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October 9, 2020

An Interview with Photographer, Wildist Instructor & Author Finn Beales

Interview by
Joel Fuller

Inspired by his Wildist Workshop ‘The Ultimate Guide to Storytelling’, Finn has created a stunning new tangible book that goes deeper into his process. While we patiently await the launch on Oct 27, we’ve sat down with Finn to hear more about his pursuit, challenges, and details of the new book.

I truly believe we are all lifelong learners. For example when I watch different Wildist Workshops there's still things I learn and pick up from my photo and creative peers - Finn Beales

What was your motivation behind your new book "The Photography Storytelling Workshop"?

As I saw students post stories and share images of themselves studying my online 'Storytelling Workshop' I often saw them taking notes. It had me think that doing the workshop in written form would be of great value.

I wanted the material covered in the 'Storytelling Workshop' to stand the test of time and make it as perennial as possible. I built in a lot of theory, especially in the earlier modules that can take a bit to get your head around. So I figured a book would almost go hand-in-hand with the online workshop. Future or past students can now have the workshop in a written form that compliments the online one really well. It was a conscious decision to make it paperback, making it easier to take with you, almost like your 'back pocket' guide to photography and storytelling.

Did you enjoy the writing process? What challenges did you face putting this book together? 

Did I enjoy writing? Yes & no. Writing is a ton of work, and I don't know how authors do it day-in and day-out. It takes so much focus and commitment, tricky given today's fast-paced world of distraction. There always seems to be something on your phone, pulling you away from the moment. However, during lockdown, my world was a little slower. It gave me the opportunity and space needed for deep work like this - moments that I rarely have. The book also gave me something to focus on. I had a lot of work booked, but most projects were either cancelled or postponed. It was enjoyable to have a block of time where I could sit down and complete a project of this scale.

The biggest challenge was writing engagingly and concisely. Speaking to a camera and making it engaging is so much easier than putting thoughts into the written word. Flowing prose and using the right language takes time to perfect. However, we broke up the book into concise lessons and made it as straightforward and enjoyable to read as possible.

Is it aimed at all photographers with differing skill levels or is there a specific photographer in mind that will benefit most from this book?

It's for all photographers, regardless of skill or experience and not aimed at a particular style of photography. There is a lot for a beginner, but a lot of pro-level stuff in there as well. I genuinely believe we are all lifelong learners. For example, when I watch different Wildist Workshops, there are still things I learn and pick up from my photo and creative peers. Everyone can use the methodology of how I approach storytelling with pictures. There's a lot of technique covered in this book as well, for example, the importance of catchlights in the eye while shooting portraits. I show both with and without and why they're so important, how to make them using reflectors etc., and how simple things can make a massive difference in your image. Pro's might already know the technical side of things, but some of the theory and methodology might be new to them.

Did you create a specific routine and plan that helped you put a project of this scale together?

When you think 'I'm gonna write a book' and stare at a blank piece of paper you realize that it's almost an impossible task to take on. The editor I worked with helped by first drafting an excellent table of contents that gave me my chapter headings. Each chapter was a 2-page spread, there are 70-80 spreads, and each spread is about 300 words long. Breaking it down like this made what seemed daunting very achievable. This type of breakdown is what I also did during the video workshop and realistically something I do with my photography work as well. It's impossible to sit there and expect to write a book, similarly, with a big commercial photo job. Breaking down the process into workable pieces is the key to success with any project.

It’s impossible to just sit there and expect to write a book. Just as it is impossible to sit there and expect to just shoot a big commercial job. You have to break down the process into workable pieces to succeed with any project.

How important was the design of your book? 

I have a design background and knew right from the start the design was very important to me for this book. The theory, topics, and content being good is of course a prerequisite, but I firmly believe the design and the way it’s visually perceived is fundamental to how the book will be received. Look at mac computers, PC’s have been around forever, Apple came along and made them sexy and everyone has a mac now. The design was fundamental. I worked with an incredible designer who worked through the publishing company I did this book with. She quickly picked up on my style as a photographer and incorporated that into the design. It’s simple and minimalist - I couldn’t be happier.

What sets it apart from “The Ultimate Photo Storytelling Workshop”?

Lots more techniques and actionable projects to help you practice the theory and ideas. There's an actionable project at the end of each chapter, for example. One is called 'one subject, ten ways' that helps you hone your shot-making capabilities. More detail on colour theory and I expand on a bunch of things that were in the online workshop too - creative calls, pitching, mood boarding with colour etc..

We have received so much positive feedback regarding your workshop with us over the past few years. Can we expect something from you again? If so, how would you go about another online workshop? 

Oh definitely - I would love to do another online video workshop. I enjoyed the process and feedback from the Storytellers Workshop with you guys. Obviously, it's tricky travelling at the moment, so maybe in a post COVID world, whenever that will be… we could line something up. I would love to develop a workshop that helps people tell important stories in their lives—friends and family rather than focusing on big commercial jobs. Not everyone gets to drive land rovers down the coast of Portugal, even though it was an excellent means to teach concepts, I would love to do something that more people could do. My agent often reminds me that it's my personal work that helps me land work, so focusing on personal projects is critical to your professional and commercial success. Maybe taking some sections of the book and turning them into video modules or something would be great down the road too.

What do you wish people will take away from a copy of your new book?

I just really hope the book helps people with their photography, storytelling, and creative pursuits. I never went to school to learn any of this stuff - I’ve always been self-taught. People have said to me in the past “Aren’t you afraid of giving away all your secrets?” and I just don’t believe in that idea at all, there are no secrets. If you use the methods I use I’m sure you will come up with something completely different from what I do, so I am really not competitive in that context. I am just really excited to see what people come up with.

People have said to me in the past “Aren’t you afraid of giving away all your secrets?” and I just don’t believe in that idea at all, there are no secrets

What’s next for you?

Another book is actually in the works, which is super exciting given this one hasn't even come out yet! It's about me interviewing a bunch of photographers who I respect and admire—talking to them about their creative process and how they approach their work. That's going to tie me up over the next few months. I just shot an excellent project in the Dolomites for the South Tyrol tourist board, and I'm deep in the post-production for that job.

As far as personal projects go, I'm currently working on something to do with cold water swimming, something I enjoy. I adopted the practice after a trip to Finland, where it is widespread, especially when combined with sauna. It's very good for your mind and body. The hot-cold shock to your system is very healthy. Highly recommend. Especially during these uncertain times. Anything to keep you in the moment.  

You can pre-order the book here, it's available on October 27th.

The Ultimate Photo Storytelling Workshop

Finn has spent years creating story-driven images for clients across the globe including Apple, Burberry, and Google. In this workshop, learn how to shape an impactful narrative and create work that stands out.

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