“Less words, more imagery” – Matt Easton

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In this episode of the Fashion Photography Podcast
we meet Matt Easton (instagram: matteaston)

 Matt will help us to ease the anxiety before photo shoots.
He’s giving us his advice on what to do if you are stuck in a city without fashion,
and also answers the question – why so many photographers are control freaks?

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Matt Easton:
Hello, my name is Matthew Joe Eastern known as Matt Easton in the photography world, I’m a photographer. I predominantly base my work within fashion, celebrity in the beauty side of photography. London is where I was born. And it’s where I’ve worked the majority of my life. And the last three years, I made the decision to move to New York. I wanted new adventure and I wanted to be inspired.

Virginia Y:
That sounds amazing. But there you’ll have to find your new team! 

Matt Easton:
Correct! I left London after I had assisted. So I felt like it was a natural point in my career where I needed to be inspired and to freshen things up to challenge myself. That was worth the challenge of finding a new team, just because you need to put yourself outside of your comfort zone and constantly chalange yourself on a daily basis. And I didn’t think I would have done that in London. I’m in London now I come back to London for clients and for work, so I think I have the best of both worlds.

Virginia Y:
It sounds like you’re not afraid at all!

Matt Easton:
No! I think you can’t show fear in this industry. I think it’s one of the problems – people are scared of showing their fear. 

Virginia Y:
Oh, that’s very interesting topic! Have you ever been afraid during a photo shoot?

Matt Easton:
I always suffer with nerves.
I’m never afraid while I’m on set, but I always have butterflies or a fear of nerves the night before.
I’m a control freak.
So the night before going over in your head, making sure you’ve got the right equipment preps, the right references preps, making sure that the models flight has arrived on time, there’s gonna be no holdups there’s always an element of uncontrollable change, which can happen and I think that’s what makes me scared or nervous the night before to shoot. But once everybody’s there, once we’ve got the light set up, there’s no fair at all. It’s all fun. We’re very privileged to be doing what we’re doing. So we should all do with a smile on our face and at the end of the day, the goal is to make beautiful images.

Virginia Y:
It’s very funny!
We should probably rename the show to “The control freak”, since most of the photographers are control freaks, including me…

Matt Easton:
Yeah, I’m sure! We’re creatures of nature. And I think we’re all control freaks. I think every artist is a control freak.

Virginia Y:
In addition to that, at the end of the project, everything is coming out of your name. So it has to be perfect. I think this is adding up to this control freak situation.

Matt Easton:
Yeah, it’s true. At the very beginning, I wasn’t necessarily easy with that, because it’s a collaboration. You choose a stylist because you trust their style. You choose the hair and makeup because you trust their hair and their makeup. They are the talented ones. I’m the talented one with light and with camera. But at the end of the day, you’re right. It all falls under the photographer’s head.

Virginia Y:
But it’s for a reason. We’re control freaks for a reason!

Matt Easton:
Yeah, we are. I like collaborating. I’m a massive collaborator. But the photographer is the one that has the contract sign. The photographer is the one that has that communication with the client and the pressure, knowing what needs to be delivered. It’s the photographer’s responsibility to make sure that the model was comfortable, safe, beautiful. It’s all down to the photographer, even though is a collaboration. So it’s a tricky one. But that’s where a lot of pressure comes from. Regardless of the amount of people in the room, the amount of people that can pull this shoot together that have the responsibility the buck kind of lies and stops with the photographer at the end.

Virginia Y:
Oh, yeah, I definitely agree to that! It’s very interesting for me that you said that you’re a massive collaborator, because I’m also very up this. Maybe in the past, you had a collaboration, that you are regretting. We can actually learn something from everything, maybe we can learn even from your experience.

Matt Easton:
There’s nothing that I regret doing. I think there’s things I’m less proud of, or I don’t like the final outcome as much as other projects.  

Virginia Y:
I think we all have projects like this… 

Matt Easton:
Yeah, I don’t think I regret anything. When you’re young. And when you’re starting out a lot of editorials, a lot of magazines will force you to work with their style director, their fashion editor, and these people aren’t necessarily people that you would choose to work within your own creative work. Or if you’ve been given the freedom to work with someone they aren’t. There’s a big difference between stylists. They can create something and a stylist that can see a look on a runway and pull that look and just put it on a model. As a fashion photographer -the main word is FASHION and I think that’s why stylists are so important to shoots.  I know what I can do with light and I trust hair, and I trust makeup. Something that can be a major contributor to the direction of where the shoot will go is the stylist so I think there are some magazines where I’ve worked with stylists that aren’t necessarily as creative as I would have liked them to have been. Or maybe there’s been a miscommunication. Maybe I’ve missed communicated with them what I was looking for. But I think it’s important to make sure you communicate and get a really good stylist because therefore you go the ingredients that make a shoot successful.

Virginia Y:
I’m very happy you brought up this topic, actually, because I was just having a conversation like this a few days ago about those small countries where the fashion is not the main thing in the country. But people still want to be fashion photographers, do you have any advice for those people that are stuck into see without fashion?

