Tim Platt is a London based advertising photographer & videographer. He has worked for some of the biggest brands around the world and is acknowledged to be one of the leading animal photographers in the UK. More recently, he has been working on a botanical fine art series that explores repetition and colour.
Thanks for doing this interview, Tim. I have been a big fan of your work for many years and have enjoyed watching your business grow and your style develop. Where did the fascination with animals come from and was this established early on in your photography career?
Actually, not initially. When I started, at college (in my day it was college), I pursued fashion, when I was a bit younger and trendier. I left in the mid-80s and did a stint assisting for a few years and kind of got underway with my own work shooting for design companies. Although I worked with people a lot, it was often studio-based work, which I think helped to develop this slightly more stylised approach.
When it came to animals, I suppose it was 15 years ago, I started to shoot dogs because I’ve always had a dog and they’ve always fascinated me. I wanted to approach these pictures as portraits rather than action shots of animals in the wild. I admire people who shoot that kind of work, particularly the patience and commitment it takes to find exotic animals in the wild, but it’s not something that appeals to me, I’m more interested in abstracting the animal into a studio environment, where I can focus on the detail. I think that’s something photography allows us to do; focus on detail in a way that few mediums do.
The idea of getting them in the studio was to photograph their personalities because I think dogs have a lot of character, a lot of intelligence, and they’re also innately comical creatures. They like to please us, and I think they know what makes us laugh so they can join in. They enjoy the attention. And this is something I’ve found moving on with other animals, it doesn’t seem to matter what sort of animal you’ve got in front of you, as long as the animal feels safe; it is surprising what kind of rapport you can develop in a short space of time. Similar to shooting people. But with people you can communicate; with animals, it’s more like shooting children, or very young children, you don’t have the verbal communication but there’s a lot of unspoken communication going on. They have to feel like they want to be there, because they don’t care what’s riding on a shoot. Kids don’t care about any of that and neither do animals. And it's really about remaining calm and patient. Sometimes you’ll get what you want very quickly, more often than not things can happen rather quickly, so you have to be ready for that.
It’s mainly about preparation, and then just being there in the moment, and being ready for whatever it is you’re hoping might happen.
The key thing with kids and animals is to make sure you are ready for that moment to happen; what you don’t want is for there to be some technical hitch that prevents you from capturing that beautiful moment. So, it's a lot about preparation. And then being ready, for the moment because it will come; you just have to wait sometimes. It’s mainly about preparation, and then just being there in the moment, and being ready for whatever it is you’re hoping might happen.
Just before the pandemic you shot a beautiful image of a Lusitano horse galloping towards the camera. Being a photographer who also shoots animals, I can really appreciate the planning, preparation and equipment involved to achieve such a shot. Can you share some of the details of how you created this image?
They’re athletic, and also fiercely intelligent so they can be trained to an extremely high level by a skilled trainer. They’re cooperative, sturdy and fast and very spritely horses. Lusitano was a project that came from some contacts, who were into the Portuguese School of Classical Equitation, as it's called. This is a very particular form of equitation, which focuses on these Lusitano horses.
I'd been wanting to capture a horse in this sort of action shot for some time, without any form of headcollar or lunge line. To heat a horse up to the point where it’s galloping, on its own without the constraints, puts you in a fairly vulnerable position where you're trying to set up studio lighting and whatnot. So I hooked up with a lady with an equestrian arena, we spent a couple of days, prepping for the shoot, putting up a large black drape down one side of the arena to black out the background.
Then we set up a series of Broncolor Scoro packs, because they are -pardon the pun- real workhorse lights and they have fantastically short flash duration, which is very important when shooting animals, particularly moving animals to ‘freeze’ the action. And then it was a case of acclimatizing the horse to the flash, which is generally not a big problem, surprisingly, in my experience. In the same way, you want kids to have fun, you want the animal to be enjoying themselves as well; and so, the horse was having a wild time, just racing around me in circles. I was capturing him in profile really, as he went past.
Going back to that magic moment, where you either grab it in that split second, or you lose it forever. The horse suddenly took upon itself to change direction, and for one tiny- probably 1/6000th of second- it was coming straight for me, and I could have dropped the camera and just legged it; but when you’re looking through a camera, one thing you have to be a little careful about actually is this “reality distortion field” you find yourself in, because you’re focusing on your shot, and you forget you’re actually in that room, with that thing that’s coming towards you at 100 mph.
It all boils down to a 1/6000th of a second. I think there’s a sort of magic about that. It's an unrepeatable moment.
But anyway, I managed to grab that shot, just as he was changing direction. Because he was coming at high speed- literally galloping- it looks like he’s almost falling over. The other thing is he’s looking straight at me, I like having eye contact with animals and I think it can make the shot. So that really was a good case of the process of photography leading up to, over a few weeks, to finally a couple of days of graft to get ready, and then finally it all boils down to a 1/6000th of a second. I think there’s a sort of magic about that. It's an unrepeatable moment.
They say never work with animals or children. You have shot an array of animals both in a studio and on location for many years. You must have had some ‘incidents’ and met some characters, that you can now look back on and smile? Can you share any?!
I mean every shoot has its moments I suppose, with animals, especially in a studio you don’t want them to run amok, and I’ve done shooting birds in the studio, which is quite a challenge, they could decide to go and sit in the rafters and not come down. I had a shoot with a cockatoo, who decided to lift off and land on the ceiling fan, and took a lot of coaxing, really to come down again. But if the ceiling fan had been going that would have been a very different story!
