I had the opportunity to chat with British fashion photographer and Precision class instructor, Rob Oades. Oades has had a vast career working with several notable brands such as Levi's, Lululemon and Adidas and has been featured in many fashion magazines including Leica S-Magazine, HUNGER, and British Vogue. Oades stands a part from the modern-day fashion photographer with his fondness for film, opposition to mirrorless systems and frequent use of polaroids throughout his work. I corresponded with Oades to learn more about his photographic philosophies via email as follows below.
How did you get started in photography? What aspects of fashion/portrait photography initially drew you in as a focus for your career?
Rob Oades: I really started my photographic journey at 18 when I left home to study photography at University or what you call college. However, photography has always been a presence as far back as having my great grandad filming on Super 8 film, which I ended up inheriting, and my dad photographing my childhood.
I previously studied various forms of art, graphic design and photography and when it came to deciding what to pursue further, photography just seemed like the right fit. Whilst at Falmouth University, UK I studied a very fine art course. It was almost so fine art I could have passed without ever really taking a photo... which to me doesn't make sense. I concentrated on my portfolio and my skill as a photographer. From that point, I was assisting in a fashion studio, and I never really left the fashion industry. I loved the fast pace and the difference of each shoot. Every shoot is different. The creativity and collaboration of the shoot is really inspiring.
I think a lot of people don’t normally associate polaroids with professional photographers. Tell me more about what sparked your frequent use of polaroids throughout your work? Do you ever like how some of the quick polaroids come out over your more well thought-out digital photos?
RO: Polaroid is my favorite medium. If I could shoot on polaroid every time I would. The original film, like Type 55 from Polaroid, was so beautiful and imperfect at the same time. Unfortunately these films have been lost to time and modernization.
Your question on not being professional is funny as like in most things that a consumer uses starts with the professionals. Take f1 or computers for example: they make, test and perfect the technology before it reaches consumer level. During my time assisting, I have worked with old school photographers that would still use a polaroid test shot to check lighting, before shooting a whole roll of medium format 120 film. If anything, polaroid was and still is up there with some of the most professional and artistic photographers in the world. Paolo Roversi, Tim Walker and others still shoot polaroid and film when it comes to an artistic or editorial project. Assisting these photographers and researching the great photographers of old sparked my love for polaroid. I honestly don't really like digital photography! Which sounds crazy. I would kill to spend time in a darkroom with chemical trays and all the lights off. There's something special and almost religious about processing a real photographic print. Polaroid and film take time, you have to think and compose. I still try to use this now when taking digital photos.
My ongoing project with the Fuji Instax film was just something I started at the start of my career. I'll take a handful of polaroids, get the models to sign and draw, and sometimes they go so over the top it almost destroys the image, and I love that. It is more personal; I especially love it when I meet the same model on different shoots and it becomes a story of our friendship on and off the photographic set. I often prefer these to the actual shoot. No retouching, no pressure, just the joy of taking a photograph.
How do you maintain a balance of creativity and conceptualizing your ideas/overall vision while working with brands or models?
RO: You have to remember brands come to you once they see and know your style. If you don't know who you are as a photographer and your portfolio is all over the place, then brands won't come.
Once you know who you are then it's easy. People come to you because of your creativity, and that makes being creative easy.
When do you feel the most creative? What do you do when you’re stuck in a creative rut?
RO: I still use sketchbooks, a habit from university. I love sticking things in and writing notes and using that process to figure things out. I research art in all its forms, I'm more likely to go to books than the internet. I think you miss things and not really pay attention to the internet. Books have a feeling, a texture and I like that. I try to create the same things, feeling and texture in my images.
What’s your biggest piece of advice for aspiring editorial fashion photographers?
RO: Shoot as much as possible, it doesn't have to cost money, and email, email, email.
What factors contribute to choosing color over black and white photos?
RO: I think if you choose color over back and white, it shows how strong that image is. Let's face it: black and white looks sooooo good 99% of the time. It comes down to what I said above: texture and feeling. If it feels right either way, do it.
Do you prefer shooting in a studio or in more natural settings? How does your approach change for each in terms of planning and equipment?
RO: There is no better light than daylight. When I'm in a studio, I'm always trying to recreate daylight. I'm always looking for that new location where the light hits a certain angle or complements the area. Don't get me wrong, I like studio photography, but I'll always look for one with natural light so I have the option of daylight or studio lights.
I'm a photographer that plans for the worst. My equipment list has every backup option, but also creative options. I might have a vision for a shoot which actually doesn't really work once on set. So having a different light source and equipment allows me to have options and change things up.
What’s your favorite class to teach here at Precision Camera and why? What would you say the biggest takeaway class attendees learn from your classes?
RO: I teach a few classes, and I enjoy all of them. If people turn up wanting to learn and take away a photo they are really proud of in any of my classes, that's the reason I do them. People will tell you that I don't teach you how I do things exactly, as you need to do YOU. I'll teach you how to get what you want to see. I love lighting and changing things up. I also just like hanging out and geeking out with cool people.
What are your go-to pieces of equipment?
RO: I have had the privilege to use a lot of equipment over the years, and I choose what feels right to me. My camera is the Leica S3, medium format beast of a camera, and I love it. Right now, I'm not a mirrorless guy, but that's just me. It's a great weight and feels right in the hand. You know that feeling when you find the perfect stone to skim across water? That's how I feel when I pick up my camera... but I don't try to skim it!
Lighting-wise, it changes depending on the job. However I've just started a partnership with GODOX and they have been gifting me some equipment and trying new equipment and light shaping with them. The light I get with the AD600 PRO has a great quality, and I can use it on location and in the studio. Whenever I choose equipment it has to be versatile.
I usually shoot tethered to my computer which is a Mac Pro Tower and a really beautiful Dell 30 inch screen. Processing my files for the Leica takes a lot of processing power and the Mac smashes through this with ease.
Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to share?
RO: I'm always shooting tests, but right now I'm sitting on real projects for 2022. However I can share my latest works with you, both shot here in ATX and latest works with you, Pressure Release and Æthelflæd for HUNGER magazine, both shot here in Austin and I rented the gear I needed through you guys.