We got to speak with Charlie Sawyer, a household name in the London photography scene, shooting commercial campaigns for some of the biggest brands and influencers around the world. In this interview, we get to learn more about Charlie’s journey in his early career…
How did you first get into photography?
‘It all started off as a holiday passion, which quickly developed into a keen interest of mine when I began my college course, instead of photographing the mundane subjects around me, I decided to go and photograph interesting people. For example, going to London Fashion Week, capturing the individuals who have dressed up to the nines and attending the shows. This became a personal project of mine which soon caught on with various outlets, Instagram pages and magazines asking to use my street style images for their features.’
‘I sent the images to the various influencers and people I shot, and that gave me the interaction I was looking for. From there it was very much Instagram focused, I started to get a few mentions and tags which developed an ever-increasing following on my account. After that, I turned from influencers to brands, which is the source of all projects and where the creativity stems from. It has now gone in a full circle with the brands I’m now working with using the influencers I stared shooting with on day one!’
‘After my A-Levels were over, I decided to leave education there, I believed three years at University might not necessarily benefit me as much as three years in the trade.’
‘I started off capturing events for free or low pay and shooting small fashion campaigns as well as some of my friend’s brands. This gave me the opportunity to meet the right people, network and widen my circle within the creative field. It was all small scale jobs at this point but it certainly got my head in the right place and established my enjoyment for the job, before I made it a career.’
Did you find you learnt a lot from college or more from working for yourself?
‘I don’t like to say it because it can affect other peoples thoughts, but I feel college really didn’t benefit me in the way I thought it would, I learnt the history of photography and the very basics of a camera, but it’s not until you get out in front of clients with models, that’s when you really start to learn.’
‘My style is very commercial, I feel it’s naturally progressed this way’
‘Essentially, college didn’t teach me the trade or the art, it was more about looking back over the history of photography and specific photographers work. It wasn’t until I had left college and started to go out on shoots, that I began to gain an understanding of how to monetise my skill and create a business.’
How would you describe your style of photography, or do you like to switch it up?
‘My style is very commercial, I feel it’s naturally progressed this way as the majority of my commissions are about shooting an item of clothing for a brand, which is to be sold using various means of advertising whether that’s featuring on the brand’s website or Instagram and Facebook etc… or out of home advertising boards, tubes, buses etc… therefore my style sits in the commercial bracket.’
‘I often have personal projects on the go such as editorials that I work on to keep those creative juices flowing and you’ll often see a different style to my work when it comes to these.’
What’s the creative process before a photoshoot, is there a lot of detail?
‘Photoshoots tend to have three stages, pre-production, shoot day and post-production. The pre-production meeting, which often includes myself/creative team, a creative director and/or art director and the brand representatives. This is to discuss the aim of the shoot, purpose of images, plan of action for the shoot day and timings. I should leave timings out of that really, it seems impossible to stick to timings on a shoot day. :)’
‘Come shoot day, hair and makeup team are usually already hands-on-deck first thing, working away on the model so he/she/they are ready to go, whilst the creative team are setting up cameras/lights/laptops’
‘Assuming the shoot has all gone according to plan, it now moves on to post-production which involves culling a couple of thousand photos down to usually around 4 or 5 which will be used in the final campaign. Colour grading and editing of the images is done by myself whilst any high-end retouching that’s required is sent off to professional retouched.
‘Once images are received and finalised, they’re then to be signed off and approved by the client ready for release.’
‘That is an example of a large shoot with a substantial team, whereas I often do the smaller stuff too, I love to test creative ideas with models, so that means getting in touch with an agency, to see which guys and girls they have available. These shoots are a two-way process meaning the model may want a certain look or image shot for their portfolio which I do in return for their time helping me with my creative idea. What I enjoy most about test shoots is the ability to try new ideas without the responsibility of delivering for a specific brand or campaign, it’s a chance to explore creative outlets!’
What are the pros of living and working in London and abroad?
‘I’m born and bred in Surrey, but my line of work has taken me into the capital. My scope of work doesn’t really exist on the same scale outside of London so the biggest pro has to be the accessibility to work but also the ability to travel to cities such as Tokyo and Cape Town and still be able to find work across the other side of the world.’