There was a Capuchin monkey, who I had to develop a rapport with, he was very excitable. And I wanted to capture him looking calm and serene, but he was as mad as a bag of frogs. And just up for games really. So, I decided to try playing catch. I've got this squeaky toy; that comes in handy when attracting animals-or children’s attention for that matter. And he became fascinated by this, so I threw it to him, and he caught it, which I was pretty impressed by. I didn’t know monkeys could catch but of course they can.
So that was an odd moment really, to have a monkey sitting on my head.
So anyway, the problem was he didn’t throw it back because he wants to keep it; and I was in arm’s reach of him, so very calmly and gently, I reached towards him and just prised the toy out of his grip, which he sort of went with but then decided that I was stealing his toy, got cross, jumped over the camera and landed on my head. I just had to sit there while he sat on top of my head because I couldn't fight him, that would have been the wrong thing to do.
So that was an odd moment really, to have a monkey sitting on my head. He climbed down and we ended up doing the shoot. I think we made friends, and I got a couple shots of him looking incredibly serene, which again just goes back to that split second moment thing, because for most of the time he was just up for having a lark and leaping about. So, when you see the pictures, only I know really how touch and go getting a shot like that was.
Your botanical series are very graphical yet abstract. A kaleidoscope comes to mind. How did this series come about?
Well, it came about in a slightly different way. Being interested in motion and stills, I thought I'd have a go at time-lapse photography, which I could do away from my studio in London. I had a small studio set up in the garden, which allows me to leave things undisturbed, so I got into doing that. It is a photographic process of taking stills at intervals for a duration of time whilst something is happening.
I started playing with video clips in post-production and experimenting with layering them together and creating symmetrical patterns. I realized that there was something quite interesting going on here because you’ve got the abstract, kaleidoscopic element, but also you’re working with time-lapse videos, there’s a constant sort of evolution going on within the clip itself, the pattern’s constantly changing. And it's a rather soothing thing to watch actually.
So, I had a mad idea to develop this into an app, which was a massive journey really, I'd never tried to make an app before. I released it on the app store under the name Moodlapse. Which developed into my botanical series, which then developed into an exhibition in Norwich last year in a really lovely venue called The Crypt, a medieval crypt under a chapel next to the Cathedral.
I think it's more gratifying for me to sell a print that someone’s putting into a frame and hanging on a wall, and will develop a sort of personal relationship with that image over a period of years.
I had a series of twenty large metal prints, and then a section at the back of the gallery for video and projection, a sort of immersive experience. We had some nice immersive ambient audio created for the show as well, played through multiple speakers and it made for a really nice experience.
So that got me into the idea of selling prints. I think it's more gratifying for me to sell a print that someone’s putting into a frame and hanging on a wall, and will develop a sort of personal relationship with that image over a period of years. It's a field of interest for me now.
The idea of promoting work directly to people who are interested in buying it for themselves. I have to admit it's quite a new field for me because I’ve always worked in the commercial sector, where there’s a great deal to be said for the creativity and the joys of collaboration, and the budgets that are sometimes available to help you put things together. The idea of selling work for people’s personal enjoyment is quite liberating though. It means I can focus on personal projects that really work perhaps only in a frame on a wall. So that’s something I'm interested in steering towards.
Colour clearly influences your work both in your personal projects and commercial work, where do you tend to find the most inspiration?
It's a tough one actually, I don't really think of myself as looking for inspiration, I think it's more of an accidental thing, I’ll just fiddle about with something then something will spark, or I’ll feel enthused to keep going with something and that’s really what happened with the botanical opticals project. Which is a project that could run and run, I’m not really done with it.
I think there is an interesting phenomenon whereby you become interested in something and suddenly you start noticing it happening somewhere else. In fact, there was a lady who bought one of my prints who wrote an interesting blog post about it; it’s something I’d not heard of before called Reticular Activating System.
It's the name that’s given to the way that our brains have a built-in filter that allows us to recognise things we are interested in, and filter out things we’re not. And it tends to work a bit like the algorithm where “if you like this you might also like this” kind of thing; and so I have found throughout my career I’ll hit on something which then I’ll notice examples of a similar direction elsewhere.
So I think it's possible that inspiration is really about picking things up subliminally and then finding yourself working on it in practice, then finding that you’ve opened up a receptor in your own brain that allows you to notice things that pertain to what you’re thinking about. I don’t know, it’s a difficult one to think about.
Have you got any more botanical projects in the pipeline and what are you working on at the moment?
Well, yes, specifically if we’re talking personal work, I’m still persevering with the time-lapse, and in a radical departure I’m now starting to shoot against a white background instead of a black background! I’ve created an adaption for my high-res app to allow for layering the elements, on white rather than on black. And actually, that’s going to be quite nice as a sort of a variation on a theme; but also, I’m quite interested in scaling down to really tiny objects and looking at them in a heroic large format.
I’ve been playing around with focus stacking and working on macro lenses. And it's something I can do at home. I don't have to have a big studio in London to do that. I guess, it's a bit of a cliche, but some of these changes in direction were probably prompted by the pandemic and the fact that some commercial work drifted off for a bit; and most crucially offered up a window of time to tinker about again.
So, the macro stuff is something I'm just getting underway with, but it’s already proved quite interesting to do. In theory, this is an avenue that is literally limitless; it's about looking at small things in great detail. So that does widen up a pretty big field.
So yeah, that’s something in the works really. However I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve given up on my day job, I’m still out there, and I do have my studio base in London. So yeah, I guess the pandemic forced a change of pace, basically, on most of us, and we’ve all found ourselves perhaps dabbling with things we wouldn’t have time to experiment with and in some ways, that’s been quite liberating but in other ways quite challenging.
To see more of Tim’s work check out his website - www.timplatt.co.uk for his advertising and animal work.
For print sales go to https://timplattprints.com
Instagram - timplattphoto