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Interview with Advertising Photographer Jonathan Knowles

Jonathan Knowles is the creator of the famous O2 bubbles. He has consistently featured in the ‘200 Best Advertising Photographers in the World’ books in the past sixteen years. I talked with Jonathan Knowles about Advertising Photography.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Jonathan Knowles

Jonathan Knowles


by Melisa Kaya

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Jonathan Knowles is an award-winning photographer, who has shaped his successful photography career with an inspiration of a photograph which he had seen while he did not have any camera or photography experience at the age of eight. Throughout his career, he has been worked in numerous campaigns for many globally recognised brands. He is a photographer who has decorated his career with numerous photography awards. Perhaps he may be bored of hearing again and again, but O2 bubbles and Black Sabbath 13 Album cover are the most famous works of Jonathan Knowles. I talked to Jonathan Knowles, the creator of many different advertising works that we have seen in our daily life, about his career and advertising photography.

Jonathan, please tell us about yourself. When did you get your first camera, and how did you decide to pursue a career in photography?

I got my first camera when I was 16, and quickly became obsessed with photography. I assisted a photographer in the school holidays when I was 17, and then my mind was set.

Jonathan Knowles

O2 Bubbles - Photo by Jonathan Knowles

The iconic O2 bubbles image, Black Sabbath 13 Album cover, and many other notable works. What kind of projects do you prefer to work on?

All these projects have been great fun. Liquids, still life and special effects are my key areas of specialisation. As a photographer, it is important to have a niche, and over the years I have experimented with the various subject matter until I realised that dynamic and highly technical projects were my forte.

Jonathan Knowles

Black Sabbath 13 Album Cover - Photo by Jonathan Knowles

What was the first commercial product that you photographed? If you were shooting the same photo right now, would the result be very different?

A dog food bowl (without dog food). The client wanted a brightly lit product, all in focus. It was a basic concept which required a very simple yet controlled lighting set-up. I would approach this kind of shoot in exactly the same way now.

How did your interest in photographing liquids begin? What is the most special aspect of liquids for you?

I had seen one of Harold Edgerton’s iconic ‘milk splash’ images when I was about 8 years old. The unseen forms of nature fascinated me, and when I got my first camera eight years later, two of the shots on my first roll of film were of milk splashes. I really enjoyed experimenting with dynamic subject matter and discovering moments in time that can rarely be witnessed without the use of photography.

Jonathan Knowles

Alpine Wave - Photo by Jonathan Knowles

What are the key points that you pay attention to most before accepting a new project?

Advertising budgets are very challenging recently, as clients need additional content (for social media) within the same financial constraints. Our main consideration is whether we can deliver what the client is asking for the budget they have.

What do you think about the effect of a good photograph in the buyer's decision?

Crucial. A well composed, and well lit, the photograph will appeal to a consumer much more than something that is not as carefully shot.

What type of services do you offer to your clients?

Stills photography for international advertising campaigns is where my career has developed over the past 30 years, however, we have seen a rapid increase in moving image requests. This is an exciting challenge for us, so we have fully embraced the demand and now shoot with our own RED and Phantom cameras for film projects that require stunning slow motion. We also work with external suppliers who collaborate on CGI and animation projects. We are also occasionally asked to contribute to the creative concepts, which we will happily get involved with.

Jonathan Knowles

Powers Cask - Photo by Jonathan Knowles

Is it possible for abroad clients to work with you for their products' photo shots?

Yes, we have many clients from outside the UK. We can either shoot in our own London studio, or travel to a studio that is more convenient for the client.

Business owners want to solve their problems with the lowest possible costs. Despite this, why should they work with a professional photographer?

It is important that we do not compromise on quality of imagery for the sake of budget. Photography is still a craft that needs to always be considered with the utmost importance when clients are producing advertising campaigns. Ultimately, if the imagery is poor, the product will not sell.

Jonathan Knowles

Graff Explosion - Photo by Jonathan Knowles

Which factors determine the project budget?

We will give a quotation for the work required, and then we enter a negotiation to see what we can deliver for the budget that the client has. For complex shoots, there will be extra props and materials required and so these costs will need to be included.

Could you briefly explain the product photography process for an ad campaign?

The client / agency will generally come to us with some sort of visual representation of what they want to achieve. That may be a drawing, or a highly finished visual. Once we see this we work out a cost, and when that is approved, we move into production. The shoot takes place, and we manage the retouching / post-production phase until we are 100% happy with the image.

Jonathan Knowles

Seedlip - Photo by Jonathan Knowles

What are your expectations from your clients for a successful collaboration?

We aim to deliver imagery that makes the clients’ products as appetising or appealing as possible.

How do you protect the rights of your photographs in this online era?

Many of our pictures contain brand names, and so will only be usable by the clients themselves.

Jonathan Knowles

LOR - Photo by Jonathan Knowles

Unbranded images are more difficult, but all our photographs have all the ownership information in the metadata, and removal of that is a criminal offence.

Could your clients use the photographs in any publication, catalog, website, ad or other platforms in the future?

That depends on the rights we have negotiated.

Jonathan Knowles

Fire & Cane - Photo by Jonathan Knowles

What is your favorite photograph that you have ever taken?

It is too difficult to choose only one image, as each shoot takes me on a unique journey. One stand-out shoot of this year would have to be Glenfiddich: Fire & Cane. We worked with Agency Space in London to create a full suite of stills and films for the launch of a new Glenfiddich product. The creative was stunning but highly technical and required days of testing before the shoot itself. Overall, the client was thrilled with the results, and so were we!

What do you think about social media? How can our readers follow you?

It is a great tool to interact with other people, and show our work to a wide audience. We love to share our Behind The Scenes photos and videos with followers, as we know that aspiring photographers and agency teams are really interested in how we achieve some of our complex shoots. We also just like to show that we really love our job :) @StudioKnowles

Thank you Jonathan for this enjoyable and informative interview.

For more information, please visit the website of Jonathan Knowles