Perfume People: An Interview with Photographer David Newton


If you’ve been following the blog over the last year or so you will know that I’ve wholly and truly been bitten by the photography bug. All of the photographs on this blog for the last year or so have been my own and I’ve made a conscious effort to use my own photos over press shots because I want to visually interpret the fragrances I write about. But I’m breaking from tradition today, because in this post I’m showcasing the amazing work of a professional photographer working in the perfume industry: Mr David Newton.

David Newton is an illustrator turned photographer who has worked with some seriously big names in the industry – Harrods, Vogue, Dior, YSL – you name them, he’s worked with them. David photographs cosmetics and accessories as well as perfume, and his style is idiosyncratic as well as visually stunning. I first became aware of his work at the Jasmine Awards this year where he won an award for his jellylicious work with Harrods magazine. I have since dived into his portfolio and become increasingly more obsessed by his unique visual style. David is an amazing photographer and he provides a fascinating insight into his process in this interview. He also has really good taste in perfume, which you’ll find out as you read on.


How did you become a photographer?

In a really weird way! I used to be an illustrator…that’s what I did at college…and then when I discovered Photoshop I incorporated it into my work and also started playing around with scanners…laying 3D objects on them. A few mags like Bazaar and House & Garden picked up on what I was doing and gave me “Scanography” work to do (like food etc) and then I started to realise I was probably going to have to get a camera to do a lot of these pictures. So I got one and taught myself. I haven’t studied Photography at college..or even assisted pro photographers…that’s what you’re supposed to do! I am completely self-taught…mainly be trial and error and checking out YouTube tutorials!!!

Which photographers inspire you?

High-end still life photographers like Robin Broadbent, Koichiro Doi and Eric Maillet, to name just three.

How would you describe your style of photography?

Maybe it’s best to say how others have described it: people have said “You can tell you used to be an illustrator.” I was surprised to hear this, but I guess it makes sense, as there’s definitely something more than just representation in my images…i like there to be a little story or visual pun of some sort.

What led you to photographing cosmetics and fragrance?

God knows! It was NEVER planned…I just gravitated towards it. I do also shoot jewellery, watches and fashion accessories…but I have to admit I seem to have the most fun doing cosmetics and perfume. Maybe it’s because there’s still so much that can be done in those fields…

What makes a good photograph of a fragrance?

There are no rules! If someone has paid you to shoot their perfume, then you must really show the bottle fairly well. apart from that, if it’s for yourself…anything goes. Sometimes I concentrate on a tiny part of the bottle. I’ve also seen people just show the liquid spray in the air…there’s really no rules.


How do you translate a smell into something visual?

I love the idea that you could somehow convey how the perfume smells in an image… it’s not easy! I guess a very straightforward way is to depict the ingredients, but that could be a tiny bit unimaginative! One thing I always do is approach the shoot with not many expectations or a “plan”…I am a massive fan of accidents!

Of the photographs you’ve taken of fragrance, which are your favourites?

I was so excited to be commissioned by Serge Lutens recently to depict some of their newly-relaunched range. It’s a really cool company and they gave me complete carte blanche to do whatever I wanted…VERY rare! Loved playing around with wire and tying things up/dripping things/burning things!!

One of my favourite projects of yours was the Jasmine Award winning ‘All of a Quiver’ feature for Harrods Magazine, which featured some rather delicious-looking perfume-based desserts. Can you provide some insight into the creative process for how this and how you got to the final product?

Well, the original brief was to have the glass part of the bottles as jelly…with spoon cutting out bits to show it was jelly and not the actual bottle…and then all other parts (like the metal spray, the labels etc) taken from the actual bottles superimposed upon these jelly photos in Photoshop. However the editor of the magazine decided they looked TOO realistic…so we had to re-shoot, with a food stylist recreating all the sprays/labels etc made of marzipan! I personally prefer the first set of images…that’s what I always show online…but it was the marzipan pics that won the Jasmine Award!


What are your three favourite fragrances and why?

Right now I am rotating Aesop’s brand new “Hwyl” perfume..I’m little bit obsessed with it, Comme des Garcons’ “Black Pepper” and Miller Harris’ “Tea Tonique”.

Hwyl is gorgeously green/woody (which I really love), Black Pepper is, bizarrely just like black pepper…which shouldn’t make a great smell…but does!

And Tea Tonique is heavenly…clean and fresh and just like tea! 

I definitely gravitate towards green/woody/fresh smells. I just don’t like overpowering/rich/oud-y/fruity/sweet smells…just not for me!

Which fragrances would you like to photograph and why? How would you photograph them?

I tend to like ones that have nice bottles! After all…you can’t smell the photo…just look at it. I get sent a LOT of stuff by press offices and sadly I just don’t bother with some bottles, even if the fragrance is nice…if the bottle is ugly. Naming no names!


Platforms such as instagram are changing the way fragrances are photographed. Everyone now has a camera at their fingertips. Do you think this changes the way fragrances are experienced?

EVERYONE is a photographer now! But are they good enough to earn money from their pics? A good question! I enjoy looking at some people’s Instagram perfume pages…once or twice it’s given me an idea, but mostly just to enjoy seeing these nice looking bottles. I’ve realised over the years I am VERY fetishistic about packaging… especially the packaging of cosmetics and perfumes. I LOVE zooming in close and concentrating on little details…it turns me on! But to answer your question: Instagram certainly affects awareness of the various scents. They are products, after all…so the manufacturers and press offices LOVE all the Instagram perfume accounts out there. But has Instagram changed how fragrances are experienced? Not sure. I know that there are FAR more perfumes out there…often by little independent producers…than I had initially realised. So social media is definitely a good way of democratising the world of scent… a brand new, limited edition perfume can now be seen right next to Dior’s latest mega-launch. That has to be good thing!

Do you have any tips for people photographing fragrance?

I get asked, privately, on Instagram questions like “Where do you get your inspiration from?” That happens a LOT and it always makes me a bit sad, that people seem to think Inspiration is a commodity that can be “got”, like a product in a shop. It is all about who you are, and who you have allowed yourself to be in life. It’s a general attitude and state of mind towards life in general. I have always avoided the mainstream, I wallow in weirdness, I gravitate towards things I’m not supposed to! You MUST break rules and always keep your eyes open, wherever you are, and make your brain into a sponge..constantly absorbing. Far too many people in life decide what to do if they’ve see lots of other people do it too. I do the opposite. The question I always ask myself is “Has someone else done this? No? Great…I’m gonna do it!!”



All images via David Newton. You can find more about David and his work on his website.