Profile

Lorenzo Agius

Actor Cillian Murphy sits in an armchair, looking at the camera, in a portrait by Lorenzo Agius.
Irish actor Cillian Murphy, captured by Canon Ambassador Lorenzo Agius. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/160 sec, f/3.5 and ISO320. © Lorenzo Agius

Trainspotting was one of the biggest British cult films of the 1990s, making overnight stars of its cast, and also of the photographer who'd shot them. The promotional poster, complete with Canon Ambassador Lorenzo Agius' portraits of actors including Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle, became a fixture on bedroom walls around the UK.

His rise to the top in 1996 might have been rapid, but Lorenzo, then in his mid-30s, had spent the previous seven years building his reputation as a freelancer shooting fashion and portraits. He'd fallen in love with photography many years earlier while still in college.

Canon Ambassador Lorenzo Agius.


Location: London
Specialist areas: Celebrity portraits
Favourite Kit:
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

Lorenzo's high profile after shooting the Trainspotting poster ensured his diary was rapidly filled in the UK, where he shot a slew of music pictures and publicity shots for films including Spice World, the Spice Girls' movie. He also caught the eye of commissioning editors across the Atlantic. During a trip to the US Lorenzo strengthened his growing reputation with another iconic portrait, this time for the cover of Vanity Fair: Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit lying under a Union Jack bedspread, an image that captured the spirit of 'Cool Britannia'.

Today, Lorenzo travels the world for numerous commercial, film, advertising and editorial clients. His portfolio of portraits includes a wide range of A-list movie stars, artists and public figures – he's photographed Tom Cruise, Prince Charles, Jack Nicholson, Beyoncé, Madonna and Michael Fassbender. Several of Lorenzo's photographs – including iconic images of David Beckham and the Spice Girls, Thandie Newton, Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes – can be found in the permanent collection at London's National Portrait Gallery.

When pressed to name the portrait shoot that made him most anxious, Lorenzo suggests the session with Tom Cruise. As a rule, he doesn't allow himself to get nervous, and his experience allows him to overcome any negative thoughts. As it turned out, Tom was just as intent on doing something creative and making the most of the opportunity as Lorenzo.

Margot Robbie photographed by Lorenzo Agius.
Australian actress and film producer Margot Robbie. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/250 sec, f/5.6 and ISO320. © Lorenzo Agius
Taron Egerton photographed by Lorenzo Agius.
Welsh actor Taron Egerton. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 1/250 sec, f/5.6 and ISO320. © Lorenzo Agius

Lorenzo studied art at Lowestoft College of Further Education in the UK, before beginning a degree in photography at the University of East Anglia. Rather than completing the course, he moved to London in 1983 to become a photographer's assistant, going freelance six years later. Art is still important to him and he admits that he would like to photograph more painters and creatives – dancers, architects, musicians, "people that are passionate about their work" – such as Tracey Emin, David Hockney and Julian Schnabel.

Lorenzo has held exhibitions in France, Italy, Russia and America, and his images were used to open the 68th Cannes Film Festival in 2010. He regularly leads photography workshops around the world and is working on his first book project.

How much time do you spend researching and getting to know celebrities before you photograph them?
"As a rule, I tend to do very little research on my subjects. It's good to know the basics and have an idea of their interests, but I prefer to have no expectations or preconceived ideas about them. Shoots don't always have to reflect that person's interests, but of course it helps to know certain things."

To what extent do you direct your subjects, or just let it flow?
"It's a combination of the two. I think it's a good idea to not go into a shoot with too much of a fixed plan, but rather be open and relaxed, and spontaneous enough to let the magic happen. Even then, there's no guarantee: I've had nightmare subjects and shoots that have then given the best results. The magic sometimes happens when you least expect it."

What qualities do you think help to distinguish a great portrait from all the good ones?
"Humour, sadness, sensitivity, ego, an understanding of human nature, knowing how to read body language, great lighting and composition – these are the ingredients for a great portrait. A lot of photographers that shoot celebs rely on their subject's fame to make the shot special. This is not the case for me. My intention is always to push the subject in some way to do something different."

Can you offer some tricks and tips for celebrity photography that you've learned over your career?
"Have a sense of humour and enjoy the process. Be open to everything. Know a few good jokes and play the right music, as music creates the mood for the shoot."

What do you think about contemporary trends in portrait photography?
"Trends come and go and it's important not to get to caught up in these trends and to keep things simple, honest and classic. That way, the work will stand the test of time."

Instagram: @lorenzoagius_official
Website: www.lorenzo-agius.com

Denzel Washington photographed by Lorenzo Agius.
American actor, director and producer Denzel Washington. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/160 sec, f/5.6 and ISO200. © Lorenzo Agius
Helena Bonham Carter photographed by Lorenzo Agius.
Actor Helena Bonham Carter. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/125sec, f/5.6 and ISO320. © Lorenzo Agius

One thing I know
Lorenzo Agius

"To capture an actor or musician's personality, rather than their persona, it's important to get under the exterior as much as possible. In order to get the subject to relax, I try to spend as much time as possible talking to them about life and their interests. It's the best way to disarm them, and in turn they are usually more honest with me. Laughter and music always helps too. But, while I think it's very important to make a connection, there really is no rule of thumb when it comes to getting a great portrait, and sometimes retaining some distance also works."

Lorenzo's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Canon Ambassador Lorenzo Agius' photography kit.

Camera

Lenses

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

A professional L-series zoom that delivers high image quality with a constant f/2.8 aperture. "On most of my shoots, this is the first lens I pick up," says Lorenzo. "If for instance I don't have much time with my subject and I'm outside or on location, it enables me to capture a lot of variety – it gives my shoot a great range, enabling me to tell a fuller story."

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM

A true modern classic: a standard wide-angle lens beloved by reportage photographers for its natural perspective, low-light capability and extraordinary optical performance. "I love the subtle distortion when I'm close to my subjects," says Lorenzo. "With anything wider, I find I lose connection to my subject in the picture."

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

With its incredible f/1.2 maximum aperture, the super-fast EF 50mm f/1.2L USM is a consummate low-light performer. "A sure winner every time, and I use it in 90% of my work," says Lorenzo. "I feel it's great to capture what you see, and this lens is closest to what the eye sees."

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM

A professional short-telephoto lens, precision-made for low-light shooting and those situations where extremely shallow depth of field is required. "It's amazing for close portraits," Lorenzo says. "I love being able to capture subjects using the lens wide open with a very shallow depth of field, concentrating on the eyes or the mouth."

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