An Interview with Duncan Elliott

  • © Duncan Elliott
  • © Duncan Elliott
  • © Duncan Elliott
  • © Duncan Elliott
  • © Duncan Elliott

Growing up by the coast in rural Dorset, Duncan Elliott was initially drawn to landscape photography. Some of his earliest memories are loading film into a camera, taking photos of cliffs and the sea, and pleading with his parents to develop yet another roll of film. Continue reading to find out about Duncans projects and inspirations.

How did you get into photography?

I’ve had a camera in my hand for almost as long as I can remember. I used to drive my parents mad with the amount of film they had to keep going to the local lab with. It wasn’t until I started taking photos of my friends' bands that I started taking it more seriously and looking at it from a professional angle and as a way to have an income. That’s when I started assisting. It’s such a great way to learn. Like a well paid apprenticeship with travel!

Your new Cooper (barrel maker) project is captivating, can you tell us the reason behind the project?

I was watching an old film about whisky production and saw that the distilleries all had coopers making barrels for them, the process looked fantastic. I started researching coopers in England but there are hardly any left. I thought I had missed an opportunity when I found an article in the Liverpool Echo from a few years ago about a 70-year-old cooper who was retiring. However Les can’t retire until he sells his cooperage. Thankfully for me, he was still working and his workshop looks amazing.

The final images look very atmospheric, what kind of kit did you use to achieve this look?

I tried to be as sympathetic to the existing lighting but create some extra mood. I also wanted to use constant lights during the shoot. I didn’t want to restrict Les’ workflow too much so the what-you-see-is-what-you-get nature of constant lighting really helps the flow of a shoot.

We had an M25 creating that evening/street light look, coming through the window. A D12 bouncing into an unbleached muslin to give some soft fill to the foreground. We also had a china lantern above to give some drama and depth and a couple of small LED panels were used to create some interesting highlights.

Why do you choose to rent equipment through Direct Digital?

I’ve got a great relationship with the people at Direct Digital, it started in my assisting days and has carried on right through. They’ve always been so helpful and supportive. They’re a fantastic team and have got great knowledge about the equipment they rent out.

What and/or who inspires you?

Observing light in nature, cinema, documentaries, music, books, people watching. Just about anything can be inspiring if you look at it in the right way.

What is the most memorable shoot you have been part of and why?

I had a shoot with Roberto Carlos which was hilarious. I was told he didn’t speak that much English, so I was expecting that we wouldn’t build a close connection during the shoot but he’s incredibly witty and we had to pause the shoot quite a few times because he was making everyone laugh so much.

What top photographers/videographers have influenced your work?

Steve McCurry’s ‘Afghan Girl’ captivated me when I first saw it as a National Geographic print at my school library. It fascinated me that a portrait could be so arresting. After that, I loved National Geographic, the photo essays that accompany the stories are always fantastic, so many of them have had an influence on me.

Do you have a favourite all-time photograph or video that you have shot, and you are willing to let us in on?

I don’t think I have one firm favourite but I love hearing stories from the people who I’ve photographed. There’s a surfer called Gary who’s in his 60s who when he was 20 moved from a farm in Wales to Saltburn in the North East because he wanted to go surfing all the time. His father never understood why he made the move. I photographed him for Sidetracked, an adventure magazine, his images and story in the magazine were alongside people like Levison Woods. When his dad read through the magazine he called up Gary and said that he finally understood why he made the move and loved surfing. That I could make a moment like that was really inspiring for me.

What’s next…?

I’m just putting the finishing touches to a project I’ve been working on since April about hop farming. It’s the first time I’ve worked on something over a number of months and it was really enjoyable. We’re halfway through making a film about some 60 year olds who race motorbikes and I’ve just started a new Instagram account for work I’m doing with The FA Cup which has been really fun.


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