Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Where When How Wednesday - Simon Carter

Welcome to 'Where When How Wednesday'. In these weekly posts I'll be interviewing creatives about their journey into the creative world, their works, and what makes them tick. This week I'm interviewing photographer Simon Carter.

Model - Atalanta,  Taken At - Nic Marchant's

Hi Simon. Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for me. How was it you came to pick up a camera?

'Thanks for asking me!

My father – and both my grandfathers – were keen photographers when I was a child so I had a series of hand-me-down manual film cameras. I learnt the basics of exposure & so on – but stopped as teenagehood took hold. I just wasn’t interested in photographing the same things as my family – steam trains, planes, flowers and so on. And the Commodore 64 was way more fun.

Towards the end of my university years I got interested in contemporary circus stuff and that took hold in a big way. I have performed professionally but was never really business-like enough to be a real success in the industry. Fast forward a few years.. my wife gave me a small digital camera and I started doing a ‘photo-a-day’ group on Facebook – and I saw an advert for a group burlesque shoot at WindmillArt and got the bug.. I blame Conrad Webb.'

Model - Amie Boulton

Ah the Commodore 64, my father had one of those. I seem to recall I lost a substantial amount of time to Frogger. Because I fear very few will know what we're talking about (making us feel old), and it seems like it has the potential for a more interesting answer all round... You were involved in contemporary circus?

'The circus thing was a refreshing antidote to the extreme computer geekery I encountered at college. It was much more fun and involved people who didn’t dwell in a basement. It just happened that the folk I got involved with were very supportive when it came to giving people opportunities to perform, and that took off when I created an acrobalance act with my now wife. Consequently I’ve performed in all sorts of unlikely places from a muddy field in Blackburn – while wearing white lycra – to being dressed as a nun in an act with Dame Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey.'

Model - Maja Stina,  Taken At - Nic Marchant's

You have, by your own admission, an affinity for vintage Hollywood portraiture. What is it about the style that captivates you?

'Two things: Firstly, I love the drama of the results, the air of mystery and the sheer class. Secondly, it’s technically very demanding and highly rewarding. Pretty much anyone can bung up a big softbox and create a nice portrait but to create a flattering portrait with multiple hard light sources is rather exacting. Keeping on top of all that while still trying to make something which isn’t rather lifeless is a skill I have yet to master.'

Taken At - Nic Marchant's

Keeping with the vintage Hollywood theme for a moment. If you had the chance, via time travel or something, which three people from vintage Hollywood would you shoot?

'Cyd Charisse – a superb dancer and legs which went on for years.

Humphrey Bogart ‘cos he’s totally iconic.

Ingrid Bergman, the most beautiful and expressive of actresses.'

Taken At - Nic Marchant's

All fine choices... And if you could shoot three modern day, or relatively modern day stars, in the vintage Hollywood style, who would you shoot?

'I’m a rubbish person to ask this question, I watch so little TV and rarely see films. I’m sure Grace Jones would be awesome to work with. Maybe the recently departed Carrie Fisher? Steven Berkoff would be a scary guy to photograph and has an intensity few can match.'

Taken At - Nic Marchant's

Moving to your work around acrobats, dancers, alternate performers and the like if we may... All photography can have it's share of challenges. To my mind, as someone who hasn't tried it, acrobatic and dance photography could be quite challenging. Is this the case or is it actually pretty smooth going as long as you've prepared?

'It’s what I started with, really, and didn’t realise for a while that it has some unique challenges. The biggest problem is that I tend to show full length figures with quite a lot of space around them, often side lit, and often with the body at a rather unusual angle. That needs lots of studio space with big lights which are carefully controlled.

Then there’s the physical challenge – it can take a fair degree of repetition to get lights, fingers, toes, face and so on as I want them and most positions really can’t be held for long at all, or are purely transitory. That takes performers who are at the top of their game.

Lastly, it takes understanding of the skill being displayed. For example, a good photographer could make a perfectly good dance photo but the very best dance photographers are all dancers themselves.'

Taken At - Nic Marchant's

Are there any styles of dance, acrobatic disciplines, alternate performances you haven't shot but would like to try your hand at?

'I’ve always shied away from photographing jugglers – partly because it’s a highly dynamic thing, and partly because it’s the skill I know most about. I know just how hard it will be to make something I’m content with. I think that’s going to change in the near future, though.

I’m also about to start work on a series with yoga practitioners. There’s an awful lot of highly impressive ‘stunt yoga’ on Instagram and YouTube but that has almost nothing to do with most people’s relationship with yoga. That’s more about a personal connection with mind and body. I’m going to start very simply and see where it leads.'

Model - Verity,  Make Up & Hair - Sarah Pumfrey

Whilst researching I came across the blog on your website and read your 'The Process' post. Within it you say how you extensively post process images. Unlike some extensively post processed images your images, to me, don't look heavily processed. They look, for the most part, natural. Without giving too many trade secrets away, and without creating a full blog post about your process (I'm going to hire you for that later!), can you give a brief run down of your editing process?

