Client Stories: A talk with Damien Lovegrove, a portrait photographer, and entrepreneur
Damien Lovegrove can be considered one of the most influential contemporary photographers, having boosted his photography work with his experience as a cameraman at BBC. He has also successfully turned his passion into a business. We had a talk with him about his career and unlicensed image use.
Damien Lovegrove is most famous for his beautiful female portraits, where women and light are in perfect synchrony. Besides his artistic nature, Damien is also an entrepreneur: he runs his own company, gives photography workshops worldwide, and writes, releasing e-books passing on his skills and techniques.
Before becoming a photographer, Damien spent 14 years as a cameraman and lighting director at BBC. He left everything behind to become a full-time photographer, shooting weddings and portraits for the past 20 years.
Lovegrove joined RYDE in January 2020. We talked to him about his career going from cameraman to full-time photographer, his opinion on digitalization, and his experience with unlicensed image use.
Before being a full-time photographer, you also worked as a cameraman for BBC. How did you first discover your passion for imagery, and why you decided to switch from working with videos to working fully with photography?
My mum was an art teacher, and my father, an architect, so art and design ran in our household. At an early age, I was taught about light, tone, color, and innovation. It was this knowledge that gave me an edge in school in the art and design classes. I have found in life that I love to do the things that I’m good at. The rewards are so substantial they drive my motivation to carry on. My advice to anyone starting is to work hard early on. Get good as quickly as you can. You will then have the good feedback required to maintain your interest. You can then work on becoming great over time.
My BBC career was 14 years in total. For the first three years, I was training to be a cameraman. For the next three years, I was preparing to become a lighting cameraman. Then I trained to become a lighting director, but I got made redundant when the BBC Bristol studio closed. I instantly got a job with BBC News and spent the next three years ticking over but uninspired. There is no room for art in the news. I left in 1998 to become a self-employed stills photographer. There was no decent money to be made in video production at that time, and there was a lot of money and personal rewards to be had in retail photography (Weddings and portraits).
How does your experience as a cameraman and lighting director at BBC influences your work as a photographer? What aspects of the former job do you bring to your current one?
I used the same principles to shoot weddings as I had done making documentaries, dramas, and tv films. I shot everything at the same aperture to maintain the consistency of the Lovegrove Weddings look. I chose f/4 for various reasons and every shot that my wife Julie and I took for ten years was with the lens at f/4. A Lovegrove wedding album had establishing shots followed by close-ups, and each page turn led to a different storyline. We had two storylines running in parallel for the first half of the day — one with the guys and one with the girls. We shot everything into the light, and when the light wasn’t fantastic, we made our own.
You are famous for female portraits, and you have also traveled the world as a wedding photographer. How did you discover your preferred subjects — what makes your heart beat?
I was perhaps more famous as a wedding photographer from 2000 to 2010. Apart from stock library submissions, weddings were all that I shot at that time. We then went on to shoot family portraits for our wedding clients. I loved weddings because everyone was dressed up and looked fabulous. I had permission to shoot everyone and everywhere that I wanted, and I was given free rein to get it done. Weddings were intense shoots with a real buzz.
After weddings, I chose to teach photography. I had had a spell at the BBC training center teaching lighting in the 1990s, so I knew I could do it. Running workshops mid-week meant I needed to employ models as non-model people were busy at work. After many hundreds of workshops, I started producing training videos, and these have been bought and viewed many thousands of times, and in the case of YouTube, millions of times.
The shots taken on workshops and the making of the videos are the ones you see on the internet now associated with my name, which is why I’m known to photograph models. I never publish my client’s work online or in books. That is why one of the reasons I get top clients.
Now that I’m in semi-retirement (no workshops due to Covid), I have been shooting for myself and working towards my third book called ‘The gold dress.’
How do you perceive the impact (creatively and practically) of digitalization in photography?
In the first two years of the digital boom, 2001 and 2002, printing onto RA4 paper was a nightmare. Laser labs were often low quality, and inkjet was in its infancy. I went fully digital at the start of 2001, having shot film since 1984.
Until 2005, digital cameras were still too expensive for the public, and film becoming obsolete, so many parents didn’t properly document their families’ growth.
From 2006 the gap between the capabilities of professional kit and domestic kit closed right up to the point that a smartphone today is perfectly acceptable for 90% of photography needs. The differentiators that separate pro photographers from non-pros are their vision and creativity.
Have you ever experienced unlicensed image use? When was the first time, and how did you tackle it?
Yes, all the time. My videos are my biggest problem. I’ve given up sending takedown notices as it was making me depressed. I have some still shots stolen from time to time, and I use RYDE to keep across the revenue recovery for me.
Have you been finding it easier to deal with copyright-related issues since you have been with RYDE?
Yes, for stills. I’m just waiting for them to look after my video content.
How do you think the image industry will change in the future?
The video will dominate creative content, and stills will play a supporting role.
What tips would you give to someone who wants to switch to being a full-time photographer?
Get paid at the time of doing the shoot. Don’t give companies a month of credit, and don’t rely on royalties as a crucial part of your income stream. Since 2001, I’ve been paid in advance or on the shooting day. Removing the need to ask for payment has taken a big pressure off me.
Your creative vision is being bought, and your personality on the shoot, so keep that in mind.
#14Answers with Damien Lovegrove
We played the word association game with Damien, in which he had to answer with what first comes to his mind. Check it out.
A moment in time captured.
A series of stills with an added time dimension and direction.
3. A motto
If it looks good, it is good.
4. A place
Italy. If I could speak the language, I’d be living there now.
5. A food
Marmite on toast. Simply the best thing ever.
6. A movie
I don’t watch movies, so I don’t have a favorite.
7. A song
Walk on the wild side by Lou Reed.
8. A book
Concrete by William Hall and Leonard Koren published by Phaidon.
Living in the sun.
A necessary evil
Stimulus for the mind.
The currency of my life
13. Perfect Photoshoot
Laughter, fun, energy, harmony, results.