a song, it can be anywhere. I do have a particularly nice story for you though. A few years ago, I was learning about life and loved music. I worked part time in this bar and I had this job shooting family portraits. I convinced my dad into buying me a Nikon D200. I was slowly falling in love with photography and now had my own camera with a kit 18-70 lens, I soon saved up for a 50mm and started shooting bands in the pub I worked. After a few weeks I got to shoot at a proper gig, then I got to shoot at the bigger venues for the bands rolling through Birmingham.
At heart, I was (still am), a bit of a pop punk kid. I have always been a Blink 182, Offspring, Linkin Park fan. I got to shoot pretty much all my fave bands working up to shooting bands like Def Lepard and Public Enemy. There was one band though I loved more than all. This was a band called Bowling for Soup. (Hope they don’t read this next part), I saw they were on tour and applied for a press pass, I had to get this pass, so I added some numbers to my website traffic and might of winged it a little on my e-mail, but… I got a photo pass and shot the gig. This was, to me, a BIG deal. Here I was, shooting the band that I had grew up listening to.
While I was shooting the gig, I could not help but think, this is not feeling right. I was not as happy as I should be, it soon came to my mind why. There was at least 8 other photographers in the photo pit that night and we all had the same images. I was only getting the same as the person next to me. I said that night, I have yet to photograph the band, in the way I wanted to. I made the promise to myself that one day, I would be able to get to a place where I can call them up and be like, hey, lets shoot ! They came and toured a few times more and I always went to see them, I met the tour Photographer (Kate James) and we chatted.
The years passed and I moved away from shooting bands. I kept in touch with Kate though. I found my self shooting portraiture and the fashion based stuff you see on my site today. One day the band announced the farewell tour and it sparked that thought in my head I had all those years ago. I rang Kate, I emailed the tour manager and suddenly with in the space of a day, found my self with the band, one by one, sitting down for me to take their portraits.
Dream come true at last. The day of the shoot was madness, it was my cousin’s first birthday. The band had said I had to shoot before 4pm as there were sound checks and other stuff like PR and interviews going on. I had to explain that didn’t kinda work for me and that I had another engagement. I thought fate was going to mess up my plans. But they,(the Band) it turns out were super excited about me coming to photograph them (the hard work pays off, folks). The band had to go on-stage to play in front of 2000 odd people (a sell out crowd). I had about 15 mins to set up and shoot in order for them to make it on stage in time. I had this tiny, dirty, grotty room backstage, there are 4 people in the band, so did the quick math and worked out I could take about 3 to 5 images per person after the set up time. I remember thinking, if I have ever learned anything about photography, let it be now that I remember and use it.
As I was setting up, I noticed there was no power lead in my bag (it was being used at my cousin’s 1st birthday party I had been at in the day). Kate found one and I was back on track (Thank you, again). So, the story is, the photos were perfect and it all came together. After the show, we hung out and chatted about the whole thing and I explained how the band had helped and driven me. I had this goal that I set for myself and I went out, I fought for it and when the time came, I was able to take the shot I wanted.
If I was to sit down and really work out how I got there, to that room in Birmingham, where those four guys sat for me, it is a mind-blowing adventure, that has tears for both good and bad reasons. You have to have drive, you have to have a dream, you have to have a goal.
Were you born with a camera in your hand or at what point did you start?
The first photographic memory I can remember involves a blue camera and little green boxes. The camera was a automatic thing and I was never allowed to load the film. I am not sure if it was a Kodak or Fuji, but I do remember the green Fuji boxes. We lived in Cyprus back then so the family was very keen on taking photographs to remember it all. My Aunt was also a keen photographer. I remember being shown around her darkroom, which I should really have taken more note of at the time, but for some reason it never really grabbed me then. It was only when I was in Lourdes (South of France), I really first remember having a great deal of fun with photography.
For Christmas that year, I had been given a Sony P200 camera. It was a point and shoot, but it was enough to get me going. I would just go out and shoot for hours. I took that thing everywhere with me – to the pub, to gigs and every thing in the middle. These days, I guess we have iPhones and the like, to me this means we are going to have a whole generation who are inspired by the instant nature of photography. I guess these are really exciting times to be shooting. I see us being on the very leading edge of something very special with photography.
Many people are looking back at film talking about how good it used to be, where as I am looking forward, waiting for the next big leap. Back in Cyprus, I have a memory of us driving along in a car, through some amazing mountains. We stopped and I can remember my mum saying… “You should photograph that, you might never see it again,” – then I remember saying that if we went round the corner there is a better angle on it. I must have been 8 years old.
What gear do you most enjoy using at the moment and why?
I am very lucky to be a Fuji X-Photographer. Fuji has some amazing cameras at the moment (X-Series). I am shooting with an X-Pro mostly with a Pentax 645D as the big set up camera. The combination of the Fuji and the Medium format is really a winning set up. I have not shot with a DSLR pretty much all year.
I am about to get a Canon 5D Mark III, but that is more about shooting video than stills. In 2014, I really want to get shooting more video, so the Canon is pretty much the best option at the moment. My plan is to build up my Zeiss lenses and have a really small amount of kit, but everything being super amazing.
Sounds strange to say, but I do love playing about with the iPhone, too. We are so blessed to have such amazing technology to play with today. It really is a good time to be a photographer.
Whats your favorite photo shoot you’ve done and why?