'I don’t have any secrets! And I certainly don’t claim to be an expert in the PP community. I have evolved a process which works for me, though, roughly...

1. Basic development in Lightroom -camera calibration, sharpening, perspective & lens correction & so on. I often use a lightmeter and colour checker so that I don’t need to think about exposure and white balance issues.

2. Over to Photoshop.. I spend a disproportionate amount of time tidying up backgrounds – this is partly due to the size of my subjects, especially when horizontal - and it’s only recently I’ve got genuinely happy with the process. I’ll quite often light a background in a particular way only to completely replace it with a very similar background in photoshop rather than tidy up what I’ve got. I find that if the original lighting is a close match to the replacement then things look more natural, and more forgiving of errors.

3. Skin cleanup – this changes from month to month but is currently remove some of the reds, micro dodge & burn some fine lines. Then frequency separation – keeping quite a lot of texture on the high frequency layer. Then I and work on the high layer with a hard brush for spots and often use Color Efex Pro’s Dynamic Skin Softener on the low frequency layer to even out the tones. I tend to be rather selective about this, though, and if I reduce any nice contrasty shadows too much at this stage I’ll burn them back in later.

4. Liquify. Occasionally.

5. Dodge & burn as required

6. I very often boost the local contrast or clarity of the main subject via a variety of techniques.

7. Then I get on to toning. I’m not good at this yet but I can occasionally get results I’m happy with. I usually try to simplify and unify the colour palette rather than do any significant colour adjustment.

8. Print & deliver!'

Model - Helen Stephens,  Taken At - WindmillArt Studio

Speaking of printing, that's another thing you mention on your blog, the fact that you tested a lot of combinations. When hopefully I manage to start shooting more, printing is something I am very much wanting to do. How much research, and trial & error did you find yourself going through before you found the combination that matched you and your style?

'I must have tried 5 or 6 different labs and at least a dozen paper types, as well as a few different framing and glass options. I now use three different processes. Learning to get the print density right took a lot of test prints, too. Proper photographic C types on Fuji lustre paper have the best balance of punch and shadow detail for most of my work. I really like Loxley’s gloss Alumini stuff for high impact images, and I occasionally print b&w giclees on a textured cotton rag.'

Model - Roswell Ivory,  Taken At - Nic Marchant's

When you're not shooting what's occupying your time?

'I still teach acrobalance with my wife, though I haven’t performed in years. I don’t juggle anything like so much as I used to but it’s still there. Over the last year or so I’ve got interested in yoga. I love hill walking, and spending as much time as possible with my 9 year old son. (And trying to convince him that hill walking can be fun!). I like food – too much, wine – also too much – and diy hifi – but not so much now my music system does everything I need.'

Model - The Great Bendini, sideshow performer extraordinaire

I had a mate who was into the whole diy hifi thing, trouble was his music taste was abysmal. As a result, I have to admit, it never really interested me. Hill walking I don't mind, as long as I take a camera. Food, now there's a pastime I can relate to. What's your favourite dish(or dishes if you struggle with the "pick your favourite child" nature of the question.

'Lol! The world of hifi enthusiasts is weird, but has a lot of parallels with photography. Nerds spend more time listening to the kit than the music. Food is much easier – for me it has to be something simple and fishy. While there are still some fish left! Probably dab, briefly fried with a spot of samphire and some mash on the side.'

Model - Helen Stephens,  Taken At - Nic Marchant's

What has the future got in store for you and your photography?

'Without getting too fine-art pretentious, I want to work much more thematically, to explore subjects in depth and to make stuff I like whether anyone else gets it are not. My recent shoot with Helen Stephens was my first deliberate venture along those lines.

I’ll carry on doing one-off casual shoots but I hope to be able to put together a more coherent body of work or sets of projects as time goes on.

I love working with experienced models but it’s hard to justify the regular outlay unless I have a particular idea I really need to get out of my system. I also enjoy the challenge of working with folk who are unused to being in front of the camera – that’s slowly evolving into a paying sideline.'

Model - Artemis Fauna,  Taken At - Thurston Lodge

Where can people see more of your wonderful work and get in touch with you should they wish to shoot?

'I put different things on the different platforms.. I’m on PurplePort at, on Instagram as simonbalancer and there’s a selection of stuff on'

Model - Frankie Dubery,  Assisted By - VanessaPhotographer

Last but by no mean least, what's your favourite joke?

'Im rubbish at jokes.

Heres a small piece of photographic wisdom instead: "It aint what you got, it's what you point it at"'

Promo pic for Lily La Mer & Company - and her Winter performance troupe

I'd like to thank Simon again for taking the time to answer a few questions for me, be sure to check out all the links above for more of his work, as well as the links attached to the images for the other creatives involved in creating them.



  1. Thank you for inviting me to take part in this series, I'm honoured :)

    1. It was very much my pleasure to include you.