Topshop, Mulberry, NYLON and Vogue Homme are just some of photographer Bella Howard’s recent clients. The London-based snapper talks to Martha Alexander about connecting with celebrities, portfolio building and turning the music up...
How did your career begin?
My first break came when I was interning at i-D magazine in London, after I had completed a photography course at the Spéos Paris Photographic Institute. I was 19 and an intern under the fashion department. They saw some of my shots from my course in Paris and got me to shoot a six-page story. It was the best break I could have wished for. After that, more magazines got me to shoot for them while I was still interning. I then started assisting Matt Irwin as well as doing my own photos and my ’zine.
How do you make your subjects comfortable?
I just turn up the music and goof about. I’m probably the least intimidating person as I never take anything too seriously; if you take it too seriously, the subject freezes up and you end up with stale images that conveying nothing.
To become a professional photographer, is it more important to go to college or get hands-on experience?
I think it totally depends on the individual; there are so many different niches in this job. I tend to march to my own drum. I did an art foundation course after school and hated every minute of it as it was so regimented that I didn’t feel creative. I then went to Spéos and learnt about darkrooms and how to really use a camera. We got set projects to interpret in our own way. I learnt far more in this organic way of learning.
Can you give us a failsafe tip or piece of key technical advice?
Don’t leave your lens cap on.
Which cameras do you most typically use?
I use Contax flashes and a Fuji Instax. When I shoot digitally, I use a Hasselblad H2.
You’ve taken portraits of celebrities, such as Lana Del Ray. Is that harder?
I wouldn’t say its harder to shoot, it’s just less personal as you tend to get a very short time-period to shoot them, if it’s a portrait. I shot Kelly Rowland’s portrait in five minutes, as that was all the time I had with her. It’s hard to build up the trust and get genuine reactions.
What advice do you have for budding photographers?
Stay true to yourself. It can be disheartening when people say, “Oh just get a normal job,” because you’re not getting paid and you start questioning whether it’s worth it. Get a side-job and plough through. You have to be determined and keep a positive attitude at all times.
Any advice for building a portfolio on a budget?
Lots of agencies will get new photographers to do test shots of new models. It’s worth checking out, and is good for building relationships with the agencies.
You have a ’zine and are a prolific blogger. How important are these to the success of your career?
It’s an easier way for people to see more of my personality by looking at my blog, but I would rather have meetings. It’s much better than being an anonymous person behind some pictures. I’m quite old-school in my approach; I still prefer carrying around a huge heavy portfolio and shaking someone’s hand.
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