In-demand portrait photographer Dean Chalkley shares his tips for success and reveals what’s inside his camera bag.
With his images frequently gracing the likes of The Sunday Times, Dean Chalkley is a man in demand. But it’s for his shots of the good, the bad and the ugly of the music scene for NME that he was named Portrait Photographer of the Year at The Picture Editors’ Awards 2006.
Starting out as a hobbyist to escape a career in the civil service, Chalkley studied photography at Blackpool College of Art and Design, and did the obligatory spell of assisting before his talents came to the attention of Dazed and Confused, Mixmag and, of course, NME.
His exhibition Now Stand Tall: Icons of the New Sonic Generation, at Birmingham’s Snap Galleries, attracted over 2,000 visitors during its tenure at London’s Spitz Gallery. Dean hopes his shots will come to define a critical moment in youth culture. ‘The good thing is that music is always evolving; there will be more revolutions in the future,’ says Dean, whose ambition is to photograph boyhood hero Paul Weller.
The Switch to Digital
Having shot medium format reportage-style work out of college on a Mamiya RB67 and then a Hasselblad H1, it was an easy transition to digital for Dean when the first compatible backs from Leaf and Phase One appeared. However, as he prefers to shoot handheld and ‘move around a lot’, the arrival of the more portable EOS 1Ds Mark II full-frame DSLR, with its 16.7MP resolution and 4fps shooting speed, came as a creative blessing.
He uses the Canon 24-70mm zoom as his ‘workhorse’, but also favours Canon’s 35mm f1.4 and 80-200mm for portraiture. ‘Often I’ll shoot a portrait session for an editorial feature by day, then the band in the evening if they’re playing a gig,’ he says. ‘The 80-200mm lets me crop tighter and, coupled with the 24-70mm, gives me the full range.’ An Epson P-2000 portable hard drive also comes in handy when shooting on location.
In the Studio
In the studio Dean often shoots tethered to a G5 Mac. ‘I think that gives the shoot energy and gives the client confidence,’ he says.
‘We can make on-the-spot decisions and say: “We’ve got that, let’s move on.”’
‘What I’ve found fascinating about photography is you can dip in and out of people’s lives.’
‘Treat your subjects as people and get to know them a bit – it isn’t a production line.’
Reasons to Shoot in Raw
Chalkley always shoots Raw for optimum quality, giving his clients the option of using the shots double page in a magazine, or as part of a billboard campaign. ‘Pictures are there to be appreciated,’ he reasons. ‘You don’t want to fall into the trap, five years down the line, of opening a JPEG and finding you’ve retouched all the detail out of it. If you shot on film in 1940 and printed the pictures today you could still get fantastic quality, and I want the same from digital. I care about the pictures themselves – it’s my legacy as much as anything.’
To Dean, though, digital is just a tool to let him achieve the desired result. It’s the subject that matters. ‘What I’ve found fascinating about photography is that you can dip in and out of people’s lives,’ he enthuses. ‘And when you’re doing that with famous people you admire, it’s thrilling.’