Matt Easton:
My best experience was assisting. And I think in today’s age, where social media, millennials, Instagram… People can build up an illusion of themselves, which isn’t necessarily realistic to where they are in their career, or where they want to go in their career. And I would recommend everybody should take the opportunity to to assist somebody. Because I think that’s how you learn. And you don’t just learn about how to take a picture, you don’t have to talk to clients, you learn how to talk to art directors, you learn how to set up a studio, so that models feel safe, that she feels comfortable that there’s not 20 eyes looking at her as if she’s an animal in a zoo, you have to prioritize things. And I think these are things that I took for granted when I was assistant, but they are what have had helped me develop quickly as a young photographer. It’s not just how to take a picture, but it’s how to talk to everybody around you how to work with everybody around you and get the best with everybody around you. That is giving you a chance because you’re working with people that are more experienced than you. If you’re in a smaller European country or if you’re in the middle of America, where there isn’t an opportunity, be adventurous and don’t be scared, I would move to a city where photography is a bigger industry. And I would try and assist somebody that you know,inspires you, that you’re going to learn from. And that will give you all the tools you need to then go down your own yellow brick road.

Virginia Y:
I’ve also been assisting actually, I think it’s very, very important, exactly, as you said, to see someone that you just like as person AND also they work.

Matt Easton:
Yeah, correct. Because depending on who you assist, you spend it all the time with that person. You travel the world, you’re sharing flights, you’re going to the studio, collecting their equipment, prepping their equipment, there has to be a level of trust. And if you don’t trust or respect that person, you will struggle to do some of the things that that job entails. This is not a nine to five job. The rules are bent a little bit in terms of hours. And it’s not an easy job. But it’s an exciting job. But if you don’t respect that person, you’re not going to enjoy your time with them. And I think it’s very important that you enjoy your time assistant, because otherwise you won’t be learning much.

Virginia Y:
Absolutely true. Because as you said, the hour words are very different. So during my assisting years, I have times when I woke up at 6am to go to work at seven and come back home at 2am. 

 Matt Easton:
Yeah, that’s crazy. 

Virginia Y:
Yeah, it is! Several times you mentioned that your models need to feel safe.

Matt Easton: Yeah!

Virginia Y:
I really appreciate that! So tell us a bit more about the art of shooting naked women. Because part of your portfolio is really dedicated to naked women and at the same time, they look so comfortable,

Matt Easton:

The industry’s changed massively.
Ten or fifteen years ago, photographers would photograph women and make them look like a fantasy. And now when you look at every image in advertising and editorial – what clients are buying – the fantasies are gone. Now the consumer wants a reality. The consumer wants to believe that they can be that person, they don’t want to wish that that one day, they might be that person. So I think that the energy and the direction of a model has softened a lot in the last couple of years, maybe with the movement of “Me too”, and what we’ve come to learn about parts of our industry, parts of Hollywood and men taking advantage of their roles. You know… we’ve been given bodies we’ve been given tools, we should be allowed to use them. And I’m not against shooting a lady, a woman, a man – naked, as long as they’re comfortable with it. Some of my best work are nude pictures and some of my model friends – the best pictures that they had taken of them are my nude pictures.  It all comes down to communication, transparency, and what you’re trying to achieve. Showing references showing mood boards, but then when you’re on set, it’s about making that model feel totally comfortable, feel totally safe. Lighting, there’s going to compliment them, that’s going to empower them. I love women to show emotion, show a bit of vulnerability, show bit of strength, show something within an image and you can only get that out of them, if the model is feeling in a safe environment where it’s just them, the camera… I will get rid of hair, I’ll get rid of makeup, I will shut the doors and block off the set, so it’s literally that model and me. I’m using their body and when it comes to editing pictures, I respect what they like as well. I want them to like the images and therefore I want them to feel comfortable in the way that I’ve shot them. I really respect the relationship I have with these models and respect them as women and men and respect their bodies and how they wish to be shown. I will try and push the image in a certain direction and if they don’t like it, that’s something that I have to respect. But it comes down to how safe that model feels and how comfortable they feel and that is the responsibility of a photographer.

Virginia Y:
Do you think that this industry is keeping the respect to everyone? I’m sorry, I’m taking totally different direction here, but….

Matt Easton:
I think he’s a really interesting topic and it’s a topic that I’ve had lots of debates about over dinners and drinks with friends and people in the industry. And I think we’re at very sad time and what the (Me too) movement is happening now….. is tricky. The hardest thing is they’re trying to go back in time and re-correct a way and a movement that hasn’t been okay, but it hasn’t been spoken about. Nothing in the past about it has been okay. It’s because models, women, men have kept their mouths shut out fear for such a long time, I don’t think is necessarily right to now point your fingers at every man or every male photographer that shoots nudes. What we’re trying to do is change the way people think from the past to make sure things like that don’t happen in the future. It’ s a time that is giving opportunity to young photographers, there is a huge breakthrough of amazing, talented female photographers. Ten years ago there wasn’t that many female photographers in the fashion industry. And now you’ve got some amazing photographers coming through. And maybe they were given that opportunity because of the movement where for example I know lingerie companies now that only want to work with women, and I think that’s amazing. It gives people an opportunity. Why should sex to find your talent? It shouldn’t so, I feel like we’re on an equal playing field. Which is nice.

