We live in a time where, owing to the proliferance of smartphones, everyone has a camera in their pocket. And the quality of those cameras is ever-improving. But the fact that everyone can take photographs with a simple swipe and tap, does not make everyone a photographer in the same way that internet publishing did not make everyone a writer. A simple scroll through some of your less creative friends’ Instagram feeds reveals that truth rather quickly.
Taking a great picture still requires a keen eye and an understanding of light and composition, as well as the ability to connect with a subject, even if it’s someone you’ve never met before. And in many cases, it still requires an actual camera. Because as great as the cameras on Apple iPhones and Samsung Galaxies have become, taking pictures is still just one of many other jobs that a phone needs to do. So no matter how much attention is paid to the camera, it will always be a smartphone accessory and not a smartphone’s raison d’etre. There is also something to be said for looking through a viewfinder, instead of an LCD screen, while taking a picture. It forces you to focus more intently which, in turn, leads to more compelling images. Plus, let’s face it, people take you a lot more seriously when you shoot with a real camera than they do when you’re holding a phone at arm’s length.
Greg Williams possesses all the characteristics of a great photographer. He started his career as a photojournalist, shooting in war zones like Chechnya and Sierra Leone. Those reportage skills served him well when he transitioned into shooting movie sets and movie stars. He is able to capture images of celebrities like Jake Gyllenhaal, Tom Hardy, and Cara Delevingne. They feel revealing and honest and completely different, which isn’t easy when you’re seeing people you’ve seen pictures of hundreds, if not thousands, of times.
Recently Williams was in Miami to shoot some of Lexus’s new cars, including the LC and the LS. We managed to pull him away from shooting beautiful models and beautiful cars to talk about how a guy can take better photos, even when they’re not of Hollywood royalty.
1. Do You.
Williams first piece of advice is one that applies not just to photography, but life as a whole: “Stop trying to be like other people and be yourself.” He started working in photography when he was 19 and had to do most of his learning on the job. “My problem is I started with the voice and then I lost it for awhile because I tried to do what other people did,” he says. “I got lost for awhile in overlighting, overthinking, and I took very good pictures that could’ve been taken by many, many people. I realized that by going back to my roots in photojournalism, I created pictures that people look at and go, ‘That must be Greg Williams.’” Even as he discovered his own style, Williams continues to draw inspiration from other visual artists, like director Stanley Kubrick, but he is able to synthesize it into something that is his own.
2. Love What You’re Shooting
If you like what you are taking pictures of, you will take better pictures of that thing, whatever it may be. Williams has met some very cynical photographers, some of whom are even quite successful. But he has found the best approach is to be more positive. “My biggest asset as a photographer is my empathy. I’m a fan, but not a sycophantic one,” he says. “I know I have a good eye, and I can take pictures. But my big thing is that I can talk myself into the room, into the plane, onto the set.” His style has helped him immensely, even with celebrities who are notoriously prickly. “I’ve worked with people that I’ve heard are so difficult, and they’re not difficult with me. I think that’s because I walk in both confident but also slightly in awe.”
3. Keep It Moving
Williams is not a fan of tripods because they can be limiting. Indeed, watching Williams shoot, he is in motion as much the model. “Don’t be too fixed into what the picture is and keep moving,” Williams says. But you also have to trust your eye. People are drawn to beauty, and tend to reflexively stand in the place where something looks best. So if you can attune yourself to that, you’ll likely find the best picture. “Often my best photo is the first one, beffore I start crouching down and getting funny angles. If you see it and it looks great, put your camera to your eye and shoot it exactly where you’re standing.”
4. Get A Good Camera
A good photographer can take a great picture with a bad camera in the same way that a bad photographer can take an awful picture with a great camera. But having the right equipment in the right hands certainly helps. Williams go-to is the Leica Q. He started his career using the famed red dot cameras, but switched to Canon for a spell when digital photography became the norm. But once the Q came out, he was hooked back on Leica again. “I went and saw [Leica] and said let me borrow it for a few days. I came back and said ‘That’s the best camera ever, you’re not getting it back. In fact I need another one. (laughs)”