Dean O'Brien's Blog

Professional Experience: Assisting photographer Peter Dench

with 9 comments

Described by many as the affordable Martin Parr I have managed to grab myself two days assisting Peter Dench.  Photographer and author of  ‘The Dench Diary’, which appears in Professional Photographer magazine each month Peter was prepared to take me under his wing.

Day 1:

I am meeting Peter at the Calumet Store near Euston station at 1pm.  We are here to collect a light and brolly which will be used for a shoot on location.  Todays assignment is a shoot is for German magazine Stern.  We are to photograph Ingrid Seward who is the Editor-in-Chief of Majesty magazine here in the UK (Peter has also being commissioned to shoot the Royal Wedding for Stern).  In true O’Brien style I’m early.

As a I stroll through the doors I’m greeted by Peter who retorts “Ah you’re early, thats great’.  I am handed the lamp kit and off we stroll to get the tube across London to Belgravia.  It is at this point that Peter pointed out the importance of arriving early for jobs such as this.  He likes to locate the venue and do a quick scan of the area.  The shoot was going to be at 2pm and we were to meet a writer from Stern (outside the subjects flat) who would be interviewing the subject whilst we would be responsible for taking the images.  With time to spare and a pub calling him like a ‘wolf howling into the night’ we seek a quick drink before the shoot.

The quick drink before the shoot was a good opportunity for Peter to explain to me what was going to happen once we were inside with the subject.  He also took this opportunity to show me the equipment he carries.  He carries a shoulder bag with everything that he needs for the shoot.  Camera body, a couple of lenses, flash and a light meter.  Nothing un-necessary or over complicated.

Peter gave me a short brief of what he expected from me.  Once in the room we started to get to work.  Peter starts to scour the room like a bloodhound, looking for any interesting details or artefacts that he can incorporate into the shoot.  I, in the meantime start to set up the lamp and stand.  The subject is in the kitchen being interviewed by the journalist whilst me and Peter set the scene for the shoot in the living room.  I sit in the chair and act as the subject so that Peter can take a few test shots and get the exposure right.  This was vital as Peter explained that time is normally tight for these type of shoots.

Once the subject was sitting in the chair Peter got to work making her feel relaxed.  He instantly found some common ground as he had shot Paul Burrell a few months earlier so naturally this was a great conversation starter.  Once the subject was at ease it was just a case of Peter giving polite direction as to what he wanted.  This did involve Peter having to shout ‘squirrels’ at one point so that the dog would prick his ears up.  It worked a treat.

After the shoot we head straight back to Euston to return the light to Calumet then back onto the tube to head to Hoxton where the Professional Photographer magazine awards were taking place.  It was here that I had the chance to put some faces to names.  I met Eleanor O’Kane (Deputy Editor) who by pure coincidence had helped me out earlier in the year with a back issue that I desperately needed for a uni assignment.  I then got to meet Jessica Lamb (Editorial Assistant) along with Grant Scott (Editor).  Awards were handed out whilst the wine flowed and people mingled.  A great end to a superb day.

Day 2:

I head to the Crouch End area of London to Peter’s home to see what happens to the images afterwards.  This part of learning is as vital to me as the knowledge of the shoot.  I’m keen to see the procedure that he follows from taking the images to getting them to the magazine.  Peter is a firm believer in getting things right in the camera first time round and not having the attitude of ‘Oh I can sort that later’.  Once the images are up on the screen it was just a case of doing minor colour adjustments and using the un-sharp mask.

Peter did point at that he likes his images to have  a bit of ‘Dench’ added to them.  Pointing out that when people commission him for shoots it is because of the unique way in which he shoots ‘his’ pictures.  This is something else which I need to take on board when producing my own work.  Thinking about what makes my images look different from the next persons.

So on reflection what did I learn?  I know that leaving university to become a photographer will be no easy task.  Peter will be the first to talk about the financial difficulties facing many photographers today.  I learnt to keep things simple and not to over complicate them.  Keep your eyes open for interesting details that link the subject to the topic being shot.

This was also a great opportunity for me to speak to Peter about my own work and which direction to take it.  I spoke about ideas for projects and Peter’s guidance was constructive and honest in where I go from here.   Quite often I find myself torn between what is politically correct and what I actually enjoy taking images of.

This was two days experience which I know has benefitted me greatly.  I want to thank Peter Dench for taking the time to let me into his world.

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9 Responses

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  1. Nice one Dean. Looks like you had a good time 🙂

    rick medlock

    March 28, 2011 at 10:27 am

  2. Great write up Dean.
    Reading Peter Dench’s diaries in the magazine he has to be great company and I reckon you must have learnt plenty. I’ve never had the chance to work with a professional photographer and would love the chance to. Being a teacher I reckon I’ve always learnt most about the job watching other teachers. Great stuff!

    David Procter

    March 29, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    • David in all honesty it was just what I needed. Peter was a proper down to earth guy who told things how they were. I learnt loads and hope to try and squeeze in some more time with him at some point. Its definitely steered me in a more positive direction with my work.

      Dean O'Brien

      March 29, 2011 at 3:35 pm

  3. Oh yes, I really doubt I’ll be up to Cov. I was in Liverpool yesterday bit only for the day. It looks like I’m heading back out to Thailand soon as my wife has gone and got a job there again!
    It’s a shame as I’ve been having a fine time here bit I hope to pick up where I left off in a couple of years time. By which time you’ll be a successful portrait photographer and I’ll be able to hold a light for you!

    David Procter

    March 29, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    • Hey, I should be out to Thailand maybe at the end of the year. Maybe we could hook up then at some point?

      Dean O'Brien

      March 29, 2011 at 3:36 pm

      • You’re more than welcome to stay pal.
        Could go for a beer with the hoops too.

        David Procter

        March 29, 2011 at 4:02 pm

  4. I stayed at The Rembrandt Hotel last time for 10 nights at 19 Sukhumvit Soi 18. Probably going to book a flight out around 27th December (just after Christmas) and have New Year out there. Be great to meet Tom as well.

    Dean O'Brien

    March 29, 2011 at 4:08 pm

  5. Hello Dean I am not surprised you did the Internship with Peter Dench as I think out of all the photography students at Coventry University your personality is closest to that of Peter Dench, at least what I can gather from reading the ‘Dench diaries’. In fact a week before this blog I was thinking you would be the perfect person to assist Peter Dench.

    After listening to his podcasts with Professional Photographer magazine he is a great storyteller! Great blog Dean!

    Chris Alford

    March 29, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    • Thanks Chris. I’m flattered that you think that. Me and Peter did get on really well and he’s a proper down to earth photographer. Work experience such as this is essential to get a real feeling for the job.

      Dean O'Brien

      March 29, 2011 at 8:29 pm

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