Rob Tomlin – member profile

One of Eposure’s aims is to add words to your pictures, telling your personal stories and the stories behind your images. This adds a different and more engaging dimension for potential buyers and commissioners of photography, it helps them understand the individual behind the images, and that’s when business relationships start getting built.

Interview with Rob Tomlin

Rob when was your first memory of photography?

When I was in my upper school they had a photography club along with darkrooms. We were encouraged to use the club’s amenities towards our art exams and, even though no-one at the school had ever sat a photography exam before, I convinced the art teachers to allow me to sit for an O’ Level…and passed with a grade A.

How did you get your first break as a professional?

I went to college to do a BTEC OND in photography and then an HND. It was assumed that once graduated you would go to London to become an assistant there. Instead I came back to Manchester and joined ‘Montage Studios’ (now called ‘Refinery’) as a temporary studio assistant for eight weeks. They kept me on and gave me a full-time position as part of their ‘in-house’ training course. After only 3 months I was promoted to ‘photographer’.

What do you like about room set photography?

I like any kind of photography where I’m allowed to craft the shot, rather than just recording a scene in front of the camera. Room-sets have a particular appeal because you work as part of a team…from the initial design to the set-build and styling.

Photographers can find lighting room-sets on the scale I’ve done daunting, but it’s really quite easy once you approach lighting in a ‘realistic’ manner. I stand by the ‘make-it-look-real’ ethos and over-lighting room-sets is a way of killing the style. In the early days of my photography career “if in-doubt, stick another light on it!” was the instruction. But now things are different and more of a subtle approach is needed, and now and my advice is “Less is more”.

With CGI gaining popularity with businesses, what are the benefits of conventional photography over CGI?

I’ve seen a few CGI images that look very good and almost on a par with good photography, and I’ve seen many that are quite frankly a joke! Conventional photography will always win for a couple of simple reasons; it’s a bespoke service able to produce quality images with bespoke lighting, specific props and furnishings. And flexible to any changes made. Also, nothing matches having the actual real setting to walk about in – for real. Many of my room set assignments require not only the main set shots, but cameo and detail images, and the client really has little idea what those cameo images should look like until the physical set is built.

A final thought on CGI… it’s too crisp. One of the many advantages of conventional room-set photography is that it’s actually quite fluid and not a science! Things do change from shot to shot; images can look slightly soft, too dark or too burnt-out just like real life. CGI images can be too sharp, too clinical and when you look at them feels false and simply too perfect!

How do you use retouch and image manipulation on a room set image?

I try wherever possible to reduce the amount of postproduction trickery required on my images, but certainly on occasion it’s a necessity. The most basic is just in the correcting of walls and other parallel lines, which used to be done in camera using camera movements, but now is achieved in the camera software I shoot to. The same software can do other minor refinements to the image such as localized colour adjustments and similar corrections, before any heavy retouching required is then done in Photoshop. I usually leave it to experts and not in the hands of my minor retouching talents! Typically though, any retouching will just be tidying-up any parts of the build, maybe dropping-in a back-drop through any windows, or adding a ceiling to the set.

Apart from the obvious, how has digital photography changed the profession?

When everything was still shot on film – and in those days we shot to different sized films/formats, any retouching needed would cost a small fortune, it meant that you had to get things right first-time. I really think this ‘old school right first time’ approach is now lost with many photographers as they become ever more reliant on post-production retouching. The final image is all important and crafting the subject with light and getting as close to perfection in-camera without too much help in post is what makes me who I am.

What’s the funniest request you’ve had when taking a picture of a Room-set?

I was shooting for a plumbing company. I was doing their trade brochure and we’d built and photographed some very large sets. These were ‘commercial’ bathrooms – public toilets for hotels and sports centre changing rooms and showers. While the shoot was in progress, we decided that the changing room set should have a ‘human element’ in a cameo (but no model fee allowance in the budget). I suggested to the client the shot would require a silhouette of a person through the frosted glass. Long story short… I stepped and took off my clothes to model for the shot. Even today the client uses the picture of me stark naked, not only in the brochure full page, but also in-store. My assistant said she could see I was still wearing my boxers on the initial test shots, so I had to throw them off hoping she didn’t prank me and hide them with the rest of my clothes. (No retouching on the final image BTW, wink)

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