Chrissy Sparks. Photo by Deb Underhill.
Chrissy Sparks, winner of the 2014 'Best Vintage Photographer' (National Vintage Awards) is relatively new to the photography industry, has never studied the subject, but is already known worldwide for her Pin Up imagery and dramatic work with lighting, composition and post production skills bestowed in her alternative fashion photography. Known as the UK's number 1 pin up photographer, her brand DOLLHOUSE has taken off at break neck speed and she has now become the go-to photographer for a host of models, consumers and brands.
Sinical Magazine: How did you get started in photography?
Chrissy Sparks: I never expected to become a full-time photographer. It was a hobby of which I only occasionally had time to enjoy, but when I did I adored the extravagance I could produce in my fashion photos - it satisfied the hunger I had for creativity, which was somewhat lacking in my work at the time as a graphic designer in London's commercial property sector.
I launched DOLLHOUSE in May 2013 when I moved to Birmingham, it was purely a sideline project at the time. Unexpectedly, my work took off very quickly and before I knew it I was working every hour God sends shooting and editing for all kinds of clients from everyday women (booking elaborate makeover shoots), to clothing designers (fashion and lingerie), professional models (seeking portfolio updates) and other brands (for advertising campaigns etc). I left my career in graphic design after a couple of months of starting DOLLHOUSE and haven't looked back since.
Sinical Magazine: Who are some photographers that inspired your work when you first started?
Chrissy Sparks: My inspiration comes more from fine artists – particularly Rene Magritte, Gil Elvgren and Allen Jones who fire my imagination. I do not really 'follow' the work of any particular photographer – it all depends on the actual shot and I could just as easily admire a photograph of a complete novice as I could that of a seasoned professional, because I like to work out why the particular shot is successful.
Further, I tend to become more inspired by people I interact with than those whose work I admire from afar. Two photographers who I have been lucky enough to work with briefly whose photography I'd consider among the best I have ever seen, are John Farrar and Paul Ward.
Shellie Arielle (Latex by Catalyst Latex and MUAH Zaneta Swiatlowska)
Sinical Magazine: What type of camera equipment do you use?
Chrissy Sparks: Canon 5D Mark III.
Sinical Magazine: What type of lenses and focal length do you prefer for portrait work?
Chrissy Sparks: Currently, I am using the same lens for all of my work, 24-105mm - I have only just switched from shooting with the Canon 7D to the 5D, the full frame feature has improved certain aspects of my work - I'd definitely like to experiment with other lenses and focal lengths when I get the time to learn more about it.
Odette Niemand (head dress by GG's Pin Up Couture and MUAH Zaneta Swiatlowska)
Sinical Magazine: When creating a composition what is your main focus?
Chrissy Sparks: It is a combination of the particular strengths and weaknesses of the model/subject, and certainly my lighting.
Sinical Magazine: How much planning goes into a shoot?
Chrissy Sparks: This varies considerably. I frequently visualise a particular composition because something in everyday life can inspire me – often it is the play of light on an object or colour and I file the image away until it strikes me as really appropriate for a particular model. Other times, when discussing poses, props etc with my model and watching her mannerisms etc, I can be prompted to try something spontaneous – some of my best images can come about from being impulsive.
Sinical Magazine: Do you work with continuous lighting or flash lighting?
Chrissy Sparks: I only ever use flash lighting.
Sinical Magazine: What are some lighting set ups you like?
Chrissy Sparks: I like to create particular contrasts/shadows in my images which I have experimented to achieve, and now I have my favourite set ups and angles. I have been told by some photographers that my lighting is 'wrong', and by others that it is 'beautiful'. I don't use light meters and I often adjust the light dramatically in Photoshop - I understand the desire to capture the finished effect in-camera, but equally I like to break the rules!
Denise Valentine (MUAH Zaneta Swiatlowska)
Sinical Magazine: Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to models or other photographers?
Chrissy Sparks:With professional models I rarely find fault, other than the occasional model who is so used to shooting one particular genre (fashion or glamour for example) that they struggle to follow direction to create a different style. The day I took the set of photos you'll soon see with Romanie Smith (in the November edition of Sinical), we covered fetish, fashion, pin up, burlesque and alt. - not all models can be this adaptable but of course this is understandable (even if it does cause slight frustration at times) - good modelling is a very difficult skill indeed.
Regarding pet peeves with other photographers, I cannot really comment – we all have to find our own way in this very demanding field.
Sinical Magazine: What is the most interesting that’s happened during one of your photo shoots?
Chrissy Sparks: No single thing springs into mind but I have often been very surprised how my remarkably talented stylist Zaneta Swiatlowska can transform the look of a woman or create a particular look with her incredible work with hair and make up. She has become a dear friend and integral part of my business over the last 12 months, and we hope to work together indefinitely!
Sinical Magazine: Do you have one tip that you would recommend to any aspiring photographer?
Chrissy Sparks: No. I have several tips. First, shoot subjects that you love; secondly rely more on your own imagination/creativity to 'psyche' yourself into the right frame of mind to capture an amazing shot and, thirdly, confidence and tenacity are key - I believe captivating photography has lot less to do with one's knowledge of/skill in camera functionality than you would think.
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