Paul Hartley is a professional photographer with over twenty five years experience shooting jewellery, watches and cosmetics. A leader in his field, Paul takes technology very seriously. Driven by passion and equipped with state-of-art digital cameras, lenses and backs the artist creates incredibly high quality images, which exceeds the limits of visual creativity.
Take a look at the priceless advises and fantastic images that he shares exclusively for Photography Office fans.
Tell us about something about Paul Hartley Photography
I’ve been a professional photographer since graduating from London’s Central Polytechnic in 1976 with a BA in Photographic Art. I started off as an assistant and then moved to being the in-house photographer of an AV production house. The company produced multi-screen presentations and shows for car launches or sales conferences using banks of Kodak carousel slide projectors controlled by early computers. It was good grounding as they expected to tackle just about everything. Models, still life and industrial location, even rostrum photography with specialized pin-register animation cameras.
I set up my own studio in central London and I was working in this niche which with my skills meant that I was never out of work. Unfortunately nothing lasts for ever and video killed that type of business and I turned to Advertising Still Life. The photography was 5x4 and 10x8 shooting in the studio and I was shooting all kinds of stuff from cosmetics to trucks for London agencies.
How did you get into Jewellery Photography?
I was asked to shoot watches and jewellery about 20 years ago and started then to work for DeBeers. It was all large format at that time but around the same time I could see that digital was going to be the future and in 1992 I bought my first Mac and started to learn Photoshop v2.5. The idea was to gain control of more of the image creation process. Then it was the normal practice to shoot a transparency and then just hand it over. What was eventually printed, often bore little or no resemblance to the shot I’d planned and I was often disappointed.
Back in 2000 I bought my first serious digital equipment. A Phase One back with a Rollei xAct camera. Before that Leaf systems based on Sinar cameras cost over £70k and that was too expensive for me then. The arrival of the Phase One with the Philips sensor changed everything.
From that moment I never looked back as it became obvious that as a photographer I suddenly had complete control over my images and the retouching afterwards.
I was shooting more jewellery at this time and no one else seemed to be doing what I was doing. So I decided to push the way I saw things and develop my own style although there was a lot of mistrust about digital files at first. Printers saw it as a threat to their own businesses and made life difficult at times. Jewellery loves digital though and my clients though so too and my business has never looked back.
How do you keep yourself motivated and your photography creative, inspiring and fresh?
All the professional photographers I know are the same. We’re a highly competitive bunch, often defensive about our business and techniques but always pushing to be better. Every morning I go to work I’m thinking about how I can create something new or different. I always carry a small notebook with me to jot down ideas. I know I can’t sit back and rely of last years shots and that might make it seem like a treadmill, but it’s not like that really, it gives me a real buzz to create a new image.
What are the challenges of capturing these beautiful marvels?
Lots of challenges. Where do I begin? Sharpness and depth of field. Lenses only perform well to a minimum aperture of f11- f16 so stopping down smaller than this destroys sharpness. Techniques using tilt/shift lenses and Photoshop focus stacking are used. Lighting metal to look like metal. Using medium format to overcome the problems with DSLRs AA filter.
Using Photoshop to correct flaws in the jewellery but not so much that the picture becomes a lie. Understanding what the jeweller client is looking for in the image I create for him or her. Color management.
How has your shooting style and work ethic changed in time?
The answer is yes, also no. I’ll explain. The techniques I’ve developed since turning digital only have meant that I’ve had to adopt new styles and approaches to shooting, but the basic skills I used when my cameras were 5x4 7 10x8 Sinars are still the same. The great thing about shooting tethered is that I see the image immediately instead of waiting two hours for the E6 processing. A lot of shooting film was guesswork and the skill of a professional photographer was to make educated guesses. Seeing the image on a calibrated top quality screen saves time and these days I get a lot done in a day.
What are some tips you could give to people that really like your work?
Have patience, jewellery is fiddly and needs a steady hand. If you really want to produce quality work, don’t buy the lighting cubes advertised by companies selling them as jewellery solutions. They are a complete waste of time and always give flat uninteresting results. Don’t use direct lighting unless the jewellery is perfect as it will show up scratches and fingerprints.
Use trace screens and silver reflectors and experiment. Move the lights about and watch the effect on the jewellery. Use the histogram to make judgements about exposure and trust it rather than your screen unless you own a Spectraview or Eizo. Buy the best tripod or camera stand you can afford. Practice, practice, practice....pixels don’t cost anything.
Can you name some photographers that inspires you with their works and why?
My first photographic hero was Ansell Adams. I studied Photographic Art and I was blown away when I saw an exhibition of his original prints. They’re simply sensational. Irving Penn, a master class in composition and clarity. Helmut Newton, on the surface, the images are titillating but actually powerful and disturbing. I’m also a big fan of Pete Turner. Color like you’ve never see before.
Dear Mr. Paul Hartley we are very glad to have you featured with this exclusive interview. Many thanks for putting together the answers and selecting this mind blowing images. Please keep us update with your future projects. It will be our pleasure to feature you again!
Be aware that that the pictures displayed below are copyrighted Paul Hartley and are not transferable.