Matt Stansfield on photography, entrepreneurship and staying true to yourself
Matt Stansfield is a larger than life, passionate photographer who knows how to inject some fun and energy into every shoot.
His successful career so far has put him in touch with a wealth of famous names, brands, and businesses. He has photographed George Best, Joan Collins, Vivienne Westwood, Gordon Ramsey (of whom he had to swear at to get him to smile) and the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson. He has shot stylistic visuals for household names such as Universal, Boohoo, Waitrose, and Michelin.
Although his main specialism lies in fashion and commercial photography, he also extends his creative discipline to architecture and still life. We caught up with Matt to talk about his work, the photography industry, and his creative life.
Why did you get into photography? Did anyone inspire you – if so, who and why?
I'm self-taught. My father ran a photographic business in Stockport for 15 years, shooting portraits, picture framing, and developing and printing. From an early age, I helped him out after school, and at weekends and holidays. I was fascinated by the whole process involved in photography, so without my dad I really wouldn't have had the opportunity in the first place.
During this time, I assisted portrait, wedding and commercial photographers in Manchester, and worked with the local newspapers. I particularly enjoyed dealing with people as this came naturally to me, and I started shooting portraits. Since then, I’ve always viewed myself as a people photographer.
My creative inspiration came from looking through the many poster catalogues at dad’s shop which showed the work of Terry O’Neill, Helmut Newton, Bob Carlos Clark to the work of Parisienne street photographer and Magnum founder Henri Cartier-Bresson. This work blew my mind and continues to do so.
Fortunately, I began learning photography pre-digital so it instilled a principle of shooting which I carry forward today and that is to value each and every frame you expose.
Tell us about your first camera
It was a Praktica MTL-5, it was pretty ugly, built like a tank, heavy, all manual, no digital preview on the back to check exposure, focus and I was limited to 36 exposures. Essentially you had to get it right otherwise you were simply pissing money down the drain.
Tell us about your first ever real photography job
From 1999 until 2007, I spent eight years working on nearly 100 issues of the North West lifestyle magazine LivingEDGE. Shooting about 80% of the photography in each issue this covered fashion, portrait, social events, interiors; and I travelled all over Western Europe, as well as parts of Africa and the Middle East, and went from photographer’s assistant to picture editor.
It was a fantastic experience which allowed creative freedom, independent decision making and taught me to be adaptable to change under tight deadline conditions. All in all, it built a really solid foundation which has helped enormously during my past six years working freelance.
Any funny moments you can share?
Plenty of funny moments, not too many I can share though. I was nearly throttled by Sir Alex Ferguson. And I had to call Gordon Ramsay a 'f&$king w£$ker' so he would crack a smile. Discovered I had a fear of heights a few thousand feet up mid-paraglide as well…
What do you absolutely love the most about your profession?
I have been in the fortunate position to meet people from all walks of life over the years, so I guess I am fascinated by people, their life experiences, motivations and I try to learn as much as possible from them. Also, the variety and fact that every day is not typical!
Describe your favourite go-to kit - camera, lens, lighting?
I’m not really geeky or overly bothered about the camera. Over the past 15 years I’ve shot on some fabulous camera systems beginning with Hasselblad 500c/m body and Carl Zeiss lenses, then moving onto Nikon DSLR system starting with the awful D100, then mediocre D200 than D3 (which I loved).
For the past three years, I have been shooting on the Phase One system with a P45+ digital back - it has been a fantastic piece of kit, the files are sublime and the dynamic range of RAW files give you far more control compared with DSLR format.
I’ve built up a great selection of prime ‘leaf shutter’ Schneider Kreuznach lenses covering 28mm, 55mm, 80mm, and 150mm. As I shoot both in the studio and on location I needed to factor in weight, size of kit and decided to go with Hensel Porty 1200 lithium battery packs after discussing my requirements with Paula Pell-Johnson at Linhof Studio who enthused about the Hensel kit.
Essentially, they are half the weight, better priced and I get double the output as compared with Profoto equivalent so a no-brainer really. Paula has been a massive help over the past few years.
And for post-production?
I am currently using a new MacBook, it is a beast and can handle the transfer and processing of large RAW files without crashing. This is saving me a lot of time during post-production. I’ve always worked on Apple products, I just love them. This enables me to be as efficient as possible and provides more time on the creative.
I use Capture One as my image management software, where I apply initial corrections covering white balance, colour, density, and crops. Once the ‘selects’ have been made from a shoot these are then opened in Photoshop CS 2014 for final retouch.
When you're driving to shoots or editing images, what music track or album are you currently listening to?
I usually get pretty slated for my music selections on shoots as I still like a bit of disco. When I am editing I like to listen to an eclectic mix of tunes, currently playing Roxy Music, Puddle of Mudd, Smiths, Otis Redding and Francesco Tristano.
Whose work do you admire and why? Who inspires you?
I look at lots of different photographers covering all genres of photography. In terms of current photographers that I admire I’ve always enjoyed the work of advertising photographer Julian Calverley who produces really atmospheric portraits, landscapes, and automotive imagery.
Another is Tim Kemple’s dramatic environmental shots with action thrown in. On the fashion side, I have loved watching Jamie Nelson’s career via Facebook and Instagram. I think her style and concepts are stunning.
Who's the best person you've ever worked with?
Think I need to say, my wife, Emma. She has supported me throughout this journey and allowed me the creative freedoms. Over the past couple of years, we have worked alongside each other without any major incident so it must be working.
Emma handles all the boring stuff that drives me mad such as administration, invoicing, chasing late payments, working on building client databases and marketing. Alongside my demands and pressures she also brings up our two kids Jessica and Harry.
What advice would you give to other aspiring photographers looking to make a career of it?
Just be nice and polite to people up and down the ladder, just think of it as 80% communication and 20% photography. Be true to yourself, don’t over inflate your social/online presence as you’ll quickly get found out.
Constantly push and test yourself creatively and only show your best work. Show potential clients the type of work you want to be shooting. Be humble, ask questions (politely) and ensure that any requests to established photographers are grammatically correct (no text bollocks) - I bin poorly worded or ‘pushy’ emails on a daily basis from students wanting support.
Constantly push and test yourself creatively and only show your best work. Show potential clients the type of work you want to be shooting.
What's your proudest project? Tell us more!
I come from the mindset of once I’ve reached a goal, it becomes the norm so I move onto the next target rather than spending time thinking too much about what has already happened. I usually update my website every few weeks so prefer to be adding loads of cool stuff to the new website at www.mattstansfield.co.uk.
What else do you love to do?
Spend quality time with friends and family, travelling, cooking, cheese, cycling. In reality photography takes up much of my time.
Finally, if you could sum up why others should get into photography - what would you say?
Difficult question to answer really as most people on the planet take pictures so I think the whole world is into photography? Even my three year old daughter is taking pictures! Just grab your camera, point and shoot. That is all.
To find out more about Matt, visit www.mattstansfield.co.uk. Or you can follow him on Instagram where he often shares his latest work.