Danielle Clough is a multi-talented creative living in the Mother City. From app development design at Touchlab, freelance design, toy making, crafts, her own art production gig: Ok Gigantic, one of her main passions is photography. After many years of playing photographer-photographer, during the 2010 Football World Cup she turned her hobby into business. This is her journey as a photographer in South Africa:
SBTC: What sparked your interest in photography?
DC: I think the thing that first really ‘ignited’ my passion for photography was a website called pijin.net in 2005. It was for amateur digital photographers and was the first social network site I was on. You got briefs or could upload to a freestyle section and it gave my happy snap a new dimension. It gave pictures a purpose other than sitting in one of those kitsch floral albums on the coffee table.
SBTC: Did your background influence your interest in photography? Where do you come from?
DC: My Dad is a photographer, but I didn’t grow up with him and never really considered it as a career. I’ve always been making things like painting and clothes so I guess it’s like a natural progression. My mother has been unbelievably supportive in anything I do, so even though she didn’t understand why I would want to draw all day and wear clothes I made out of the curtains, she supported me. That’s probably the greatest gift anyone could give you.
SBTC: Was it a dream of yours to do professional photography or was it just a hobby that developed?
DC: It was a hobby. I have no formal training and in some ways I still consider it a hobby. I got my first camera at 17 and went from there.
SBTC: A camera does a certain amount of ‘creating’ when it comes to photography – it physically takes the pictures, however, we’ve all seen bad photographs! How do you balance technology and your creativity?
DC: Understanding the technology is the key to unlocking your creativity. Knowing what your camera (and Photoshop of course) is capable of and how to achieve your vision gives you the freedom to actualize whatever magic you concoct in your head.
SBTC: It’s one thing being creative but how do you physically learn to use all the functions on a camera?
DC: I’m self-taught and found shooting in film was the best way I learnt. You only have 36 shots and don’t want to waste them, so every shot is more considered then if you have a squillion pictures and can immediately see the results. I opened up an old camera and physically saw how the camera reacted on different settings. This made it real. Turning a knob on a digital camera didn’t seem ‘real’ to me and never sunk in. And then there was good ol’ faithful Google for the answers I couldn’t figure out!
SBTC: Are there ways to tune your artistic eye?
DC: There are basic rules that always work, like the rule of thirds but then again rules are made for breaking aren’t they? Best way is to shoot, shoot and shoot. And take criticism. That’s a biggy.
SBTC: What kind of content do you like to feature in your work?
DC: I like documenting people in their natural environment, but looking at a bulk of my work I have no set style or subject matter. I enjoy adapting to where I am and what I’m shooting. I find that’s when I’m most creative.
SBTC: Did you attend any classes to help you with photography?
DC: Not yet. I studied Art direction and graphic design, so that helped develop my mind creatively but I have no formal Photography training.
SBTC: How do you turn hobby photography into professional photography?
DC: I think the first thing is to start a blog/ photo stream/website. This is a good way to build your confidence and to share your work. Assist other photographers (this is where the blog will help, in getting that job) this is the quickest way to learn, get connections and put yourself out there. Get together with friends and come up with ideas for shoots. Do things for free and do things for love. Keep your camera on you, and most importantly, be brave and have fun!
SBTC: How do you know when you’ve taken a really great photograph?
DC: You feel good about it. I think you just know.
SBTC: Is photography only for professionals who understand the technology behind it or can everyone appreciate photography? Do you have a 101 of photography for us plebs?
DC: Some very basic tips:
- Shoot with space on the left or the right of the subject (centering everything can make it very flat).
- Get creative with perspective…sit on the floor, stand on a chair, whatever is around.
- Play with negative space and cropping.
- Don’t look at the pictures you have taken for 2 days. It’s tough to do but you will have more perspective when you see the pictures with fresh eyes.
Everyone can appreciate photography. With the Internet, digital cameras, Instagram and Photoshop everyone has an access to photography as an art. Its passion, drive and a lust to learn that will take photography to the next step.
SBTC: What was your first paid job?
DC: Shooting portraits for a band that I think broke up. The photos were terrible and my ‘lighting assistant’ was my best friend holding a bed-side light.
SBTC: Where did you move to from there?
DC: I was studying Art direction, graphic design and used my photography for my projects. I started shooting for Mahala.co.za and the ‘big break’ was documenting Three Stories for /A word of Art and Adidas over the Football World Cup 2010 in South Africa.
SBTC: How do you create your own style in photography? Does it come with time or is it about content / feeling?
DC: I think it comes naturally. It’s like drawing, you can learn different techniques, but essentially you’ll always have your own style that you can’t fight.
SBTC: What was the best advice you were given about following your dreams?
DC: I can’t really pin point one. I’ve always assumed I just had to follow my dreams and there wasn’t any other option. However, someone told me recently that ‘It’s good to be nervous. It means you care, and you should never do anything you don’t care about.’
SBTC: What characteristics do you need to be a good photographer?
DC: A lot of passion, handful of a compassion, a bucket load of drive, a pinch of energy and a morsel of competiveness.
SBTC: Is it possible to copyright your work?
DC: I still need to look into this properly but yes. Watermark it or make sure your site says all images ©Your name. Just to cover yourself.
SBTC: Does photography sustain you or do you have another job?
DC: I work as a full time graphic designer at Touchlab. I’ve always wanted to be a part of the full creative process, so photography is just one aspect of what I do.
SBTC: What’s your ultimate photographic goal?
DC: Short term: Get into Rolling Stones magazine. Long term: I want to own my own design house with a massive photographic studio and work with fellow creatives from all creative disciplines. And a have a book. Obviously.