A shoot with Olaf Willoughby

Story | Interview | Rita Horne | 16 Jul 2014 | 0 comments

Hailing from Surrey, United Kingdom, Olaf Willoughby is a admired and respected Documentary and Fine Art Photographer.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in leafy Surrey (UK). But far more importantly, my Mother is Italian and both my parents are musicians. That has given me my lifelong fascination with creativity

How long have you been a professional photographer?

I’ve been shooting paid assignments for 10 years.

How would you describe your style?

I try to capture the ebb and flow of energy around us, whether that is in the street, in the studio or in the landscape. The energy is where the storytelling and the creativity begins.

Before professional photography?

A mixture of drumming at night and marketing consultant by day. It was a strange life :)

What’s the best part?

Breathing in the fresh air of creativity and (sometimes) seeing your work improve.

How do you keep yourself motivated and your photography fresh?

I’ve never had a problem with motivation. As I teach creative photography and am co-founder of a very successful Facebook and website group called, The Leica Meet, I’m surrounded by the challenge of very high quality work. Freshness is all about seeing anew and that comes from the sense of play so important in art. As they say, ‘If your waste bin isn’t full you’re not trying hard enough

Who or what inspires you in your work?

Inspiration is everywhere! I already referred to Michael Ackermann. Also check out Santiago Vanegas (conceptual), Sean Kernan (writes as brilliantly as he shoots) and John Paul Caponigro (equally at home talking about art history or layer masking in Photoshop). And it doesn’t only come from the rock stars. I interview photographers for The Leica Blog and on May 21 I’m featuring Guiseppe di Santis, an amateur shooter whose b&w folio of the Palio horse race in Sienna is wonderful.

What do you look for behind the lens? What catches your eye and compels you take the shot?

I ask myself constantly, ‘Is it alive?’ We’re back to energy. Sometimes the most beautifully composed and technically executed image is dead. Look at the work of Michael Ackermann, particularly End Time City for rough edgy work that bubbles with life and emotion.


Olaf Willoughby Photographer 2014
‘Hanoi Hustle’ – Downtown Hanoi, Vietnam, 2014


What type of cameras do you shoot with?

Leica. I’ve been through the Nikon Canon phase. I’ve struggled through the Antarctic with a rucksack full of giant lenses and finally I feel I’ve come home. For me the Leica, although it is expensive, offers the best image quality: weight ratio on the market. It isn’t for everyone or for all occasions but it is unobtrusive and pushes you to make, not take the image

What is your favourite accessory, other than your camera?

Power bars.

What is your favourite editing accessory?

Lightroom 5. It gets better with every iteration and now has a ton of retouching power in addition to its digital asset management benefits.

Mac or PC?

You can’t be serious! Mac or…. what was that other thing?


Olaf Willoughby Photographer 2014
‘Jump for Joy’ – Tea Plantation, Vietnam, 2014


The hardest part of your job?

Patience and planning. I like to get on with it. Yet often in photography the best option is to think about your shot first and plan it. What is the best angle, will I then have something awkward in the background, how long will I have for the shot…etc. Then have the patience to wait for the plan to work.

What piece of kit would you most like to get but don’t have yet?

The Leica Noctilux lens. It has a maximum aperture of f0.95 which means it is great in low light and has beautiful soft out of focus areas. It is truly outstanding. The only issue is that it costs about the same as a small saloon car

If not a photographer what would you have been?

Drummer. I spent my ‘formative’ years drumming in jazz clubs around London. Thank heavens I switched I might not have made it this far….

Something you’re still learning?

The lotus position.


Olaf Willoughby Photographer 2014
‘Crowded Fishmarket’ – Hanoi, Vietnam, 2014


What advice do you have for photographers just starting out?

Carry a camera. Shoot with it constantly. Sounds stupid doesn’t it? But too many people think they have to go somewhere exotic before they can get a good picture. The real challenge is to make a great image out of ordinary material. Just like tango – practice, practice…

What do you think is the greatest challenge for a tango photographer?

The combination of motion and low light levels is a challenge for any photographer. You need to know how to get the best out of your camera.

What would you like to get out of the Tangofolly Project?

Inspiration. As I said earlier, it comes from many sources and I’m looking forward to see what I can learn from the competition entrants – and also what advice I can offer that can help others.


Collaborators: None...

Credits: None…

SHOOT Roll: Judges

SHOOT Project: Explore the photos and award-winning images, read interviews with the winners and judges and featured tango photographers. Visit the SHOOT →

Published: 16 Jul 2014 @ 23:34


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