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Picture This: Matthew Joseph on the Adventure of Locations



NM Talent photographer, Matthew Joseph, breaks down one of his favourite brand shoots, revealing the story behind it

Picture This: Matthew Joseph on the Adventure of Locations

Matthew Joseph is an award-winning people-focussed advertising photographer & director. He is a visual storyteller who uses his years of experience behind the camera in a huge variety of situations, cultures and climates across the world, to help connect global brands with their local audience through stills and motion. Whether on a large set full of complex lighting, cast and crew in California, or in a remote Ethiopian village with just his camera, subject and a language barrier; his keen eye for detail and an understanding of human emotion enables him to document authenticity time and time again. He is proud to have been included in Lürzer’s Archive ‘Top 200 Ad Photographers Worldwide’ for 2017/18 and 2019/20 and 2021/22. Matthew is based in London but gladly follows his work around the world.

LBB> What was it about the initial brief that intrigued you? 

Matthew> The brief for this shoot was to capture a new range of clothing for The North Face brand. I’m an outdoors guy, The North Face is an iconic global brand, so for me there was no second thought about doing the shoot. However, it wasn’t a typical TNF shoot, this new clothing line was more leisure-wear than technical mountain-wear, so it was something a bit different.

LBB> What were your first steps when it came to breaking down the brief and formulating your ideas? 

Matthew> The beauty of this whole job was that the client and the agency had put together some amazing casting and location options. I say this over and over again to clients - invest in the right cast (this doesn’t always mean the best-looking) and the right location and if you have a photographer or director worth their salt then the rest should fall into place. Trusting the photographer in this process is also of utmost importance, and luckily, that’s what happened here. We were allowing for an element of freedom and creativity within the parameters that were set. Those parameters were the specific clothes and products which had to be worn and featured in each shot, the physical location and props, and the light (we were doing a lot of sunrise and sunset scenes). 

As a lifestyle photographer working in the advertising world, this was a dream for me. Set the theatre, and trust me. I’m all for being a technical problem-solver with my camera - and regularly that’s part of the job - but to get the ‘magic’, you need to let people off the leash.

LBB> And what were the ideas and influences that you wanted to bring together? 

Matthew> This campaign was aimed at a certain market: young go-getters, insta-friendly moments, freedom, fun and so on. We had the incredible island of Tenerife to play with and some amazing faces, so together these things (along with the brand of The North Face) influence the look and feel. As soon as I knew there was a vintage Westfalia hired as a prop, it set a certain tone. Perhaps you’d call this ‘classic lifestyle’ I don’t know! It was certainly; friends away, having fun together, on an adventure, and this adventure was made all the better for having The North Face products at their disposal. 

LBB> What were the interesting or challenging conversations that you had with the art director or client? 

Matthew> It was my first time working with the brand and the agency, so that always presents challenges. Lots of unknowns, lots of trust to build and lots of figuring out people’s roles, people’s sway and power when discussing things like sign-off on shots. The other big challenge was shooting sunset and sunrise consecutively. This meant very little sleep. Fortunately, the beauty of shooting in Tenerife is that you can guarantee seeing the sun as it’s so easy to climb above the clouds by road. This is totally unique. To be on the coast under the clouds then to suddenly be able to drive up high to be able to see the sun set or rise! The problem was the cold, this was the biggest challenge of the whole shoot: making cold people not look cold. 

LBB> Who were the key members of the team and what did they bring? 

Matthew> We had one client on set (ideal), around five agency - all getting their hands dirty and nicely stuck in, local production, hair, makeup and so on, no stylist (as requested by the agency due to the product). And on my team we went light - just myself, and two assistants, one playing the digi-tech role. This was always going to be about natural light and bouncing, scrimming, shaping, and using it. So, although I took a few small lights as backup they were not used. This meant the crew could be small and nimble. It’s a really big part of the way I personally like to work, as it creates a void for spontaneity and this is where the key moments are often captured. I prefer this to being locked off on a tripod trying to ‘create’ authentic spontaneity from scratch.

LBB> How do you generally like to work with your cast/subjects to get the best out of them? 

