When I notice a new set of images starting to pop up on Stoney Darkstone’s instagram, I get excited! I know I’m going to see something totally different from the last set. There might be a new and interesting use of color or image manipulation. Or, he might go in a totally different direction with something sculptural and monochrome. Movement, liquids, gels, crazy-cool sets–whatever it is, it’s going to make me stop dead in my tracks. If you’re not already familiar with Stoney, I think you should get to know him. Let’s start with an interview!
Your images always impress. There’s a style there–which is something I don’t see with a lot of commercial photographers. How would you describe the style of your work?
Wow, well start with the tough questions first! I wouldn’t say I have a particular style by design; I’ve been lucky enough to shoot pretty much in an experimental way for a the first few years of my career. Living off ramen, and sleeping on floors isn’t super fun, but it does allow you the creative freedom to just experiment and explore. From this, I think a style has developed, but it’s not been a conscious choice, I just try to shoot stuff in a way that I like.
Do you work with a particular art director or stylist for most shoots?
I do try to keep my teams relatively fluid, but it’s only natural to want to work more often with teams you like, and who understand your vision. I’ve not worked with an art director yet. I do tend to art direct my own shoots. So [when I do finally work with one] that will be interesting!
How many people are on your team for most of your shoots?
That really depends. For a fashion editorial, usually the models, a makeup artist, a hair stylist, then wardrobe stylist. Quite often these people have assistants with them, and I usually have at least two assistants, so they can show me how to work the camera. Haha!
Your talent is unquestionable, but you’ve downplayed your technical knowledge. Can you tell me a little about that?
Well, I have no technical training. I have experimented, and continue to experiment. I started by watching YouTube videos – the basics: ISO, aperture, shutter speed, focal length, off-camera flash and obviously Photoshop. You know the deal. I’ve always been interested in light, and messing around with manipulating it. The key for me has always been the practical application of things I’ve seen, and then coming at the same information from a different direction, just to see what happens.
We have this in common, we were both in bands at one point. With that potentially as a pretext, why’d you get into photography, and when?
The band I was in (they will remain nameless to safeguard the innocent) – we paid a photographer for an album cover. Short story, the images were terrible. Really terrible. Maybe not from a technical position, but from a creative standpoint they were just rubbish. So I thought, “Damn, I can do better than that!” I went out and bought the cheapest camera that I could find, and shot the whole album cover and sleeve myself. It became apparent pretty much instantly that I was far better at photography than I ever was at music, so that was pretty much that. Six months later, no more band, and loads of camera gear that I didn’t know how to use!
I get the feeling you’d do more video work if you had the time. What would be the subject of that work?
I would do more video, you’re right. But there are a couple of major things that need to be right in order for it to work well. I like to think I have a high level of finish in my stills work, and wouldn’t want to sacrifice any of that finish for the still to start moving. So there would need to be a large amount of capital behind a project to achieve that.
I don’t shoot natural light that often, so most of the time video would involve LOADS of continuous lighting. Not cheap for the good stuff. Also, I shoot almost 90% portrait over landscape. I build my sets, and ideas based around that orientation. Video is landscape. Sets need to be significantly wider, bigger. Then there’s the grip and camera side of things. I don’t have the right gear myself for this. Heads and legs, gimbals, 4k video recording and slow motion. Then there’s post. I can bash something out in Premier as good as the next guy, but I don’t want to spend my life in After Effects just learning the software. This is something I would need to subcontract out.
Then, there’s this theory I have about video: it demands full attention from the viewer, for the duration of the piece. You can’t have a conversation about it until it’s over. Then it’s over. Done. A still image tends to just remain, we can talk about it, examine it, let the eye rest upon it, and move around it, grab a coffee, come back to it. Now looping short five- or ten-second movies, that act like a “moving still.” Now, these I’m really interested in exploring.
Ok, for the newbies: If you want to be like Stoney, what do you need to do? Photo or art school? Work as an assistant? Just go out and DO IT?
Art school. It’s not about the equipment, it’s all about that rectangle and how you choose to fill it. Then how you light whatever you’ve chosen. Again, art school will teach the “Eye.” Assist if you get the chance, as much as possible. You might even earn some money! But failing all that, just shoot often, more and more and more.
Your best advice about being creative and finding your own way, your own style?
Bad news here: I really think, if you’re not creative, then you’re not creative. I’m terrible with numbers, and I’m never going to have that natural ability that will make me a great mathematician. No matter how hard I try, Einstein or Hawking I am not. But, if however you are creative, then that’s where the work starts. It’s like anything…practice, practice and practice. Look at as much as you can, try to learn from what you see. Apply it to a shoot, throw away what doesn’t work. Learn from the failures. What is it they say? “Fail often and fail fast!” This video says it far better than I ever could.
The future for Stoney Darkstone?
I wish I knew. I need to move from my very safe a rural location and spend much more time in London / LA / NYC. These are the industry centers and being a couple of hours away from London has been, and continues to be, a major setback and stumbling block for me. I’m currently looking to get my own creative space in London, but prices are crazy, and very highly sought after by people with far deeper pockets than myself. For my work, I’ve had a little period where I’ve been shooting much more commercial work for pay, and have stepped away from my own creatively driven projects, so I have a burning desire to address the imbalance. Expect to see more creative shoots.
Find Stoney Darkstone here: