Guest Interview : Samir Hussein

I have the great pleasure of interviewing Samir Hussein.  Those of you who have not heard of him have definitely seen his pictures in newspapers and other well known magazines.  Samir Hussein is a talented freelance photographer based in London.  Samir can be found shooting away at leading entertainment events, including music, the red carpet, London Fashion Week, Royalty and social gatherings.

Samir sells his photographs through Getty Images and you will find his pictures on the front pages of the major UK’s newspapers, such as The Guardian/The Mirror/The Times, as well as publications like Life, Paris Match, Rolling Stone Magazine, Spin Magazine, Stern and the New York Times.

Questions

Which brand of camera equipment do you use?

I’m very much a Nikon man.  Namely, 2 x D3 bodies with the following Nikon lenses: 18-35mm AF2.8, 28-70mm AF 2.8, 50mm AF1.4, 80mm AF1.4, 70-200mm VR AF2.8 & 300mm AF2.8.  I also carry around a 1.4 teleconverter, 2x SB800 flash guns & brackets for my flash.

Mac or PC?

Definitely Mac.

Tell me what route you took to become a professional freelance photographer?

After working as a journalist, I began work with a small photo agency in London called All Action as a photo editor.  After a couple of years there I began work with Getty Images and started to shoot increasingly. Three years ago I went freelance and haven’t looked back.

What is a freelance photographer?

As a freelance photographer I essentially work for myself. It means I receive no fixed salary, but bring in money by selling my photos through agencies such as Getty who represent my work and other clients. You need to be creative while having a good business sense in what a highly competitive industry. The benefits to being freelance however can be great both in the freedom it gives you. It’s also exciting because in theory there are no limits to where it can take you or in which direction you want to push your career.

Do you pack your bag with kit specific to each job, and if so what do you take for Fashion/Royalty/Red Carpet?

I carry all the equipment mentioned earlier to the majority of events in a large Thinktank pulley bag, which is designed specially for a professional photographer.  I don’t know from job to job what equipment I will need and am sometimes doing more than one job a day, so it’s essential I’m ready for any situation.  I could be photographing someone close up one-on-one or in a pen 20-30 meters. The only time I will take extra lighting equipment is for portrait shoots or when I know I’ll need a particularly long lens, of 300mm or more. This often happens at big gigs at places like the 02 Arena when we sometimes have to shoot from the mixing desk.

So, you have finished your shoot, can you tell us how you would post process your images, and submit them? (Is speed of the essence?)

I download my photos onto my laptop (either onsite or at a near by café) and use Photomechanic to scroll through my images selecting the best ones. These will then be loaded in Photoshop where I will do some basic work on them. For editorial work we’re basically only allowed to use techniques that could be done in a darkroom, so it’s just things like cropping, colour correction and a bit of sharpening.  I’ll then caption the images in  a ‘Who? What? When Where?’ style employed by the news organisations and send them into the picture desk of Getty or whoever I’m dealing with.  I then tend to go back through all my images a bit later to see if there are any other images that might still make good stock images to have on the archives.  Speed is important – at a Premiere for example you could be competing against 50 photographers, so getting your images out early could be the difference between getting them into the paper the next day.   However, it is not everything as there are several markets your photos can be sold to – magazines, websites, TV, adverts, merchandising, prints etc – so as a freelance it can also pay to take your time editing to get a wide variety of photos which can be used for different publishing needs. I’m also building my library and brand so want my images to the look good and represent me as best they can.  Also, not all jobs are as time sensitive. For example if I have an exclusive, I can take my time more knowing that I’m not competing with other photographers in the way I would with a big news event.

Once you have submitted your images to Getty, is there a process that they have to go through before they are made available for sale to third parties such as newspapers and magazines?

