Tom Medwell Works With Beth O’Leary for The Bookseller

Apr 22, 2019
Photographer Spotlight

Earlier this year, London-based photographer Tom Medwell shot the cover of The Bookseller. An acquaintance initially put him in touch with the magazine, and soon the in-house publicity team contacted Tom about a specific project in mind. They needed him to photograph Penguin Random House Children’s editor Beth O’Leary, whose fictional love story with a twist, “The Flatshare,” was preempted by Quercus Books for an immense six figures.

O'Leary's debut novel follows Leon and Tiffy, who make sharing a room possible by living a life opposite of one another. One, a night-shift worker, occupies the bed during the day, and the other occupies the space when the first is absent. Through post-it note communication and other idiosyncrasies, the book asks its readers if you can love someone despite never truly knowing them. 

Tom Medwell, The Bookseller

Tom took a trip down to Winchester in southwest England to the author's home. Prior to their session, Beth had seldom found herself in front of the camera. Because he prioritizes making his sitters feel comfortable, Tom committed himself to capture a good image of someone who is not used to having their photo taken.

“I sat down with her for half an hour or so and we drank tea and chatted. I always find that with people not used to having their portrait taken, it's good to spend some time just getting to know each other, making sure they're comfortable around you, answering any questions they have. I always think that meeting these sorts of people is a perk of the job; people who end up on the covers of magazines are often quite interesting, and it's fun getting to know what it's like for them from their side.”

What was your vision for this project?

“I tend to tailor my style a bit towards what the client wants. In this situation, quite a clean image, projecting a writer. I was after bright colors and a positive projection from her, and that wasn't hard to achieve.”

Tom Medwell, The Bookseller

For the shoot, Tom utilized both natural light and a portable lighting kit. He also brought along his Hasselblad to take some additional shots on film.

"I knew the film shots wouldn’t be appropriate for the fast turnaround the client was after, but I always try to shoot a bit of film because I prefer the look a lot of the time, and it gives a good alternative if a client ever comes back and wants a significant variation. I shot on Portra 800."

Tom Medwell, The Bookseller
One of Tom's shots on film, unedited

What was the most interesting part about photographing Beth O'Leary?

"She’s a young lady on the cusp of major success, but nothing is guaranteed yet; she didn’t have any pretensions about what a big deal the situation was, but at the same time, she wasn’t at all jaded. I’ve shot various celebrities at all levels, and the ones who are just breaking through tend to be the most interesting. She seemed genuinely excited by it all, and, though she was a bit shy, her enthusiasm was infectious."

Tom Medwell, The Bookseller

What can you say about the reception of these photographs?

“The client was happy, and the magazine published one of my favorite photos from the shoot on the cover a few days later. Job done, I'd say.”


Client: The Bookseller

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