Here’s some portraits of Pippa Malmgen, chief financial advisor to the Ronald Reagan and George Bush presidential campaigns.  

Photographed at the Four Seasons Hotel in Mayfair, London, for Estates Gazette Magazine. 



A few summers ago I was called by FHM magazine to shoot Iron Maiden frontman and commercial pilot - Bruce Dickinson

I definitely did a little dance around the room when I got this phone call. Firstly because its Bruce bloody Dickinson!! Secondly because this job came along during a very quiet and frustrating period. It was during the London 2012 Olympics which seemed to put me and all my photographer friends in two different camps. All of London’s attention was on the games and nothing else so photographers were either really busy shooting Olympic related stuff or, like me, they were bored to tears. I shot quite a lot of Olympic athletes on the lead up to 2012 but when the Olympics kicked in things got very quiet. 

I headed off to Cardiff, Wales, with a journalist from FHM to check out Bruce’s company - Cardiff Aviation. 

This still remains one of my favourite portrait commissions to date.

Once we arrived and dumped the gear we were given a tour of the entire premises by Bruce himself. Cardiff Aviation are based just outside the Welsh Capital on a site made up of several aircraft hangars and two runways. We were shown all the different aviation equipment that Bruce’s company builds along with various different planes parked on the premises. Bruce mentioned that he wanted to see Britain become a nation that builds things again and his knowledge about all things aviation was incredible. 


Sometimes I’m presented with a location thats overwhelmingly photogenic causing a hundred ideas to float around in my head when I’ve only got a short time to make some decisions. I’ve learned that in these situations you cant possibly shoot everything you want and you have to be disciplined in what you want to achieve. It’s much better to shoot a handful of set ups really well than shoot a huge variety of rushed, mediocre work. 

I was given an hour to wander around the site alone and scout for locations with only one bit of advice - “Don’t go near that end of the airfield or you might get shot”…… Bruce’s airfield bordered a high security military site and I was warned that if I go too close to the perimeter and they see an anonymous man loitering with a camera things could get pretty ugly. 

I didn’t need to worry though. I had plenty of inspiration without having to go near the danger zone. I knew before leaving London that I wanted to get a hero shot of Bruce with an aircraft in the background, preferably sitting on the wing or in one of the engines. Fortunately there was a disused commercial jet parked right in the middle of the airstrip for me to use. The sun was hitting the metal aircraft and the tarmac in a harsh but stunning way and I began to figure out my lighting after a few test shots. 



I used a fair bit of fire power for this shot. Although the sunlight was coming from roughly the right direction, it was the middle of the day in peak summer which meant that the sun was really high in the sky and I needed some strobes to help me out. I wanted to light Bruce from a realistic/natural angle and used my strobes create a slightly cleaner and evenly balanced version of what the sun was already doing. I wanted to underexpose the plane to give the shot a feel that resembled evening light conditions and fill in my subject with just enough pop. I got called up for the job the day before so I didn’t manage to find an assistant but luckily there was no wind at all to smash my gear to pieces!

This was lit with two 600w Einsteins with 5ft octobanks to camera right, 12 feet high and aimed straight at Bruce.  Here’s a lighting diagram showing the set up along with a Straight-Out-Of-Camera shot.  I really need to remember to take a few steps back and shoot a BTS photo more often. 

Camera: Canon 5dmkII Lens: 50mm Aperture: F/14 Shutterspeed: 1/200


I was warned by Bruce’s PR guy that he wasn’t a fan of having his photo taken and that the best way to keep him relaxed was to allow him to keep being interviewed while on set. That was fine by me and I could call his attention for short bursts rather than force him to pose for minutes on end. I didn’t need any theatrics from him and I just wanted him to sit in the engine while I clicked away for a while. I shot 21 frames on this set and then moved onto the next idea. 


Not a huge amount going on here. Just a bit of colouring and contrast work. I pulled down the exposure using a curves adjustment layer and then painted some of the original brightness back into Bruce and parts of the plane. This gave the image deeper shadows and made the highlights pop a bit more. 

Next I worked on colouring the image so that the light looked less ‘midday’ and a bit more ‘early evening’. I did this using a Colour Balance adjustment layer to put more warmth into the highlights and another one to put cooler tones into the shadows. 

A little bit of selective sharpening on Bruce and I was done. 

We shot 4 or 5 different set ups, had a beer with Bruce to finish and headed back to London. 

Thanks for reading!


 Back in 2013 I photographed rapper Kendrick Lamar for Q Magazine and Universal music. Sadly the portrait never ended up being used by the magazine however it’s still one of my favourite portraits to date and one that I get a lot of questions about from people who stumble upon my work. 


