Nicola Sturgeon
The Sunday Times Magazine

 

How do you go about preparing to photograph the First Minister of Scotland? As always I dived straight in, throwing many many ideas into my sketchbook, tearing through artbooks, flicking through photobooks, looking for thoughts that would lodge themselves into my head and not go away. I knew I’d be shooting in Bute House, the First Minister’s official residence, it’s not everyday you get to poke your lens around somewhere like that – the house had to feature. But how to frame up in such a place? My mind started flicking though a mental scrapbook – from Leibovitz’s images of the Queen, via Rembrandt’s portraits and Velázquez’s Las Meninas. I wanted to reference centuries of pictures of states-people. But I also wanted to make my photographs of Sturgeon more approachable, more intimate, less staid.

When we walked into the Drawing Room of Bute House, light was spilling in through the big windows, grand surroundings framed the perfect spot to place the First Minister, and a Scottish flag was creeping into my frame as it hung next to the fireplace. We would start shooting here.

I couldn’t just settle for that though, I was eager for variety, and my brief was for more. I wanted to get Sturgeon talking, to show her personality, and I also wanted to create something simple and iconic. This called for a studio set up against a plain background. So we built a little studio on the opposite side of the room, a coupe of lights in front of a blue background. And then later it could be taken away to reveal a white one. I chose two types of lighting that I could quickly swap between, one that was broad and free, that allowed us to chat, move, and show a more personal side of this powerful woman, and another that would sculpt her face, and would work perfectly for a power profile. I was ready.

The First Minister walked into the drawing room of Bute House, confident in her bright red suit and came straight up to me with her hand out to say hello. I love the intensity of photoshoots like this. In the short time you have together you’re each getting to know the other: I’m pushing and pulling someone’s personality, finding out what makes them laugh and what makes them uncertain. They are finding out who I am and what I want from them. It wasn’t hard with Sturgeon, unlike some politicians I’ve met from the first handshake she was approachable, talkative and collaborative. Our conversation moved from her dream of an independent Scotland to what she calls her “Mam”, via her clear dislike of certain Westminster politicians and her continued attempts to persuade me to move to Scotland.

Then suddenly we had just fifteen minutes left. I knew I had all the shots I needed already in the bag. The FM and I were getting on well, it was time to step beyond my brief and see what would happen if we collaborated on something different. So I started up the extra light I’d placed in the corner and shone it straight at her face, I then asked my assistant Paul to hold two pieces of card in the beam, flagging off most of the light so I could play with it across her face, sculpting and changing what was in shadow and was was brightly illuminated. The First Minister was on board, collaborating with me, trusting me to create what I wanted, eager to help me make the best image possible. It’s these moments I live for. Excitedly I showed the FM what we had made on my computer screen, she looked, turned to me and said “You’re The Boss” – quite some praise from someone who is very literally The Boss of a nation. 

Massive thanks to:
Russ O’Connell – photo director at The Sunday Times Magazine
Decca Aitkinhead – writer and interviewer
Matt Beech – photo assistant and digi tech
Paul Reich – photo assistant
Julie McGuire – hair and make up
Broadscope Studios – equipment and logistics

Coca Cola - Coca Cola and the Premier League – M&C Saatchi - Charlie Clift

Coca Cola and the Premier League – M&C Saatchi

Here is new campaign for Coca Cola to promote their sponsorship of the Premier League. Look out for it on a billboard near you. I lost my voice shooting this one, cheering along encouraging the best celebrations from our actors. We create both the print campaign as well as moving image content for digital use. Check it out below. Big props to the incredible people M&C Saatchi London for the commission and huge thanks to the brilliant team who helped this come together: actors Fay Jagger, Joey Bevan and Amron Adams, my awesome agent and producer Germaine Walker and her team, DOP and lighting guru Matt Barlow, digi tech Seb Niespialowski, assistants Max Barlow and Andrew Gloss, hair and make up Michele Rowbotham, props and wardrobe Katie Cordell, and food and drink stylist Tanya Sadourian. It takes a team!  

Jeremy Clarkson - The Sunday Times Magazine - Jeremy Clarkson – The Sunday Times Magazine - Charlie Clift

Jeremy Clarkson – The Sunday Times Magazine

There’s nothing quite like a deadline to sharpen your senses and force you to make quick decisions. I had been given 5 minutes with Jeremy Clarkson, with about 2 minutes to set up. After darting around Jeremy’s garden I was shown to his office where I found a simple wooden wall – the perfect backdrop. We rushed to gather the vegetables which would be our props, leaving potatoes rolling down the driveway behind us. Seconds later Jeremy strolled up. It was amazing to see him change in front of a lens: from a slightly hung-over man announcing from the start that that he doesn’t like photoshoots, into a professional, seasoned presenter. Who knew one could be so expressive with a carrot? After multiple carrot munching photos I started piling vegetables high in his arms, encouraging more brilliant expressions and keeping the energy high. Then we dropped everything and rushed out...

