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Jonathan Knowles : Award-winning advertising photographer

Interview led by Editor Colin Dixon
Edited and published by Yvette Depaepe, the 17th of March 2023


Jonathan Knowles is an award-winning advertising photographer and film-maker.
He specialises in liquids, drinks and food photography. He has some of the most iconic advertising photographs to his name, and has won many awards in his field.
I would like to thank Jonathan for this interview, and for the amazing photographs we see here on 1x.


'Kubrick Coffee droplets'



'Catbury's Glass and a Half'


Jonathan how did you get into photography?

My initial inspiration was Harold Edgerton’s photograph of the Milk Drop Coronet when I was 8 years old. I was amazed by this image on the wall in the school’s science laboratory and how it captured an ‘unseen’ moment in time. When I got my first camera at 16 years old, I used two frames on my first roll of film to try and replicate the splash by dropping stones into a glass of milk in the garden. I thought that a thousandth of a second exposure was going to be fine to capture this, but of course I wasn’t thinking about the shutter delay or the reaction time in pressing the button. A year later when I was 17, I worked with a photographer in London for a month in the summer – and that was me on my way.


Next step was to become a professional photographer - can you tell me about how you did that?

When I was 22, I worked for a short time at an ad agency. Here, I managed to talk a few people into doing some photography for them, which led me to shoot some work on a brochure for a playground manufacturing company. This project also meant I could work both in the studio and on location around the UK.

The business started in 1988. My first big advertising campaign was for Interflora in 1994. Another big project was the rebranding of Sainsbury’s Supermarket in the UK. I then had the opportunity to work on a liquids assignment, where I created an entire portfolio of images. My liquid portfolio then led me to shoot a Ministry of Sound album cover where we threw a record deck into a tank of water.


'Clubber's guide' (Album cover for the Ministry of Sound's Clubbers' Guide)


The O2 Bubble images are iconic - how did this come about?

For the Ministry of Sound album, we shot some images of bubbles for the inner sleeve. This led to being asked by O2 to shoot the range of bubbles which became symbolic of the brand. The blue colour came our selection from the range of blue gels we tested with the lighting, together with the film stock we chose. This colour is still used by O2 today.


'O2 bubble'


What is the main thing in your work flow that gives your liquid images such amazing quality?

Flash speed is the most important element. We have a specialised flash for liquids working with flash speeds of a 1/111000th of a second. The only problem with these is that the lights are quite low powered, but if we can get them close enough to the subject, then they work perfectly for us.


'Chocolate Splash'



'Fettercairn 46 Year Old' (Whisky)



'Exploding Strawberry'


Do you have a favourite project you have done?

That is a difficult question, as they all become your favourite child when you’re working on them. Probably one of the most entertaining was the Black Sabbath 13 album cover - burning a big wicker 13 was a lot of fun. I guess I get the most pleasure from the variation of work we do - I love doing all the various types of photography, and I get as much pleasure from a portrait/beauty shot as I do from a great close-up image of liquids, for example.


'Black Sabbath 13' (last album cover)



'Heineken Droplets'






'DiorSHOW 2049'


Moving images and film advertisements - when did this come into your work stream?

In 2012, I saw the new type of digital billboards coming in and realised that only doing still images would not be enough going forward. We did some film tests of bubbles and a glass of beer with condensation running down the outside, so we had moving images on our website. It really kicked off in 2016/17 when we did our first moving image projects which didn’t have any associated stills.


Does your background in Still Photography help when you moved into Moving images?

Yes, eighteen years of working with film transparencies, and everything I had learnt about lighting for capture in camera, really helps with filming. You really need to get the lighting right with a movie as you don’t want to re-edit or process every frame of a sequence that is filmed at a thousand frames per second.


You have many awards and accolades for your work, are there any that you would still love to get?

I would love to win a Cannes Lion, but this only really happens if the campaign as a whole is also award winning. The whole creative team comes together and creates something truly inspirational.


'AIDA' (poster for the English National Opera's production of Aida)



'Diet Coke Hung'



'Guinness Tornado'



'Liquid Gold'






'Sipsmith FreeGlider'






'Replicant' (cover featuring Dolce and Gabbana and Bvlgari)



A huge thanks to Jonathan for sharing his work with us on 1x.


Very good image.
Wow! Great Work, Thank you for sharing your thoughts and images, Jonathan!
High class of photography, interesting interview, many thanks Colin, congratulations Jonathan.
Great shot!
Excellent works! Very creatively! Lovely
Original, imaginative, beautiful work! Thank you, Jonathan and Colin for this delightful interview and gallery!