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INTERVIEW: Daniel Boud, chief photographer for Time Out Sydney
Aussie photographer Daniel Boud is kicking some serious ass with his highly creative, off-the-wall and colourful portraiture. He kindly took time out of his busy Time Out Sydney schedule to tell us how he stumbled into photography in the first place, what kit he loves, how to direct a 13-second photo shoot and how his ideal portrait subject would be some dude with a beard, wearing a dress and sandals…
Questions by Ash and Danny
RTL: Can you remember the moment when you first thought ‘I want taking photos to be my life’? What sparked it?
Daniel Boud: My photography career is by accident rather than by design. I’ve never been one of those photographers who knew they wanted photography to be their life from a young age. I read in lots of photographers bio’s variations of “my dad handed me his film camera at age 12 and from that moment on I knew I wanted to be a photographer”. Not me. I tinkered with taking photos as a teenager, but was never really very good at it.
It wasn’t until I bought my own digital camera in my early 20s (about 2002) that the love affair with photography really began, and even then for several years I only entertained it as a hobby, not something that I could ever make a living from. I didn’t know any photographers. My parents were academics. I had no idea how you became a photographer.
I was really into music and went to heaps of gigs and began taking my new camera to local shows. I’d shoot pictures of the band from the crowd. I’d take pictures of my drunk friends. And I put them on my blog. And I repeated that process every week for a couple of years just for fun. One night while I was out I met a girl who needed a photographer to shoot a party for the magazine she worked at. I’d never had pictures published outside my website before, but I took it on and had those photos published. Now I look back and think how mediocre they were, but at the time it felt incredible to see my photos in print.
That led to more work for her, shooting parties and then gigs and festivals. It was my first foray into being an accredited photographer, which meant I got to shoot from the photo pit.
Anyway, rather than bore you with all the ins and outs, the tipping point happened when I was offered a staff position as the photographer for Time Out Sydney magazine in 2007. It meant a wage, rather than worrying about freelance insecurity. It was a big pay cut from my job doing websites, but it meant a much more fulfilling work. It was work that didn’t feel like work.
It was then that I decided to make taking photos my life.
RTL: How competitive is the photography scene in Australia? You’re recognised internationally now, but do you think having a ‘patch’ that isn’t, say, New York or London helped you to get established?
DB: The photography scene is competitive everywhere, and it’s only getting more so. There’s more good young photographers itching to get work experience, and more established photographers losing work as the media industry slashes jobs and tries to work out how to do more with less.
Hard as it is sometimes, I try not to think about other photographers as competitors. They’re my colleagues. We’re all in this together. It’s just a path to cynicism and burnout if you’re always thinking negatively about your fellow comrades or comparing your work too much.
I’m sure I have benefited by being here in Sydney rather than in New York or London for example. But it also means i’ll only reach a certain point in my career. If I stay in Sydney there’s only so far I can go. But the lifestyle is good here. I’m coming to accept that I’ll live here, earn my way, and travel for kicks.
RTL: How exactly did you land the job as Chief Photographer at Time Out Sydney - did you work your way up?
DB: It was all too embarrassingly simple and impossible to replicate. I met this journalist out one night while I was taking pictures. We stayed in touch for a year or two, he followed my work on my website and he thought of me as this sort of ‘man about town’ with a camera. I guess he liked my work and my attitude. He became the founding editor of Time Out Sydney and while recruiting staff he tapped me and asked if I was interested in coming on board as their Chief Photographer. I met the publishers and the art director and we all got along. I didn’t even have a photography portfolio apart from my blog.
RTL: It seems anyone with an interest in taking photographs beyond just their phone camera is buying a DSLR these days. What do you think it takes to stand out now?
DB: That’s a tough question. Especially in the live music photography scene, we’re all shooting on pretty much the same gear, from the same angles, it is very hard to stand out. It’s partly why I’ve taken a step back from it. Unless I can get some sort of unique access, so I’m getting a different shot to the other dozen photographers in the pit, then I don’t find it as fulfilling as I used to.
I still struggle with it a lot. I only recently put together a portfolio and one of the reasons it took me so long to do is because I couldn’t get over my own thoughts of “Why does this stand out? Why couldn’t any other photographer have taken it?” In the end I just had to suck it up put it out there.
