An Interview with Lisa Visser
Thank you for taking the time to join us on the RISE website Lisa, being such a huge fan of your work, it is lovely to get an insight into your photography career.
There are so many questions I would like to ask, but being so busy I promise not to keep you too long.
RISE – I guess firstly, can I ask, you have been an accomplished photographer for many years, how did your journey begin?
My photography journey began back in 1987, when my art teacher informed me that the following school year they would be introducing the first GCSE in photography. Until then photography wasn’t something I thought about as a potential career; I had wanted to be an artist. As soon as I started taking pictures for this course I was hooked. I spent hours in the darkroom printing black and white images and this is where my love began. After finishing this course I decided to try to get a trainee position, as either a portrait photographer or darkroom assistant. I was only 17 years at the time but after a few interviews I was offered a job as a trainee children’s portrait photographer for a well-known portrait chain. I learnt so much about how to get children’s attention and pose and create images that parents would love.
RISE – A lovely way to start your journey, and you must have seen so many changes from those days spent in the darkroom, you have a very clear, distinctive and beautiful style, how long did it take to find your comfortable space with this?
It took a very long time to create a distinctive style that reflected me and wasn’t just a copy of styles that I had been taught whilst working at various different studios. I would say my journey to discover my own style only came when I was working towards my professional qualifications with the MPA and BIPP, which was around 2004. Before then I was concentrating more on learning lighting styles and poses and creating saleable images for clients. After gaining advice from fellows of both the BIPP and MPA they told me that for me to progress further I really needed to create a distinctive style. This was when I started to experiment more with looks that I loved, taking inspiration from films, art, music and just the way people would hold themselves. I was particularly interested in how body language portrayed emotion. I also wanted to create images that were different to the soft, light, and positive feeling images that were being created to sell to clients at the time. This is nothing new now, but back in 2004 social portrait photography looked very different to how it is now. I wanted to create images that had a dark beauty about them, sometimes quite haunting but always having an intensity to draw the viewer in. I started by doing just a few images in this style in all of my portrait sessions as I didn’t feel very confident about how well they would sell at the time. As I gained positive feedback from clients and other photographers my confidence grew until I decided to concentrate solely on this style from around 2008 onwards. I have now been concentrating on this style for a long time now and it is very much a reflection of me as a person.
RISE – Incredible that you have such a clear vision of how you want your style to look. You concentrate on fine art children’s portraiture, what is it about this genre that you love so much?
I have always felt more comfortable photographing children than adults; maybe this stems from starting my career at just age 17. I think I felt intimidated photographing adults back then as often they would ask me “where the photographer was” then looking at me and being shocked when I told them it was me! Right from the beginning I seemed to do really well in this genre. I love the innocence of childhood and love to portray innocence and vulnerability in my portraits, so children are just perfect to portray this.
RISE – I can relate to that, it is a quality that only children can naturally portray, after creating such stunning images, naturally they have been acknowledged in so many ways over your career. Just one of those acknowledgements is gaining your fellowship, Congratulations on your twice awarded fellowship with the BIPP and MPA. Do you think receiving these awards has had an impact on your photography?
Yes absolutely, it really gave me confidence knowing that what I was doing was credible. It had the biggest impact of anything in my career as a photographer. People I highly respected were telling me I had reached a certain level in my photography; this gave me the confidence to keep doing what I was doing.
RISE – There must be so much preparation that goes into one of your shoots, how do you go about planning for them?
I do a lot of shoots during the year, a combination of headshots, portfolios, family sessions and fine art sessions. For all my shoots I like them all to have my style running through them. Clothing choice is really important together with the background choice. I heavily advise on this and also have items here in case clients need to borrow them. I plan out a set of basic poses I want to achieve during the session but am also guided by my subject and their capabilities and what I think will suit them. I may plan certain things but once I meet my client and see how they perform in front of the camera this can all change. I always find I am drained after a session as I am concentrating hard and watching my clients every move, watching their body language on how comfortable they are with me and the camera, their mood changes and how they are adapting to the studio surrounding etc. I want my client to enjoy the session, I will always have ideas of what I want to achieve but I am guided by my clients age and capability.
RISE – There is no denying a “Lisa Visser” image, when you see it! Your images are all about the eyes, the connexion and richness of the image. How do you make such connexions with your sitter and your camera?
I think my best images come from when a client really trusts me, so I am always trying to gain trust and reassure my client on how well they are doing the whole time. I direct the shoot from start to finish, guiding my sitters all the time. Of course this is a generalisation as sometimes I get some really intense images when the subject is distracted, you just have to be ready to take the image when you have the child engaged as you want them.
RISE – How important is it to you, for your clients to receive prints as opposed to digital files? After all, in my opinion your images should always be on show.
I would love not to give digital files away but I realise that people have come to expect this. With my portrait sessions I give a free digital copy with all wall art purchased and sell digital files as add-ons once products have been purchased. For headshots and portfolios for models and actors these are digital file based for their agencies. I like all portrait sessions to have a professionally printed work. Having been in the industry pre-digital, all my work was printed so it’s only in the last 14 years of my career that I have seen the shift, which is sad. Some of my best work has never been printed.
RISE – Your images are truly stunning and inspirational, How do you keep your inspiration so fresh?
I think it’s very difficult to keep staying inspired and fresh. When you run a busy business by yourself you can become overwhelmed by the administration side and the day to day running of the studio. This is why I try it fit in some play days, test sessions with clients that I have had a really good connection with to try out new ideas. Even if some of the test sessions don’t produce the expected results it’s important to try new ideas, even if they fail.
RISE – You clearly are on top of business and listening to you, even now with your success, you still constantly strive to improve, knowing now what you do, what piece of advice would you give your younger self, as you were starting out in business?
I guess that I would say to my younger self that being a portrait photographer is a journey. It isn’t something you just learn and that’s it, you keep evolving, changing, failing, succeeding, creating and re-creating.
RISE – So Lisa, what are your future plans for your photography career?
I would like to fine tune my business further. I feel it is important for me to get everything running more smoothly so I get the life, work /balance right. I am very lucky that I have achieved more in my career than I ever imagined all those years ago. So for me it is important that I keep creating images that clients love and that I love.
Well Lisa, I know I can speak on behalf of all of our readers when I say, that we love the images you create. Thank you for taking the time to give us the insight into your photography and I for one, look forward to seeing so much more of your incredible work.
You can view more of Lisa’s stunning work