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Photographer Tom Oldham talks Hasselblad cameras and shooting the stars

Tom Oldham isn't a household name yet, but his iconic photographs of musicians captivate audiences the world over. Ben Winstanley meets the snapper the stars call when it's time for their close-ups

Back a bit… Left a bit… Just a little more. There's nothing like an outdated cliché to hide how little we know about those who spend their life behind the lens. Of course, the reality of their work is a complex balance of both sides of the brain: creative and scientific, a personable touch and an intense focus on producing the very best – something you could say Tom Oldham knows a thing or two about.

His CV reads like a list of names for a fantasy dinner party, and a bloody interesting one at that – legendary athlete Usain Bolt, legendary guitarist Dave Gilmour, legendary (get the picture?), and punk icon John Cooper Clarke – but a few minutes with Oldham is all it takes to know these pictures didn't happen by accident.

"The incredible photographer Jane Bown, who worked for the Observer for 50-plus years, said that, 'Good portraits aren't taken, they are given,' and I really believe in that," Oldham tells me, as I push him for the secret to great portraiture – and the odd Instagram tip. But the constraints of modern stardom bring added pressure on the photoshoot.

"It's not like I hang out with any of these people and then we just so happen to do a shoot; these people are usually in proper work mode – my life isn't quite like the Royal family inviting me to tea and things like that… Yet!

"Quite often you have to coax out the best pictures in astonishingly short windows of time, so you have to immediately set a comfortable tone – there's no time for a battle of egos or wills. It's about introducing the idea of what you'd like to achieve and making them feel comfortable enough in an environment."

The result, however, is always worth it, as Oldham's infectious passion portrays.

"I could claim to be this mighty artist but we both know that's bullshit. When the landscape is incredible, the model is great, the cameras are the best in the world – all you've got to do is not screw it up. Simple as that."

Oldham has a wit and a charm that serves to downplay his undeniable talent, but he's quick to heap credit on his Hasselblad. "I don't want to be too QVC about it, but Hasselblad cameras have been the industry standard since the 1970s. They were the go-to camera for Annie Leibovitz, David Bailey, all the greats – my mum knew I was a photographer when I got my first Hasselblad," he says.

"For all the wonders of the beautiful digital democracy, to get truly world class images, you simply have to shoot them on something that is world class." If there's one thing for sure, Oldham's pictures are certainly that.

Hasselblad is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. For more information, see hasselblad.com

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