A commercial product photographer's journey

My career as a commercial product photographer began in Paris in 1994.

I got an internship in a photographer’s studio setting up lighting schemes for fashion and product photography.

Duties included loading and unloading film to the various formats of camera the boss used. I quickly learned the basic commercial product photographer’s skills that summer and by autumn I was working in a high-end rental studio called Daylight Studios in downtown Paris. There I shared elevators with Gianni Versace, made tea for Naomi, saw leopards parked on the street outside, held up traffic on the Champs-Elysées so my boss could photograph Jean-Paul Belmondo, hung perilously off a balcony of the Crillon to prop up Monica Belluci’s haute-couture gown, and witnessed other wild sights and sounds (some Daft and some Punk).

commercial product photographer

After my term as a studio assistant, I became a personal assistant and started travelling on location to other cities and countries. This was a dream come true as I have always had the travel bug. Morocco was a treat, especially with such a great crew: the fashion editor was soon to join the Vogue team. Little did I know I too would soon be working, albeit indirectly, for the world’s most prestigious glossies. Vogue(s), Harper’s, W, Wallpaper, Elle, Marie Claire, etc all had great creative teams in the 90s and we all had a blast. Having experienced the whirlwind of fashion and cinema portraits, advertising campaigns were the next stop. This is where I really honed my lighting skills and earned the reputation of having nerves of steel. Cartier, Bulgari, Hermès, Chanel, Dior, Van Cleef and Arpels, Ralph Lauren and company don’t take a light approach to photography: everything is meticulously planned – the photo team had to be suitably experienced to cope with whatever dice lady luck might might throw on the day: cancelled flights, freak weather, capricious creative directors, no coffee..!

New York

Now I had earned my stripes travelling around Europe and North Africa a first assistant opportunity knocked – all the way from New York. In true NY style, James Moore asked me one day to move back to New York as his first assistant. In four day’s time. I jumped at the opportunity – New York was a very special place in the summer of 2001…

I had a great summer in New York that year. Very fortunately, a shoot at ground-zero on that very fateful autumn day was cancelled. That’s a long story which begins with my well deserved deep sleep on Prince & Mercer being annoyingly interrupted by persistent phone ringing around 3 p.m. I hung about till the airports reopened in October and regretfully returned to Paris. However, the New York spirit is indeed very strong. I started working back in Paris with a photographer I had met in NY. We achieved one of the biggest gigs I’ve EVER heard of: Monday to Friday x 3 weeks, four times a year producing exclusive books and campaigns for Cartier. They opened their entire archives for us to photograph!!! I have seen (not touched, as the armed bodyguards wouldn’t let me) parures, tiaras, rings, and necklaces, made for Princesses, Empresses, Countesses, etc. It was jaw-dropping. So was the lighting bill for the set-up I designed! We had two sets (two studio set-ups basically) all running on twin-tube flash heads which each require two 3200 watt/second generator packs to fire. We pretty much took over all the rental lighting from the equipment room for just one of nine rental stages in PinUp studios in Paris for three weeks per month every three months. I eventually got invited back to NY by this Cartier photographer. Thus began:

Beach life

New York clients know how to produce a shoot. They also know how to make you appreciate your dollars: tons of work, hard play after, and swift delivery of tons of greenbacks! A certain RL had me jetting from coast to coast (some overseas) and lake to desert directing three other assistants for his campaigns and catalogues. This was a period when I invoiced 33 days one month, travelled 30,000 miles by air and road from California to India via Luxembourg, and back to NY. I always had two suitcases with me: one winter, one summer. I basically lived on the beach! (I still haven’t re-acclimatised to cold weather 10 years later).

Behind the lens

Shaking sand from Santa Barbara, Malibu, Costa Rica, and the Bahamas out of your suitcase is always a saddening moment. Luckily I was made: I had all the best gear, cameras, and lenses (same as all the bosses) in crates. All shipped back to Ireland with the sole purpose of unleashing dazzling light on Ireland’s best.

One last assisting gig in London with old Paris and Spanish mates was however too tempting to resist. Large format film photography with a truly great photographer, Lucinda, and Kate. Plus the opportunity to explode the room-service beer bill with my first-assistant mate AND catch up with my younger brother who was living in London at the time.

The choice of business name for my commercial product photographer’s studio in Ireland came quickly. Perhaps too quickly as few can pronounce it! Lugh is the Celtic god of all crafts and skills. He also has a flashing spear with perfect aim which is sometimes portrayed as a lightning bolt. Voilà: the perfect name for an Irish photo studio! If by any chance you are getting pointy, twisty-tongued trying to pronounce Lugh; lu (or loo) will do!