Tom Cullis



We got the chance to interview photog Tom Cullis! You may know his work from Timoteo, DNA Magazine and more. He’s done a lot of great work in the world of men’s underwear so we were thrilled that he agreed to the interview!

I have seen your work for the last few years, how did you get into Photography?

I got into photography like most people, you take a few lucky shots, you get excited, you get addicted you discover that it has become your lifestyle. I had the good fortune to assist and co shoot with a number of remarkable professional photographers over the years as well as training in college. Aside from learning a great deal from school and assisting there is no substitute for shooting every day and making mistakes to become proficient and a skilled professional.

What is your inspiration for your photography?

My career as a private practice Physical Therapist working on professional level athletes and stage performing artists was my inspiration. The aesthetic beauty of the athlete and the theatrical excitement of a stage actor was all the inspiration I needed. Watching hours of rehearsals backstage and how the theater creates emotion with stage lighting inspired much of the creative lighting I use on my shoots. All of my best teachers in photography had the same common thread of advice. He who controls the light controls the image.

You have your own style in photography (very clean and bright), did it progress naturally or did you develop it over the years?

I think that all photographers progress and adapt with time and practice. For my personal work I prefer fantasy, themes and dramatic lighting to create a story within an image. My peers have frequently said that I am more of a storyteller than a photographer and I take that as a great compliment. When a client is requesting a product shoot I try to put a story into the shoot if possible to make it more interesting to the viewer. In the case of shooting underwear, there is a significant amount of money and time involved in launching a new line and it is critical the photographer puts the product in the spotlight. I know that some ads will go for a very artistic feel or heavy shadows or props but if you cant see the label, contrast stitching, shape of the pouch, unique waist band or correct color or texture of the fabric you have not provided vital information. Over the years I have photographed so many remarkable models for underwear and swim product shots. Fans of my work have the impression that an underwear shoot with a sexy model is an erotic adventure. In reality these poor guys are sweating it to keep things pulled together (breathing, flexing, relaxing the face, balancing on an uneven surface, keeping the junk in place and making it all look fun and effortless). The photographer is looking at exposure, wrinkles in the garment and the model, angles, light, expression, waist band placement, body language, hair, background, contrast). When it is all perfect you take the shot, change and do it all over again. I have much better suggestions for my fans if they want a job with an erotic experience for sure.

Over the last few years you have shot some really great pics for Timoteo, how did that relationship come about?

I have known Timoteo for many many years. He is first a dear friend and secondly a brilliant designer. As a secret that I
might share, Timoteo can whip out an outstanding wedding gown for his niece, or prom dress for his cousin with amazing skill. That in my opinion is true talent. Timoteo was my major influence and teacher in learning what a client needs when your are doing a product shot. I have enjoyed years of really fun projects with Timoteo as well as his journey through so many designs and colors. You can’t get that experience in a classroom.

It is also important for designers to use a variety of photographers to keep the line looking fresh, different and interesting. Too much of any one model or photographer is boring. I am a firm believer in variety and taking chances. As discussed earlier, a designer like Timoteo has to make sure that every new model and photographer he works with understands his style and produces a shot that sells and is not below the high standard he has established.

Are we going to see more pictures from this relationship soon?

I always get excited when Timoteo sneaks me a new sample (underwear, swim, fitness, jeans, shirts). I never know what color shape, size or concept is next. I place a high value in his trust in me to produce an image that he feels proud to post for his advertising campaigns. Remember designers frequently work insane hours to make this clothing line happen. A bad photo shoot is a big disappointment.

Do you have any favorite models you enjoy working with?

I have my favorite model list, which wild horses could not drag out of me for this interview. It would take a whole new interview to discuss the unusual, unexpected, didn’t see that coming, hilarious things that have happened on an underwear product shoot. I was personally responsible for many of the unexpected experiences due to my bad habit of flirting with the unknown, slippery wet things, public places and lack of respect for waves, wind and sun. Aside from that it was all good most of the time. I let my fans pick the favorite model for me.

What has been your favorite shoot you have done?

If I had to single out my favorite shoot it would be with one of a series of experiences with the never boring Ben Godfre and things always got worse if Timoteo was present because we are a very dangerous combination to put in one location. Ben attended college here in Newport and was available to shoot in between work and homework for test concepts. Water, wind, mud, sand, desert, ocean, domestic, international. Ben is not afraid of anything. Timoteo is just as bad and I can’t resist that opportunity. I will be releasing that not fit for prime time work in an upcoming book. I don’t know if it was our best commercial work but it was really fun! I regret we did not videotape those escapades.

Do you have any advice for up and coming photographers?

My advice for up coming photographers? Make sure you are passionate about doing this kind of work. You have to be willing to shoot the not fun stuff sometimes to pay for the fun times. Don’t get into a comfortable rut and shoot the same thing you have perfected, go places that will push you to grow. Be realistic about how to be a good businessman. It is fun to take pictures for a hobby but if you are going to do it as a business you need a plan for success. Research photographers in your spare time. Use to cell phone to record concepts in your day-to-day travels so they are already in your mind when you find that perfect model. Stay humble, appreciative and positive and you will never lack for work.

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