Interview with studio photographer Helen Thurwell!

We recently held a press day for the main cast of The Sweet Shop at MWS Studios. Within the very busy day, our photographer Helen Thurwell set up her studio and took shots of the actors in character. You can read an interview with Helen by clicking ‘read more’.

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1. How did you get involved with the project?

I had worked previously with one of the Production team.  Tom was pleased with the work I did and asked me if I would like the opportunity to do the stills for the film.

2. As a follow up, can you please tell the readers how you got your start in photography?

I used to work in a structural design department and one of the guys there sold me his old film camera for £300.  I sent a couple of pictures off to some national magazines and they got in.  I decided I preferred it to design work so I quit and went back to college.  While I was at college I spent a lot of time building up my portfolio and got my first paid booking a couple of months after finishing through my website designer.  It was a portfolio for the NUTS girl of the year and I was so nervous I nearly dropped my camera!  That was a few years ago now and my business has gone from strength to strength.  Photography is all about Networking, you can’t just be a good Photographer, you need to be good at talking to people as well.   You also need to push yourself outside your comfort zone.

3. What sort of preparations did you do before the project and how familiar were you with the cast members before getting the job?

I used to watch Gemma as Lisa on Hollyoaks.  I looked on the Internet at the cast members to see what pictures were there and what worked.  I spoke to the team about what was needed from the shoot and planned how much time it would take.

4. Taking on a project as different as Film Photography it must have been a daunting task. What were some of the concerns you had starting out and what were your biggest

goals for the project? It was a daunting task, but actually it wasn’t as scary as a Wedding! The key was good planning.  The shots needed to be showing the character the cast were playing.  This meant we could really have some fun with Susan who plays a model, getting some really Zany and strong model poses, in contrast Gemma’s character was quite girl next door so it was important to communicate this in the images.

5. There have been a lot of changes in recent years in camera technology with the transition from film to digital. What camera did you use for the project and do you prefer the old style cameras that did not do as much of the work?

I love the way that film is valued so differently to digital.  Each picture had a lot more thought go into it, whereas with digital you can just press a delete button and that shutter click cost no money.  I used a Canon 50D for the shoot.  When I first started out I was using a 350D which is arguably a consumer end S.L.R camera.  I think the most important thing is knowing how to take a great picture.  I got fantastic results with that camera, as I knew it inside out. If you have a top spec camera and only ever use it on automatic it is like driving a Ferrari with a 30mph speed restrictor.

6. How was working with Gemma and the other cast members and what were some moments that stood out?

When I first walked in I was a bit nervous and overcompensated by walking around grinning at nothing and shaking everyone’s hand I probably appeared slightly deranged. Susan Hoecke was hilarious, the moment that really stood out was when I was doing Gemma and Seb’s photos together and Susan came bursting in shouting at Gemma get off my man! She had a really great personality.  Working with all the cast was great, as they just knew how to pose and have fun in front of the camera.  The worst bit was when my lights stopped firing when I was doing Gemma’s pictures, but she was really chilled and laid back about it and it was soon fixed. Vanessa was a real extrovert, which was great, as so was the character she was playing! Matt was a naturally very funny and down to earth, he was so relaxed and patient. Seb was lovely and I did fall in love with him a bit! I think he will be one to watch, as this is his first film.

10. With your character portraits, what did you attempt to capture about each character and did you have a favorite?

My favorite character to Photograph was Susan’s as we could really go so over the top with the poses.  I found Gemma the hardest to portray as I needed to find something to pick out and almost make a caricature of for the photos, for instance like I did with Matt and using a camera with a wide angle lens to give a crazy perspective. It was hard to do this with Gemma as her character was almost a polar opposite to Susan’s and I also needed to depict this.  I ended up using less contrast in the editing to give a softer feel to the images and going for the more traditional poses, as her character was more traditional than the others.

11. What does black and white photography offer as opposed to color in your opinion?

You can create mood and atmosphere simply by taking a colour image, turning it black and white and making the black areas really black.  I used this technique with Matt’s pictures to give him a slightly sinister edge to his character. The really over contrasted strong black and white images are great for showing a really strong character. I put less contrast into Gemma’s black and whites for a softer more feminine pure feel. Black and White images can look really classy, contemporary or Traditional so they are very diverse.

12. Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently and if so, what?

I think I would have worked with two camera bodies if I did this type of shoot again, as normally I don’t change my lens too often in a shoot but this was different and it would have saved time.

13. What projects do you have upcoming?

This month, I have a Wedding booking Saturday and I am also doing a booking at Newbury Racecourse for M.W.S media this week. I have a family portrait on Sunday, two proms and a 60th birthday party. I also have a fashion shoot for a shop in a field!  On top of this I am going back to school for the day to talk about working as a freelancer.

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You can find Helen’s website at and she is MWS Media’s choice for any photography that we do.



One Response to “Interview with studio photographer Helen Thurwell!”

  1. Diana Jennifer Says:

    Great Interview!

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