Opinion

Q&A with award-winning photographer Andy Rouse

Andy RouseAndy Rouse is one of the world’s most prolific wildlife photographers.

In this interview at Rouse’s ‘Wild about animals’ exhibition in Hong Kong, the straight-shooting West Ham fan talks to Mumbrella’s Asia editor Robin Hicks about his commercial relationship with Canon, how he’s built his personal brand, what makes a great photograph for an ad, and how to deals with ‘haters’ on online forums.

So, what’s your commercial relationship with Canon?

I was recently appointed a ‘Canon Explorer’ [a programme for photographers to share their experiences of shooting using Canon’s EOS Professional System]. I’m an ambassador for the brand, although I say what I like and not what I’m told to say.

I have a good business relationship with Canon, which is essential in my line of work. The days of selling pictures on the market are declining, so photographers have to find new revenue streams.

You said you say whatever you want. But would you publicly criticise Canon products if you were unhappy with them?

Andy Rouse - male lionThere is nothing to criticise. It would be unprofessional to make negative comments [about Canon] in public, and I made a business decision to use Canon gear, which has moved my photography on to a new level. It has allowed me to do things I never could have done before.

Does being anti-establishment make it hard to work with big corporates like Canon?

You have to be respectful, both of companies and culture. I’ve worked in the corporate world before, so I know the right approach to take. And I know that, being in Asia, swearing during my talks would not go down well. But I won’t bow to anyone. And I won’t call anyone ‘sir’. I’ve met Prince Charles, but I didn’t call him ‘sir’.

What did you call him?

Prince.

So how have you built the Andy Rouse brand?

It started out from winning various awards [Rouse has won 24 major international photography awards]. I then got my own TV series, which came about after I filmed myself chasing polar bears and sent the film to [UK TV station] Channel 5. We made two series, and although I’m not a TV person it was a lot of fun and boosted my profile.

Andy Rouse - African elephants

I’m also comfortable with public speaking – I give a lot of talks at events. I’m approachable for other photographers, which is partly why Canon hired me. And I do a lot of training, which is a good way to build a brand name.

I also use Facebook a lot, although it’s hard to tell whether I drive much revenue from my page; it’s more about building the business brand and creating a following [the page has around 60,000 fans].

How often do you upload stuff on to your Facebook page?

One post a day. A lot of my peers are obsessed, and upload stuff five or six times a day, which is irritating for fans, in my view. What’s the point of uploading a picture of you eating a sandwich or getting out of the shower? I run caption competitions and get people to interact with my work. I don’t bother talking technology too much. Mostly, people just want to look at pretty pictures.

Which advertising clients have you worked with?

Andy Rouse - owl

My work is used by advertisers through picture libraries such as Getty, but I don’t work with ad agencies directly. And there’s no way with wildlife photography you can do commissioned work. If someone asked me to do a commissioned shoot for an advertiser, I’d laugh at them. We’re talking about wild animals here.

Is winning awards an obsession for photographers, as it is for advertising creatives?

For a lot of photographers, yes. But you never know what’s going to win at a show. A shot I took of a lioness calling in the early morning air is one the best shots I’ve every taken, but it’s always kicked out in the first round. I’ve no idea why. You’d think, there’s nothing wrong with that picture. Everyone looks at it and thinks it’s amazing. But you are being judged by human beings who might not like the style on the day.

So what’s the key to taking a good photograph for an advertising client? 

I’m told that my pictures are naturally composed to sell. This is an instinct that is hard to explain. Pictures are often taken to tell a story – but they won’t sell.

A good shot that a client will buy needs to have space to breathe. A tight shot with no room around the main image picture doesn’t help.

Sometimes advertisers want subtlety, but mostly they want a breathtaking shot that will scream at you from a billboard. They want contrast. It was great to see a shot I took of a gorilla on a huge billboard for Sky TV [A News Corp-owned British broadcaster] in Hammersmith in London.

But I am always true to myself when I shoot. If a client likes it, they like it. If they don’t, they don’t.

Advertising creatives take a lot of criticism for their work on blogs. Do you have any advice for how to cope with it?

Andy Rouse - owl in flightYou have to believe that the work you’ve done is the best you can do. If you believe that, nothing anyone says should worry you. Remember that some people on forums have a vested interest to bring you down. Some are simply jealous.

I’ve been pounded on forums. After changing camera systems, I got death threats and people saying I was a has-been. I used to get very angry and take the commentary very personally, but now I don’t bother with forums – which is why I started Fotobuzz, a site for positive criticism that takes the forum idiots out of the equation.

If someone takes a picture that is terrible, it’s not your place to pull them down for it. You have to give positive feedback, put your arm around them and advice them on how they could do things differently. Amateur photographers want to learn, not have their confidence crushed.

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