With quick magazine portraits my main aim is to shoot a handful of different set ups as efficiently and swiftly as I can. It’s always good to hand over a variety of different shots to a client and show that you can produce what looks like an hour long shoot even if you’re only given 10 minutes of camera time. In fact one of the most common questions I get asked when meeting with magazines and creative agencies is whether I can work quickly. Once I’ve got the shot I want from a set-up I move straight to the next one. Another thing that helps is I shoot most portraits with one light. I don’t even bother putting my light on a stand and instead work with an assistant holding the light on a boom. That way we can move from set to set really quickly and I can have the light’s position or power output changed in….err…….a flash. 



We shot in the 5 star Landmark Hotel on London’s Marylebone Road. Before heading out on the job I remember Googling the hotel and getting a good idea of what the rooms looked like. Although it’s great to allow yourself the chance to shoot something unexpected, I think it’s even more important to have at least one idea already planned out in your head. You never know how much time you’re truly going to get regardless of what the magazine have told you. It’s all down to busy schedules and how diva-like the subject and their entourage are being that day. 

I remember being heavily inspired by Austin Hargrave’s fantastic portrait of Elvis Costello (below) and wanted to make similar use of both natural window light, and glowing table lamps. 

I find smart hotel rooms are great for using lighting gear while balancing with ambient light. The abundance of soft furnishings and thick textured wall paper means that, unlike a white room, your strobes aren’t going to bounce, reflect and cause harsh shadows on walls. The light from a strobe tends to hit the subject but get swallowed up elsewhere meaning you don’t ruin the lovely glow from table lamps etc. This is a slightly vague statement but Austin’s portrait is a great case study. The spill from a softbox wouldn’t bounce/reflect much off anything in Elvis’s hotel room due to all the matte fabric covering everything. 

Back to Kendrick….

As soon as I walked into the hotel suite I spotted what I wanted. A large-ish window surrounded by interesting textures which would create a nice light fade. There was room to stand back and shoot, room for my assistant and whats more I already had my glowing table lamp in position!

I had 20 minutes to wait while Kendrick finished up an interview and therefore tons of time to get my head in the game and my lighting just right. 


This had to be a very precise set up in order to get a decent amount of light in the hotel room but not over expose the curtains either. I took various test shots until I had the right amount of glow from the lamp and the window and then concentrated on lighting my subject nicely. I took test shots of Kendrick’s tour manager with my assistant, Adam, booming the light from various places until I had what I wanted. On this occasion it was a 600w Einstein with a 46″ Photek Softlighter umbrella. 

I couldn’t have the strobe light aiming from my direction as it would have killed the natural glow from the window. Therefore I decided to boom the light almost completely over the top of Kendrick just out of the top right corner of the shot. I kept the light aimed slightly away from the wall and towards me so that it mainly fell on Kendrick and not the curtains. 

Here’s my in-camera settings and how the shot looked straight out of camera…



Once Kendrick was in position we worked pretty fast. Kendrick was glad I just needed him to sit down. He was so jet-lagged or partied out that he fell asleep a few times while shooting. Besides that he was a good sport and didn’t mind using the tea cup as a prop. It’s something I had in mind before I showed up but it’s the kind of thing I knew I’d have to test the water for. 

We shot for about 3 minutes in this spot and a similar time for 4 other set ups. 


Much simpler post production compared to my previous BTS post about my Cody Wise shoot. As you can see the SOOC shot looks pretty similar to the end result. This retouch was mainly about careful vignetting and colour tone. 

I started by brightening up Kendrick’s face a little and removing any unwanted things like fluff on his hoody and his jeans. 

Next I did a bit of smart-vignetting which helped keep kendrick bright but dull down some of the flash spill on the back wall. I did this by pulling down the exposure in a Curves adjustment layer. I then drew a big loose selection around the centre of the shot and inverted the layer mask to bring my selection back to it’s original exposure followed by heavy gaussian blur to the selection. This creates a natural looking vignette in any shape you like. 

Once this was done I wanted to enhance the warm sunny glow from top of the window. There was already a bit of a golden glow but I enhanced it by adding a burst of yellow from the top. (New layer set to ‘Softlight’ - Coloured radial gradient - adjust opacity to suit).

This is one of 5 different set ups with Kendrick but by far my favourite. 




I photographed Cody Wise at the end of 2014 for Serge DeNimes clothing. You may recognise Cody as the guy who sang ‘Its My Birthday’ with Will I Am. Click here to read some general details about the shoot in an earlier blog post. This time I’m going to talk about the technical stuff!

