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Strong and simple: creating powerful portraits

5 years ago

Nick Dolding is an advertising photographer who has been shooting in London for over 30 years. He started as an assistant to a still life photographer in Soho in the early 1980s and maintains his studio in East London. 

He recalls: "I already had the passion but needed the technical skills which I absorbed at every opportunity. Fast forward 4 years and I had my first studio shooting mainly still life. In 2000 I moved my studio to Shoreditch and began shooting more people. East London was a cultural desert back then but has developed into a vibrant and creative community. It now has all the inspiration I could ask for to continue developing my photography." 

Nick's image, 'Emile', has won the Open Portraiture category in the 2018 Sony World Photography Awards, and will go on display at the 2018 Exhibition from 20th April - 6th May


Hi Nick. Thanks for chatting with us. Please introduce yourself and your photography 

I've been in the advertising industry for over 30 years. After 10 years of predominantly still life I started shooting more and more people, I needed a bit more interaction with my subjects. I've shot for lots of major brands in the studio and on location but I'm still hungry and have never lost the bug. The success in the competition has just spurred me on again not that I really needed that much encouragement, it's just fantastic to be appreciated and in such great company.


Why photography? What does the medium mean to you? How did you get started? 

I always wanted to use my hands, I loved all types of art and took pictures from a fairly early age but nothing too serious. Then whilst studying business I met a stylist and my eyes were opened to the professional world of photography and its possibilities. I knew straight away that this was for me. Being creative, making pictures, meeting people and making a living... what more could I want?

Tell us more about your successful image - what's the story behind this? Did you achieve what you set out to when the shoot started? 

The image was created on the back of a commissioned shoot, the set was built and styled along with the model, Emile, and various scenarios were covered off for the client. However, when I saw him on the set I just knew that I had to get a portrait for myself. It was shot fairly quickly, I knew how I wanted him to hold himself, somewhat stuck up and "hoity", hands together as if he was above everyone. Unusually for digital, it was shot in 4 frames.


How do you approach each shoot and decide how the final image will look? 

This depends on time and what it's to be used for, whether it's a commission or a personal project. All portraits are different. Is it selling something, what is it trying to convey, is it simply about the individual? I've normally got quite a good idea of how I'd like the finished shot to look like, but this is definitely isn't set in stone. I often work as a team and it can be a collaborative effort.


In your opinion, what makes a great portrait - one that really stands out from the crowd? 

The character/person obviously has a massive to amount to do with it, their expression, the look in the eyes, the way they are holding themselves. In Emile's case, the styling was so strong along with the set that it didn’t need over complicating with fancy lighting. I think it's strong and yet simple. 

My latest project involves artists in very busy studio settings so I have spotlit the sitter in order to draw the viewers attention in. Then if they wish they can discover other details in the picture.

What's next for you? 

Being shortlisted has already spurred me on to shoot more projects and try new portraits and lighting techniques. If it exposes me to a wider audience especially editorial I would be very happy. As long as I'm meeting and shooting interesting people I'm happy.