The Inspirations: Lisa Devlin

July 11, 2012

Gareth & I joke that we should change the name of The Green Room to The Lisa Devlin Room in honour of her services to guest posts! I’m always so thrilled when Lisa offers her insight into something as she’s just like me with her advice – to the point, honest and practical.

With 20 years as a professional photographer under her photography ninja belt, Lisa has got to be the perfect candidate for an Inspirations interview right? She runs the phenomenally successful Photography Farm, sells PhotoShop actions, shoots weddings all over the country… oh and she’s the 2011 British Journal of Photography Wedding Photographer of the Year. NIIIICE!

You’re no stranger to The Green Room, but just in case anyone has been living under a rock for the last 6 months, can you introduce yourself?

I am Lisa Devlin from Devlin Photos a UK based photographer mostly shooting weddings. I don’t remember ever not owning a camera of some sort… My Dad was a keen photographer and over the years bought me all sorts of cameras including a disc camera with tiny negatives in a wheel to a polaroid that spat out instant stickers. I have just always been completely fascinated by the process of taking photographs. For my 18th my parents bought me my first SLR which was a Minolta because it had the best review in Which Magazine. It was a great camera, the kit lens had a macro switch and I loved getting to grips with it.

I ended up as a music industry photographer for around ten years, working freelance for record companies and magazines. I travelled a lot and got to photograph lots of celebs from Eric Clapton to East 17. The first wedding I shot was for my agent in 2000 and though I was initially reluctant to do it, I totally and utterly fell in love with the whole shebang and set up my wedding photography business.

What is it about shooting weddings that you love? I mean you gave up shooting rockstars for them so they must be pretty special!

Before, I was working with a lot of pop stars who got to be treated like royalty every day of their lives. Some of them were amazing to be around and their talent could be so inspiring. Others who were maybe the most demanding were not necessarily the most talented and after so many years in the industry I was feeling somewhat jaded.

When I shot that first wedding, I got to photograph an everyday girl becoming a princess for the day and to put that story into images was so much more exciting for me. I think the two genres crossed over quite a lot though… I never had much time with an artist and was often in a pressured situation with just one chance to get The Shot. I had to think quick and be creative in all kinds of locations and lighting situations. Whether creating a story for a magazine or for someone’s wedding album, you need to have an eye for detail and an ability to build a rapport with your subject pretty quickly.

You’ve been a professional photographer for 20 years. Let’s lay it all out there – why do you think you and your work has stood the test of time whereas so many others have fallen to the wayside or their style of photography has fallen out of favour with brides & groom’s today?

Maybe its because I have maintained a genuine love for it. It can be hard work but I feel blessed to have found a vocation that I am truly passionate for and maybe that is evident to potential clients. I see other photographers who have been doing it as long as me moaning all the time about new photographers, or the recession, or blaming other external sources as to why their businesses are failing but I think it’s good to be challenged and not get set in your ways. I find new photographers incredibly inspiring and I love seeing what my second shooters have come up with. People haven’t stopped getting married because of the recession and last year was my busiest ever.

What are the biggest mistakes you see wedding photographers making today?

A lot of photographers are so concerned with appealing to the masses that they end up appealing to nobody in particular and then feel little connection to the clients they do get. I don’t want to be a tick photographer… By this I mean book a car ~ tick, find a cake ~ tick, book a photographer ~ tick. I believe that if you attract couples that you connect with then you remain inspired and excited by weddings.

I often get couples getting in touch before they have booked the venue or set the date and I’ve even had people move their date as they are so invested in me photographing their day for them. As a wedding photographer this is a huge honour and I love that I get to work with some very creative couples.

Another mistake I see is over-processing images or inconsistent processing. I guess if you have trained on digital, some can end up relying too much on photoshop to fix things afterwards. I firmly believe in getting it right in the camera in the first place. I spend very little time in post production as I aim to get the exposure, crop and colour balance right as often as I can when I take the shot. Most of the work I did in music was on transparency so we had to get everything right first time. There is no action or preset in the world that will turn a bad picture good.

You get a lot of features on wedding blogs, both here and in The States (Lisa has been featured on all the major UK wedding blogs and the US blogs Style Me Pretty, Ruffled & Hi-Fi Weddings). Why do you think your work and weddings resonate so well with bloggers and do you have any advice for anyone who wants to get featured in this way?

I feel very privileged to get my weddings featured on so many blogs. Bloggers want weddings that are fun, original and have great details to inspire their readers. I guess I get so many featured as I get such great clients that don’t want a run of the mill wedding. Also, as a lot of my clients have found me on blogs, they then want the kind of weddings that get featured. It works like a full circle.

If you are in the position of trying to start getting features, I’d say never see the blogs as a closed club. All bloggers are looking for fresh content, just try to direct submissions to the one that is right for that style of wedding. I would caution you to not do it until you feel your site is strong enough though so that if someone clicks through to you, you have other inspiring things to show them. It’s better to hold off until you have some decent content.

If you are simply not getting the right kind of bookings for you, then maybe look at producing some really original styled shoots that express what you are all about. Blogs also like to feature these and potential brides may connect with them and get in touch with you.

You also advertise on my blog and you have done ever since we first ‘met’ online like… 2 years ago? I’ve heard a lot of other, very successful, wedding photographers say they don’t ever advertise as they’ve never needed to. In all honestly, I would also probably say you maybe didn’t need to advertise any more as I know you tell me you’re forever turning down weddings. Also you get featured in so many places for free! So, why do you continue to pay to be on a blog?

