As a 17-year-old schoolboy Richard Seymour was presented with an opportunity that many would have happily killed for: an RAF flying scholarship. Shades of Top Gun and all the glamour that goes with such a prestigious position, but Richard sampled the life and ultimately chose to focus his attention elsewhere, hooked by a love of photography and a certainty in his own mind that this was his calling.
“I took my first pictures while I was hanging around on an airfield waiting for the weather to break,” he says. “A few things happened to cool my idea of a military career and then it was a case of thinking about what else I could do. What evolved was a clear intention to combine work experience with studying, so I signed up for a photography degree course at the University of Westminster on a day release basis whilst also assisting an excellent provincial commercial photographer; he provided the foundation of professional practice that backed up my studies at college. It was the best decision I’ve ever made and I now start each day feeling I have one of the best jobs in the world.”
Following graduation, Richard lived in Dubai for a couple of years, where he set up his first studio. It was an important experience and it forced him to grow up as a professional and to stand on his own two feet very quickly.
“I returned to London after a kindly art director pointed out that unless I moved back I would get trapped as the best photographer in Dubai, working at around 70% of my capacity,” he says. “The alternative was knuckling down in London and developing my skills. I knew I had to do the latter, and what followed was five years assisting some amazing advertising photographers, including Bob Carlos Clarke, Hazel Digby, Ron Bambridge and Martin Vallis. It gave me a whole new level of insight into how the industry operated.”
Richard’s career has been built around taking chances and pushing boundaries. It’s why his portfolio is so diverse and why he’s gained a reputation for being at the cutting edge of his profession. While many photographers tied their flags to traditional values and almost see the likes of CGI and VR as a threat, Richard has gone the opposite way; by embracing what new technology has to offer he’s ventured into areas where many others have feared to tread.
“People sometimes talk about the amount of post-production that goes into my work,” he says, “but this is invariably down to the brief and the factors that present themselves at the location. For some of my work there is absolutely no post-production at all, other than tonal changes and perspective corrections. On other occasions, however, the shoot could involve scores of layers along with CG rendered elements. “Last year, for example, we completed a campaign shoot for The View From The Shard in London. It was obvious from our pre-production recce and a cynical appreciation of the British weather that we could make no assumptions that the sun would oblige us.
“With this in mind we planned to shoot the various elements separately, starting with the models on the viewing platforms – with supplementary lighting to mimic what might be coming through the windows on a sunny day - and then picking mornings and evenings when we had perfect conditions. By capturing the views on these occasions we could composite them later, shooting through the glass with a black tented area around the camera to eliminate reflections.”
While Richard has good retouching skills himself he sees the wisdom in focusing on achieving the components he requires, leaving it to a dedicated expert to pull everything together. This is a crucial relationship and, like so many others who have a strong post-production side to their output, Richard has formed a bond with a retoucher – Nick Humphries (nickhumphries.net) – who he’s worked with for ten years.
“Why would I try to reproduce what a retoucher with 15 years of experience or a CG house using the fastest render boards can do in a quarter of the time it would take me? I’m far better placed art directing and making sure the final execution is as close to photorealistic as possible. We speak daily, test regularly and the development of my style is directly linked to the vision that Nick and I work towards achieving together. “I try to ensure I maintain creative input at retouching stage. Sometimes this gets challenging when the work is taken in house by an agency, but in my experience, the client gets a much better result when we all have a say. It’s a collaborative process handled via emails between the rest of the team and me.”
Given that so many of his projects involve the visualisation of an end result which doesn’t exist, it’s crucial Richard has a clear vision in his head. This is particularly the case on commissioned work. “For the most advanced composite work I shoot a ‘back plate’ that forms the foundation,” he says, “and then I shoot the additional assets in identical perspective with the same lenses and under identical lighting conditions. If I’m lucky this is a brisk two hours’ work, but in more complex situations it can involve two or three mornings.”
The car’s the star
Richard’s move into CGI was encouraged in many ways by the fact that two of the key areas he works in are automotive and aerospace photography; sectors where the line between reality and image generation has become blurred in recent years. The reason for this is simple and down to logistics and costs; quite simply it’s cheaper and less risky to create a flawless CGI model than it is to ship a car to a location where it might be seen by spies looking to leak a new design early. That’s if it actually even exists yet.
“It’s important to emphasise that CGI is only a tool,” says Richard, “and the actual product on a rig will often give more pleasing results. With the best will in the world there is always some degree of compromise when you’re working with computer generation rather than the actual car, especially with shots involving movement. In these situations, we’ll often use a ‘mule car’ to give us the driver and shadow assets.”
Richard moved into automotive photography through shooting for titles such as Auto Express early in his career, turning around three auto photo stories in a typical week. “It was a great foundation for getting things shot efficiently,” he says. “Nowadays my main auto clients include BMW, Rolls Royce, Shell and Porsche, with an emphasis on auto manufacturing.
“The aerospace side of things is similar in that you are sometimes lighting a shiny metal box, but in other regards it’s more aligned with interiors photography. I have acquired a reputation, specifically in the corporate jet sector, which is highly specialised; it requires the ability to shoot beautiful cabin interiors in both 2D and 360° on an airport ramp in two hours flat because the aircraft needs to be in Geneva by teatime. My flying background has helped enormously here as I speak the same language.
“It’s a sector I love working in and, whilst not necessarily the best paid, I get to travel globally. One of the highlights for me was shooting the Matterhorn at dawn for a Swiss Business jet client. “We shot out of an open aircraft doorway at a temperature of -25°C and spent an incredible two hours skimming over alpine ridges.”
Richard’s camera of choice is the Leica S, which he first used to document the Virgin Galactic Space Programme. Leica had been following the photographer’s career for a while and were excited to be associated with a subject no-one else had access to at that stage.
“It has now developed into a long-lasting relationship where I talk at shows such as Photokina about my work and experiences with the Leica S camera system,” says Richard. “In my view, it’s far and away the most robust and optically perfect of the all the medium-format camera systems on the market. When I’m hanging out of a helicopter at 1500ft on an icy morning I need to know that the camera will perform with total reliability and I find the DSLR inspired design and simple interface ideal for this kind of environment.”
As a photographer who appears to have the world at his feet, it’s intriguing to hear Richard talk about fear, but that’s the emotion that he credits for much of his success. “I’d say 50% is down to that,” he says, “the fear being what would I do should I not be a photographer. The other half is down to my attitude, that my enthusiasm will see me through and enable my creative development. It hasn’t always been easy but it’s worked to date.
“The passion genuinely never fades. I never stop seeing stuff I’d love to shoot for the ’folio and the advent of digital imaging and my interest in new technology has meant that I see the opportunities as virtually limitless now, which is a great feeling.”
For more of Richards Work please visit richardseymour.co.uk
As featured in Professional Photo magazine, issue 125.
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