I’m choosing to do a breakdown of this shot as it required the most retouching out of the whole set. The other shots are a little more simple and self explanatory.


I’d been shooting fashion shots of Cody all morning against backdrops and wanted to shoot some more portrait style photos of him in the last hour. After all, I’d found a pretty great location to shoot in so it would have been a shame to only shoot what looked like studio shots. I liked the colour tone of the room and light spilling in from the big sash windows. Unlike some places I shoot, I wasn’t surrounded by different furniture or props to use so my decision in how to shoot him was pretty quick and simple. I wanted a shot of Cody sitting by the window with a loft-apartment feel to it. I didn’t want him to perform at all and I didn’t want him to pose too much in ways that I’d needed for previous shots. Just a simple no-frills portrait. 


Having worked towards a certain style of photography for years I’ve grown increasingly aware of what I want to get out of my camera and what I’m likely to do in the retouching process. I knew due to certain factors that the shot I was about to get from my camera was going to look pretty different to the end result. For a start I wasn’t going to get the contrasty feel I wanted straight out of camera. The weather in London that day was grey and wet which meant there wasn’t a huge difference between the light outside and that of the room we were in. Secondly the general colour of the room was a muted version of what I wanted from my finished image and there was a LOT of mess to clean up from the back wall. With this in mind I was simply out to get a well lit and nicely composed shot and the rest would follow in post production. 

I aimed to use an aperture that would blur out the details in the background but not give what I’d call a ‘shallow depth of field’. I shot the image at F/4 but the wide focal length used ( Canon 24-70 @ 32mm) meant that the background blur was only subtle. My ISO was 500. No major intent behind this. I could have gone lower but the location was pretty dark and I wanted a shutterspeed that allowed me to shoot hand-held. 

I decided to give the light from the window an extra kick by adding a bit of lighting. I had a 600w Einstein into a 46” Photek Softlighter boomed by an assistant above me to camera right. This gave a slightly smoother light spill onto Cody and a little more fill-light onto the front of his face. it was important to make sure this light was still very much in keeping with the ambient feel of the shot so just the tiniest pop was needed. 


Unlike my previous BTS post about Scroobius Pip this one didn’t require an adrenaline inducing time limit of 3 minutes. I spent about 10 minutes shooting Cody in a few variations of this set up and wanted him to spend most of the time chatting with the guys behind me with only brief glances at the camera when he felt like it. We had his father, his manager and the guys from Serge De Nimes on set so there was plenty to distract him. 



As you can see, the end result if a far cry from the original shot. So lets get down to the nitty gritty……

I began by using the Clone Stamp/Healing Brush to clean up all the marks on the back wall. I then used the same tools to clean up the minor blemishes on Cody’s face. (Lets blame adolescence and London’s pollution). Now I was ready to work on tweaking the shadows, highlights and colour tone. 

Using Curves adjustments I warmed up the highlights with a bit of yellow. This enhanced the yellow of the back wall and made the light from the window less white. Next I pushed up the Orange saturation and painted this effect only into Cody’s hat using an inverted layer mask. This gave the hat a little extra pop. I then used Colour Balance to push a bit of blue/cyan into the shadows which effected the floor and darker parts of the room.

After all that I worked on the shadows and highlights by opening a new Soft-light layer and gently painting white to increase highlights and black to darken shadow areas. This allowed me to tweak shadows/highlights in just the areas I wanted such as clothes and skin. 

In the last few stages I did my ‘Smart Vignette’ technique to darken the surroundings and make Cody stand out a bit more (Pull down exposure using RGB curves - Make loose selection around subject - Invert layer mask - heavy Gaussian blur to selection) and then a little sharpening trickery to various parts of the shot such as Cody’s eyes, the hat and the coat stand. Lastly I added a little bit of lens flare from the window and a layer of grain to reduce that intensely 'digital’ feel from my Canon 5dmkIII. 


Thanks for reading!



This portrait shoot was all about seizing an opportunity. It wasn’t a paid gig, just something that presented itself and I did all I could to make sure I came away with something I liked.

Scroobius Pip BTS Final.jpg

Here’s how it played out…..

I was on a train home from a shoot outside London when a friend messaged me with an invite to a small, informal, podcast recording involving several brilliantly geeky movie fanatics and their special guest - English rapper and poet Scroobius Pip. It took place in the upstairs room of a pub in Farringdon and consisted of 25 members of the public having a few beers and listening to Pip and his hosts talk about their favourite films.

