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Storyteller | Andy Fallon

A flat-out week of whisky shots

He was fourteen years old and in complete awe of Patrick Lichfield. The famous society photographer and cousin of the Queen was running a ’How to become a photographer’ series in the national press – and young Andy Fallon was well and truly hooked.

From age ten Andy had been keeping scrapbooks packed with magazine photographs he particularly admired – but it was Lichfield that seriously stirred his soul and inspired him to think about a life within the photographic profession.

‘I was just a kid but I got myself a part-time job peeling potatoes in a restaurant so I could afford my first camera’ recalls Andy. ‘Then I saw ‘Blow-Up’, the iconic Sixties film starring David Hemmings, about the life of a fashion photographer  – and that led to my next strategic objective – clearing the tools and lawnmowers out of my dad’s garden shed to build myself a darkroom.’

At university Andy preferred shooting portraits and taking pictures of bands rather than write mandatory course-work essays on Bill Brandt: ‘Although I finished the course it became very clear to me that I really didn’t need a photography degree to be a photographer – and I couldn’t wait to get my first placement assisting a fashion photographer.’

Andy’s first flirtation with square format was with a Rolleiflex  – until he fell  hopelessly in love with his Hasselblad 503 CW – the medium format camera he still uses fifteen years later.

‘I revel in the versatile Hasselblad square format’ he reveals. ’I am not a fan of 35mm – I never know what to put in the edges.’

Andy admits he rarely uses a Hasselblad on a tripod. “People imagine medium format shooting as being a very clinical operation that invariably takes place in a studio with a tripod. I know some Hasselblad users who love to keep these cameras in cases and always employ meticulous care each time they use them – but I use my camera hand-held and I shoot like it’s reportage. I’ve been on tour buses with rocks bands and even hanging off cliffs to get my shots. I’m not precious about it at all.’

Although these days Andy prefers the moniker ‘portrait photographer’ as opposed to his ‘music and portrait photographer’ label a few years’ ago – history will record that he has photographed some of the world’s biggest bands, rock stars, celebrities and sports stars.

Although he now counts blue-chip companies such as Sainsbury’s, Kellogg’s, Ford and Nintendo on his commercial client list – and The Sunday Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, NME, GQ and FHM on his editorial customer portfolio – he acknowledges that his personal projects are vital to his evolution as a portrait photographer.

Adds Andy: “I like to do at least two big personal projects each year. I believe that if you just restrict yourself to shooting commercial work all the time you become a different type of photographer. You constantly follow a tight brief working in tandem with art directors and stylists in a studio.  And that is fine, but if you aren’t careful you can quickly lose the photographic aspect and thread of what you are doing and what you are trying to achieve overall.

I think it also helps if you show prospective clients your personal work – it affords them a better idea of who you really are – as they get to see work that hasn’t been commissioned.’

Research is key before any shoot – personal or commercial. “I always do as much research as possible on the person I am photographing – either beforehand or by striking a conversation with them as I prepare for the session. ‘

‘The aim is to just get them talking- about anything. Make them feel comfortable. When I set up my gear I am looking at them – to see how they are standing or leaning, or sitting. It’s a bit of psychological profiling I suppose.’

‘But that’s another reason why I love shooting with a Hasselblad…there is no barrier. I am not holding the camera to my eye, I am looking down – and that enables me to talk to and connect with the subject more easily.’

Andy has been shooting for the past eight years on his CFV 16 – but jumped at the chance to test the CFV-50c digital back for a recent personal project in Scotland.

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‘I am working on a series of ‘Industry in the UK’ shoots’ he explains. ‘I am photographing in micro-breweries and spectacle factories – and shooting double bass makers and rocking horse craftsmen. I love grass roots artisans.’

The project with the CFV-50c entailed a seven day trip to whisky distilleries in Scotland – in a 4×4, along with eight large bags of kit. He enthuses: ‘It was a fantastic eye-opener for me. Some of these people have been working in whisky distilleries for 45 years – and their fathers before them, through the generations.’

“I was shooting in very dark warehouses, largely with just two lights and no tripod. One of the great features for me with the new back is that you can zoom in and the screen is outstanding – much better than that on my trusty CFV16. I was able to check my focus really easily – and because I could do that I felt much more confident about opening up a bit more. So, instead of shooting maybe f8 or f11 on my Blad I was shooting at perhaps 5.6 – so already that gave me an extra two stops of light to work with. I don’t need to shoot at 1600 ISO.

If you are shooting  a football match on a grey day I see the logic of high ISOs but for me with portraits I am shooting at  1/125sec most of the time. I might move it down to 1/30th and I get no problems. Most of my whisky trip shots were done at 400 ISO – and just that extra stop was enough for me.

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I just love Hasselblad lenses – there is just something so special about them. I mainly use 40 and 50mm and you just never get distortion at the edges.’

He adds: ‘When I am using a digital back I need it to be easy and quick to use and clean and noise-free. Additionally, it needs to create great files and not crash – and that is what the CFV-50c is all about for me. I just don’t like too much fuss in a camera.  ISO values up to 6400 will be great for many other users but that’s not really important in the way I shoot.

The larger LCD screen, with its higher resolution was superb – just like having a Polaroid on the back of the camera – I just knew I had always got what I wanted.

It’s just so intuitive for  everyone using these CFV backs – and it made me feel a bit more confident  hand-held when I employ lower shutter speeds.’

Now Andy, who once shot  The Gossip singer Beth Ditto naked  on a bed of daisies (Mama Cass-style) in a Covent Garden  studio with his 503CW and a 50mm lens (three hours to set up and twelve minutes to shoot) is planning the next Hasselblad shoot with some panel beaters at Bristol cars – the hand-built luxury car manufacturer.

He says: ‘I will be using a CFV-50c for my future shoots. It is great to know Hasselblad is still making these backs for traditional V-System devotees like me. My 503 is just such beautiful machine – I always use the hand crank – for me that is a significant part of the picture capture process.’

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www.andyfallon.co.uk

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