18 May 2024

Hairdressing photographer Damien Carney talks to Estetica

The hairdressing photographer is often overshadowed by the hair itself. So we talked with expert in both, Damien Carney, about bringing it all together.

The images of editorial and competition collections never fail to enchant us. The model is gorgeous, the hair is perfect, the make-up on point. But you need great a hairdressing photographer to get it picture perfect! And who knows more about bringing it all together than a hyphenated hairdresser-photographer? Estetica asked Damien Carney – inspirational and award-winning hairdresser, platform artist, and educator – to share his expertise in both!

As a hairdresser, what spurred you to make the leap to hairdressing photographer?

Desperation! The really good hairdressing photographers I wanted to shoot with were too expensive. I simply did not have a “gigantic” budget. Or they really didn’t want to shoot hair at all, it just wasn’t their thing. Unless, your paying them a loads of money or your doing hair with a well known model or celebrity. At that time I didn’t have the resources and pulling power to get big models to shoot hair for me. Unless it’s a major, worldwide campaign with a major hair care company, the great photographers would not work with me. I had to work around all that.

“Trust me I’ve made many mistakes. there’s so much to learn in the mistakes.”  Damien Carney

Where did you start?

In the beginning, I invested in a camera and lighting to get me started. I studied and tested, tested, tested! 

Now I have a great network of hairdressing photographers, make-up artists, wardrobe stylist, and more. They all helped me and mentored me to shoot. I’ve been in studios most of my hairdressing career, so I had studied lighting, posing, concepts, etc. I had an idea of what it would take to be a photographer, but was shy of taking the leap forward.

First and foremost, I’m a hairdresser. Photography is a really strong hobby of mine. Then they both work extremely well together. If you have a great concept, with a fab model, and great team, it’s a win-win situation. Trust me! I’ve made many mistakes and there’s so much to learn in the mistakes.

Given your past experiences, how to you work with novices?

I shoot for experienced hairdressers who know the process of shooting. Then I have hairdressers that will be shooting for the first time. My team have to take them through every step of the process, but we enjoy the mentoring process.

Sometimes we have to ask: How are they going to get there and execute the concept? Do they have the right team? Do they have the hairdressing skills and passion to bring it all to life?

How do you work with your team on the concept, so that you’re all on the same page?

Communication is key and having a fluid open dialogue from the start of the project to completion. Be open, honest and up-front, so everyone is clear regarding your shoot. Often it’s about finding the right hairdressing photographer with the right team – so energy and synergies are fundamental.

The concept is the seed, the birth of the idea and then it progresses in to more solid ideas that can be achieved. There is a skill to creating a concept.. You start right at the beginning. What do they want to achieve? What is the shoot for? – PR, competitions, social media? All are very different. Be clear about what you want the images to convey. Are you showing full-on creativity, color, technique. and more?

It’s important to avoid the creative block. You can do anything you want. But sometimes, suddenly, you have no ideas – or way to many! It’s all a process of illumination.

Finally, the ultimate question: Is all of the above doable? If the hairdresser doing too much, the shoot can look messy. Or are they doing enough so the shoot has wow appeal?

As the hairdressing photographer, how much input can you give on models, make-up, wardrobe selection?

The team and I have lots of input. After all, they book me to create fabulous imagery. So it’s part of the service. The objective is to create an amazing collection. So we hold back nothing. We want to share, so that the shoot is successful for the client. The client’s success is the team’s success.

We’re all creative, but we have to listen, assimilate, and then come together as one. Remember: each team member is contributing to your imagery. Work with the best that you can afford. This is not the time for your friends to play make-up artist or wardrobe stylist. Get the real pros on your team and it will elevate your concept and final images.

As a hairdressing photographer, how do you decide on poses, expressions, lighting?

These are aspects that the hairdressing photographer would have worked out in the concept. The hairdresser might have their concept in mind. However, the concept might need more direction. It could be the concept is too busy, too much going on. Or on the other hand, the concept is too simple just to bland.

Often the small things are the most important things. Sometimes its not how much you do. It’s actually how little you do. Finding the right balance.  

How do you keep it fresh?

As a hairdressing photographer, I shoot hair. But it should still have elements of current fashion. Tear sheets from magazines will help with poses, lighting, etc. Inspirational ima­ges are a must. They gives a clear direction to the team of what you want to achieve. 

A common problem is the hair stylist has a concept for their shoot. But it’s been done and seen a thousand times before. That tells me that the hairdresser is not up on what is really current and what is fashionable.  I look at what everyone else is doing and what’s inspiring. Then I do something a little different, so its unique to me. 

“Avoid copying other ideas and create your own signature to your work.” Damien Carney


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