Hello, I am photographer Jason Bell. I'm a regular contributor to Vanity Fair and British and American Vogue, and have done work for Time, Newsweek and others, as well as had the chance to photograph talent ranging from Angelina Jolie to Sigourney Weaver to Scarlett Johansson to John Malkovich as well as work on many film posters.

I recently collaborated with Vanity Fair on the Hollywood Portfolio issue's first-ever short film, which you can view here.

My official website: http://www.jasonbellphoto.com

AMA.

https://twitter.com/reddit_AMA/status/563733110198927360

OK folks - time to sign out. Thanks again so much for all the questions. If I missed any feel free to email me via my website and do check out the films at vf.com and the portfolio itself. Buy the March issue.!!

thanks all the best

Jason

Comments: 118 • Responses: 43  • Date: 

Kanuck_Kyle41 karma

Important question here: When photographing really hot people do you ever pop a chub that you need to hide?

Jason-Bell31 karma

This question has me laughing out loud!!! And blushing.

I can honestly say that's never happened. Not that I haven't ever found a subject attractive, but more because I'm in the moment and working and concentrating on the shot rather than anything else ;-)

beernerd17 karma

What do you think of Sports Illustrated's recent decision to fire all of their staff photographers and really solely on freelancers?

Jason-Bell24 karma

Well obviously I empathise with the staff photographers. No one wants to be fired.

But it's really way the whole industry is going. Even when i started out at the Sunday Times in London the staffers were being let go.

Creatively there is something to be said for picking the right photographer for a job from any source, rather than just because they are on staff.

I hope that the staffers at SI feel motivated to go out and work freelance for others rather than just bad about being let go.

beernerd9 karma

Indeed. Seems like it's not just photographers, but creatives in general that are moving towards a freelance economy.

A friend of mine is just getting his start in photography and he's trying to build a portfolio. Any advice you could give him?

Jason-Bell22 karma

When you are starting out I think it's important to have projects. A lot of students come and see me with portfolios that are all over the place. A bit of this and bit of that. I don't think that gets you work. If there are only 3 fashion shots in your book and then 3 still lives and then other stuff I wouldn't give you a fashion job. So have your book say one thing clearly (and have another book to say another thing by all means) and then concentrate on projects. David Bailey said if you got and take pictures of mushrooms for a month you will get some great pictures of mushrooms. It made me laugh but it's true.

skydivingdan8 karma

Howdy Jason!

How did you master lighting your subject? And what advice can you give for someone trying to learn lighting and posing.

Right now I have a single speed light and a shoot through umbrella. I'm wanting to add to that, I just am not sure the best route to go.

Thanks!

Jason-Bell6 karma

I know I keep saying this but practice practice practice.... that's how you learn how to light. The funny thing is as I've gone on in my career it's really daylight that I love more and more - so now even when I use flash (which is most of the time) I try my best to make it look like daylight... I love it when people ask if my pictures have been lit at all.

It's also made the move to shooting motion much easier...

As for the gear you have I prefer softer light so keep the umbrella - maybe a bigger one - and then experiment with reflectors to play with the daylight i like so much.... and keep doing it - you'll work out that way what works and what doesn't.... Hope that helps

thebootlegsaint7 karma

Jason,

Thanks for doing this! I really love your work and take it as an inspiration for my own.

How do you build a rapport with your subjects? I'm guessing you don't get a lot of time pre-shoot with celebrities to get to know them. What approach do you have to get them comfortable in front of your camera? How much coaching do you do on set?

Jason-Bell15 karma

This goes back to what I said before about the regulars. If you don't have a lot of time before a shoot it helps if it's someone you already know and have worked with. A big reason I like photographing Kate Winslet so much.

Where I don't know the person I try to sit down and chat and explain what I'm after and let them contribute to that process as well. It helps if people feel involved.

WunderFundel7 karma

When was the first time you ever felt starstruck during your job?

Jason-Bell23 karma

Only once I'm happy to say as I try not to be - a big part of my job is staying calm and not getting flustered by the people I meet.