Matthew> As we had all travelled to an island in the Atlantic Ocean to shoot this campaign, we were all on an adventure, of sorts, together. So that created a nice vibe from the get-go. Most had come from the UK but one of the talents had flown in from Brazil. So we hadn’t met prior to the shoot, we were there to have fun and to get the job done well, but that doesn’t always happen naturally. We had to start shooting in a really short space of time after landing, meeting each other and prepping, so it was a bit of an experiment and the first shot was really when I first got to know my cast. It’s one thing remembering names, but then you have to quickly spot character traits, try and slowly win them over so that ultimately it’s not a ‘them and us’ mentality. I wanted the cast to accept me as one of them. I didn’t want a divide to be apparent to the viewer - from the subject, to my lens, to my eye. For this style of photography to work it needed to look like the photographer was one of the friends on this epic trip together, as the final campaign images were travel snapshots. That was the ideal outcome so I worked backwards from there. 

When there are grumpy issues, tiredness issues, food and catering issues, scheduling issues and so on, I need to try and help sort them out with production, but I also need to appear to be on their side within it all. It’s quite a fine balance to achieve and a game to play, that makes me sound two-faced, it’s not like that. I genuinely want to get on with everyone and make friends as I work. I also want everyone to have a good time. Sometimes this means I just put my camera down and stop shooting (even if it’s against the client’s wishes). When I do that, something changes, people relax, they have a drink, sit down and things become calm and more natural. I’m always taking these breaks with one eye open so I’m ready to silently ask my digi for the camera, and to move with me as I approach the scene, in an attempt to find that fresh authenticity. You have to give people space, you can’t expect them to continue performing all day. It’s a bit like a safari!

Initially it’s forced, that’s always the case, I accept that. However, if you create the right environment, play the long game and treat people well, those moments will become more natural and authentic as time goes on.

LBB> And on this occasion, what was it you were really keen to capture in your subject/cast? What was the chemistry like on set and how did you work with them? 

Matthew> This shot was not planned, but that’s probably true of most commercial work that I am proud of. It’s one of the biggest challenges of my job - setting the scene, establishing the boundaries of the theatre (“park the van over there, wear this, set up that table and chairs, no no, face it that way, that’s it, ok everyone clear set I want to get in there…..”). And then what? It’s all down to me. What I see, which angle I approach, how long I wait for the moment versus asking the talent to do something specific for the camera. So honestly, I can’t remember what led up to this image being taken but I can tell you this; it was one of the final images of the whole shoot. And that really sums it up - these girls had become friends, in the trenches together, cold and tired together, performing together. Yes, they know what I may want and what looks good on camera, but also this was a genuine moment where they let go. I spotted it, they played up to it getting cosy in the sleeping bag and I pounced! 

The light was incredible, the wind and cold caused havoc, which I always like in my work and they both looked incredible. But it was that genuine moment of a new-found on-set friendship which I really wanted to capture. I’m not even sure if this image was used for anything in the end, but what I love about it is that when you look, you can see a North Face logo - but the image is about the moment, which the product provides: warmth and comfort in the elements. It’s not about holding a product perfectly in a certain way to best show off the logo! This to me is commercial lifestyle photography. 

LBB> Tech specs - what did you shoot on? Any interesting elements in the lighting or lenses that we should know about? 

Matthew> This image would have been captured in the rawest of ways; just me and my camera. It would have been shot on a Nikon D850 (the best DSLR ever made, in my opinion) as this project was before I switched to mirrorless, and I only shoot on prime lenses, predominantly 35mm and 50mm. This was captured at 35mm, it’s a focal length I’ve always loved for shooting lifestyle photography, meaning I can ’invade’ the scene and really take the viewer into the moment.

LBB> When considering the final shot, why this particular shot over any of the other takes? 

Matthew> There’s something about this one image that ticks all the boxes for me. The composition, the eyes, the expressions between both of the talents and how they play off each other. There were other options but for me, this just worked. Sometimes you just feel it. 

LBB> What is it about this project that stays with you? What made it different from anything else you’ve worked on? 

Matthew> The adventure, the constant moving, chasing light on a beautiful island with a fun cast and crew. The fact that I sprained my ankle twenty minutes before our first shot on day one, and then how I had to cope with that! Seeing the images get used so well online and in-store worldwide. And ultimately, it’s the images I make, the work I create. They’re now in the archive, logged away in my memory. I wish that I could shoot this kind of project every week. 

Find out more about Matthew here.


Agency / Creative
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NM Productions, Tue, 20 Dec 2022 10:35:00 GMT