The many faces shot by Johannesburg-based art, fashion and portrait photographer Tarryn Hatchett manifest an intimacy between the people before her lens and viewer. Through her works, she captures a sensitivity and fosters a connection with her models – skills honed through the trials and errors of being a self-taught photographer. Tarryn favours authenticity over perfection and for Photography Month shares six valuable insights – from preparation to retouching – that she’s learnt from hands-on experience. Read her advice below:
How important is pre-planning for shoots?
One of the most important part of your prep is planning to work with the right team. A mood board is a lovely visual tool that can help you along, but a moody stylist and three-hour-late model with a diva disposition can turn a shoot on its head. Work with people who are reliable, who make your work better and who trust your vision. In that same breath, be a good energy on set. Diva behaviour is never cute.
What do you advise when it comes to lighting?
I’m a huge advocate of natural light – so I am a little biased here. Light should be used to shape your subject, tell a story and to create mood. It is not necessarily solely about making absolutely everything in the shot visible. Underexposing a photo by a few stops can do magical things for the tone of a shot. Learning the rules of how to balance light – studio or natural – to achieve a “perfect” exposure is an important part of every photographer’s beginning, but experimentation will help you find your own style.
It is no secret that magic hour is every photographer’s BFF, so use it. Go make dreamy shots during twilight, or shoot in direct sunlight for something more contrasty, play with a flash for that lo-fi look or with studio lights to find your ideal beauty lighting. Never let a lack of expensive lighting equipment get in the way of creating. There are no rules here. Play – it is the only way to learn.
Let’s chat about gear. What do you recommend?
I am not a giant tech-head. I have seen the most mind-blowing shots taken with the simplest gear. The idea and your unique creative vision should always override what gear you are using. Photography gear is notoriously sell-your-grandmother’s-kidneys-for-a-lens expensive, so start off simple and grow your gear gradually.
A decent 50mm lens is a good starting place for portraiture. Aim for something with the lowest aperture possible to give you more creative options. Second-hand cameras from reputable camera gear stores are also a good bet. You can also find an old film camera or a Polaroid camera. If none of these options is available to you yet, shoot on your phone – it is a good way to start training your eye.
What’s your take on retouching?
This is a tricky area to give advice because retouching comes down to personal. I use Photoshop because it is the program that makes the most logical sense to my brain, and gives me the most options. A lot of photographers prefer Lightroom or Capture One because they have simpler interfaces and to-the-point editing tools. There are so many good editing tutorials. All of this can be self-taught (with a bit of patience and a healthy sense of humour about yourself). From colour work to beauty retouching, to creating a film look – it is all available on the interwebs. Some photographers keep editing to a minimum – and others see it as half the fun of creating an artwork – see what works for you. If I can teach myself, you can too.
Do you have any tips when it comes to communicating with models?
The direction of models is such an underrated part of the process. It is so easy to forget how tear-your-own-face-off awkward it can be to be in front of a camera with little direction. Talk to your model, explain the mood of the shoot and the character that they are playing. It is so necessary to establish a connection and trust between you and the subject to get the best work out of both of you.
The more often you work with a model, the more you will share a shorthand and a visual language. I have a handful of muses with whom I work repeatedly. If a model is inherently awkward – use that rather than try work against it. It also doesn’t hurt to put yourself in front of the camera every now and again to remind yourself of the direction that someone might need.
Play music during a shoot; it is the easiest and quickest way to plug into a mood for everyone on set. This also helps keep the good vibes rolling when you have been shooting for 12 hours, surviving on coffee and snap peas, and everyone just wants to be home for Netflix and chill.
Lastly, how can aspiring photographers find their individual style?
This is the hardest part. You can learn the technical aspects of photography but if you have no eye, or nothing visually or conceptually interesting to offer, then you’re probably not going to get very far. Finding your own artistic voice takes time, practice and experimentation. You have to find something that sets you apart, or makes your work recognisable. I sound like a cheesy Pinterest saying, but you have to be prepared to fail too. Make peace with feeling out of your depth in the beginning, but keep moving.
Look at the work of artists that inspire you – in whatever medium that might be – and analyse what it is that appeals to you. Whether it’s sincerity, a touch of the fantastical, the absurd or a visual style. Pretty is not always interesting, and interesting doesn’t necessarily have to be pretty – commit to what moves you the most. Try not to just copy the style of people with a trillion followers on Instagram, and try and not only find your inspiration on Instagram. It can be an incredible marketing tool for any photographer.
My best jumping off points are usually film or music or building a character for a model. I’m going to sound like a broken record – but play, play and play. There are no rules except to create.