Creative Lives — Reach out to industry as early as possible: Cinematographer Aaron Reid

Posted 08 May 2018 Interview by Indi Davies

Growing up in South London, director of photography Aaron Reid decided he wanted to pursue a career behind the camera at 15 or 16 years old. But with little access to industry information or connections, he admits he had no idea whether that would be in film or photography. In the years that followed, Aaron landed on cinematography as the path that most suited him, studying at Bournemouth University, Kent Institute of Art and Design and the London Film School. Now creating award-winning content, feature films and commercials with agencies including RSA and Pulse for projects that take him all over the world, he talks us through the highs and lows of finding his way as a DOP. 

Aaron Reid

Job Title

Cinematographer

Based

London

Previous Employment

PA and Edit Assistant for a commercial production company in Soho, London (1year) 
Freelance Spark (1 year)

Education

MA Cinematography, London Film School, 2006–2008
BA Film Production, Kent Institute of Art and Design, 2001–2004
HND Video Production, Bournemouth University, 1999–2001

Clients Include

Agencies:
Unstoppable, RSA, Pulse, Kode Media, Citizen, Artist Preserve

Brands:
Mercedes Petronas, Sony, Apple, Bacardi, Desperado, Universal, Ministry of Sound, Barclays, Epson

Website
Social Media

Aaron at work

Day-to-Day

How would you describe what do?
I would say I’m an up-and-coming cinematographer, shooting films, music videos, commercials and content. I basically bring things to life visually and chase the sun a lot.

I specialise in lighting and composition, but I wouldn’t call myself a cameraman, even though on a set that's how it might look. My job is both creative and technical; I start by asking what the idea is, how I can make that work visually.

What kinds of clients do you work with?
More recently I’ve been building my feature-film reel (my last film 10x10 was created with production company Unstoppable, and I have also been shooting a lot of high-end brand films. Just five minutes before this interview I found out a Bacardi brand film I shot for Wasserman, won three awards, and I recently shot a branded film for Apple in Nigeria. I often work with directors from RSA, Caviar, and many more.

What does your job entail, day to day?
In the days and weeks before shooting, I’ll be in prep, so I'd be at home. From about 8am I'll be on my laptop, emailing and taking calls (my living room turns into my office). A large part of my job is spent working out logistics, having meetings, going on recces, location scouting, and then shooting. 

As an example, today I’m in a hotel room prepping for a shoot that happens later on today, but I’m also emailing with someone about a job I’m doing next Friday. A lot of my time is spent travelling, too. Last year I shot in about 17 different cities, in 12 countries. 

“A lot of my time is spent travelling. Last year I shot in about 17 different cities, in 12 countries.”

A music video for Ghost Poet

What do you like about working from London? 
It has its pros and cons. As a DOP it’s a really good place to be based if you want to travel. About 40 percent of my work is shot overseas, as a lot of companies take their work outside of London; I love this about my job because I get to travel to many amazing places.

However, there are so many cinematographers here that it is really competitive, and harder to get good work. 

How does your work tend to come about?
I’ve been shooting for a while now, so it's a mixture. I work quite a few repeat directors which takes up about 60 percent of my work. I’m represented by an agency called My Management in UK, so I get other jobs through them, but also from people who have followed my work for years.

What skills are essential to your job?
The fundamental thing is to understand lighting, composition, your tools and how light affects them. 

You have to able to listen, be creative, keep an eye on what’s current and find your own ways to tell stories. Also just getting on with people; it’s important to enjoy your work and the company you’re in.

A trailer for feature film ‘10x10’, released in the US 13 April, 2018

Feature film ‘10x10’, released in the US 13 April, 2018

Feature film ‘10x10’, released in the US 13 April, 2018

Feature film ‘10x10’, released in the US 13 April, 2018

What are the downsides of the job? 
The hours – for instance this year I’ve worked on every bank holiday weekend, which is unusual. It can be hard to have such antisocial hours. It's also not glamorous: I’ve worked on a seven-day shoot where we went into overtime every day and on the last day we needed up shooting for 24 hours. When that happens, the best thing to do [if it's on location] is just to miss the plane and book into the hotel for an extra four days to chill out and do nothing.

What tools do you use for your work?
I carry my light meter everywhere I go. If I’m ever in doubt about how much light there is in a space, it’s the one tool I trust more than anything. I tend to shoot on the Alexa, sometimes I shoot Red, and I love shooting 16 and 35mm – that's what I trained on. I also use cranes, a Steadicam, and whatever I can get my hands on. 

Aaron at work

How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up?
When I was really young I wanted to be a footballer, but at the same time I was into photography and acting. When I was I around 15 or 16 I decided I wanted to be behind the camera. 

Did you know you wanted to be a cinematographer specifically? 
When I was in secondary school information wasn’t so open – you didn’t have much access to knowing what a cinematographer was. I started out doing a bit of everything on a HND [Higher National Diploma] in video production in Bournemouth, with photography modules, directing and video production. 

“[A year working between studies] was so beneficial. I hadn’t known anyone in the industry, so it gave me a great understanding, connections and a chance to live a normal working life.”

Was there an early job or experience that shaped your development?
After completing a degree I applied and got into the London Film School to do an MA, but couldn't go as I didn't get the scholarship, and the fees were about £40k for two years. So I decided to find my way around the industry and work my way up, taking a job as a PA and edit assistant at a commercials production company in Soho. 

It was a really tough year as I realised I knew nothing about the industry. But a year later everything just clicked into place. I ended up getting the scholarship and going to the London Film School, and continued working on films and commercials as a spark. I also started shooting music videos for directors I’d met when they were assistant editors at my first job. My first music video budget had been about £200, but as I was leaving film school I was shooting with £15k to £20k budgets for companies like Sony. So by the time I left I was a working DOP. 

That year out was so beneficial. I hadn’t known anyone in the film industry – I had no family or friends in the industry, it was just me on my own – so it gave me a great understanding, connections and was a chance to live a normal working life. It also made things a little daunting as I quickly realised I didn’t fit the stereotype of a cinematographer. There is only a small number of black cinematographers working in the UK, let alone the world, so I was conscious of the impact it would have on my growing career.

A music video for Luke Marzec

A music video for Luke Marzec

A music video for Luke Marzec

A music video for Luke Marzec

What’s been your biggest challenge?
Probably staying current, breaking into commercials (I’m slowly starting to get cool ones, but it’s taken time) and just being true to myself. At first taking jobs was a matter of needing to pay the bills, but now I’m able to be choosy: it has to be a project that means something to me, creatively. It’s so important to be careful about what you shoot, because now, with social media, it’s all going to be online. If someone sees the one thing that isn’t so good, it might set their perception of you.

“It’s so important to be careful about what you shoot. If someone sees the one thing that isn’t so good, it might set their perception of you.”

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to emerging cinematographers?
Start reaching out to people in the industry as early as possible and ask for advice – it might help you with your own route. Also, if I was to do it all over again, I’d cut the amount of time studying and put it into the industry. While you might sometimes be asked if you went to film school, I’ve never been asked what qualifications I had – it’s your work and the people you’ve worked with that matter most. If you’ve collaborated with great directors or production companies, people definitely take notice. At the same time, if your reel is amazing, you’re going to get amazing jobs. 

Posted 08 May 2018 Interview by Indi Davies
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Advertising, Film
Mentions: Aaron Reid
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