But early in my career I was commissioned to photograph Bjork. I was and still am a big fan and that first record was out which everybody was listening to all the time (including me) and I got on a plane to go to Iceland to shoot her and she was on the same plane, which I was not expecting, and I just thought Oh my God WOW that's her - am i going to be cool???

Luckily i was there a couple of days and had time to calm day. She is a lovely person and we ending up having dinner and chatting about her family life and having a baby and all sorts of things. And it was yet another reminder to me that all these people are just people. Nothing to fear here.... move along LOL

Seraph_Grymm6 karma

What's the very first photo that you got published, and the first thought that went through your head when you saw it in print?

Jason-Bell8 karma

Probably something at college. I went to Oxford University and the University Newspaper and Magazine were both quite good so I worked of for them. It was very like my job now in a way, but I didn't get paid.

It's a thrilling moment to see your work in print. I still get that feeling. I shot David Beckham for Gillette and it was maybe 100 feet high in Times Square and that was kind of amazing.

glamourzen906 karma

I adore the shots on the new VA issue. The question: just how exactly did you get Keira Knightley to do the fake orgasm scene? Wasn't she pregnant already?

It's going viral and I find it so hilarious. Actually, it got me hot and confused about my sexuality a bit, but overall so effin hilarious.

Jason-Bell5 karma

Hope it wasn't too confusing! I offered her several options from the film and hoped she would pick that one so was very pleased when she said it had to be that scene. Much to her credit. She really made it her own and that lovely little smile and eyebrow lift she does at the end was all her idea and made it even better.

MaxwellReddits6 karma

What's your favorite soup?

Jason-Bell8 karma

I don't like soup. Funny question ;-) I never have... Texture is an important part of food so I never understood the desire to remove it. Why eat much when you can chew! ;-)

daleygaga5 karma

Hi, Jason!

We've been in awe of your recent portfolio for Vanity Fair, the ones where British actors invade Hollywood! And of course, all those before that.

Some questions:

  1. What was your favorite shoot amongst the British actors in your recent VF short films? OR what's the favourite work you have done so far?

  2. What was it like photographing Benedict Cumberbatch? Was it difficult to coax him into doing the Darcy-lake scene? We at /r/cumberbitches would dearly want to know :D

  3. Can you share some funny stories behind the photoshoot? :D

  4. whispers Can you perhaps share some Benedict Cumberbatch outtakes just kidding or not

Jason-Bell13 karma

Cumber hmmmm Not good to have favourites. I try to like them all. But let's say that Benedict was high on the list. He was really game and up for doing anything and having fun with it which I always really appreciate. And he took his clothes off .... which helped. He was very happy to jump in the lake. I was a bit surprised by that but very grateful!! No outtakes I'm afraid....that wouldn't be fair (although he did in fact look good in all the shots - no need for retouching) - but thanks for your interest :)

askjeeves285 karma

What was it like photographing Prince George? Was he a diva?

Jason-Bell6 karma

He was in hair and make-up so long we thought we would die!!! Just kidding..... ;-) He's a baby - albeit a very very cute one. I loved the little guy.

rorylord5 karma

what is your opinion on the excessive amount of photoshopping of today's models?

Jason-Bell11 karma

I don't like it. If the first thing you think when you see a picture is "retouching" then it's definitely too much. I like the retouching to be so subtle you're not sure if any has been done. But of course most pictures can benefit from a little help. It should be just about enhancing the idea though... rather than a complete reinvention. But that's just my personal taste.

thebootlegsaint3 karma

Do you do your own retouching or does the client do it after you're done editing? I'm curious how that process works for high-end editorial work. Is it different for each client?

Jason-Bell10 karma

Sometimes I do my own retouching but often I don't have the time. To do it well is very time consuming so I prefer to direct my team to do it. And no I almost never let the client do it.... ;-) I like to stay in charge of it myself so even if I'm not doing it I am directing it. Letting the client do it is like handing over your negatives and saying "oh you edit it then", which I prefer not to do.

bluepinkblack5 karma

Jason, who are some of your favorite comedians of all time?