‘Back in 2018, myself and four influencers/models travelled to the Maldives to trial a proactive content creation idea. We paid for our flights, collaborated with two hotels over there and contacted brands we have all worked with previously to go out there with an array of items ranging from hats, shoes, bikini’s, dresses and more. There was a fee charged to each brand that wanted imagery and/or videography shot in the Maldives to ensure it was a profitable and successful trip. Something I would love to do again in the near future.’
‘I went to Los Angeles last September, this was my first time visiting so I used it as an opportunity to meet LA-based creatives, models and brands with the hope to fly back for work.
‘I’ve also been fortunate enough to travel to Paris Fashion Week, Milan Fashion Week and obviously London. Next on my list, is New York Fashion Week so I have to say the travel aspect is also a major pro for me.’
What was LA like as a working environment?
‘It’s a beautiful part of the world to be able to work in, I feel the work environment is about who you know, not what you know. You might say that applies with anywhere in the world but I felt that even more so with Los Angeles.’
‘I can see myself spending quite a bit of time over there in the future, the vibe of the city is incredible, nearly everyone I met over there seems to be in the creative industry, not sure if that’s because of the areas I went to or it’s just dominated by creatives.’
‘Word of mouth goes a long way in the creative industry’
‘Whilst I was there I managed to fit in five shoots over the two weeks – The light is beautiful, it’s a real golden light that I haven’t really experience before. Certainly helps those images look a little bit sweeter. The variety of shoot locations is endless, you’ve got all the beautiful beaches, Downtown LA, Hollywood Hills and a short drive to my favourite area, Malibu!’
You’ve worked with some big brands, how do these kinds of opportunities come about?
‘A big thank you to Instagram really- the number of connections I have made on Instagram early days really let me jump start my career being able to get in touch with industry leaders to seek any help or guidance. Since then it’s allowed me to get in touch with brand directors, PR’s, models, make up artists, hairstylists etc… whether it’s seeking potential new work or getting a team together for a shoot, Instagram is a great platform for it!’
‘Word of mouth goes a long way in the creative industry, it’s a small circle and everyone seems to know everyone so it’s paramount to keep that reputation high. My website is updated regularly ensuring any new potential clients are seeing my latest portfolio.’
‘Some opportunities such as a feature in Vogue, don’t necessarily come from personal activation, it can be a case of the publication picking up a visual story which they’ll write up about. Often brands will push it to the press which ensures the story gets picked up and featured.’
What helped you get to where you are today?
‘A creative skillset, friendly face and a chatterbox. I think it’s fair to say you make your own luck but you have to have a skill behind it. I’ve worked on my photo and video skills rigorously over the past couple of years, whether that’s visual ideas that I want to master or post-production work like retouching or colour grading so that’s certainly helped me get to where I am today.’
‘The last two sound cliché but I feel they have assisted me on my career path. A friendly face on set goes a long way, especially when it comes to directing the model and wider team. Nobody wants a dull or miserable person at work so keeping positive and happy is key.’
‘I’ve also been very proactive with how I go about meeting people and being on the lookout for new commissions. I’m always up for a coffee or a lunch when it comes to discussing shoot ideas, upcoming work or general meetings keeps it relaxed and informal which I believe works well in my field of work. It comes down to healthy working relationships at the end of the day, most of my clients that I shoot with regularly, I’m now lucky to call friends.’
Did you find it quite daunting to reach out to random people?
‘Initially, it was very daunting as it came with a lot of rejection. I was messaging people from a photo-based work account that had a few good photos on, nothing too special, with a simple request which was to shoot for the brand they worked for – with the amount of no’s I received, this taught me quickly that I was going the wrong way about it.’
‘I changed my ways and realised it was about building a true relationship with the brand representative instead of just steaming into their DM’s asking if I can shoot the next campaign. I now meet all new potential clients face to face for a coffee or a lunch to chat about the brand, requirements and how I’m able to achieve their needs.’
What have you got coming up?
‘I’ve got a few exciting projects in the pipeline including heading back to Los Angeles to carry out three commissions, a road trip to Scotland in a special Morgan car and a few exciting fashion campaigns being shot for Spring/Summer 2021 – Yes, we often shoot between 6 and 12 months before a campaign and collection is released.’
‘Something else I’ve been working on recently is organising a trip to a location house in the countryside, with a full creative team including photo and video, hairstylists, makeup artists and set designers to be able to approach brands for a content creation trip, similar to what I did in the Maldives but this time on home soil.’
‘Follow me @charliesawyerphotography to keep up to date on what I get up to!’