My feelings on this are that its kind of like payback. I started to get a lot more cool enquiries after I placed an ad on here. I first heard of you through a bride who had already booked me and when I first saw the site I was blown away… I looked at every single thing on there and set myself the goal of getting a feature… I hoped that one day photography would be good enough to appear on Rock n Roll Bride.

In all honestly, yes I probably don’t need to advertise any more as I do have to turn away far more weddings than I could ever attend, but I know that being associated with you is hugely beneficial for my business.

I may not need to get as many enquires as I do, but I continue to get them from you even when I haven’t had a wedding featured for a while. I can only imagine that’s because people are seeing my advert. I believe it is good that even when my features have slipped down the pages, people can always find me on the homepage. Plus I’m always willing to take a last minute booking from an amazing sounding couple if I’m free!

You must look back at some of your early work and cringe! Is there anything you’d change about your career up to this point?

You know what? I kinda don’t. I was digging out some really early wedding work to show at the next Photography Farm so they can see my progression and I am actually quite happy with it. In essence I still do the same things now… I’ve always been about telling the story and doing some creative, emotional couple shots. Oh and I’ve always been a bit OCD on the details. So no… there is no spot colour lurking in the archives and I can’t think of a single thing I would change. Its all been part of the journey to where I am now.

What piece of advice do you wish you’d been given when you first started shooting weddings?

Well, shortly after I started shooting weddings I had an awful experience with a celebrity bride who tried to sue me. At the time I was incredibly upset and it dragged on for months of legalities including a very nasty letter on Christmas Eve. I wish I hadn’t taken it all to heart and let myself get so stressed over it. Six month’s later she was getting a divorce and I realised that instead of focusing on the mistake that she had made, she was looking for a scapegoat. It was a baptism of fire but I survived and decided that things could never get that bad again.

Tell us about the Photography Farm. What is it, what made you want to do it and why is it so special?

Photography Farm is a workshop held over two and half days on a gorgeous 12 acre Farm. I had done a few one day workshops and noticed that the attendees would always have bonded by the end of the day and I wanted that bit to continue. I also wanted to include a styled shoot and felt that this would be hard to do well in just one day. It was hard to find the perfect venue but I shot a wedding at the Farm and it all fell into place.

We all stay in the very lovely rooms and it is fabulous to have access to a swimming pool, a hot tub and a personal chef but Photography Farm is an intense learning and bonding experience for the photographers that attend. We cover shooting, post production, marketing and there is an awesome talk about blogging by a certain Kat Williams. However a lot of the magic happens around the fact that we are all staying there together and they can ask me and you anything about the industry. We don’t have any secrets and are frighteningly honest!

Photographers leave the Farm with great images, new directions for their businesses, goody bags stuffed full of industry swag and new BFFs. Having done them for a year now, I see the Farm as pretty unique as far as UK photography workshops go. Some of that is down to the amazing venue and some is down to the photographers that we have attracted. One thing I didn’t anticipate was the community that grew from the past Farmers. We have a private facebook group so the support keeps going and we have further meet ups.

The next farm is next week and the one after that will be in September. I’m taking bookings for the September one already so if anybody wants to know more they can call me on 01273 231047 or email me about it!

You also make and sell PhotoShop actions. Why did you want to do this and do you ever worry that by ‘giving away’ the way you process your work will cause people to try and emulate your style?

I first got the idea to sell them as I was getting asked so often how I did my processing. Amy who helps me with post production makes them and is a PhotoShop whizz so we put together a few in a set to see if anyone would actually pay for them. To our astonishment they did, we have just launched set 5 and they have a dedicated blog all of their own. They seem to have their own fans and people talk to me really affectionately about them. I am always happy to share and if by using my actions, someone feels their images are enhanced, then I am thrilled.

What had been the highlight of your career so far?

I’ve been lucky to do so many things that I have loved so it’s hard to choose… Hanging out in a New York Morcheeba gig with Ian Brown? Erm appearing on the cover of a Van Morrison album? Okay I’m well blurry but I know its me. I’ve got to say that the shoots we did in Vegas would be right up too there despite fearing for our lives.

Also definitely winning the British Journal of Photography Wedding Photographer of the Year Award as I didn’t think I stood a chance and it has led to so many other wonderful things.

What are the best and worst pieces of business advice you’ve ever been given?

Best was, forget doing a degree and get your ass to London and start doing work experience. Worst was being told my pictures wouldn’t come out if my flash wasn’t on at a wedding by a man with only one eye.

What inspires you?

I believe in constantly seeking inspiration so I look at magazines, blogs and the huge stash of photographers’ books that I have acquired over the years. I am proper in love with Kirsty Mitchell, Elizabeth Messina and Samm Blake and I like to hang out with positive, creative inspirational people who believe that anything is possible… which is why I love you.

And finally… what’s next for you?

After next week’s Photography Farm, I will be bothering you and Hannah from the Tea Set to start pulling together the ideas for the September Photography Farm. Then thee and me are clocking up the air miles on a jolly to NYC where I have been asked to do a talk by B & H and at a very exciting yet-to-be-announced event hosted by you. I have a couple of really exciting projects that I don’t want to jinx so will keep under my hat for now plus rather epic news is that I have been approached by a publisher about a book of my work… Imagine!