Jason-Bell12 karma

I loved Robin Williams and had the honour of photographing him not long before his death. He did not disappoint. A lovely lovely man.

Pimping_NZ5 karma

What is the furthest length that you have gone to take a picture?

Jason-Bell4 karma

I go to great lengths all the time. You have to in order to take pictures that you haven't seen before.

I once photographed the opera singer Johan Reuter on an iceberg in Greenland and that was pretty extreme. 40 below and they said if we fell in the water we had 45 seconds to get out or we would die. And the iceberg is drifting and revolving so framing the shot is really hard!!!!

dragonfly19934 karma

what inspires you?

Jason-Bell10 karma

Stories. I really like telling stories in my pictures. I don't like them to be explicit - more hinted at... The idea that there is a narrative occurring offscreen, as it were.

pijelly4 karma

Hi Jason!

What would you suggest a photographer in making NOT TO DO? I ask because everybody asks what they have to do but not what they should avoid.

Thank you! :)

Jason-Bell14 karma

Don't start doing work you don't like just to pay the bills. It drags you down the wrong road very quickly. So if you want to be a car photographer don't do weddings. You won't enjoy it and it will distract you. Better to work in a bar and keep your creative juices saved for the right kind of work. If you don't believe in the work you're doing no one else will.

MrDNL4 karma

What camera(s) do you use?

Jason-Bell10 karma

Good follow on question! A good camera is a camera that doesn't get in the way. I never use any automatic settings as I prefer to work it out myself and think about it. I use a Phase One IQ250 digital back which I love because it is quick and intuitive. It's very good in lowlight which works for me as I often light just to use small amounts of daylight. And the autofocus is great. That saves me time. But again I would stress you can take great pictures on any camera. There just might be limitations in what you can do.

Andrewski20003 karma

What is the most fun photo you had taken?

Jason-Bell4 karma

Some of the adventures are amazing. I went to China to shoot Liping Zhang for the Royal Opera House near the border with Mongolia. We had picked a lovely location because of the view of old Chinese monasteries and when we get there it was snowing so hard you couldn't see anything at all.

We all panicked a bit because it was March and not supposed to be cold and it was so bad we had to get her to set on a camel, that we hired on the spot because the truck couldn't make it. We were all wearing converse and thin jackets... maybe fun isn't quite right word but when we got the shot it was SUCH a thrill - to make it happen in the face of adversity and the snow really helped the picture (you can see it in the archive section of my website).

cahaseler3 karma

What is the best photo you feel you've taken?

Jason-Bell9 karma

The next one!!! I try not to look back or rest on my laurels but to remain excited about the next job or series of jobs in the future.

That said there have been moments where it all came together rather well or I just felt we really (and I mean we because it is a team - it's not all about me) nailed it and the idea just worked. A recent example of that is getting Emily Blunt behind the Hollywood sign.

RandomGuyAppears2 karma

How did you get your foot in the door for shooting someone like Vanity fair? Im trying to find my way into the business but having a hard time.

Jason-Bell2 karma

It's unlikely that they would be your first client so work on your portfolio and keep shooting and try working for smaller magazines and work your way up. It takes time so you need to be ready for the long haul.

Cyclot2 karma

Did you always want to photograph people in a studio? Did you ever wish to do more candid shots, or shoot wildlife or landscapes? I've been an amateur photographer and have considered it as a career path, but I am so much better with those kinds of shots - working with people seems to require a different skillset, making them feel at ease, telling them to pose this way or that, etc.

Jason-Bell3 karma

I have started doing landscapes more and more but mostly just for myself. It's great to try new things. But why make it hard for yourself. If you like shooting wildlife or landscapes do that! I have always liked people and those were the photographs I was most drawn to so that seemed the area to head to for me.

courtiebabe4202 karma

[deleted]

Jason-Bell4 karma

The people I really enjoy photographing are the regulars - you build an intimacy by photographing the same person again and again - a shorthand builds up so that there is less warm up time and more just getting to it! The toughest are those who are not interested or just don't want to be there. But luckily these days that doesn't happen very often ;-)

inkaudio2 karma

I'm sure you'll get a thousand variations of this question, but for someone who is a photography neophyte, what would you recommend to take my photography game further?

