Legal note: all my images of Sir Richard Branson are copyright Owen Billcliffe Photography, and licensed to Virgin Management for editorial use only. For any other use, including any branding or commercial use of any kind, please get in touch with me to arrange a license. Thank you!

Recently I got a call from a friend to spend a morning at Virgin’s new headquarters in London – the Battleship Building near Paddington – photographing none other than Richard Branson. How could I possibly say no?!

What with being one of the coolest and busiest entrepreneurs in the known universe, Richard is often overseas working on his latest venture – freakin’ space ships! – and when his diary brings him back to the UK his team pack as much as humanly possible into his schedule so not a second is wasted.

What started out as “can you grab some PR shots of him shaking hands and receiving some awards?” turned into “can you just spend the entire morning with us and stick to Richard like glue, photographing absolutely everything?” – and as it just so happens that’s exactly the sort of job I love, full-access documentary photography.

(By the way you can find out more about my event photography here.)

london event photographer virgin battleship building - Documentary Photography: A Morning With Sir Richard Branson

And it really was a whirlwind morning. Having already visited the location the week before to scout the best spot for the various group shots that were planned, I arrived at 8:45am for a 9:30am start to set up a couple of lights, get some test exposure settings I could refer back to in a hurry later as we scooted around the building, and then we were off and didn’t stop for breath until midday.

First up, photograph the breakfast meeting with Richard and his team in one of the Battleship meeting rooms. I introduced myself to the room and then set about trying to be as inconspicuous as possible as I found interesting angles and warmed everyone up to my presence. After breakfast there was time to sign books, a tour around the beautiful new offices checking in with the various teams, recording an introduction to a video for Virgin staff, informally meeting guests, and then downstairs for the first of the presentations, principally awards from the Guinness Book Of Records for Sir Richard, his son, and their sailing teams.

2012 and 2013 have been big anniversary years for Virgin, celebrating the launch of Virgin Records in 1972 and the first Now That’s What I Call Music compilation in 1983, so the Radio Times magazine had interview with Danny Baker scheduled to talk about them. Some of my stills were to accompany the feature so I dug out a very special prop to bring with me: my very own copy of the first ever Now That’s What I Call Music cassette set.

(Well, it’s originally my mum’s but I’ve kind of ‘taken ownership’, ahem)

And it’s a good thing I did as although Danny brought a wealth of archive material from his own collection nobody had a copy of that first NOW LP, and a lot of people were fascinated to see it. It even brought back some memories for Richard himself and in some of my favourite shots I found him taking a moment with a coffee in the corner, perusing the inlay card.

And throughout the whole morning Sir Richard was warm, friendly, joking about and volunteering candid stories about Virgin’s history, going through coffee at an impressive rate and generally being one of the nicest and busiest people I ever met.

Using the X100S

As a side note, this was my first job using the Fujifilm X100S. I’d purchased it after an event photography job a few weeks before when I found my D700/24-70mm kit was just a little too scary-looking for close-quarters candid shots. I’m so glad I did because it’s a fantastic camera, capable of 100% silent operation and beautiful images, and as an added bonus the stylish look of the camera attracts more interest than fear from those it photographs.

The fixed 35mm angle of view can occasionally feel like a restriction but I find that, as with SLR primes, it also forces me to frame much more thoughtfully. All the same, on paid jobs I’ll usually have my Nikon and wider lens close by just in case.

I shot RAW-only for this job and found afterwards that while it was useful for correcting white-balance, it’s true that the JPG conversions the camera produces itself are better-looking than what I could quickly achieve from the RAWs in Lightroom. This is mainly because there are still no official Camera Profiles for the Fujifilm X-series of cameras like there are for my Nikons. I’ve since put some effort into creating some LR presets that match as closely as possible my favoured in-camera JPG settings so that if I do need to use the RAW in future I can get closer to the JPG quicker.

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