Philip Berryman


Breitling Watch Launch

You can tell if someone is good. They’re gifted with a sense of style, a sense of composition and a sense of sense. Its instinctive, all the technique in the world doesn’t compensate for the inability to notice things. In fact it just gets in the way. The most important thing is to be able to see.  Elliot Erwitt

As a photographer we are constantly seeing and then making choices as to how to represent what we see. How to take that photo in that given moment. We are faced sometimes in a fraction of a second with choices of angle, position, exposure and lighting. In that fleeting moment we make many rapid decisions as to how to approach our subject. It may not always be such a fleeting moment but sometimes it may be a slow, considered and thoughtful process such as shooting a still life where tiny adjustments of the subject make a big impact and subtle light changes affects the mood and how it is then later consumed. There may be a client, an art director or a stylist all discussing the image and contribution to the production of that one photograph. I consider the incredible still lives by the great photographer Irving Penn and the subtle use of small found objects that he includes in the still life that give impact to the image. It may be the seemingly casual way some breadcrumbs are thrown on the marble or turning an item a fraction towards the light or shifting the camera angle a tiny amount that changes the image in a considerable way. But one cannot underestimate the influence his work and these choices have made on photography today. One may go as far as to say that all still life photography in some way pays homage to Irving Penn. We are then an editor, choosing what to include and what not to include. We are allowing the consumer of our images to see the world through our eyes or at least share our interpretation and our creative visual take on things. This is why its important to try to create a style and a look to your work otherwise you are just taking the same image as everyone else and thus you are never unique and individual. This however can be very hard given the incredible quantity of images we see, create and consume daily.

According to my father he noticed I ‘had an eye’ or ‘saw things differently’ after a holiday in the South Of France when I had disappeared with my camera for an afternoon. The shots that came back later in the little packet from the chemist were so drastically different or at least unexpected for a boy of 10 years old or whatever youthful age I was. I had taken still life shots of benches on the promenade, photographed lampposts with whispy clouds drifting behind and found shapes and textures in the landscape and created harmony in the frame with the found items. Essentially I was looking and seeing things that others were not. I suppose I am, as Elliot Erwitt has described in the quote above; gifted with a sense of sense of composition and have an instinctive sense of style. At that point I knew nothing about technical aspects of photography and it was a just a point and shoot camera but the pictures stood out and were different. There is a photo of me photographing Chinese New Year in China Town London when I must have only been about 9 years old. There is a look of intense focus and concentration on my face. At that young age I was clearly watching and seeing and making decisions as to how to capture my subject. In that case it was a whirling Chinese dragon. But clearly I had a keen sense of my surroundings and was making judgments and choices as to how to approach my subject. Incredible to look at this photo and ponder that at that age I had no idea I would spend a lifetime shooting. I walk past that exact spot on Gerrard St. Soho pretty much every week and I always think of me standing there in that very spot taking the photos of the Chinese dragon. Perhaps like Elliot Erwitt says in the quote, for me it is instinctive and it didn’t matter that I knew nothing about f-stops and shutter speeds and so forth. I had an instinct about what to do. I do feel that with digital photography nowadays we spend way too much time struggling, battling and dealing with the technical issues and demands our super complicated cameras put upon us. When I am shooting with my photographer colleagues we spend an incredible amount of time discussing our computers (cameras), how they work, how to set them, how to operate them in whatever situation and hardly ever any time discussing art, inspiration, ideas, concepts, culture and all the other key elements that contribute to the making of a photographer. Oh how I envy a writer who can be so creative with so little technical bother.


On this current job I was commissioned to make decisions and choices photographing a Breitling watch launch day at The Corinthia Hotel London. It was one of those days where you are a still life photographer, a fashion photographer, a documentary photographer, a food photographer and an interiors photographer and the standard of each of these disciplines needs to be very high. This shoot happened during the Beast From the East snowfall. When I first did the exteriors of the hotel it was reasonably bright, sunny and clear. Two hours later I went back out and there was a blizzard and the exterior was covered in snow. The day was quite a challenge and in this case, unlike shooting Chinese dragons aged 10, I really did have to make many decisions regards f-stops and shutter spends but I hope my instinct remained true.