Conor Ferris

“Creation is difficult. Whenever we make something out of nothing, we learn new truths about ourselves. They could be strengths or weaknesses, but knowing about either will help you going forward.” Conor Ferris

Based in Bristol, UK, Conor Ferris is well versed in moving pictures. Transitioning to stills was a welcome challenge, and an opportunity to explore his steadfast creative beliefs in a new medium. He combines image making with an age-old passion for science. The work often contains the magnificence of the natural world, as well as its fragility.

Conor has used his keen artistic eye to direct two award-winning short films, created during his time at the National Film and Television School. He’s since gone on to build a landmark documentary series with the BBC Natural History Unit.

Crises faced by the natural world and the human stories around them are inextricably linked. The dramatic collision is a subject Conor views frequently through the lens. It’s a narrative that is at once challenging and uplifting, demonstrating the troubling consequences of our actions. Treading an objecting line, he also highlights solutions – should we accept the call to action.

Photo 2022 © Alan Winslow | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR, 1/600 sec at F3.2, ISO 160

Breaking New Ground

There is nothing more prevalent than stories to be told. Every event can be seen and recounted from endless perspectives. Some offer feeling, some fantasy, while others deliver abject truth. Stories are told through spoken word, writing, music, and imagery – and there are those among us lucky enough to communicate in more than one figurative tongue. One such individual is Conor Ferris. Called upon to photograph charismatic artist Kojey Radical, the Bristol-based filmmaker shifted from the moving picture and began a journey into the language of stills.

Photo 2022 © Alan Winslow | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR, 1/600 sec at F3.2, ISO 160

Photo 2022 © Alan Winslow | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/320 sec at F3.2, ISO 250

Photo 2022 © Alan Winslow | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/320 sec at F3.2, ISO 250

Conor has a specific direction when it comes to documentaries.

“It’s the more candid, natural elements that I’m always drawn to,” he says. “I like the exploration of how something fits into its environment – whether that’s framing, colors, lines that you can follow, or just examining the subject against a backdrop. I ask myself, ‘Does this character look like it belongs in this setting? Is it standing out, or blending in?’ In nature’s composition, if something is drawing the eye, it’s for a reason.

“I’m also constantly thinking about the footage, and how that fits into an edit. It’s different from photography in that sense. I don’t have to tell the whole story with one image. That was a whole new challenge – and a welcome one. Because photography has always been a hobby, but never something I’ve pursued in the same way as film, where I’ve put lots of time and effort into refining it.”

Photo 2022 © Michael Bulbenko | FUJIFILM X-E4 camera and XF16-80mmF4 R OIS WR, 1/60 sec at F4.5, ISO 3200

Of course, technical proficiency with a video camera does carry over into photography – and that’s not all. Conor has always had a keen eye for human subjects. While portraiture is not his expertise, he knows the importance of connection through the lens better than most.

“I always find images of people are most impactful. Bringing a human element into anything makes others relate to it. It makes any issue seem more pertinent, when you see how it affects us all directly,” he continues.

Other elements of the Artists Den session were not the same as Conor’s experience in the natural world, although that’s not to say they served as limitations.

“I had the chance to learn a lot from my mentor, Kevin. Every time he did something different, I’d ask him why, and what his thinking was. It made me realize that I can play around and have so much more fun with what I’m doing, when the time is right. In my world, you get one opportunity – and you must document it perfectly. Exposure, frame rate, and the broader look all must be precise and in keeping with existing clips. During the show, I could experiment. It was freeing.”

Photo 2022 © Michael Bulbenko | FUJIFILM X-E4 camera and XF16-80mmF4 R OIS WR, 1/60 sec at F4.5, ISO 3200

Photo 2022 © Alan Winslow | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/320 sec at F2.8, ISO 3200

Photo 2022 © Alan Winslow | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/320 sec at F2.8, ISO 3200

As the only performance in Students of Storytelling Chapter 3 to take place outside of the US, the setting could not have been more representative of London’s grime music scene. In Kojey Radical’s hometown of Hoxton, Conor and the team prepared themselves, surrounded by the worn brickwork and overhead rattling of an historic railway arch.

“It was an incredibly tight space, by the time the film crew and a whole band came in,” Conor explains. “We couldn’t cross in front of the other cameras, so ended up with a corner to operate in, with two channels to move along the side walls. You need a little bit of limitation to truly explore any space, so we were trying to find interesting ways of framing the performance.

