It’s been a week or so since San Fran-based photographer Scott Borrero was crowned the winner of Adorama and Nigel Barker’s new series "Top Photographer." The series saw five hopefuls take on a number of weekly photo challenges – including action sports, landscapes, and fashion editorials - to prove they were an all-rounder. Here, Borrero chats exclusively to Fstoppers about the experience and what’s coming next.
The Entry Process
Keen to understand more about the place Borrero was at when he entered the competition, I begin by asking him about the types of projects he had been working on. Being a travel and documentary photographer with hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers, I knew something was going right for him. He tells me he’d been working so solidly in recent years that photography had begun to lose some of its appeal – something I’m sure any pro photographer can tell you is a risk of the job. Whilst taking a break for a few months, the entry call for Top Photographer was brought to his attention. Having been searching for inspiration to get his drive back, Borrero rightly admits to not taking the submission level of the competition too seriously, until finding out he’d made it through to the second round. "My true motivation for entering was to re-connect with photography," he said. "Every now and again I need that fire re-lit."
So how exactly do you select just one image from your entire portfolio to submit to a competition like Top Photographer? Borrero decided to go with a new image of his – one from a trip to Jordan, opting for a picture of a camel at sunset. The photo is one of his most well-received photos on Instagram, so it’d be foolish to ignore the stats.
The Photo Challenges
Anyone who watched the show knows that the first task – portraits with fencer Miles Chamley-Watson – wasn’t plain sailing for Borrero. He broke a nervous sweat and, by his own admission, his initial plan for the shoot went out the window. Of course, we have to factor in that this is a reality TV show, and as such, the photo studio was "pouring with light" for the film crew. Explaining that he had originally planned to use strobes to push out the ambient light (and has previously shot action sports), Borrero had been shooting natural light for the past two to three years, and says he ended up freaking himself out which ultimately affected his concentration.
Fast forward to the last task, and it was a different story. Allowed to do whatever they wanted in New York, viewers saw that fellow finalist Roxy Rodriguez was unfamiliar with the city. Borrero admits he had the advantage in this task, having lived in NYC for a year. A number of places came to mind for his final shot – Tudor City, Occulus, another World Trade Centre underpass. We ultimately saw him land on the Occulus – a place he says he had wanted to shoot for a while; "Construction hadn’t finished when I moved [out of the city], so [being in town for Top Photographer] was the first time I’d had the chance to shoot there." Borrero was also lucky in that he was a Canon shooter prior to the show. Previously using a Powershot, Rebel XTI, and a 5D mk ii, he currently uses the 5D mk iv, part of his winners’ prize package.
Youtube – where the series aired - is a vocal place. A lot of the shows viewers have been critiquing the format, something I was curious to get Borrero’s opinion on. My question was, did he feel the format of one contestant being eliminated each challenge was a system that worked well? Admittedly, when applying to the show, he hoped that some kind of point-scoring system would be how the show worked. We are in agreement that Andrew [Kearns, the first eliminee] didn’t really get a chance to shine. Kearns was the first to admit he virtually never shot studio, but would likely have faired better in later challenges. But Borrero makes the point that "… When you look at what 'Top Photographer' was described as … [it’s someone who is] the best in every single category. You can’t skimp by if you aren’t top in every category – I think that’s their rationing."
Reality Vs A Reality Show
As for how the challenges compared to real life shooting situations, the reality TV format often meant that the experience of the challenges on Top Photographer deviated from the norm. Given the strict time slots, Borrero says the chance to build a rapport with his subjects was sacrificed – something he’d ordinarily deem as one of the most important preparations before undertaking a shoot. It did make the post-production side of things easier, though. Hopefuls were often limited by a strict timeframe to select their favourite shot and conduct and post-processing, but the time limit of the shoots meant Borrero wasn’t shooting anywhere near as many images as he suggests he ordinarily would.
The Final Hurdle
What about the winning image? He managed to whittle it down to three or four favourites. There was one in particular, he tells me, that caught Nigel’s attention whilst he was editing. "After Nigel complimented it, I decided that’s the one.”
"If the judges say anything, you need to hone into that."
After brushed off critique on first challenge, Borrero noticed the judges would say things that would come back up in panel. Beginning to pay close attention to what they were saying, he says that when Nigel complimented this one image – his thought process was that Nigel probably likes it – that it was "probably where he wants me to go."
Part of the prize package included an exhibition, hosted by Nigel himself, and attended by a who’s-who guestlist of the creative industry. Even Nigel’s former ANTM judge Miss Jay made an appearance. Consisting entirely of images from Borrero’s portfolio, Canon printed 20x30" prints for the event, and Scott describes the experience of meeting fashion bloggers and magazine editors as "incredible."
Before we end the Skype call, I have to know what’s next for Scott. After taking a hiatus from travelling, he is ready to "dive back in;" in the next two months alone, he will be visiting the Phillipines, Hong Kong, Norway, and the Bahamas. Sounds like business is booming!
You can follow Scott on Instagram.