Curator Spotlight: Meet Simon Wiffen, Documentary-Style Photographer

Mia Quagliarello / October 5, 2022


Simon Wiffen

In this series, we are thrilled to help you get to know, in a much deeper way, a curator on Flipboard. Each person we spotlight is an inspiring member of a community here. Look for a new post every Wednesday, and please give each featured curator a follow and a high-five! Now let’s get to it.

Hello! Who are you?

I’m Simon Wiffen, an award-winning Leeds-based photographer at simonwiffenphotography.co.uk, specializing in family, commercial, lifestyle, editorial, portrait and events photography. I have a particular passion for capturing natural, documentary-style images with a human element and an emotional narrative.

I’ve had a love of photography since discovering my dad’s camera as a child. After building a darkroom in my bedroom, I fell in love with the magic of seeing an image come to life before my eyes and that feeling of wonder has stuck with me ever since. I still believe that photography’s ability to capture an entire story and freeze a memory in a fraction of a second is real magic.

As a dad of three, I understand only too well how quickly children grow up. My passion has always been to document these precious moments and capture each unique personality with high-end fine art style photography.

What camera do you shoot with? Why that one?

I shoot on a Canon EOS 5D MkIII with a range of L glass. When I first switched to a digital SLR, I tried both Canon and Nikon cameras and the Canon menu system just felt more intuitive to me. I stuck with Canon as I moved up through the models and now I find the 5D gives me the perfect balance as a professional. It’s getting on a bit now but it produces great images and it’s a real workhorse. The build quality is great and it’s never let me down. I have it all configured for my own specific needs and I shoot with back button focus. It’s so familiar to me I can switch my settings intuitively so I can work accurately and quickly. Absolutely imperative when working with children who don’t usually hang around long enough for you to change your settings. You have to adapt and be reactive and the 5D allows me to do that. Once it’s ready to retire to a farm somewhere to live out its remaining days I’d love to upgrade to an R5 but while my equipment is working well for me I’m in no huge rush to make the jump to mirrorless.

Show us your favorite shot ever and tell us the story of how you got it.

Favorite shot ever?! Wow I’m not sure I’ve ever been asked that before, and I’m not sure I have an answer! I have so many images I love and all for different reasons: maybe a particular expression, or the way that light falls across a subject, or just a specific memory that an image represents. It’s usually a combination of factors. 

At the end of 2018 I published 47 / A Life With Cystic Fibrosis, a book of intimate portraits exploring the reality of living with cystic fibrosis. The portrait of Kyle on the cover was the first shot I took for the project and it’s very dear to me as it’s the moment I started to believe the project would work. For that reason it’s up there as one of my favorites just because of its importance in a project that’s really important to me. Is it my favorite shot ever though? I wouldn’t say so…I’m a huge music fan and record collector and this question is a bit like asking me about a favorite album. I’m not sure there’s one single answer, it depends on my mood, the time, the moment I’m in. 

Without wanting to cop out of the question, I’ll share one of my favorite images from the last year. This was taken in the shade under the trees to avoid the harsh sunshine. Ada had bags of character and relaxed with me immediately and I was able to get some beautiful shots of her during the session. For family sessions I always work exclusively with natural light and it’s so important to find the right light. We’re pretty ‘lucky’ in this country that it’s nearly always overcast — perfect shooting conditions. This was a rare day when it was so hot and sunny that soft, diffused lighting was hard to come by. It’s worth the effort to find it though. This shot just wouldn’t have been the same in the harsh light of the sun. The soft lighting here works so well with her delicate features and dress and I absolutely love her expression. 

Who or what inspires your photography?

I love to shoot all kinds of photography given the opportunity. Since I was a kid, back in my bedroom darkroom I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of capturing a moment in time in a fraction of a second. Since becoming a parent I’ve found my main inspiration to shoot has been to try and capture those moments that pass so quickly in the best way I can.

I have a particular love for photos that can be seen as timeless — I love black and white. I love candid, natural shots that capture personality and specific moments that can so easily be forgotten as days, months, years fly by in the blink of an eye and your children are suddenly young adults.

So that’s my main photographic inspiration: to document and capture life and family as it grows and develops and to remember these moments because they don’t last long but are so precious.

What is your favorite photography book, accessory or other item you want to recommend to other photographers?

In terms of books, one of my favorites is Magnum Contact Sheets. I like to think I approach my photography with the eye of a documentary photographer. I like to allow events to unfold in front of me and capture them as honestly and authentically as I can. As such I’ve always loved the work of Magnum photographers who always seem to ‘see’ so well and capture with such proficiency. This particular book is different, though. It doesn’t just show ‘the shot’ but shares the contact sheets that give the images far more context than you normally have. You can learn so much as a photographer by studying these — you can see the photographer’s thought process — how they see a scene unfold and start to work out the best approach to capturing it. 

It’s also a fantastic way to better understand editing. Here are 24 or 36 exposures of a scene. Why did they pick the specific frame you’ve seen so many times before? What set it apart from the others? Some of the contact sheets also contain hand-written notes. These give away some of the process — maybe there’s a tiny element the photographer likes in one frame, or perhaps there are a few shortlisted images. Maybe they feel an image will be stronger with an alternative crop. It’s a fantastic insight into the creative process of each photographer.

In terms of accessories, I absolutely love my Wacom Into Pro M tablet. I grew up in a darkroom and I think my approach to processing images is still very much informed by that. I like to use dodging and burning techniques and the pressure sensitive pen is the perfect partner for my editing style, allowing me a much greater level of control in my work.

What do you curate on Flipboard and why?

I primarily use Flipboard as a way to curate photography articles. Photography is my passion and I love to read articles but am often short on time. I’m generally less interested in gear and reviews but I love articles and films that delve into the creative process or showcase a photographer’s work and inspiration.

I curate a Magazine called Shadow & Light where I collect photography-related articles. I use this primarily as a way to collect things that grab my interest so I can go back and read them later but I also post a monthly Shadow & Light blog on my website where I share my favorite articles from the Magazine each month. 

What are your tips for other photographers on Flipboard?

I’ve been a huge fan of Flipboard since I got my first iPad around 2010. It’s my favorite way to browse and consume content. As with most things, I think you get out what you put in. You can get going pretty quickly by just adding a couple of high-level topics that interest you. If you have a few different areas that interest you — for example, as well as photography, I love jazz and record collecting — it’s worth setting up custom Magazines that focus on specific topics you love. As you discover more granular topics or specific creators, then you can tailor these magazines more and you’re rewarded with more content that really interests you.

You may also want to have a couple of ‘scrapbook’ Magazines. These can be private if you wish but allow you to quickly save something you might want to come back to later. If you see a Magazine that someone else has curated that you love click through to their profile and see what else they might have curated. You never know what you might discover!

— Mia Quagliarello, head of creator community and newsletters, is part of The Photography Exchange

Don’t forget to show Simon some love by following him on Flipboard. Simon is also a contributor to The Photography Exchange, a new community for photographers on Flipboard. Email photography@flipboard.com for an invite.