“Lighting was nice. There were a few warmer, street lamp-style fixtures, but the space was mostly lit by projection. It was displaying album artwork, as well as some of Kojey’s own visuals. He creates music, poetry, fashion, and art – so the whole thing fit into one aesthetic.

Photo 2022 © Michael Bulbenko | FUJIFILM X-E4 camera and XF16-80mmF4 R OIS WR, 1/60 sec at F5.6, ISO 3200

“With these elements constant, I didn’t have to worry about any real surprises. So, I was asking myself, ‘What can I adjust to make these photos different each time, when I’m in the same space, with the same light, and the same people?’ That really forces you to be creative.”

Switching between XF16-80mmF4 R OIS WR and XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR, Conor found plenty of variety. Eyeing his subject with a freer gaze than ever, he explored the craft of stills.

“When we first met Kojey, we recognized that he’s just impossibly cool and laid back,” Conor recalls. “As soon as the gig began, he switched and became very charismatic – drawing attention as a natural performer. That duality comes across in his music. As well as tighter portraits, I focused on highlighting his personality and body language with a few wider frames. I was also varying angles, photographing from low down, at eyeline and over the head.

“I wanted to isolate Kojey as a figure, choosing a fast aperture for most frames. Incorporating the feeling of high energy was a priority, so I slowed the shutter down just enough to create some blur. Color was something else I was drawn to, between the blues and yellows of the lights, and the vibrant green of his suit.”

Rather than miss opportunities while changing settings, upon Kevin’s expert advice, Conor set his X-T4 to Film Simulation bracketing mode and left the final creative choice to his future self.

Photo 2022 © Michael Bulbenko | FUJIFILM X-E4 camera and XF16-80mmF4 R OIS WR, 1/60 sec at F5.6, ISO 3200

Photo 2022 © Conor Ferris for Artists Den Entertainment | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR, 1/100 sec at F2.8, ISO 1250

Photo 2022 © Conor Ferris for Artists Den Entertainment | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF16-80mmF4 R OIS WR, 1/200 sec at F4, ISO 2500

Photo 2022 © Conor Ferris for Artists Den Entertainment | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR, 1/100 sec at F2.8, ISO 1250

Photo 2022 © Conor Ferris for Artists Den Entertainment | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF16-80mmF4 R OIS WR, 1/500 sec at F4, ISO 640

Photo 2022 © Conor Ferris for Artists Den Entertainment | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF16-80mmF4 R OIS WR, 1/500 sec at F4, ISO 1600

Photo 2022 © Conor Ferris for Artists Den Entertainment | FUJIFILM X-T4 camera and XF16-80mmF4 R OIS WR, 1/500 sec at F4, ISO 1600

Photo 2022 © Michael Bulbenko | FUJIFILM X-E4 camera and XF16-80mmF4 R OIS WR, 1/125 sec at F4.5, ISO 800

Photo 2022 © Michael Bulbenko | FUJIFILM X-E4 camera and XF16-80mmF4 R OIS WR, 1/125 sec at F4.5, ISO 800

“I used Velvia, ETERNA, and Monochrome. There were a lot of frames that really benefited from a lift in saturation, a more muted palette suited me as a filmmaker, and monochrome always offers the potential to heighten drama. I’d never even seen film emulation within a digital camera before using Fujifilm, but I loved it. It simply meant not missing any visual opportunity.”

While the experience was unlike Conor’s norm – framing a posed human animal in a firmly urban environment – it still spoke to his own nature as a creative, with an undeniable sense of veracity.

“The photos I’m most proud of were those that communicated the sense of what it felt like to be there, through my eyes, even if there were visual imperfections. What you’re aiming for within my niche, and the reason people watch documentary film, is truth,” he effuses. “Although the performance was staged, when you’re photographing someone who is such a natural performer, it does remain very genuine. And I learned you don’t always have to communicate that with a perfect image. Using a broader variety of options, there’s a better chance of capturing the essence of something more effectively.

“The truth of a moment doesn’t always come from a perfect exposure, excellent framing, and consistent colors. Often, the point you’re trying to get across is a feeling, not a fact. It’s abstract, so why not show it that way? Why confine yourself to a very clean reality, when there are so many ways to help a viewer understand a unique perspective?”