An unfortunate accident led Tom Wootton to pick up a camera and start a favoured hobby. Eventually that lead to a lucrative business photographing pole dancers and creating stunning works of art. We chat to the photographer to find out what inspires him and how difficult it really is to make a stand out business when with apps like Instagram, “everyone” counts themselves as a “photography expert.”
What got you started in photography?
I broke my leg playing rugby and over the 3 month period that I had lying around I decided to invest in a camera. I practiced all the settings on various objects around the room as I was pretty much bed ridden! When I could walk again I started going out into the streets practicing and found a real love for all the tricks that you could perform on the camera. It really was that simple and I’ve been photographing more and more ever since, honing in my skills and developing a niche for where I would like my photography to take me.
It’s becoming quite popular to get a DSLR camera, what made you decide to invest particularly in that rather than just taking a good snap on your smart phone?
It was the ability to do more tricks with the light, as a couple of examples in terms of night time photography I could get a better range of shots and with objects I could blur the background whilst making the immediate foreground crisp and in focus. It was just that in general the variety with a professional camera is much richer than with even some of the best smart phones or bridging cameras.
How did you progress from photography being just a hobby to making more of a business out of it?
I did a whole heap of different things from going out into the streets and doing voyeur photography at the Notting Hill Carnival, to the streets of Twickenham during rugby matches. I wanted to get used to as many different situations as possible and try and capture life photography as it happened in front of me rather than just trying to set up the shot perfectly. That led me to being comfortable in terms of getting natural shots and capturing the moment, which I still really enjoy doing. I then took an apprenticeship with a wedding photographer and learnt a huge amount about structuring shoots and planning key events in a short time frame. Just as a side track I took the street/life photography and tried to mix it up and make something a little more commercial with lego figurines re-enacting some of those life moments. It was then, and the result of those shots working so well that I started thinking more about the business opportunities within photography and really focused towards that goal.
You’ve now really centered your business on silhouette photography, can you tell us a little more about that?
The interesting thing about silhouettes is the shape that they make, and just by accidentally discovering the variety you can capture when it’s as simple as the sun just reflecting behind a person was fascinating to me. So I looked at how I could push this idea more and felt that the best shapes came from dancers. With dance, particularly professional dancers they can push (and hold) shapes that are more extreme than the normal person, and when captured at the right angle you get a beautiful shot. What I like in particular is not making a stenciled picture, but having just enough light to see subtle muscle contours and detail that when observed closer, demonstrates the skill involved to achieve this particular shape. I suppose it’s an appreciation of what the subject can do creatively in front of me and what I can do creatively with a camera.
And your key focus at the moment is pole dancers, pole fitness…
Yes, well there was an opportunity to look at a lot of different dance styles as well as gymnastics, but actually, there are so many shapes that you can pull and hold with pole dancing or fitness that its actually an obvious choice for silhouette photography as the results are fantastic.
How have people reacted to this particular subject matter?
I actually think that this is an area that deserves more credit than it gets. There is still a lot of connotations around pole dancing only being associated with Gentlemen’s Clubs, when actually the skill involved and the benefits of doing pole fitness is really impressive. There should be a lot more appreciation of the strength these girls possess to carry out this dance discipline. Taking it further afield we’re now seeing more women and men using a pole in other performance areas such as circus, and the skills they are showing off in that arena is almost mind blowing! That is the next step for me to capture with my photography, but for now, photographing pole fitness is a great way of showing the women who take this up as an exercise class just how much they have improved and what they can achieve.
Finally, what advice would you give to anyone wanting to move into photography and potentially professional photography?
I think you should definitely always pick up a camera and give it a try. You may surprise yourself with what you can achieve, that’s what I found, and it inspired me to carry on and build my interest and understanding of the camera and skills in photography. I think you should also look to find a niche and really develop that, then in terms of stepping into the world of business, one golden rule is that its very easy for people to say that they like your photos, but not so easy to get them to buy your photos… there is a lot of competition out there with smart phones and bridging cameras, but if you’re truly trying to make a business then find yourself a key area to focus on and just keep building your understanding and skills to make sure you stand out amongst the rest.
You can find out more about Tom’s photography on his website: www.mysilhouettephotography.com
You can also follow him on Twitter @tomwwootton1985