Photographer Interview – Paul Smollen

Why do you love photography? What made you want to pursue a career photography?

People who know me say I never shut up and can talk underwater, I love photography because it’s my conversation with someone. If the subject is captured right, then the photograph will communicate in the same way to the viewers as well. The camera freezes the fragment of the time I have spent with that person. The camera has been central in my life in making friends with people from different walks of life.

To use a cliché I have always been creative, sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. Photography is a medium that is difficult it is taking something 3D and turning into 2D and drawing peoples eye to it.  I have been lucky in that what I like to photograph people like to look at, so people have been receptive to my work, this has spurred me to push harder and take more images.

Why did you focus on the men’s underwear/swimwear industry?

The human form is a beautiful thing both male and female. I was and still am inspired by legendary photographers like Bruce Webber and Max Dupain. I like to do things differently and from a different perspective, I like taking an image style that everyone knows and trying to find a new way to photograph it. Plus growing up in Australia we can photograph beachwear all year round, we don’t really have winter.

Do you have you had a Memorable shoot?  Was it good or bad??

This may sound strange, but I actually remember all my shoots and I always try and make them fun and enjoyable, but early on in my career I photographed a guy in shirt and tie underneath a water feature in the centre of Sydney. The model told me to turn around and I thought it was the rangers or police coming but it was bus of Japanese tourists who stopped and were taking photos of us. It was a tad ironic.

How do you prepare for a shoot? What is your workflow in the creative process?

I like to get to know a model first and see what they liked, ideas/concepts and what they are comfortable in doing. I then think about the product and what locations would match it or juxtapose it. I often see the model as the support act to the light and location. That way the model fits in perfectly and the image works.  

What has been your wildest idea for a shoot and did you get to execute it?

I have been very lucky and had guys believe in me and my vision and have allowed me to do some pretty cool concepts. I have one for a gallery show that I did that I’m turning into a book where I poured milk over naked men. Another I had a model in a bathtub full of candy, lollypops etc, I have had guys nude hanging from cliffs, or walking in their undies along a road in front of Big Ben.

What do you look for in the models you use?

This will sound like a dating app but I look for confidence and a good personality. I don’t like it when a model poses, I like the model to be them, natural and that’s what I try and capture.  I don’t tolerate diva or attitude.

Do you use a regular set of models or do you like to mix it up?

I have both. I find that when you worked with a guy a lot you build up so much trust, respect and friendship and images are always better after a few sessions and you can push things further. But I also like working with new guys and how they bring in their ideas, creativity and excitement.

Shoots can be anything from boxer briefs to thongs, how do you make models feel comfortable in whatever you shoot?

I engage in a model’s interests, tell them stupid stories about me and try and get them to have a laugh, that is usually what makes them comfortable.  I’m very respectful, while a model might be in underwear/speedo/nude in front of the camera and being directed, once the camera is down, I always turn away from the model when they change and give them a towel.  Plus, I have been lucky and worked with a few exhibitionists who have dropped all their clothes before I even have the lens cap off. And sometimes it been harder for me to get the model to put clothes back on at the end of a shoot.

What are some tips you give models in order to be comfortable in front of the camera whether as a new model or for underwear/swimwear shoots?

 The tips I would give a guy interested in modelling would be to:

  1. Train like a demon
  2. Workout what will set you apart from another model, 
  3. Work on confidence
  4. Build a network and talk to other models and photographers
  5. Have a shoot kit ready – towel, flip flops, clothes, makeup touch up kit
  6. Be good to your skin

Any tips for people wanting to get into photography and specifically men’s underwear/swimwear? 

 I won’t lie its a tough gig photography, with the interaction of digital camera, plus everyone with a smart phone and an instagram account thinks they are a photographer. The best tips I could give are:

  1. Get a good camera
  2. Learn how to compose images
  3. Attend workshops
  4. Work with photographers
  5. Take your time
  6. Practice on anyone to start 

What are your interests away from the camera?

You will usually find me in nature covered in dirt. The more I live in a city like London the more important it is for me to be hands on in nature, so I volunteer in woodlands and parks, planting, weeding and rubbish collection. You will also find most of my space time is location scouting and trying to get into areas I’m not supposed to be in, nothing illegal, just lost officer I swear.

Follow Paul on Instagram @

Model in the pics for this interview is @ryan_yule 

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