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Tom Oliver Payne – Klee

How I got here: Tom Oliver Payne

Published date
17 May 2018
Megan St Clair Morgan

As part of a new series from LCC Short Courses, we’re delving into how skill based careers can be built upon through further training – How I got here: covering the points of inspiration, the struggles and the top tips they’d give to other aspiring creatives.

Starting the series with Tom Oliver Payne, an Australian Architectural Photographer who joined us for the three day Architectural Photography short course lead by NAARO, a photography studio focused on the narration of contemporary architecture. Tom was topping up his knowledge in Architectural photography through the theory and practice based course led by professional architectural photographers Marcela Spadaro and Freya Najade.

Originally from Sydney, Tom moved to London 6 years ago training as an architect at the Bartlett School of Architecture. Specialising in Urban Planning and Design, Tom went on to work 5 years in the industry as a chartered professional for a London consultancy. Although he had a fun team and interesting projects at the firm, he decided to follow his father’s footsteps into photography.

We caught up with Tom to find out more about his journey…


Tom Oliver Payne Tate Modern

Who encouraged your career in architectural photography/film?

My father, a respected photographer who lived and breathed his work. Growing up above his studio, my siblings and I were well-exposed to the industry. The house was energetic and often a bit chaotic – with stylists, models, designers and marketing professionals working until the early hours of the morning. I often assisted him on jobs and always took a fascination in his work, but I guess like most kids, I was eager to do something different to my Dad.

A love for travel drew me to study urbanism, I was intrigued to understand how historic events, philosophies and cultural movements impacted the built environment. Eager to learn about different cities, and gain an understanding why they are the way they are.

After finishing a master’s degree in Urban Planning and Design from the Bartlett School of Architecture, I worked for 5 years in the industry. A chartered professional working in a London consultancy, although I had a fun team and interesting projects my genes were pulling me to photography.

Finishing work each day, I photographed the street life and buildings and quickly the hobby consumed me enough to leave my job. Retraining in the field by assisting a photographer and taking intensive short courses alike to this one. Dabbling in various forms of photography including fashion, but Architectural photography always felt like a really natural combination of my interests.

Tell us about your career in architectural photography/film so far?

In its early days, really, I’m focussing on developing a good portfolio and regular client-base. It takes a lot of time – so it’s not something you can just create overnight. I’ve been doing interior and exterior photography for small architectural firms, PR agencies and urban visualisation studios. Also working alongside a film production company to develop architectural storytelling projects, which I’m super excited about.

You trained as an architect, how did this influence your work as an image maker?

Firstly, urban design taught me about their articulation of space… The order, scale, symmetry, proportion and details of the built environment work together to create a sense of place. When these elements are right, our mood is impacted positively. When they are wrong, we feel uncomfortable. This plays a strong role in choosing what it is that I shoot, and from which angles.

Secondly, I think my previous studies gave me a theoretical understanding of cities and architecture which engages me in my photography. I have some understanding of why an architectural style is unique and why a specific streetscape is interesting. I like to appreciate a building’s historical context – Who lived or worked there? Why was it built in this way? Why does it look different to its surroundings?

Photography is a lot more fun and interesting when you care about the subject matter.

Tom Oliver Payne British Museum

Tom Oliver Payne British Museum

You studied our Architectural Photography short course how has this helped to develop your work?

It helped me a lot in both the creative and business aspects of my work. Taught by two highly skilled and successful architectural photographers, we had the opportunity to pick their brains about the industry from how to approach a new client, to how best to send the final product. Creatively, we undertook a photo project and had the opportunity to critique each other’s work. A super important process for any person doing something creative because you are forced to reflect on your own work. This in turn sets you on a path to developing your own style.

What would your top piece of advice be to an aspiring architectural photographer/filmmaker?

Something that I’m definitely still learning myself – be brave… take risks with your style, ask a friend for feedback on your work, approach a potential client with a portfolio, ask your neighbour to photograph their house. Unlike other jobs, no one is going to sit there and tell you what to do. You’ll learn from taking your own risks and making your own mistakes.

Learn more about the Architectural Photography short course and how to book