I’m a big believer in letting your work speak for itself, but a number of photographers have been able to stand out because they have a voice that people relate to. People like Zack Arias have a lot to share, and express themselves well. If you combine a relatable voice and good work it puts you on the right path to stand out.
RTL: What has been your most memorable shoot?
DB: This may sound like a cop out, but I have this weird memory issue with photography, in that once a shoot is done I forget it. If you asked me what I shot last week it would be really hard to remember. Last month? No idea. Last year? Forget it.
Lucky I have my Lightroom catalogues to help where my brain doesn’t.
RTL: Music photography has been a big part of your career. When it comes to live music, you must have shot hundreds and hundreds of gigs - how do you keep it interesting for yourself?
DB: I put shooting live music into two modes in my mind - am I doing it for me or for a client?
If it’s for a client I treat it like work, ask them if there’s any particular brief, look at the sort of pictures that they’ll want. Is it full body wide shots? Tight head shots? Crowd shots? You need all the band? Logos in the background?
But every now and then I still shoot shows for me. In that case I go into it with nothing in my head. Just me and the camera and whatever feels right at the time. It’s a nice zen state to be in when you’re only taking pictures for yourself.
RTL: What are the best and worst things about doing what you do?
- Taking photos for a living
- When work doesn’t feel like work.
- Meeting fascinating people
- Seeing your work published
- When a client says they love the pictures
- Crippling self doubt and fear of failure
- Worrying that the work might dry up
- Spending too long at the computer
- Chasing unpaid invoices
RTL: What’s your next goal for your photography?
DB: I’m always looking to improve. I believe I’m only as good as my last shoot.
My whole career has been unplanned, so I don’t have any particular goal apart from continuing to take excellent pictures and book more jobs.
I’d like to do more portrait and commercial work. Less events.
RTL: Your wife is also a successful Photographer, do you find that there’s friendly competition between you both, especially with you using Canon gear, and Cybele using Nikon?
DB: Yes, there’s friendly competition. I’m her biggest fan though. I’m constantly in awe of what she produces. And I think i’d be a much poorer photographer without her to keep me on my toes.
RTL: Which photographers do most admire who are working today?
DB: This is a hard one as there’s so many, and I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out. Every time I hop online to Tumblr, Pinterest or Flickr (yes, there’s still amazing photographers on Flickr!) I discover inspiring work. But here’s some that first come to mind:
Cybele Malinowski - http://bangbangdot.com/
Danny North - http://www.dannynorth.co.uk/
Autumn De Wilde http://www.autumndewilde.com/
Tim Walker - http://timwalkerphotography.com/
Anton Corbijn - http://www.corbijn.co.uk/
Dan Winters - http://www.danwintersphoto.com/
But there’s so many more.
RTL: What’s your favourite bit of kit and why?
DB: My 50mm lens. I have the 1.2 now, but I worked my way up through three 1.8s (I broke two) then the 1.4 (which stopped autofocusing) then ultimately the 1.2. I love the simplicity of the single focal length. I love the squat humility of its size. I love the creamy shallow depth of field.
RTL: When you have 13 seconds to shoot a story for Time Out, as with Eugene Levy, what are key strategies for getting them to do weird or interesting things for you?
DB: It’s often about giving specific direction and visualising what you want. When I was less experienced and I was photographing someone high profile I felt insecure about giving direction, but now when I have my camera in my hand it’s like I become a different person. Move here, turn this way, change this, squeal like a pig!
I still get intimidated by some high profile people, but I generally find there’s no harm in asking them to do something. The worst they can do is say no.
RTL: In recent years you’ve gone about setting up a studio at festivals, and shooting your subjects with numerous props. Who has been the most fun to shoot, and what inspired this pop up studio?
DB: I love doing the festival studio thing. I’ve shot so many festivals in my time, it’s really refreshing to shoot it in a different way and get some face-to-face time with the artists.
The last portrait at Splendour In The Grass last year was with Devendra Banhart and he quite happily lay on the ground while I photographed him having Hundreds & Thousands poured all over his face.
I’ll be doing it again in a few weeks so will have to conjure up some more fun scenarios.
RTL: If you had a time machine and could shoot a portrait of anyone from human history, who would it be and why?
DB: Probably Jesus. I’m an atheist, but I do believe Jesus was a real person. So it’d pretty remarkable to meet and photograph a person who had such an impact. And I bet he looked nothing like the paintings we know him from today.