Jason-Bell2 karma

Take pictures!! Really there is no substitute for practice. It not only makes you better at it - it helps you learn what interests you and what pictures you want to go on to take.

invisidar2 karma

Hello Mr Bell, Thank you for holding this AMA. Your work is extraordinary. What inspired you to become a photographer?

Jason-Bell5 karma

It was never really a choice. I just kind of always was if that makes sense. I have photos taken by my parents of me taking pictures when I was 5. So it was just always there. The only decision really was whether to keep it as a hobby or make it my job. I'm glad I chose the latter.

Theraft902 karma

Hi Jason, thanks for doing an AMA,

2 questions,

What is your opinion on the idea of iphones and other phones with cameras of increasing quality replacing the need for photographers?

What is advice you would give to young photographers looking to make a career out of it?

THANKS!

Jason-Bell17 karma

The iPhone will never replace the photographer because a photographer is not made by the equipment they use. A photographer is made by the IDEA they have. This is incredibly important to me. A good photographer can make a picture with a pinhole camera, an old box brownie or the most amazing latest camera on the market.

SoltanPill2 karma

Who are your favorite celebs to photograph? Are there ever any really rude ones?

Jason-Bell4 karma

As I said before the regulars are great. Because there is an ease and a bond that makes it all smoother and faster. Everyone is nice to me. No one is rude. They don't want me to make them look bad ;-)

_propernoun_2 karma

Hi Jason!

What are your best tips for novice photographers? I love landscape photography but quite frankly I'm still not very good at taking pictures!

Jason-Bell6 karma

Practice!!! I started doing landscapes and funnily enough it was really Ansel Adams that inspired me to become a photographer, which is only odd because my work doesn't look anything like his. The connection is not obvious. But hopefully a good photo is a good photo....

Frajer2 karma

when you photograph actors do you find they act like you thought they would personality wise ?

Jason-Bell4 karma

No I would say not. You should always be open to people surprising you. I don't like to judge people before meeting them (either in my work or outside it). The one thing I would say is that often they are much shyer than you would expect.

thebootlegsaint2 karma

How did you get started at Vanity Fair and Vogue and what advice would you give to an aspiring photographer today that wants to get work from those mags in the future?

Jason-Bell6 karma

It takes a long long time. Susan White, the Director of Photography at Vanity Fair, and a great collaborator, always likes to say "Behind every overnight success there is ten years' hard work." I think that's very true.

People will look at the magazine and say "Oh who is this guy who's suddenly working for them?" but they have actually been honing their craft and working elsewhere in order to get there. You don't just walk straight in the door.

So my advice would be keep shooting and doing work you like for smaller magazines and just keep at it. Hope that helps.

Beerquarium2 karma

With your contributions to Vanity Fair did you ever have any memorable interactions with Christopher Hitchens?

Jason-Bell7 karma

I did photograph him once... In London... and I probably don't need to add that we ended up in the pub!!!

but what a guy.... could take lucidly about anything and he did....

Baliushin2 karma

Do you have any tips for bar/club photographers?

Any advice on shooting portraits in small (4x3 meters) studio?

Do you have any special approach to capturing interesting emotions on your portraits?

Thank you!

Jason-Bell6 karma

I think for bar/club photographer (and it's not really my area) I would say get close - go right up to the people and make them laugh and interact with them - you will get more out of them that way... Clubbers LOVE to show off so letting them know you are watching and enjoying will surely get them going.

As for emotions - I talk a lot to my subjects and try not to hide behind the camera... coming out from behind it to maintain eye contact helps.

Small spaces are good! They can be more intimate and get everyone else to leave the room.

The-Achilles2 karma

Hey thanks for doing the AMA!

Are you impressed with the quality of the iphone 6 camera?

Jason-Bell3 karma

I am - its really good apart from the digital zoom which can break up a bit... but I have certainly had fun with mine

AlexatRF212 karma

What is your perfect burger?

Jason-Bell5 karma

Rare - with cheese and bacon :)

NorbitGorbit2 karma

best tea you've had outside of UK?

