Having been a publisher and a new media executive, Francis Hills was already in his mid 30s and experienced at running a publishing business when he decided to pick up a camera, just ten years ago.
"With Capture One, it’s so easy to get the image that I want the client to see. No more having to say, ‘we’ll fix that later.’ "
- Francis Hills
Capture One Pro 7: the workflow tool that speeds through volume-intensive shoots
Having been a publisher and a new media executive, Francis Hills was already in his mid 30s and experienced at running a publishing business when he decided to pick up a camera, just ten years ago. It’s been said that all art is self-taught. His incredible commercial photography success confirms that statement many times over.
It’s hard to believe him when he says that his early photographs were terrible. But he was driven to seek out information and support, connecting with other photographers through forums. And wIth a bold, fearless attitude, he joined a coop studio in New York City with four other photographers and immersed himself in his new-found art.
“It was fun; I was constantly asking questions and just happy to be there,” Francis said, “And I learned an important lesson: surround yourself with talented people, and they’ll make you look good.”
Within a year, he had taken over the studio, crediting not only his photo shoots, but his marketing and entrepreneurial experience for the success. Only six months of picking up a camera (the first camera was a Nikon D1X which he bought for about $8,000), he had his first breaks when he arranged a shoot with actor Alan Cumming, partly on the basis of their shared Scottish heritage.
He went on to shoot many portraits of celebrities such as Megan Fox, Andre Agassi, Carmen Electra, Craig Ferguson, and many more. His work has appeared in, and on the cover of, magazines worldwide including Elle, Entertainment Weekly, Time, GQ, Esquire, Oprah, Hamptons, Gotham, Vegas, Ocean Drive, Zink, Red Book and Parade.
He also regularly appeared as a photographer and judge on Scandinavia's, Sweden's, Norway's and Denmark's Next Top Model TV shows, including being the resident photographer in Sweden. It was during this period that he shot with a Phase One digital back for the first time (that’s another story) and was introduced to Capture One software.
“After having used Phocus for many years, it was a revelation, he said. “So elegant and so flexible. I’ve been using Capture One now for about four years, because I love the way it performs and is responsive to my needs; its tethered support is flawless; and I’ve recently added DSLRs to the gear I’m working with now. It’s incredible that this software supports not only the highest-end cameras but also more than 250 different DSLR cameras from various manufacturers.”
Shooting with the Canon 5D Mark II and III, Francis has recently been working on a massive project for the renowned New York City realty firm Brown Harris Stevens. He has already shot portraits of more than 600 agents over a year and a half period. And it’s still going on, as every month, he shoots agents coming to Brown Harris Stevens for the first time.
“Each image is shot in the same format. There is minimal post-production. Each portrait is shot tethered in black and white, using the B/W feature in Capture One Pro 7.
“I use the b/w feature base characteristics under curve, using extra shadow which helps pop everything out.
“We only tweak just a bit to optimize the image. With Capture One, it’s so easy to get the image that I want the client to see. No more having to say, ‘we’ll fix that later.’ Instead I get it right from the beginning. That’s something that I love about this software. To be able to do such volume-intensive shooting and consistently get incredible image quality makes Capture One Pro 7 an unmatched workflow tool for practicing pros and for aspiring pros like I was, not so very long ago.
The fact is that most people would rather have a root canal than have their corporate photo taken. My job is to talk to them. Calm them. Make it easier. Many photographers hide behind their cameras and don’t tell their subjects what they need. They need to help pose the people, tell them to sit this way or that, but most of all hold their hand and let them know it will be OK.
“Above all, I want to avoid any kind of strained image. What I aim for is a naturalness -- you see it in the eyes. We look at the eyes when we first see a photo; if the eyes are dead, it’s a dead image. You can see that in actors’ headshots. There has to be something going on inside the subjects’ heads. You’re looking for that spark that makes you wonder, ‘what are they thinking about?’ Everything is very subtle.
“When someone’s in front of a camera it’s more like acting on film or TV because the camera catches everything you do. The smallest thing can be huge. There are people who understand that; they know how to work the camera with the smallest tilt of a head, zing in the eye, that will transform everything. Some are naturals. It’s my job to help non-celebrities, just regular people, understand that. Small and subtle is key. Relaxing. Getting to a spot when they’re breathing and their shoulders relax, facial muscles relax. That’s key (and I have to remind myself to keep breathing too).
“For my shooting, the biggest factor, in terms of features, is shooting tethered -- Capture One Pro 7 is simple and easy. I want the client to see exactly what I’m seeing – realtime. The other thing that’s important is how I can tweak the image so it’s exactly the way I want the client to see it. Very important because it makes clients happy (and me too!).
“I’m not a very technical person. I just want to drive the car; I don’t want to open the hood. If I have to think about something extra, that can be painful. But I have to say that I was very happy with Capture One Pro 6 -- it was a workhorse. With Capture One Pro 7, the color engine is a very significant, tangible improvement. It comes across as more natural, smoother, not so processed, much more like film. There’s a kind of ‘wow’ factor that makes a powerful difference.”