That is a real tough question. I do find shooting quite challenging, and very rarely have fun on set. I am really bad for over thinking and over worrying. Shooting for me is very stressful. On the flip side, photography is also my hobby. Cutting the line between the two is hard at times, but it usually comes down to money. If I am being paid, there is some stress to making sure things are just perfect.
My favorite images have not come from my favorite shoots, but getting back to the question, if there was one shoot that was a turning point, I would have to say the Ice Queen image or something from the USA last year.
Being a self taught photographer what has been most valuable to you in your learning?
Self taught is interesting phraseology. I would not say I am fully self taught – there are some very amazing and inspiring people who have taught me a few things. I guess it was my choice to seek out these people and apply what I was seeing or being told. I have not been a photographer for very long, but I can already tell that the business is more important than the photography. I have learned this the hard way. I disagree with it, but it is very true.
A dear friend once said to me, back years ago. “Dave, there are very few rich photographers, but many people have made a lot of money out of the business of photography.” – Richard Shakespeare was very right in saying this, and to this day, this goes round my head. Being the stubborn character I can be, I thought, nah, I can make it and forgot about the business side of things for a long time. Such a bad mistake.
These days, I have Ideas & Images, which is my business. It is what leads my thoughts and is the driving force. The business comes first and foremost these days. I am sure you were expecting me to say, something about f-stops, but the most valuable thing I have learned is that creative people make really bad businesses people on the whole. I still just want to make pretty things all day, but I have to keep that side of me in check. If you look at the very top people in this industry, they all have amazing businesses behind them as support.
What do you look for when scouting new locations?
As a rule, I love shooting in hotels at the moment. I have a few secret little locations that I like and enjoy. If you want something interesting on locations, you should check out Rebecca Litchfield’s work. She is into the whole urban ex thing and really shoots some amazing locations. It seems every time I look on Facebook, she is in some eastern European country shooting and exploring. I remember once trying to say hello to Rebecca and her husband answered back ‘I think the Russian military have arrested her,’ whatever story I could tell you about locations could not top that.
Once you have an idea how do you start to bring it all together?
I am far less organized than I wish, at the moment my time is heavily invested into planing for the ‘Photography Show,’ in the UK (1st to the 4th March 2014). So, I have had to pull back on shooting for the first half of the year, then I have something very amazing planned for the second half, which I can not really mention at the moment (follow me on twitter @DaveKaiPiper).
So, this year shoots are smaller and more simple in design. Mostly portraiture with digital styling added. If you was to reverse engineer a DKP image, you would end up with a huge magazine and image library and lots of mood boards.
I tend to start with a magazine brief and work out what I can do within that, or plan out something that a client and I both like. Mood boards are great. I have loads stacked away for a rainy day. If a client came to me today and wanted to, I would send them a PDF and ask if that was ok or not, everything from make up to locations and lighting is pre-planned in my head in some way shape or form.
There is this seminar I do about creativity where we talk about how no-one is really ‘creative on demand.’ I am a firm believer in the ‘thoughtfully prepared’ method of shooting rather than the chaos style of some in the fashion world.
Do you regularly work with the same team of, make up artists, hair and stylists, etc?
Well, I try to, but budgets are not always the same, so I do and try to work with the best within reason. Saying that, all make-up artists are different. I have had the pleasure of working with some great people over the years. If I was in London shooting more often I think I would have a set team, but I travel so much it’s not really possible to take them every time I go away.
I have a set go-to team in my head though. In the fashion & beauty world, the importance of a good team is super vital. In many ways more important than the photographer. One of the things Thomas Woland has taught me is that you need to only ever work with the the best people you can, be humble and remember, it is a team effort.
Do you have any special, secret sauce that helps you define your style?
Sounds like you have been digging deep into my blog to ask that! I wrote an article for a magazine once called, “A Stylish Recipe,” and it was about this very point. It was a way to make a recipe or sequence that can be followed to make post production simple. It went along the idea of giving a set sequence of what to tune and in what order to what amount. It was something I had been using in my own work. I guess it was a workflow & editing guide mixed together. I used to use a dual tone color toning method, this has since been replaced with the color look up mode in CS6 & CC. The video below is a quick editing video in which my newer technique uses.
People can check out more of my editing videos by heading over to my website.
What advice would you share with aspiring photographers?
To those photographers who want to make photography a career, it is the business skills that will hold you back, it held me back. It is in the nature of creative people to want to have fun and explore the creative mind. Photography is not about cameras, it is not about mega pixels or brands. It is not about getting perfect technology and the best kit. It is about content. Content is king.
Shoot the right things for the right clients and you’re on your way. Choose who you want to shoot for, line up the goals, and work at them. I did, I made the target to be a portraiture photographer who could mail a sell out American Grammy award winning rock band. It was a dream at one stage, then it became a reality and I set a new dream. I have a new dream and will work tirelessly until that dream is also a reality. If you don’t have dreams, you have no target or way to measure your success.
What have you got coming up in 2014, that you are super excited about?
2014 is going to be a very interesting year. The first project of the year is the Photography Show (1st to the 4th of March ) at the NEC in Birmingham. The show is all about photography and should be an amazing event. We have the likes of Rankin, Joe McNally and Steve McCurry doing keynote talks. We even have SLR Lounge’s very own Lauri Laukkanen among a huge roster of photographers joining us on the stage.
After working on this show, I have some other rather amazing projects in the pipeline, then it’s back to shooting for the rest of the year! At the moment it is quite hard to see past the show!
Thanks for your time Dave and sharing some of your knowledge and information with us.
CREDITS: All photographs shared by Dave Kai Piper are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.
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