Upon receiving my photos the picture desk will look through my photos and check the captions, making any changes required or photoshop further should this be necessary. They are entitled to reject any or my images if they feel they are not up to standard or too repetitive, although as I’m usually careful with my edit this is very rare. They will then upload the photos to the Entertainment section of the Getty Images website and send them out to relevant clients geographically. Depending on the event they may decide to send a selection my images worldwide or just to UK clients if more British based, but they can be very specific about which countries and regions each image can be sent.  All this is done very quickly and minutes after filling my photos I can expect them to be seen on the Getty site and to have been distributed to hundreds of newspapers and magazines.

You must have thousands of images that you have taken over the years.  What is your back-up regime?

I upload them to my website, which is hosted by a company called Photoshelter who store them. It means I can access and download these images easily wherever there is an internet connection. In addition I back the images up on a portable hard drive. I’m also lucky in that most of my valuable images are on Getty, so in theory if I lost some images I could ask them to download them and send them back to me.

Will you be shooting the Royal wedding in April? I am off that day, by the way!

I’ll certainly be shooting some aspect of it, but am waiting to hear on positions and passes so we’ll have to see. I’ll keep you posted!

When photographing something like London Fashion Week, how would you set your camera/flash/lenses used?

I nearly always have two bodies on my shoulders when on jobs to give me the variety of having two differing lenses to use. But the truth is at fashion week I’m constantly needing to swap my lenses and settings.

A typical fashion show for me would start off backstage, so I would     probably try to shoot with either available light or, for portraits, with a ring flash. For available light I’d probably be using a prime lens – either a 50mm or 85mm 1.4 as they’re great in most lighting conditions. I’d also swap between a 28-70mm lens and a 70-200mm.  I’m then required to capture any celebrities at the show, so would put on my flash guns and brackets in preparation to posing them for their photo.

For the catwalk I wouldn’t use a flash and would have to manually sort out the white balance and exposure, which changes from show to show. The main lens I’d use would be would be an 70-200mm, but I might also use a wider lens or a 300mm lens for close up details.

As a contrast to that when you are at a music event, like Glastonbury, what would you set your camera/flash/lenses to during the day and evening performances?

A lot of what I shoot is festival atmosphere so again I will cover variety of lenses for any situation. Most festivals have large stages so most of the time I’d use an 70-200mm and 300mm lens. We’re not allowed to use flash at concerts, so I’d be shooting at f2.8 to get the most from the lighting and manually change the shutter speed to deal with the quickly changing lighting conditions.

Which shoots do you feel more at home at?

I probably feel most at home shooting music concerts as this is how I started off. However, as I’ve got more experienced I feel comfortable in most situations. I  love photographing and capturing people, which is what is all comes down to.

If you were told that you had to get rid of all your kit, but were only allowed to keep one body and one lens, what would it be?

The body would be one of my Nikon D3s and I’m tempted to say my 300mm, 2.8 lens as it’s worth the most, but from a practical point of view it would be my 70-200mm 2.8.

What advice would you give to someone who aspires to become a freelance photographer?

Whatever field of photography you want to get into you have to compare yourself with the best. Ideally, you should meet them, work alongside them and learn from them, but if you can’t do this, then look at their work and how they cover stuff regularly. Compare your work with theirs and be honest as to how you can improve and seek advise from those who have done it. Basically you need to immerse yourself in the ongoing work of those who are successful and who are considered the best. Unless you strive for this you’ll probably fall short.  The photography world is massively competitive so you have to aim for the top and let your passion and enjoyment for the medium drive you.  You’ll also need a thick skin and loads of determination.

Oh, and use Nikon!

Your website says that you are available for a variety of commissions. What else do you cover?

I also shoot PR/Marketing jobs, weddings, portraits & features.

Well, I hope that you have found this first interview informative as I have?  If you would like to see more of Samir’s fantastic images be sure to check out his website and look at his blog.  Samir, very kindly allowed me to photograph him and here are a few of Samir that I took.  I have to say there is nothing more nerving than taking a portrait of a professional photographer!

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments.

Samir Hussein Website: www.samirhussein.com

Samir Hussein Blog: www.samirhusseinblog.com

To see more photos from my shoot with Samir, please click here!

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