Five Quick Questions with Photographer Gavin O’Neill

Photographer Gavin O’Neill was born in Nelson, New Zealand. A self-taught talent, he began shooting professionally 15 years ago in Perth, Australia. Gavin then moved to Europe in 2001, and spent the next ten years living and working mostly in London and Paris. Next up on his radar in 2011 was New York City, where Gavin is now permanently based, though he continues to work regularly in Europe, South Africa, Brazil and Asia.

Gavin’s editorial clients include Vogue, Marie Claire, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, GQ, Sports Illustrated, MAX and Black+White. His commercial clients include Gillette, Olay, Avon, Vodafone, Philips, L’Oreal, LUX, Oriflame and Ponds.

Notably, Gavin’s nude works are also regularly featured in magazines and calendars worldwide.

With a wealth of imagery now under his belt, Gavin is also one of the photographers in the ImageBrief community, where he is able to monetize his library of photographs for the needs of art directors, agencies and brands. Gavin took a few moments to speak with ADC, as one of ImageBrief’s partners, and answer Five Quick Questions about his experience and collection.

Art Directors Club (ADC): As a self-taught photographer, where did you find your first inspiration? What was the spark that lit the flame?

Gavin O’Neill: I was actually a musician after I left school, for five or six years, and during that time I did a nationwide tour with one of the bands I was in. That trip inspired me to buy a camera purely just to document the tour. I only took one roll of film over the three-week tour, but I was quite surprised by a couple of the images I got. One of them even won a competition in a photo magazine, so from then on, I was quite inspired to pursue it further.

ADC: Describe the most insane shoot you’ve ever experienced.

Gavin: Possibly one of the shoots I did for MAX magazine in Italy, which is one of the world’s top men’s magazines. I shot their calendar shoot in 2000, with Australian model-turned-Italian-celebrity Megan Gale, and in those days, those shoots were so lavish it bordered on ridiculous. I think they spent $500,000 in total on the shoot, which was two weeks long — made up of a week in Fraser Island in Australia with me shooting, and a week in the South of France with Andreas Bitesnich shooting — with no expenses spared. I’m talking private planes, amazing villas, first class tickets around the world, 5-star hotels, etc… and then they flew both Megan and I to Italy for the launch of the calendar! On top of that, the shoot was with one of my favorite magazines, and one of my favorite models, so it was an incredible experience.

ADC: It sounds like it! How deep is your library of imagery at this point in your career? Could you describe some of it and is there a particular subject or trend that you shoot most often?

Gavin: I now have quite an extensive library of work, after a 15-year career, particularly in two areas that have always been strong in syndication terms. Earlier on in my career that was men’s magazines, which used to be very lucrative. Shooting high profile models for the pages for Maxim, GQ, and the likes used to pay very, very well. Often that syndication money was also on the back of the original commission rate, so the return in that genre was very good. But image rights have been reduced a lot over the last six or seven years, and the rates are a fraction of what they were back then. It’s a very different market now. But as that started to change, I was venturing into beauty, which has now become a very successful syndication area, and for the last five years or so, beauty has made up the majority of both my work, and my syndication.

ADC: Sounds like you’ve amassed quite a lot to work with. What is your favorite camera to shoot on?

Gavin: I have the new Phase One 645, and I do love it. The quality is astounding, but for a camera that feels like it belongs around my eye, the 5D Mark II from Canon is my choice.

ADC: Cool. These days what percentage of your time is spent on new shoots vs. selling and monetizing the wealth of photos you have already taken? Is there a balance there?

Gavin: The syndication part of my business is definitely a significant factor, and I would say time-wise it’s 30 or even 40% of my business. Purely because I’m not only reselling older material, but also regularly creating new work specifically for syndication, as its an easy way to keep my portfolio growing in the direction I want it to go in.

For more information and background on Gavin and his work, visit You can also access Gavin’s work by submitting a brief to ImageBrief, who will pair your art direction need up with exactly the shot you’re looking for.