Jason-Bell3 karma

Hmmm tough one... Paris maybe.... or China yes China - in Beijing for 5pm in a little hut by a wood burning stove was amazing

Epybabes2 karma

Hi J-Bell,

Would you agree that in order to break into the photgraphy industry requires a huge amount of networking?

What advice would you give to an aspiring photographer/picture editor etc?

Thanks!

Me.

Jason-Bell5 karma

No I think and hope not. There are some really networked photographers out there who aren't that good - and they do well for a bit because of their connections but it doesn't last... Then I have seen some completely unconnected people and you just saw their first published shoot and knew they were going to do well. Their talent just showed.

So really I hope and believe it's about talent and hard work to have at least a long career. I firmly believe that the idea is king. I didn't network in order to shoot the Hollywood Portfolio for Vanity Fair. I had an idea that I took to them hoping they would like.

upanaway2 karma

I hope I'm not too late. I've always loved photography, and dreamed of making a career out of it. Can you tell me a little about the challenges you went through in getting to be a prominent photographer?

Jason-Bell7 karma

It doesn't happen that fast. That has been the biggest learning curve. I have been shooting for 20 years and would say that really only in the last 5 or so have I felt that I'm doing the kind of work I really want to be doing and being given the opportunities that I craved from the start. So it's a bit about perseverance.

Sometimes it feels like being an actor... often facing rejection. They went with someone cheaper, someone they knew better, someone more well known. My agent often says you have to be tough and take the knocks. It's good advice. Keep at it.

DebDecatur0072 karma

Which iconic photos from the past and from other photographers are your favorites (example Annie L photo of Whoopi, Kinski and the snake, etc.)?

Jason-Bell3 karma

It was actually Ansel Adams that originally inspired me so if I had to pick one picture it might be Moonrise over Hernandez. And David Bailey's 1960s work really got me excited as well. The shot of Michael Caine. Intimidating to then shoot him myself for the Hollywood Portfolio for Vanity Fair.

cristinafromtexas2 karma

How does one get started in this industry? What school/degree did you receive?

Jason-Bell3 karma

I went to Oxford and did Politics, Philosophy and Economics so hardly the most obvious training. But the real training is in just taking pictures and learning what works. I never trained as a photographer and I didn't assist either, although that seems to be a good way into the industry.

lumvot1 karma

Hi Jason,

How important is it to develop your own style of photography? Do you think there's any value in being a sort of "generalist"?

Jason-Bell3 karma

I think it's very important. It's what separates you from every other photographer. It depends on the type of photography you want to get into. If it's product photography then I think being a "generalist" is probably a good move. But for my work I think it's more important to have a point of view. I don't think my style should outweigh the subject - the picture should be more about them than me, but it helps if my work is a bit recognisable.

byfuryattheheart1 karma

Hey Jason!

Ever looking for an assistant in NYC? I just moved out here from California and am struggling to get my foot in the door. Any advice would be great!

thebootlegsaint1 karma

Do you have a print book that you've put together to show to editors and the like? How did you go about putting it together and do you update it often?

How often do you update your website to keep the work fresh? I only have a small body of work that's mainly personal projects and I can hardly even decide what should go in it, I can't imagine how hard it must be with a whole career behind you!

Jason-Bell2 karma

It is hard and you need help doing it because sometimes you become too attached to some images and someone else has to say "That's looking old - it should go." I do have print books but I tend to use them less and less and it's harder to update them so website is best. And yes that gets updated a lot!

koffeekan1 karma

I've been doing photography for many years, first with a minolta SLR then digital with my trusty old canon 40d along with heaps of others. I want to go back to film, and have been looking at medium format. Any recommendations for bodies for a medium format virgin?

Jason-Bell2 karma

I grew up using a Hasselblad 500cm which I still sometimes miss.... but it depends on the kind of work you do. And whether or not you want to hold your camera at waist level (I in fact used a viewfinder for my 'blad).

Film is a good training - you can't correct so much after the fact if you got it wrong on the shoot - but once you're experienced can i ask why you would want to go back to film?