I flew out to Dubai on March 22nd to begin my work experience at Stu Williamson Photography. It is the largest and most successful privately owned studio in The UAE and Stu Williamson himself is a highly successful self-made photographer. I found out about him through one of my tutors at university as I’d mentioned that I wanted to do work experience in Dubai as my Dad lives there and therefore accommodation and travel was not a problem for me, and I wanted to have something different to add to my personal dossier in comparison to the rest of the students on my course. I know Dubai very well and used this to my advantage.
I began the working week on Sunday 24th (The Muslim week begins on a Sunday) and finished on Thursday 28th.
On the first day, I met Stu Williamson himself and had a conversation with him about what I’ll be doing and what happens in his studio in general. He quizzed me the question “What’s your favourite lighting ratio?” which I found quite a strange question and in all honesty, didn’t know the answer to, but he said that as photographers are essentially artists that paint with light, I must think about the answer. I asked him what his favourite lighting ratio was and he said 4:1. I was then put on the front desk with 2 other girls and was taught how to answer the phone and take bookings. A lot of people called during the day for booking family portraits, business portraits, ordering photographs, booking viewings to come in and look at their photographs that have already been taken, rearrangements and general enquiries. I was on the front desk all day and this was a great introduction in to understanding what exactly goes on in the studio and all the different things that Stu Williamson Photography can offer. It was also a great way to see how they dealt with clients and the levels of professionalism at which the staff worked at to represent Stu Williamson.
On the Monday, I met Megan who is the head photographer and co-manager and she explained that I would be shadowing her for the day. She had a photo shoot with an Arabic business man, where I helped her set up the studio (all of their equipment was Elinchrom) and watched her direct her client. This was a very short shoot that probably only took about 15 minutes. The photos were going to be used on this person’s website and he only wanted one image so there wasn’t much need to make it longer than it was.
I was then introduced to the retouching team and shown how they edit photographs. There was a lot more attention to detail and intense editing which is something I’d not experienced before and this is what makes Stu Williamson Photography really stand out. They all used tablets to edit their photos to really get into the finest details. This is something else I’d not used before really. I practiced on some photographs that Megan gave me, and practiced straight for about 5 hours trying to get these images perfect. The retouchers try to work at a ‘15 minutes per photo’ editing timeframe and so I was not up to their standards at all but was adamant I would be by the end of the week.
The next day, I was given a load of photos of families and couples to work on and I spent the majority of the day practicing and practicing and trying to get up to the retouchers level of work. I think by about 5pm I was editing photos at about 20 minutes per photo and I really started to get the hang of things! There was so many Photoshop tools I’d never used before that I feel I really use now with confidence. I’ve also mastered a lot of the shortcuts via the keyboard which makes things a whole lot easier. I worked in the office with the team which was lovely as I felt a part of a real working environment and a member of their team. 9am-7pm days didn’t seem as long as I thought they’d be!
It is against their policy to share photographs of their clients, and especially their work in general as it violated copyright regulations and they are very proud of the work produced there. Therefore I have nothing to show for the work I did, just a whole load of new skills that have come with the experience!
On the Wednesday, I retouched more photos and sat in another business shoot with Megan. The pace at which everyone works in that office was amazing and the patience and drive everybody had with each other was something like I’d never seen before. I also helped the retouchers pack up school photos as Stu Williamson Photography takes all the school photos for every school in the UAE (that’s about 130 schools!) and as it is coming to the end of the school year, they had lots to do!
On my last day, I went in to the office and helped different people with various different things. I honestly felt I left my week of work experience with so much learnt. Working in Dubai is definitely something I’d consider for the future and I have come back to the UK with a lot of confidence in retouching my photographs! I’d mentioned right at the beginning that this is the career I’d like to pursue (retoucher) and I’m so so pleased they heard me and managed to get me as much experience on the job as possible!