First Minister for Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon - The Sunday Times Magazine - Nicola Sturgeon – The Sunday Times Magazine - Charlie Clift

Nicola Sturgeon – The Sunday Times Magazine

  How do you go about preparing to photograph the First Minister of Scotland? As always I dived straight in, throwing many many ideas into my sketchbook, tearing through artbooks, flicking through photobooks, looking for thoughts that would lodge themselves into my head and not go away. I knew I’d be shooting in Bute House, the First Minister’s official residence, it’s not everyday you get to poke your lens around somewhere like that – the house had to feature. But how to frame up in such a place? My mind started flicking though a mental scrapbook – from Leibovitz’s images of the Queen, via Rembrandt’s portraits and Velázquez’s Las Meninas. I wanted to reference centuries of pictures of states-people. But I also wanted to make my photographs of Sturgeon more approachable, more intimate, less staid. When we walked into the Drawing Room of Bute House, light was spilling in through...

Matt Tomlinson - recipient of Conspicuous Gallantry Cross and Military Cross - Tribute Ink exhibition in London – The National Army Museum - Charlie Clift

Tribute Ink exhibition in London – The National Army Museum

Tribute Ink is open until 17th of April in the National Army Museum in London. Do head on down to see the stories behind the tattoos and to learn about the history of tattoos. Also – if you’re around on the 4th of March we will be holding a special evening event at the NAM – do come on down then to say hello. It’s been such an honour to be involved in this fascinating and moving project, massive thanks to Royal British Legion for asking me to photograph it for them. To see the whole project click here: LINK To find out more about the exhibition head over the the NAM’s website: LINK

 - Fora co-founder Katrina Francis – Tortoise - Charlie Clift

Fora co-founder Katrina Francis – Tortoise

This awesome woman started her career by creating The Big Chill. She has moved on to making workplaces that give us more. Thanks for welcoming me into Fora Borough Katrina, it was great spending an hour chatting with you about everything from creativity and mental health to great food and good music.

 - Dancers Erina Takahashi and James Streeter – The Sunday Times Magazine - Charlie Clift

Dancers Erina Takahashi and James Streeter – The Sunday Times Magazine

It was fascinating to work with people who were so aware of their own bodies whilst I was photographing them. Both Erina and James were very involved in the process, often asking to see the photographs we were making and adapting their poses and movements to make them better. It was a wonderful collaboration. Plus they were wearing the most amazing costumes from the English National Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker, I couldn’t quite believe how incredible they looked.

 - Adam Kay – Promotional images for Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas - Charlie Clift

Adam Kay – Promotional images for Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas

It was great to meet this dry witty ex-doctor last time I photographed him in 2017 for the magazine – at the time I don’t think either of us realised he would go on to sell over 1.5 million copies of his book “This is Going to Hurt” and have it translated into 35 languages. Having now read that book I can’t think of one more deserving of the success – it is not only hilarious but also highlights the incredible work NHS staff do every day. Of course, as the book is about Adam’s days as a junior doctor the first time I photographed him I covered him in blood. This time I was photographing him to promote his new book “Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas” and he arrived with a custom set of red scrubs that had Santa Claus fur detailing. The photos were shot for his PR...

Rob Brydon - The Sunday Times Magazine - Rob Brydon – The Sunday Times Magazine - Charlie Clift

Rob Brydon – The Sunday Times Magazine

What a lovely man Rob was to meet. He dived into our collaboration, telling me which ideas he liked and didn’t like, taking my suggestions, bettering them and giving me something extra. We chatted away all the time, and laughed a lot too. And yes, he did do his little man in a box voice – to the great delight of the small child who was on set accompanying Rob’s publicist. Hit up the link to read Charlotte Edwards interview⁠: LINK Big thanks to Russ for choosing me for this fun shoot, and to Olly Mayhall for assisting so beautifully.

 - Luciana Berger – The Sunday Times Magazine - Charlie Clift

Luciana Berger – The Sunday Times Magazine

‘Six people have been convicted of the racially aggravated harassment of Berger; two have gone to prison and there are more cases pending. It’s shocking to hear the stories that the kind and caring Lib Dems hopeful Luciana Berger tells about her experiences as an MP. Read the full interview in The Sunday Times Magazine by Caroline Scott: LINK

 - Oaxaca – Conde Nast Traveller - Charlie Clift

Oaxaca – Conde Nast Traveller

“Away from the well-trodden streets of the old town, and far from the warm glow of the lanterns at Pitiona, the Mexican state of Oaxaca reveals its true flavour to the traveller. Especially the hungry one…” I travelled to Oaxaca in Mexico with writer Olga Dziewulska, to eat the incredible food that the region is so famous for and to meet and photograph its amazing people. Head over to the Conde Nast Traveller website to discover more: LINK