An Interview with Rachel Stewart-Illingworth

January 13, 2020

Welcome to RISE, Rachel, it is an absolute pleasure to introduce you to our Community. Being an International Award Winning Photography, I thought it would be great to ask you a few questions, to allow us all to get to know you a little better………….


RISE: I see you are a wife, mother and Photographer and also you are about to hold your first workshops to teach. Tell me, how do you fit everything in, being so busy, & where did your photography journey begin? 

I have thought a lot about this question, and to be quite honest I spend most days winging it! I seem to work well under pressure and always get the job done, but often this will be last minute. My husband is very supportive and always has been, as is my amazing dad and also friends, both in and out of the industry. Marcy, my daughter is at the most wonderful age to understand what I do, she likes to help and give me critique which is great as she often spots things I don’t! My work life is more organised than home life, but somehow things just come together. I am very excited to have been asked to teach, its actually a bit of a fear speaking in front of others but I guess this is my next challenge to conquer and I am no way letting that hold me back from such fabulous opportunities.

My photography journey began in 2012. My best friend Lou, and I went on a random trip to York on Boxing Day and both bought a bridge camera. Over the next year or two, I would take images of my daughter Marcy, people would comment and ask if I would take images of their children, so I organised a shoot at a local village hall and booked out the day. I remember being so proud of the images I took and still love them now, as they marked the start of my journey. Following a degree in Social work I would do my photography on the side, then once qualified I was faced with a crossroads. I went with my heart and got stuck into creating my photography business.

RISE: You specialise in newborn and child portraiture, what made you choose these genres of photography and is there one in particular that you love the most?

Strangely, the babies came to me. I just got so many bookings and I enjoyed it so much, it went from there. Who doesn’t love newborn snuggles!! Even when they have other ideas its very rewarding to document those moments and create a beautiful gallery for parents. Child portraiture came later, I fell head over heels for it. I love nothing more than driving with the music on full and thinking of ideas. You can be so creative with children and when I have that final piece it really does give me a buzz.

RISE: How did your business name ‘Evelyn and her Sweet Peas come about? 

A question often asked, my business is named after my beautiful mum, Evelyn and her most favourite flower, Sweet Peas. Very sadly we lost her suddenly in 2010. Its nice to hear her name daily and it ties in with my babies and children as often people address me as Evelyn and the little ones, the sweet peas. Meant to be! My name is related more to my portraits but it works ok as one.

RISE: You are a great inspiration and have gone on to win so many awards including WPPI, is this the way you planned your photography journey to go?

I guess I always hoped I would win an award in the long run. It’s a bit addictive and once you win one, you want to win more. It’s certainly a rollercoaster too, as, if you entered awards you’ll know that feeling of not getting anything, or you put a lot into an image, love it and it doesn’t score that well. I try to use that as my fuel to try harder though and take some feedback to move forward. I entered WPPI on a whim and thought there was absolutely no chance of getting anything. But, as the saying goes you got to be in it to win it, and I came second in the teenage category! It was a wonderful year with some awards from amazing competitions. I often have to pinch myself!

RISE: You have a wonderful, soft emotional feel to your images, has this taken time to develop?

I think this has grown organically. I like to suss out the client before hand and get the best from them when they are in front of my lights. Sometimes things just happen and you look at the back of your camera and think – that’s the one. For example the image of my daughter Marcy and the rats – one was on her head (supported) and the rat literally just sat up and looked back at the camera – it was fab and couldn’t have been more perfect!

RISE: Your animal series is an absolute joy to view, so very original. What was your inspiration for this? You use an eclectic mix of animals, is there a particular animal you would like to include in your portraits? 

I am an insane animal lover. One of those annoying people that stops to stroke dogs, talks to them or lines up with the kids to hold an animal at parties. With regards to my work I wanted different, I wanted animals that aren’t used as much, or harder to work with. I researched, asked on facebook (much to many’s entertainment) and managed to work with lots of quirky animals such as a raven, racoon, bearded dragons, meerkats, skunks, snakes, tortoise, giant African snails, owls, mice, rats and a chameleon to name but a few. I really am in my element. Its hard though, as often the animals have other ideas but sometimes they’ll do something I didn’t plan and it’ll just make the image that bit more special. The animals I work with are always pets or rescue and very tame. 

An animal I would so love to work with, but near impossible is a sloth. So if anyone knows of one…..

RISE: Tell us, how do you prepare for a shoot, what do you have in mind from its first concept? 

One of the best places to go is Yorkshire Playhouse

They come from so many things, Sometimes I might see something, which then sets my mind thinking, props, food, animals. One of the best places to go is Yorkshire Playhouse, in Leeds, their costume hire is unbelievable and that helps me visualise the final piece. I usually draw out poses and placements too. But, sometimes it all goes to pot and in a completely different direction! I just go with the flow. One thing I have learnt over the years is to take my time.

RISE: You have a very authentic look to your finished images. What is your go to edit and programme to use and do you spend long on this? 

I start in Lightroom to tweek, then onto Photoshop. Time is so dependant on how the shoot has gone, or whether the shoot didn’t go to plan and needs a few images to create one. I enjoy the editing so sometimes I like to take my time and go back to it. Its good to look back with fresh eyes. The image of Aaliyah and the owl took me days, I just couldn’t get it right but I finally got there, and I really love it now.

RISE: I see you are a Canon user, if you were on a desert island, what would be the ONE lens you would take with you? 

I love my 24-105mm lens. Its such a good allrounder and is my go to lens.

RISE: What is next for you, where do you see you’re photography taking you? 

I would like to keep entering competitions with my child portraits. One day I would like to see more of the world to teach. I will keep working hard and see what happens, taking any opportunities offered. I would also like to do some more fun family portraits including the families pets and props, it really gets my brain ticking over!    

RISE: Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to our readers, what would it be?

Read, listen and practice.

My advice would be to just be you. If you want to shoot something, go for it! It is very hard (and we all do it)  but try not to compare yourself, we are all on the same journey. Read, listen and practice. Write down your ideas when they come to you and let your mind go. I am such a day dreamer so this is easy for me. Push yourself and ride the wave as there will be bumps, but in the end those bumps are nothing compared to the many highs.

Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to answer these questions Rachel, we will all enjoy getting to know that little bit more about the Lady behind your wonderful images. 

Connect with Rachel




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