FEATURE : A conversation with location photographer Bill Denison

As a location photographer, Bill Denison has been shooting professionally for about 25 years. He has helped hundreds of schools, colleges, and universities put pictures to their stories. We enouraged Bill to put down the camera and talk to us about photography, art, and life.

What makes a photo great? It’s the dynamic in the photo. It’s when everything comes together—the expression, the lighting, the composition—and it all looks natural.

Have you noticed any new trends in campus photography? Yes. I’ve noticed that there is less reliance on lighting and fine tuning…people want more real-life shooting with a more spontaneous feel. Digital photography has been a great help in getting that spontaneity because it’s quicker to shoot and you don’t have to spend time setting up lights. I think there is still a need for some set up shots, though. A photographer needs to be able to do both, depending on the situation. There is also a trend to put more photography on websites—especially video interviews or day-in-the-life scenes.

Is it better to shoot classroom scenes as they happen naturally or do you prefer to control the scene? Just shooting as an observer can work if the room is attractive and there is good light in the room and on the professor. If not, it’s best to get cooperation from the professor and students. Otherwise the interaction you are looking for may never happen. Without control, you may have to wait for the right moment. If you have limited time, this eats into your schedule. So, if you’re trying to get a specific shot as quickly as possible, I always prefer setting up the scene.

Why did you decide to become a photographer? Photography is a great marriage between the technical and artistic sides of me. When I was 7 years old I got a Brownie Starmite II for Christmas. I took a few pictures and the feedback I got was, “wow, these are really good.” I would take a few pictures, and because it was so expensive, I’d put the camera down for a month or so. Then I would pick it up again and take some more. I used to set up little scenes and have the neighbor kids act while I’d shoot. I went off to college and drifted away from photography. After college, I got my grandfather’s Kodak camera, and before you knew it, I was back shooting.

What should a client look for when hiring a photographer? It’s a given that a photographer should know lighting and good composition. What you need is someone who is personable. You have to be able to interact with a wide range of personalities. You also have to be flexible—and react to the moment. You have to be able to deal with whatever happens.

What do you do about bad weather? Weather plays a role in how the whole shoot turns out. If you need campus beauty shots, and it’s raining, you need to reschedule. That’s why it’s great to break up the shoot.

What if the campus isn’t a beauty? There is always something on campus that is attractive but sometimes you just have to focus on shooting people and let the background give a sense of place. Good cropping and framing and choosing the right lens also help.

What makes a video great? When any one of the individual stills you take out of it is beautiful, it’s a great video. A video needs cohesiveness and intelligence and a sense of composition, lighting, and pacing. The audio also needs to be potent. You can easily dazzle with motion, but without intelligence, it’s just a gimmick.

All photos by Bill Denison
Click here to see more of Bill’s work.