A brief encounter with a Birmingham legend

Pope Benedict XVI and British Prime Minister David Cameron pictured greeting people at Birmingham Airport today September 19, 2010 as the Pope finishes the last day of a state visit to the country. Credit : Steve Woods / 19/09/10

The Birmingham Gazette is written by the people, for the people. For months we have been on the look out for some of Birmingham’s most talented individuals, be that musicians, entrepreneurs, fashion designers – you name it. However, for a long while we have wanted to interview a man with a smile that stretches right across the 2nd city and back. A photographer that is you might say well beyond his years, having seen a lifetime of success in just a decade or so working full time as a professional photographer. The Birmingham Gazette was delighted to finally catch up with Steve Woods to get an insight into life behind the lens.

Do you remember the first time you used a camera? What make was it? Yes, I was young, around 14 and travelling in Nepal where my parents used to live. My Dad had a camera and I just kept using it, I loved it. I’ve still got the photographs I shot out there around the house today.

What was it that inspired you to study photography?  I wanted a job. I had been making a small amount of money working as a photographer whilst I was doing various other jobs. I tasted that dream of being paid to do something you love and wanted to pursue it. I felt guilty studying photography because I enjoyed it so much but realised it was the only way to get student loans for equipment and time to practise.

What would you say it is that you try to capture when you shoot portraits of people and groups of friends? I just want to remember. I want to hold onto that brief moment in time. The people, the experience, the emotion is so important to me that I don’t want to loose it. We are made up of our experiences and I want to remember all of mine so I guess its quite selfish really.

Any wild stories? I have many… My camera and a smile have been passports to many incredible situations. From meeting the Dalai Lama and the Pope, to tripping Steve Gerrard up at Anfield or following Gordon Brown and David Cameron during the general election right the way through to capturing prison riots, motorway pile-ups and multiple murder sites from a helicopter. Plus all the amazing sport I have been right on the frontline with.

What’s on the horizon? My diary is jam packed with either photography or teaching which is also a passion of mine. I love imparting knowledge and more importantly passion to people who have a drive to learn. It’s really satisfying.

Who are some of your influences? I have so many, where to start? Whenever I open a newspaper, magazine or a book, and wherever in the world I am at one time I am always sensitive to the images around me. Some I love, some I hate but they are all important. My personal favourite is James Nachtwey, who I wrote my Masters dissertation on. My main influences though are the photographers I came into contact with when I was a young, hungry photojournalist. Some of the best photographers have started right here in the Midlands. Christopher Furlong is someone I have always watched; he’s a great guy too. There are many unsung heroes of UK press photography, which aren’t known because their images are functional and haven’t passed into ‘art’ yet. We must appreciate everything. It is so interesting to see how many unknown photographers show up for a riot or a protest looking for that typical photojournalist shot.

What type of cameras do you shoot with? At the moment I have Canon 1d mkIVs because of their phenomenal speed and low light capabilities, not to mention their indestructible build. I sometimes have to use Hasselblad’s for a particular client need as their quality is on a different level altogether. 

What is your favourite camera accessory other than your camera? Any photographer would say lenses. Lenses are more important than the camera. A good piece of glass is, well, its just indescribable how much depth and quality it can bring to you. I’m assuming I cant pick lenses though, so it would probably have to be bags. I have so many different bags its silly, although you need them for different situations or events. If I’m abroad, or if I’m at home, what gear I have with me, if its wet or if its cold etc. Having said that any accessory can be the most important because they are all intrinsic to the photograph you are creating.

If you had to choose one lens what would it be and why? I always use two cameras so would usually take the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 L and the Canon 70-200 f2.8 L which enables me to cover any situation that’s the most practical choice professionally for me. If I was being self indulgent and I wasn’t working for a client then I would just use the Canon 50mm f1.2 L which means no distortion, beautiful depth of field and because the lens is so fast I can shoot in pretty much darkness!

What lighting equipment do you take on a shoot? I usually have the Profoto D1000 airs in the car but I also like to just use a few speedlights too. It really depends on the subject.

Are you a PC or a MAC lover? Quite definitely MAC – no question.

Excellent so what MAC do you use for editing your work? A 27” quad-core Apple iMac i7–  it’s runs like lightening….

How important is Photoshop in your final images?  That’s like asking a photographer how important a darkroom was 20 years ago. Photoshop is a digital darkroom. You can do nearly all of what you can do in Photoshop in the darkroom, which is why Photoshop was devised. It replaced the darkroom just as digital cameras replaced film cameras. So yes, it’s very important though it depends on the client how much re-touching they might want or need.

How do you feel about cropping an image? It’s better to get everything correct in camera first take, but I have no problem with cropping to the same aspect ratio if the image needs it. To me the image is the important thing. Though in the commercial world images are cropped, chopped, cut out, twisted. It all depends on your need and your audience.

Pope and British Prime Minister David Cameron pictured greeting people at Birmingham Airport today September 19, 2010 as the Pope finishes the last day of a state visit to the country. Credit : Steve Woods / 19/09/10How many images on average might you shoot at a wedding? I don’t do many weddings, only for friends or upon request if I’m free. It again depends on the day, how many people, the itinerary etc. I always make sure to cover the whole event so if that means hundreds and hundreds of images so be it. There is nothing worse that getting home and realising you haven’t captured the whole story so I probably tend to overshoot a little, though there is nothing worse than a photographer with his finger constantly on the shutter. Pick your moment well and use it with conviction.

Have you ever had anything go wrong at a wedding, and if so how did you handle it?  The trick of being a good photographer is being prepared. Always be prepared and have a contingency plan. If you plan for everything then nothing is a problem. I always find it a fun challenge to try and work things around and overcome issues, the main thing is to adapt. The worst problem I encounter at a wedding is time management, people obviously want to have fun but they are paying good money to have it all photographed too.

Finally, can you name a website or blog that you visit most often for inspiration? That’s a very hard question. I draw inspiration from everywhere, whenever I am feeling a little uninspired I just open a photography book, and by two or three pages in I am all fired up again. The web is so accessible now that I use so many different websites. National Geographic, Time, all the newspapers, charities and dare I sat the f word? F**ebook. So many people share their memories and favourite images on there it’s great. Yes, you have to trawl through some c**p but there are real gems if you invest the time. Also, Instagram – I think social networks like this are really interesting and they may be on the cusp of something new. People are becoming so used to visual language now, it’s an exciting time.

To make a booking or to find out more visit STEVE WOODS PHOTOGRAPHY

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