Tommy Clarke on people watching, photo-taking tips and what inspires him

Tommy Clarke is a London-based aerial photographer, travelling the world to shoot stunning destinations. You’ll find him hanging from the side of helicopters, capturing vertical-down images of locations as varied as the west coast of Australia to the beaches at Pozeath. We caught up with him find out his favourite holiday spots and where in the world he most wants to return to.

Can you give us a potted history of your career to date?

I had no ambitions to be a photographer if I'm honest, I wanted to be a physiotherapist! But whilst studying sport science at university I ended up taking some shots for a charity calendar and next thing I knew I was the go-to photographer on campus. That lead me into fashion photography, then landscape then somehow into hanging out of helicopters around the world!

Barbuda by Tommy Clarke

Who or what inspires you?

I find inspiration everywhere, from nature to a recycling centre (I've just driven back from one and saw some amazing recycled products!). But the ocean seems to be my number one, being in and around it is where I feel most inspired and creative.

What do you like most about what you do?

That I never know what the next week might have in store, no two weeks are the same. It might be to go to the Galapagos to test out a new camera one week or off to cruise around Alaska the next. It’s so unpredictable and I love it.

What’s been your favourite shoot to date?

I got to fly over Martinique last year on a shoot for Leica, and there was space in the plane so I took my girlfriend with me so she could see what a work day looks like for me.

Do you have a favourite photographer?

It changes from week to week, but the classic landscape photographer Ansel Adams to the more recent Massimo Vitali. People that capture the feeling of the landscape, not just the visual.

Miami Miami

What’s the most unusual experience you’ve had when shooting?

A friend of mine once tagged me in a video they took when they were on a beach in Miami – it was of a helicopter flying over slowly. They said ‘hey look, someone’s stealing your job in Miami’, without having any idea that I was actually in that helicopter shooting. What a coincidence!

Do you have any tips for taking a great photo for those of us who are complete amateurs?

A really good technique to look up is the rule of thirds, it’s all about not putting the point of interest of your photo smack in the middle, be risky and put it off to the sides.

Jet Skis by Tommy Clarke Jet Skis by Tommy Clarke

What can you tell us about the film you’re working on?

We’ve just finished it in Bournemouth, or wrapped as I should say! It’s my first step in to the world of writing and directing so it’s been an incredible experience. It’s a story about a son doing up his late dad’s motorbike, to reenact a photo his mum took when they first met, to cheer her up. It’s an adventure romcom and I'll be taking it the film festivals this year to see how it fairs. Our cast is made up of actors from Poldark and the Inbetweeners, so I was in good hands!

Name one thing that you’d like to do or achieve with your work this year.

I’d love to win an award for the film. It was such a risk doing it all and it took me so far beyond my comfort zone that a little pat on the back would be incredible.

Iceland Iceland

Which is the place that you would most like to return to?

I fell in love with Iceland, I’ve been a couple of times but I’ve not seen the Aurora yet.

Where in the world are you happiest?

For me it’s the south coast of England near Bournemouth. I have a small hut on the beach down there and I'll go down and live off grid for weeks on end. You catch your own food, surf if there are waves, write, and realign yourself in this crazy world.

St Tropez Boats St Tropez

What’s your favourite photograph that you’ve taken whilst travelling?

There’s one I've always loved that I took near Saint Tropez of a group of boats anchored in a sheltered bay. It wasn’t a shot I'd planned on taking, I was going for beaches that day, but the pilot said we had the fuel so we risked it and it was beautiful. It ended up becoming my first Conde Nast Traveller cover so it’s even more special.

Where are heading to next?

I’ve just started writing my first feature film, which is largely based around the Greek islands, so I'll be heading there for some proper research I think. I do love my job!

What’s the first thing you do when you arrive in a new destination?

I find a spot for a cold beer where I can people watch. If it’s on a beach then even better. It’s a nice way to settle yourself into the area gently.

Polzeath Beach

Polzeath Beach

Favourite part of the UK?

The Dorset or Cornish coast. I’ll never tire of them.

Favourite UK hotel?

Chewton Glen in Hampshire - specifically the amazing treehouses they have to stay in.

Favourite European city break?

I’ve just got back from a week in Stockholm which was beautiful and I came back with my Antler luggage full of all the amazing crackers they have out there.

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever packed in your hand luggage?

I collect Christmas baubles everywhere I go so that the tree at the end of the year is full of memories of adventures. So I tend to get my hand luggage checked at security as they must look very odd going through the X-ray!

Tell us about how you pack.

I’d love to say I pack in advance but I just can’t do it. I’m getting better though, and now use my Antler packing cubes so when I get to the other end I'm already pretty organised.

What do you look for in your luggage? Do you see it as a practical necessity or are you a bag man?

I need to make sure my cameras and laptops arrive in one piece, so for me sturdiness and security are vital.

I love my Clifton cases too. I can’t imagine going back to soft cases now. It may be a tiny feature but the way the hand grip turns with your wrist when you pull the case on two wheels to make it more comfortable, always makes me smile.

Quick fire questions

Podcast or paperback?

Podcast

Train or plane?

Love them both, but plane

Cut it fine or leave plenty of time?

Plenty of time,

Sightseeing or sun lounger?

Sightseeing

Early start or slowly but surely?

Early, sunrise early

Plan every detail or wing it on arrival?

Mix of both

Tommy Clark’s studio is at 5 Clapham Old Town, London, SW4 0JT. Tommy travels with our Clifton suitcase set in black


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