How to maintain creative self-expression while photographing for clients

April AlexanderPersone ed eventi15 apr 2024Lettura di 6 minuti
BTS of the Human Prompt

Always testing your limits and experimenting are the key to authenticity, says fashion and portrait photographer April Alexander

April Alexander has been capturing moments on camera since the age of 14. Recently, the Nikon Creator swapped her London studio for Kuusamo, Finland, for Nikon’s limited series, The Human Prompt. Sitting down with Nikon magazine, April chats about developing a style, reacting to a task and staying true to herself. 


Nikon: How would you describe your photography style?

April: I would say it is quite carefully reflective, especially my natural light portraits. Every time I pick up my camera, my aim is to try to unearth my muse’s truest essence – which is sometimes hard to do because we humans tend to have our walls up, especially when meeting strangers. With this in mind, I try to be as real as possible when creating my portraits as I want to move not only the viewer but also the sitter to witness the raw emotion captured at the time of shooting. I want them to be able to see themselves in a way they might not have been able to see before. 




April Alexander

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What’s in my kitbag?
Behind the scenes shot of April Alexander, Nikon magazine.

Does post-production emphasise your style? 

I definitely believe it’s the whole experience that influences one’s style. However, in post-production, you can truly cement your photographic style that will enable people to say, “Yes, that’s definitely an Annie Leibovitz or April Alexander image!” when they come across your work uncredited. When I’m editing, I use Capture One for all my colour grading and then Adobe Photoshop for all major skin retouching. I like to create calm-looking imagery, so to encapsulate this I tend to bring the highlights down as much as possible and bring up shadows for a very soft look. 


What’s in your kitbag? 

I use the Nikon Z 7II with the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S, NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S and NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S. I love the compression both the 105mm and 70-200mm capture and I equally love the versatility of the 24-70mm as I can shoot almost everything with it. This lens rarely leaves my camera body. I also use the Nikon Z 30 for vlogging and filming for Instagram Reels and YouTube videos, plus two Nikon film cameras (F50 & FE2) and multiple NIKKOR AIS lenses I have collected along the way that are very special to me. 


What was your first reaction to the prompt: ‘Light in the darkness, darkness in the light?’ 

I thought it was quite cryptic at first! It was definitely a prompt that got us out of our comfort zone and encouraged us to think outside the box. I wanted to create lightness and darkness not only in the mood of the photoshoots but also within the breath-taking locations around us. After hearing the prompt, I quickly went to Pinterest and started compiling a mood board of ideas of how I could depict this feeling in the locations we had available to us. Then came the scariest part: how was I going to bring my mood board to life in such a short amount of time with limited resources? 


We scouted around for locations for a few hours where I took test photographs in various places, thinking about how the light might fall when I would be taking the images. In the end I thought, “You’re just going to have to wing it and go with whatever comes your way!”

The Human Prompt campaign asset
The Human Prompt campaign asset
Image right/top: 100mm, 1/500 sec, f/2.8, ISO 320. Image left/bottom: 26mm, 1/1000 sec, f/3.2, ISO 320. April uses Nikon Z f with NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S and NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S ©April Alexander

How was the light?

Flat! I was quite happy about that in the end. It acted like a huge soft box over my subject so gave off a beautiful, dreamlike light – exactly what I wanted. Plus, it also meant I didn’t need to change my camera settings too frequently. 


The lake lighting was stunning (see above). It was my favourite location, whereas in the woods the sun was setting rapidly and it started to snow, which meant the light was being diffused even more. I decided to use the NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.2 S to get a gorgeous shallow depth of field in this location and used it wide open to get in as much light as possible, so I didn’t need to boost my ISO, which would have resulted in a grainy image. I loved using the 85mm prime because I was able to be more intentional with my composition – because it’s so compressed it forced me to be more creative with my shots. I had to physically move around, where with a zoom I could stand in one place and zoom in or out to my heart’s content. With the 85mm you have to think more, you’re further away from the subject if you want to feature the landscape alongside them – which made achieving this shot (below) so exciting. 


How was the composition? 

With the image of Jay, my model, in the red outfit, I wanted the background to be compressed. I used the 85mm to draw the background as close to him as possible. As the mountains were so vast and distant from my subject, I wanted them to look large, powerful and almost looming over Jay. The darkness was defined by his strong facial expressions, unwavering stance and body positioning, combined with the immense snow-covered mountains behind him. The lightness came from the snow bouncing the light around the surroundings and his fairly feminine outfit and makeup choice. The image itself is all very gender-bending and not something I have tried before, but I am in awe of how it turned out.


For the shoot in the woods, we arrived close to sunset around 4pm and it had just started snowing – so my 85mm was my best friend in this scenario. I wanted the scene to evoke a sense that I was a voyeur, watching my model from afar. I wanted to it to feel as though the trees were almost dancing around Jay, while he remained very poised, aware of my presence but not knowing where or who I am. This is where I felt the darkness seeped in with this image. The light came from the reflective nature of his clothes and the soft snow falling around him. 


The Human Prompt campaign asset
The Human Prompt campaign asset
Image left/top: 85mm, 1/250 sec, f/7.1, ISO 250. Image right/bottom: 85mm, 1/250 sec, f/1.2, ISO 640. April uses Z f with NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.2 S ©April Alexander
April Alexander’s top tips to maintain your own self-expression while photographing for clients 


1. Bring yourself, and only yourself, to the role

There are a lot of incredible photographers, but people not only buy into the experience and skill you have to offer, but also into the person. Show the world from your point of view.


2. Develop your personal style

Creating personal work in your down time is so important. When you eventually shoot client work, while they might love your work and what you do, clients will always have a mood board or brief for you to shoot to. Ironically, it may not always be to your style or usual vision, but they have hired you because they are enamoured by the energy and expertise that you bring to the job, so developing your style is crucial. That’s why it’s imperative that you never stop experimenting in your spare time. Even if you’re booked solid with client work, always do personal work! More often than not, it’s the personal work that will get you booked, not the client work. Clients love to see how dynamic you are, so keep on experimenting to let your future clients know you have the knowledge to do the very best job for whatever projects they have in mind.


3. Network as much as you can

Join a photography community. I’m part of two incredible communities: Black Women Photographers and UK Black Female Photographers. They have been such a pillar of strength for me and have opened so many doors for me, not to mention given me credibility and validity, as has being a Nikon Creator. Both communities are completely free to join via their respective websites and Facebook pages. The communities are there to support you, give you advice and guide you through this fast-paced industry.



Watch April’s episode of The Human Prompt below or follow her on Instagram here


Capturing the essence of your subjects with April Alexander

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