 Women sometimes feel more comfortable being shot by women. I think sex doesn’t matter. And I would love to be chosen because somebody likes my work. I think the client should say, I love this guy’s work. I love this lady’s work. Let’s work with them.Your work should speak for itself rather than the person behind it. 

Virginia Y:
Most of your work, especially on your website is actually black and white.

Matt Easton:
Yeah, I wanted to be a photographer when I was about seven years old. And I was in the back of my mom’s car. And I remember looking up and seeing Calvin Klein, Kate and Marky Mark iconic poster for their CK water, the boxer briefs. And it was amazing. And it totally inspired me! Whether it was the sex, whether it was the taboo, whether it was black and white imagery. Since that day, I’ve always kind of been inspired or interested in iconic photography. Photography that lasts forever. A picture from a story could be still relevant in 20 years time. There’s a quality about black and whites that just gives that extra bit of timelessness. Or it puts it into a world of art in a way that I think color doesn’t necessarily go to. Like fashion color changes regularly. People will change the cyan or the saturation of the pinks and push color in different directions. Before Instagram nothing was saturated, now everything’s really highly saturated. Because of Instagram that saturation maybe looks like the photo is going into a really commercial world. Whereas I think something like black and white is timeless.  I love black and white pictures on my wall more than I love colors. I always shooting color and then I try and push things and see what actually works best for the picture.

Virginia Y:
But you think that is just enough to turn a regular photo into black and white. And if not, what makes a really amazing, really stunning photograph?

Matt Easton:
No, I think different lighting compliments different directions. There’s lots of times where I’ve shot something for black and white light. And the editor has wanted to see it in color. There’s lots of occasions where you can accommodate that, for example, there’s some pictures that I have taken in black and white, which I lit specifically to be in black and white because I know that that light will complement a black and white picture. I know that it wouldn’t compliment a color picture. So you set yourself up for direction that you want to go and if the fashion editor of the magazine wants to see something in color, or in black and white… the opposite of what you’ve done – you’ve been given that freedom of changing that image. But there are some images where I stick to my guns because you lit it specifically for black and white. It’s just knowing where you want to go before you start.

Virginia Y:
That’s very cool, because not everyone knows that you need specific light for black and white.How did you  learned this lesson?

Matt Easton:
 I worked with Masters for many years!
You would photograph a 20 year old differently to the way you would photograph a 50 year old you would photograph an actress differently to a model…

Virginia Y:
Let’s help the people, let’s give them specific examples. So if you’re shooting black and white – what would you do differently from shooting a color photo?

Matt Easton:
Black and whites I tend to like more in a natural daylight The sun is an amazing gift and  if you look at  a photographer like Peter Lindbergh – he’s made his whole career by shooting daylight and it’s so soft and romantic and beautiful and the women that he photographs – they are actress, they’ve got a little bit of character, they are not 20 year old models Kate Moss, Kate Winslet… you’re looking at actresses who have character and I think he knows that that light suits them. Whereas if you’ve got somebody who looks younger, you know that flashes going to complement their skin because there’s not going to be the character on their skin to emphasize shadows. That’s how you can work light based around models. And it’s the same as color. If you’re in a scenario where you’re outside and you know that you’ve got this really soft, beautiful light, that will look amazing in black and whites. Or if you’re in a studio and you’re doing a beauty shot and you know that it’s got to be in color and you’ve got this really smooth skin and this beautiful face in front of you, you know that flash is really going to compliment that meaning that it will be able to transition easier into color. 

Virginia Y:
You mentioned the difference between model and actress what do you do differently when you photograph an actress?

Matt Easton:
Usually you are employing a model to evolve into something…. a character, a story. It’s that model’s job to do that to the best of her ability. When you’re shooting an actress or a celebrity you’re shooting them for who they are and what they’ve already achieved. And it’s very rare that you make a celebrity into something that isn’t them. So you talk to them in different ways, because they have different backgrounds. An actress is usually on a movie set and it’s completely different creative field. The language is different, the equipment is different, the time’s different, the hair and makeup is different. And when they step into a fashion world things are different. I usually like sitting down with them in the morning, having a coffee, making sure they feel comfortable, going through the procedure of the day, showing them references, letting them know that if they need anything – I’m the guy or my assistant or the producer that’s there to help them out. Whereas a model is a lot more used to it, so they’re straight into hair and makeup. They’ve got their eye mask on, they are jet lagged. They’ve been flying around the world left, right and center for different shoots. They will do anything, because they know that that’s what is required of them. So it’s just very different fields, but I think now as well it’s a little bit trickier because there’s not such a big gap anymore. Lots of celebrities are doing more and more editorial work because it’s what viewers and consumers want to see. They want to see a recognizable face. So the boundaries are blurring a little bit more.

 

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