James Dimmock is far more than a celebrity portrait photographer, or the guy that shoots athletes, or the dude that shoots movie and television posters, or the photographer that shot your favorite ad campaign. He’s all that, all rolled into one dynamic and enthusiastic ball of talent, and more. Not only has he shot Will Smith, Kristen Stewart, Christian Slater, The Rock, Heather Graham, Coldplay, Kevin Bacon, and countless others, he’s also done major campaigns for brands and networks like AMC, Netflix, Nike, Snickers, Levis, Marc Jacobs, Rolling Stone, and Adidas.
As a photographer, James has shot some pretty impressive campaigns with the world’s top talent. But he isn’t just the man behind the lens, he’s also a master planner and one of the most well-versed in the art of conceptualizing a shoot. We hand-picked some of our favorite shots that James has done and picked his brain to have him share some of the stories behind the shoots.
“It was a great privilege to shoot for the Body Issue for ESPN The Magazine. I’ve shot many stories for ESPN over the years, but these ones are always something special. Claire Bevilacqua was so chilled and at ease naked—hey, she’s an Australian surf champ, would you expect anything different?!—there was no need for post trickery, just some careful posing. That’s the deal with the Body Issue, it’s about the honest form of the athlete, being proud and comfortable to show their full, true form.”
“I love my job. Every day is different but there are some days when I stop, take it in and think WTF? I am walking the streets of Las Vegas with Mike Tyson talking about his time in prison. I’m getting paid to do this?! Mike reminded me of those white tigers he used to own—huge, lethal, and yet somehow, you wanted a hug. I spent the day shooting Mike in Vegas for GQ. We had found an old spit ‘n sawdust gym a five-minute walk from the studio we were in. I asked Mike if he would mind walking down there and shooting some shots by the ring. We arrived to find Mayweather Sr. training a new hopeful— so I’m in the ring with Tyson and Mayweather. Did I mention I love my job?”
“Here’s the scenario: I’m sat, very still on the floor behind the camera, four feet in front of me is Major, the 450-pound hollywood heavyweight professional lion—fascinating to watch until you see him snarl and roar. With my eye still looking through the camera, I sensed my assistant next to me twitch. Lost in the moment, I forgot I was on a wide lens, pulling my eye away from the camera, I realized I could feel Major breath on me as he roared. Mike Tyson was a puppy next to this beast! Shooting with wild animals involves a lot of prep time and a lot of patience to get what you need, but above all, don’t get cocky—the talent is wild and you have to respect that.”
“Tracy Morgan was a real pro for this feature. We planned the shoot at his favorite steak restaurant in NYC, the staff know him well, so they pulled out all the stops to lay on the perfect spread for him. Unfortunately, a few days before this, Tracy’s doctors put him on a strict diet to help with his diabetes. He never got to bite into the juicy steak, he played with it for the cameras, but he ate a bag of raw almonds. Comedians are an unpredictable bunch. Tracy Morgan as I said was brilliant, he took the concept I gave him and ran with it, becoming the larger than life persona we know and love. I have worked with a few other comedians who decided they wanted to taken very seriously in front of my camera, that’s when the photographer has to bring their skills to the table.”
“This was shot backstage at the SAG Awards this year. I was shooting a special feature for People Magazine and I had on average five minutes with each winner. I had two lighting rigs, three assistants, two digital techs, four computers, one awesome photo editor, and myself all crammed into a 20×20 space, add 20 cast members of Orange is the New Black, all bouncing off the walls from their win, things got a little crazy! We got some great images, but it was definitely one of those days when you have to bring your A-game. You set up and wait for 12 hours and then have five minutes to nail it. On top of that we had to edit, upload to my retoucher, finalize the image and then upload to People‘s office in NYC, all in under two hours so the images could stream on the site.”
“This seven-day shoot on the island of Sardinia for Adidas was a challenge. The Porsche Design range is aspirational, so I pitched my favorite concept: James Bond. We shot on golf courses, luxury yachts, used sports cars, and a helicopter. I also shot a 90-second online commercial for them, so to match the lighting from stills to motion, it was all lit with natural light, so I decided to use just natural light…and a lot of large mirrors. It was quite amusing/risky lighting a helicopter with a bank of mirrors as it fires up the rotors on a gravel road!”
“The image above was all captured in camera—bar the sparks and cityscape. My set designer loved this job, he got to buy up office furniture, drive it out to the desert and shoot hundreds of rounds from AK-47’s into the furniture before driving it all back and rebuilding the office in the studio. You can achieve almost anything these days in post but never use or even think, ‘Oh, I can fix that in post.’ Plan the shit out of the shoot beforehand, sketch it out, write it out, and discuss it with all your crew. Then, shoot all the elements you need to make that image work, even down to tumbling bullet casings, shards of glass and sparks.”
“I hate to disappoint but Kanye West was a nice guy. Very intense and very interested in every minute detail, to the point where we had a 90-minute discussion about which tie and why he should wear it for one shot. It was a long day and as in a lot of cases, the greatest shots will never be seen. Let me explain…weeks before this shoot we had discussions with his people about a creative direction I had. My set designer recreated a room from Blade Runner, slowly turning fans, walls dripping with rain seeping through from the roof, shafts of light, smoke, you get the idea. Kanye rocks up and asks if we would mind shooting on a clean white background…my set designer quietly put his head in his hands.”
“The creative direction for all major TV ad campaigns is sketched out and discussed for weeks in advance. I work back and forth with the creatives at the network on how to achieve their vision, sets are designed, lighting rigs sketched out, but on the day it all comes down to the talent. Mariska Hargitay is one of those true professionals. She understands all angles of the brief—what the marketing department need, what works best for her and how to best portray her character. She is very opinionated and vocal whilst on set, I love that, she cuts through the BS and delivers what is needed.”
“I’m a massive gamer, so shooting for Playstation was a dream come true. The pre-production for shooting a video game campaign is not that different from shooting for a TV or movie company, in fact the art direction was handled by one of LA’s biggest design companies. Their work includes campaigns for The Hobbit, The Hunger Games, The Dark Knight, etc., so the creative process is the same. Dealing with a Cuban superstar who speaks no English, however, was a little challenging! You have to remember, what you see here is what made it past rounds of meetings. We actually shot 15 different set-ups for this cover.”
You can follow James on Instagram here.