Although I knew nothing about the event I had a strong feeling that it would be roughly what I’ve just described and decided to have a punt at contacting Scroobius Pip along with the host of the podcast and see if they were ok with me doing a quick portrait. I emailed the host with the idea and tweeted Scroobius Pip about it. No response from Pip but a friendly reply from the host telling me it shouldn’t be a problem but it was entirely down to Pip being OK with it. That to me was good enough. I have faith in my ability to politely approach people and pitch a portrait to them and it usually works once I’ve stressed how little time it’ll take and that they can OK the photos afterwards. Also, if you’re doing this sort of thing the chances are you are a big fan of the person so why not tell them? People like to be flattered and it shows you’re not a rude, inconsiderate paparazzi type photographer.

I showed up about half an hour before any of the other customers/spectators and noticed Pip had already arrived and was enjoying a quiet drink with one of his hosts. I waited outside the room for a bit longer and then headed in once it looked less like I’d be disturbing anything. I said hello to Pip and the other podcast guys and explained who I was and that I’d really like to get a quick portrait of Pip if he didn’t mind. Everyone’s response was friendly enthusiastic and Pip said he was totally fine with it provided I could get it done between the end of the event and him running for his train home. (Yep this internationally known rapper still gets the train home!).


I had a few choices including a wooden bar area with shabby bar stools and really cool hanging light bulbs all the way along it. I was so tempted to try and get Pip behind the bar with a dish cloth over his shoulder, looking like a seasoned bar tender perhaps wiping down the bar top or cleaning the glasses. This would have been awesome however the potential difficulties started popping up in my head. As soon as the podcast finished the bar was likely to be surrounded by people wanting drinks, there was a mirror on the back wall which would have been a nightmare if it reflected something annoying and finally I’m not totally fluent in using lighting gear while still getting natural glow from tungsten lights like those hanging over the bar. This often takes multiple exposures and there just wasn’t the time for that sort of thing. I sat down with my friend to watch the podcast and soon realised I really liked the view from where I was sitting. I took some Iphone shots from my seat and thought about where I could position Pip within the shot. It’s one of my favourite ways to plan a portrait. i find the framing first and then decide where to put the subject.


I tend to like having a fairly deep depth of field for most of my portraits. So much of my work is on location and I like to make sure the setting is a key asset to the shot. Having said that, it was so dark in the room that I had no choice but to drop my aperture to F5.6. Luckily, my wide focal length still provided the deep focus I wanted. I was using a Canon 24-70L at 32mm. Had I shot this on a 50mm at F/5.6 the focus depth would have been way shallower.

My shutter speed was 1/30. Not an ideal shutter speed when shooting hand-held but with Pip sitting still and me breathing out before each shot like a sniper I managed to avoid any motion blur or camera shake.

My key-light was a 600w Einstein with a 46” Photek Softlighter boomed from camera right by my friend just out of shot. (see the Pocket wizard cable. dangling top right).  I use Photeks for so much of my work. They are affordable, incredibly portable and I love the quality of light that they produce. Plus if they’re good enough for Annie Leibovitz, Norman Jean Roy and Mark Seliger then they’re good enough for me!


This is when I feel thankful for every magazine portrait job I’ve had where a PR agent has said “We’ve had to cut things a bit short. Can you do it in less then 5 minutes?”.

I let Pip have a breather while I set up the camera and lighting and then told him the plan. We had 5 minutes before his train was due…..

The 1st minute was a waste.  Once Pip was in place I had the ultimate crisis. I was using a 3rd party battery grip on my Canon 5dmkIII and it decided that this was the time to start messing with my camera’s functions. DON’T USE EBAY BATTERY GRIPS KIDS! I got this off my camera as fast as I could, threw it into a nearby volcano and went back to shooting.

Pip was easy to photograph. He barely needed any directing from me and I was done after 10 shots. Unlike my school maths exams, I actually like the pressure of these situations and it tends to make me focus and get the job done.


The retouching on this shot is pretty simple. I knew I wanted to take away that very orangey tone and give it an over all cooler colour. I did this by desaturating some of the orange and red channels but masking out Pip’s skin. This made sure he still had some colour in his face and arms but the orange tone in his surroundings was muted. I then used curves adjustments to continue cooling down the colour tone of the shot by adding more blue to the shadows. 

Next I wanted to darken the over all shot but keep Pip fairly bright. This is done by pulling down the exposure in RGB curves. I then created a very loose selection around Pip, inverted the layer mask so that he went back to the original exposure and then gaussian blurred the selection. I call this ‘Smart-Vignetting’. It helps make your subject pop without having a generic vignette which screems 'Lightroom’.

To finish up I cloned out the cable that was hanging in the top right from my pocket wizard receiver and added a little cinematic haziness from the direction of the light source. 

Done. Thanks for reading!