James Bignell, is a professional family photographer based in the UK, and comes to Dubai several times a year to take family portraits for his growing list of clients. I thought to feature James in our Fatherhood section, as he has been our family portrait photographer for the last 7 years since Luca was 18 months old, and we have done several more shoots since then. James’ photographs are natural and capture the children’s expressions beautifully – some photographs are posed and others tell a story. Looking back at photos of Luca, Sofia and Lorenzo, it is such a lovely investment to have these family shoots, and we have just completed a set for Leonardo too. As a keen photographer myself, I have never liked studio shoots much, and prefer James’ style where the children are given more freedom to express themselves in his work. The children are comfortable with him, and he is extremely patient which is a gift when doing family photography.
James has been a professional photographer since the mid 1980s having started out his career as a still life photographer working for a big advertising agency in Soho, London. For the past 17 years he has specialised in photographing people and his favourite work is especially with family. He still continues to do commercial headshots and teaches digital photography in the UK.
James is married to Victoria, who is a writer and they too have 4 children. His eldest daughter, Dixie is a fine figure skater and studying musical theatre at college. His eldest son, Ike, is a keen footballer player and represents his county, Kent, and also been recently inviting by Premiership Champions, Leicester City to trial with them.
Often, many people don’t understand the value of professional photographers. When it comes to taking photos of children and families, many people don’t realize there is an art to it. People assume it is just the camera that does the work. Tell us more.
Understanding the camera inside out is essential but is only a very small part of the job. It’s so complex on so many levels. You have to understand how to light a person in different lighting conditions. Be aware of textures, colors, composition and most importantly engaging with different personalities. I’ve always spent time in galleries, studying art, working on my creative eye. You get into a zone when your working where your total concentration is only on what is in front of you.
You are always trying to create that magical moment but it can’t be forced, DH Lawrence once said ‘sometimes you have to let the book write itself ‘ You have to go with the flow and make the most of every situation you find yourself in. Fortunately there are no magic buttons so it will always be a skill; I’m using 30 years of life and work experience to create an image. Then there’s the complex software we use nowadays to further enhance our images. That is another skill in itself.
You come out to Dubai once or twice a year; can you tell parties who are interested how to organize a shoot with you? Can you walk us through the process from start to finish?
It’s so easy, all they have to do is email me on firstname.lastname@example.org I keep a list of clients who want me to work for them and as soon as I know my Dubai dates I email them back with the days I’m available. It works on a first come first served basis. So the earlier they book they can pick the best day and time for them. Once a shoot is complete I either visit them for a screening if we both have time or I post the images to a secure server online for them to choose, I offer full creative support so they get the best creative solutions for their homes. The process can take time but I resulting images and products are well worth it.
You do most of your printing in the UK (which I appreciate), what other ways can you preserved these photos? Do you make albums?
I print in the UK and sometimes in Dubai but that is depending on how urgent the job is and how large the print run is.
I use a company called Queensberry Albums based in New Zealand who make the best handmade albums in the world. They are precious family keepsakes and I can only imagine how special they will become in the years to come. It’s a shame nowadays so many people have images on their computers and often they get lost or they do nothing with them. I think it’s wonderful to have beautiful artistic images on your walls and around the home. They bring such a lovely family feeling to a home. I work closely with a framer in Dubai and also ship out acrylics and canvases. Anything is possible,
Most people are also afraid of pricing of professional photographers, and without giving away too much, can you just give us an idea what you charge for your time?
To do a shoot properly, with all the postproduction work, the editing, image preparation and screenings. I have to set aside around 16 hours. Plus all the time helping clients choose and the admin work. So if someone is genuinely interested in quality work I would expect them to appreciate that I’m a professional and with my experience they should pay a reasonable fee for my time. My loyal returning clients understand this. I find that most people appreciate hard work and quality. So depending on the exchange rate around AED1000 – 1500 per shoot.
What are your new dates in Dubai in March?
I’m hoping to come out again before it starts to get too hot to shoot so in the next couple of weeks.
How do you balance work and the kids?
I try and spend as much time with the children as I can, I really miss them when I’m away working but try to never miss a football match or an ice skating show. My youngest son loves golf and I take him out at least once a week to play. I’m always up very early so try and get as much production done then so we have time as a family in the evening.
You have an interesting family scenario where your children are home-schooled. What are the benefits and the challenges?
Only 2 are home schooled now but it’s given us the opportunity to allow them some sense of freedom they might not have had otherwise. They are all good kids and work hard. The biggest challenge has to be feeding them every day and having to be there for them at all times. They have plenty of home schooled friends and their childhoods have been happy one’s.
Tell us your favorite part about coming to Dubai?
I love seeing my old clients and how their children have grown, it’s so lovely to meet new additions to their families and catch up with what everyone is doing. I love leaving a cold English winter and getting some summer sun and seeing how Dubai has changed and developed. It’s a remarkable country and I have huge respect for what the Emiraties have achieved. I’m also a big fan of Lebanese cuisine and there are so many great places to eat.