HENNESSY X NICK GRAY
Creative people aren’t born. They’re made. Through hard work, honing their craft and a lot of hustling, it turns out.
Recently working with him on a very special project in Belfast*, we step behind the lens with leading local photographer Nick Gray - looking at some of his best work and what drives him forward…
[*More on that project soon]
A driving force in Northern Ireland’s creative scene
1. How long as a full-time photographer?
I really had to think about this, as the last year has been somewhat of a blur!
I think it’s been around two and a half years, but for the last 10-11 years I’ve been honing my photography and retouching skills, figuring out what it is that gets the hair standing when I go shoot and working hard to figure out the retouching game. If you want to see the difference that editing makes to the final shot, I have an interactive before and after slider feature on my website that can show that much better than I can explain it - check it out at https://nickgrayphoto.com/
2. How did you get started?
I studied graphic design back in the day; there was a photography module as part of the course and from the very first click I was hooked. I knew then I had to dig deep into the University of YouTube and find out everything I could. I reached out to several photographers at the time to assist or help on shoots or in any way I could.
The only one to respond was Lee Mitchell (if you don’t know him, you need to check him out at https://www.instagram.com/leemitchellphotography/). He gave me a start and had me in assisting on shoots. He taught me so much and really showed me the way, in terms of what I needed to know to control my camera and how to best work with and control the light on a shoot. That is something and someone I am forever grateful for.
3. How to turn photography from a side hustle to your main gig?
I was sat in the office of my previous job in advertising, and during my lunch breaks, I spent a lot of time talking to one of the Senior Art Directors who kept telling me my photography was great and I was wasting time doing what I was doing. At the time I thought it was just flattery / smoke being blown.
A short time after that, I started reaching out to a lot of different people about assisting with photography on different projects - absolutely everything I thought I could do or might enjoy. One of the people I reached out to was a boxing management company. Next thing I knew, I was on a flight to Marbella to spend some time with an IBF champion boxer during his camp for his fight. Sadly, I missed out on a trip to Vegas for his actual fight due to work commitments, but it was really valuable experience.
I guess what I’m trying to say here to anyone reading is – the answer will always be no to the questions you don’t ask.
4. Top tips for anyone starting out?
Always manage clients’ expectations.
Get deliverables nailed prior to shooting.
Have everything in an email and print it out.
Be prepared to work your ass off.
Always be humble – don’t be a d**k.
5. Best advice you’ve ever been given?
I honestly can’t think right now, but advice I would give – try everything. The only focus you should have is on whatever you point your camera at; don’t focus on what others are doing, how they edit or who they work for because everyone starts off somewhere and you don’t know what they’ve done or how hard they worked to get there.
If anyone has any questions, please drop me a message. I’m always happy to help where I can.
6. What camera?
At the moment I’m using all Sony gear, but I’m very tempted to go back to Canon with the release of one of their new flagship models and I kind of miss how Canon process their colours.
7. What kit for starting out?
Anything you can afford.
Heck, I’ve chatted to photographers who started by downloading an app on their iPhone that allowed better control over the camera.
8. How did you build your client base / book jobs?
To be fair, with Covid and lockdowns I got straight onto LinkedIn & Instagram and started making connections and getting chatting. Connections and real relationships are way more important than just simply trying to sell yourself as a photographer.
Doing this, I’ve made so many connections all over the world.
I’ve also been pretty lucky to have signed with an agent (albeit only a few months before lockdown) so I’m very much looking forward to working with them this year on some larger scale jobs when travelling opens back up.
9. Where do you find your inspiration?
Everywhere. I’m a weirdo. I could be driving along the motorway and I’ll watch how the sunlight contours each vehicle / colour differently; how the shadows look, how the reflections seem, how the light travels through trees while sitting in a park.
Photography really is the processing of light - take that away and you don’t have an image. So I am addicted to the light and trying to understand it as best I can.
10. Any shoots close to your heart?
It sounds like a cliché, but they all have been amazing as they’ve allowed me to develop new connections, new work, new friends. But a huge one for me was my first shoot with Van Morrison. I got a call from his manager in the first week of January 2019 asking if I would do some work for them… initially I thought it was someone pulling my leg; luckily it wasn’t! I still pinch myself to this day over that one.
11. How do you approach different shoots/subjects?
Most people that follow me on Instagram only know me for my automotive work, I enjoy that, but yeah, I shoot a lot of people too.
I’ve also shot two-time world boxing champion Ryan Burnett; I’ve shot for fitness brands and photographed for lots of lifestyle brands too. One project I’m in talks with this year is an Italian fashion brand, I’m very much looking forward to seeing how that goes and seeing how the Italians make pasta!
In terms of directing them – my way of working is possibly different to most; when I can, I tend to start the shoot off with no cameras and a coffee / drink and form a conversation or have some craic.
Only then can someone be comfortable, and you get what you need from them.
12. Five photographers we should be following?
I love the work of my pal @aaronbhall (https://www.instagram.com/aaronbhall/) - his shooting style is epic and very different to what I’d see over here.
@amyshorephotography (https://www.instagram.com/amyshorephotography/) is ace and such a lovely lady. She has her own unique style and always has time for chat.
My pal @mikeboldtphoto (https://www.instagram.com/mikeboldtphoto/) – waaaay across the pond from me but we chat a lot on the way to and from shoots and I need to get out to Canada and get shooting with the guy!
I’m a big fan of @tomkahler’s work (https://www.instagram.com/tomkahler/). How he mixes automotive and lifestyle is something I want to do more of this year for sure.
If you follow me on social, you’ll know I am a huge @porsche guy (https://www.instagram.com/porsche/). I recently had some work published for @type7 (https://www.instagram.com/type7/) (The official Porsche lifestyle channel) – I’ve a few more projects lined up with these guys, so I’m looking forward to that.
Hennessy is proud to partner with some of Northern Ireland’s leading individuals and collectives; mixing things up, making their mark, near and far.
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