Helen Lisk is a wedding and lifestyle portraiture photographer based in Exeter, in south west England. Helen’s style is natural and relaxed, and the weddings she photographs are often shot in countryside locations. She has even shot a wedding at River Cottage, celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s seventeenth century farmhouse. Here she talks to us more about her style, her work, and where she finds her inspiration.
How long have you been working as a photographer?
I only started working as a photographer relatively recently, in 2010, and I went full time in mid-2011. I’ve loved playing with photography my whole life though, so it’s an absolute joy to be able to now earn a living from it.
What inspires your photography?
For me, I just want to create something really beautiful – I see the way the light falls on someone or see the way that people connect with each other, and I want to take that image and make it as beautiful as I can. It’s having the opportunity to grab little moments of people’s lives and to be able to give these moments back them, and show them how beautiful they are. I know it sounds a bit cheesy, but I genuinely mean that.
What is the best part of your job?
I really love working with people. I love the fact that I am invited to these really special moments in people’s lives. I love being able to create images that capture those important things that they want to remember. There is nothing better than seeing the reaction people have when they receive their images, and knowing that I have given them images that will help them feel that moment forever.
What do you carry in your camera bag?
For weddings, I normally work with two Canon 5D3s cameras, most often with a 24mm f/1.4 lens on one and 50mm f/1.4 on the other. My absolute favourite lens is my 45 t/s and that regularly comes out for a bit of a play. In the bag there is also a 16-35mm f/2.8 lens, a 35mm f/1.4, an 85mm f/1.2, and a 135mm f/2. There is also a macro extension tube for the odd ring shot and an emergency Canon 600 EX-RT flash and transmitter. In the boot of the car is the rest of the lighting kit, a couple of back up lenses (24-70mm, 70-200mm), the slightly overkill third back up camera (Canon 5D2) and various other bits and bobs.
A number of your wedding shots are at sunset. What equipment do you use at sunset or sunrise, when the lighting is changing quickly?
I don’t tend to use any additional lighting for these sorts of shots, so it is more a case of working with my fastest lenses and adapting to the changing conditions as they occur. I find my 85mm f/1.2 lens incredibly responsive in lower light conditions and it is one of my ‘go to’ lenses in this sort of situation.
What do you do to prepare for unexpected weather conditions?
To be honest, being in the UK, there is no unexpected weather! Apart from being a bit uncomfortable to work in, the more extreme weather conditions don’t really make much difference to me. I will still document the day in the most beautiful way that I can. Some of the hardest weddings I have done have been on the hottest and brightest days – it’s just a case of knowing your equipment and being able to use it appropriately, whatever the weather throws at you. Also, I do keep sunscreen, a coat, spare clothes, wellies, a rain cover for my bag and an old towel in the boot of the car!
You have worked abroad shooting destination weddings. Does working on an international level present you with any additional challenges?
No, not really. Apart from the logistics of it all, it is really just an amazing opportunity, as everything has such a different feel about it. For every wedding I shoot, I will always look at the whole picture, build up the story from the details, the people involved, the interactions, and also be looking to build a sense of place in the images. For a destination wedding, there is always such a particular feel to where you are, and for me it’s amazing to be able to translate that into the images that I create.
What is your most memorable assignment and why?
This is so hard to answer! There are so many memorable weddings that stand out for different reasons, so it’s incredibly difficult to select just one.
It was brilliant to photograph my first same sex marriage recently, with a moving humanist ceremony in a yurt on a farm in Cornwall. The couple had created the most beautiful setting, with incredible attention to detail, so everything was such a delight to photograph. It was a lovely long day of feasting and celebration, with an enormous celebratory bonfire rather than a first dance. I really love it when a day is this personal to the couple and this was a really special one to be a part of.
One of the venues I was really pleased to photograph at last year was River Cottage HQ. I’d been hoping someone would book me for a wedding there for a while, then got an enquiry from the loveliest couple who were having their wedding there. I do love a farm wedding, and it was a great location for, with lots of incredible views and beautiful spaces. I would also have to say that it was the very best wedding meal I have ever eaten, so I’m looking forward to going back there again soon!
Another day that really stood out was an amazing humanist wedding that I photographed last summer. It was possibly one of the most perfect days ever. Everything took place on a farm overlooking the sea in South Devon, and it was one of the most emotional days that I’ve ever been a part of. The speeches were extraordinary – I often well up behind the camera at this point in the day, but these speeches properly made me sob in quite an embarrassing way. The bride and groom were just glowing with happiness and spoke so movingly about their love for each other. In the evening, this amazing swing band played barefoot outside the barn, with the guests all relaxing around the field and the sun setting over the sea. I remember there being a moment where I nearly burst into tears at the beauty of it all. Sad but true!
Where would be your ideal location to photograph a wedding?
I always love it when a wedding is somewhere a little unusual or unexpected. I particularly love the outdoors, so the weddings that take place in forests, on farms, or on beaches are always lovely to photograph. But really I’m eagerly awaiting one that is set in a disused factory, in an old aircraft hangar, or something really exciting like that! It would allow me to create some really different images and give me some really unusual backdrops to play with. I’ll keep my fingers crossed!
What is the most popular Folio Albums product among your clients?
It is definitely the big 12×12” album with a leather cover. I have a couple of samples of these, and most couples just love them and instantly want one for their images. The Eco Frame is my own personal favourite Folio product though- I have a beautiful personal image framed in my bedroom that I still love looking at every single day. It’s a black and white image on a white frame and the printing is just beautiful. I love it.
Are there any photographers you admire?
I try not to spend too long looking at other people’s work, as I find it a bit overwhelming sometimes. There are so many photographers doing extraordinary things and taking astoundingly good images that it’s easy to get lost and lose track of what you are trying to do yourself. Having said that, there are a few people out there who make me stop in my tracks every time. Nordica are consistently brilliant. Jeff Newsom is an extraordinary talent and I look at his images in complete awe. I recently discovered the work of Brooke Kinsey, which is just amazing – her images are so utterly beautiful they keep making me cry. She captures real life in an incredibly raw way.
What advice would you give to a wedding photographer at the start of their career?
Don’t underestimate what a big responsibility you are taking on. Know your equipment inside out, have back up for any problems and be honest with the couple if you are really new to things. Once you start to build your experience and portfolio, increase your prices to a sustainable level pretty quickly, otherwise you may find yourself stuck at a low price point. Blog as much as you can, and crucially, show what you want to book more of. Remember that this is all about the people that you are photographing, so keep your clients in mind all the time. Listen to what they want, deliver this and more, and they will then hopefully recommend you to others.
Also, keep smiling! At one of my earliest weddings, I nearly had a ‘right of way’ stand-off with a car on a country lane on the way to the ceremony. Although I was annoyed, I let the other car go with a big cheery smile, which was lucky as it turned out to be the bride’s grandparents driving! I often get good feedback about being lovely to have around on the day, which then leads to a lot of referrals from previous wedding guests. Remember that you are representing your own brand at all times, so ignore how exhausted you feel and just keep smiling!
Thank you to Helen for taking the time to contribute to the blog! You can visit her website here: Helen Lisk Photography