UNB Photographer Profile featuring Paul Smollen Photography
Sydney based photographer Paul Smollen took the time to talk with UNB in regards to his diverse portfolio, his love for the arts, and how he really takes time and effort into his models and labels to produce the perfect campaign.
UNB Kyle: Thanks for talking to us today and showing us quite an impressive collection of underwear and swimwear shots. From the beginning, what was your first photo shoot?
Paul: I had been photographing landscapes and florals for a long time and showing my work in galleries, while doing this I was always pestered by my friends to take their images and always resisted. Until one day I agreed to a close friend but only if I could put him in a full suit in a bath tub, the whole shoot was a disaster but it changed my interest to photographing people.
Kyle: It looks like the pestering finally paid off though. Sure I can see how your first personal shoot could be a disaster but look what it helped turn you into. What made you want to pursue photography?
Paul: I had studied it at school and was allowed to take one humanities subject from the sciences subject I studied so I choose art and major in photography during high school. I found I was better with a camera then I was at drawing and pottery. But I realized very early on that the camera captures a moment that you can then look at and study that moment for the rest of your life. Our eyes see things fleetingly and they are gone, moments can never be recreated.
Kyle: That is a powerful and true comment. If those moments are captured on camera, they can stay with you a lifetime in reflection whenever you see them. Do you have a breakthrough moment in your career?
Paul: I don’t know whether I have had my big break through moment. I have been lucky and been featured on several covers and well supported by several labels such as Marcuse and online versions of magazine like DNA and Beautiful. However I think I am still waiting for my Annie Leibovitz/John Lennon moment.
Kyle: Well, when that moment comes, we will definitely feature it! Which shoot has been your favorite?
Paul: This is like asking which of your children are your favorites! This is tough as I would hate to offend any model I have ever worked with. I love all my shoots from the challenging headbutting ones (which are not many) to the ones that the model and myself have been so in sync they are effortless. I love working with so many different people as everyone brings something different to the shoot. They are incredibly personal things photo shoots and to be so intimately connected to a model or subject for a short period of time leaves a lasting impression on me. I learn so much on each shoot that they have helped me grow and develop.
Kyle: Haha yes that is like choosing your favorite child! Maybe I should reword that for the future. But I like your answer. Each is special and unique in its own way and leaves something for you. Connection is key I am sure to a great shoot. How about a challenging shoot for one reason or another?
Paul: I am very lucky that I have a reputation for being an easy going relaxed photographer (well I hope I do lol) so the challenging shoots have been physical ones. The ones that stands out the most to date was on a little remote jungle island off Singapore and one of my favorite places to photograph. The models were just being eaten alive by mosquitoes every place we went. The bug spray would last only seconds become the swarm would be back and I kept thinking “tropical strength bug spray my arse.” The boys had to endure a lot of bug spray and bites but the images turned out as some of my best. I was just so worried the models would get Dengue Fever or Malaria, especially after one of the boys got bit through the swimwear on a very personal part of the body we didn’t spray. Also one of the models fell over only two days before the shoot and got a concussion and was in the hospital. He discharged himself out of hospital early just to do that shoot.
Kyle: That is dedication on his part! Wow what a day of shooting that must have been. I am sure everyone was exhausted just from the external environment. Any embarrassing or funny photo shoot moments to share?
Paul: I was doing a shoot in the center of Sydney outside our cathedral in a fountain when a tour bus of Japanese tourists pulled up and everyone got out and started taking pics of us. I am thinking having a model fully clothed under a fountain waterfall is something you don’t see every day.
Kyle: Thank goodness he was clothed and not in underwear or less! Imagine that response! What are some tips you give models in order to be comfortable in front of the camera whether as a new model or for more intimate/revealing shoots?
Paul: A level of trust and rapport needs to be established between a model and photographer so that these images can be produced and in a way that they become art and not porn. I always suggest meeting the model on several occasions and building up to the more imitate shoot rather than do them straight off. I always try and show the model a mock up of what I am aiming for as it is sometimes difficult for the photographer to display or explain a concept. That’s where the level of trust comes into it, the model must trust where the photographer will go. Getting any model comfortable I never ask them to pose, I have conversations with models as I photograph and I photograph while talking to them. I ask models to think of events in their lives and we talk about them; that way they are really showing that emotion rather than acting it.
Kyle: That sounds like a great approach to your shoots. I really like that. All of the work you do beforehand as well as the conversations during the shoot is incredible. I can see why models trust you and you produce such great work. Are there any brands or models you would like to work with that you have not worked with yet?
Paul: There are so many labels and models I would love to work with but on the underwear and swimwear side I would love to work with Andrew Christian, he does follow me but still, Andrew if you are reading this….please please please lol. Model wise I would love to work with British model Stuart Reardon and also Australian model Kayne Lawton, both former rugby players who have amazing looks.
Kyle: How do you prepare creatively and determine your environment for the shoot? Is it determined by you, the brand, or a collaboration.
Paul: I am very lucky in that the labels I have worked with so far give me complete artistic license to create a look. I do collaborate closely with them at the beginning to get an understanding of the direction the label is headed in and what they want to project. I work hard in pre-production in choosing the right model and location to the label and making sure they either compliment or juxtapose the label. Complimenting a model, location and label is the most difficult to make it look seamless and effortless so it all blends into one image. Juxtaposing is more fun though in choosing something completely opposite so that the viewer focuses on the image because it is so distinctly different and unexpected.
Kyle: Just like with making the models comfortable, you do so much pre-production work for the labels it is very appealing. What are your interests away from the camera?
Paul: I love looking at all forms of art to get inspiration so I go to galleries a lot and view virtual galleries from the major museums. I am a tragic horror fan and really bad horror movie fan in fact the cheaper the better, I love how bad Sharknado 1 & 2 are. I love traveling and not only to new countries and cites but exploring new parts of Sydney and finding places where I can shoot.
Kyle: I guess those cheap horror movies haven’t made it into your inspiration for shoots yet! Any tips for people wanting to get into photography?
Paul: Follow your heart and if it’s what you want to do then do it, but realize it’s a really tough profession and industry to crack. But just keep promoting your work and yourself, use social media to your advantage and push for jobs, don’t sit back thinking people will find you.
Kyle: Definitely need a hard exterior and “go get them” attitude. Social media does allow so many opportunities to promote work where others didn’t have that before. Finally, what are some of the things that you feel set you apart from other photographers in the market?
Paul: I think it’s because I’m very cheap to use lol, but I am known for a more relaxed style and using different angles. I like referencing others work but build upon it to create my own. A lot of people recognize my work as they say it has a distinct style and light. I think coming from different background of photography and doing a lot of art work first has helped me look at things differently and not take the same approach many other photographers use.
Check out more of Paul Smollen Photography below:
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