For this week’s edition of The Creative Journey, I’m excited to be featuring Lizzie Shepherd. Lizzie is a professional photographer based in North Yorkshire, specializing in landscape, nature and travel photography. I’ve followed Lizzie’s work for a number of years now and have always been impressed by her ability to create strong images out of a wide range of locations, subjects, and weather. Her eye for detail is impressive! Make sure you check out Lizzie’s website and Facebook page to keep up to date with her work! I want to thank Lizzie for taking the time to share her story
Your photography portfolios showcase a diverse and impactful collection of images that have been created over the course of a long career. Looking back on your journey, were there any misconceptions that you had about pursuing photography full-time compared to how you view and value it now?
Thank you! I’m not sure I had misconceptions as such, but, were I advising someone taking the same path today, I’d definitely suggest they went about things a bit differently! I think my problem was trying to pursue a career in a very competitive field, not just for the love of photography, but also to escape a job in which I was unhappy. In consequence, I probably tried to run before I could walk, while still lacking the confidence to make a go of things full time. Happily, confidence has gradually grown as I’ve worked out where my skills and heart lie, although I’ve only been full-time for about 4 years.
What were some of the early struggles you faced, do they still exist today, and how have you managed or dealt with them over the years?
Again, having sufficient confidence to push myself and my photography was quite a big hurdle at first. I’m naturally a fairly reserved person and it took several years (of being part time) before I felt ready to consider running workshops, and even longer to start doing talks. However, I have gradually built up that side of things and now have a fairly busy schedule for both. Crucially, I also really enjoy them and find them so rewarding. It’s lovely being able to share what you do in that way. Trying to earn a living purely from print sales and writing articles is not really feasible in my opinion, so it’s important to have a few strings to your bow. I also do a little commercial work–typically property shoots.
Inconsistency and self-doubt seem to be two of the biggest road blocks stopping people from reaching their true potential. Have you ever suffered from those, and if so, how do you push through the periods of time where you’re lacking creative or emotional drive?
I wouldn’t say inconsistency is a concern because I enjoy and accept that my photographic output is fairly diverse. Self-doubt is natural I believe–I’m sure some of us have more doubts than others, but I would suggest you are doing something wrong if you have none at all. There is so much photography out there nowadays. Of course, the quality is very mixed but I see some fairly awe-inspiring work both from my fellow professionals and from many extremely gifted amateurs.
Of course, you are going to doubt yourself at times, but also I think it inspires you to keep working, keep improving, keep pushing the boundaries to become the best that you can be.
That’s all you can ask really. Thankfully, bar the odd dark moment, I think I now have enough underlying belief in what I’m doing and I know I am very lucky to be able to earn a living doing something I love.
I’ve always been drawn to your work because of the subtle and refined style that your images possess. Where have you drawn inspiration from throughout your career, and is there a particular artist whose work has had a notable impact on you?
That’s a very difficult question to answer. I know that the subtlety has come with time–that’s easy to see when I look back at my images from a few years ago! I could name countless photographers, painters, sources of inspiration, but I’m not consciously aware of any one particular artist who has influenced me. Undoubtedly many have shown me what is possible. Most of all, I think it has been about learning to see the world around me a little differently and working out what kind of landscape inspires me. I can see so much more than I used to now and it opens up so many more opportunities for photography, no matter where you are. It’s the most exciting thing about being a photographer for me!
The other day I was looking at an image of yours that you had posted to social media of a coastal scene at sunset. You had noted in the description: “…my last image from that extraordinary evening. Thereafter the colours in the sky became a bit too full on for my tastes—something to enjoy but not photograph”. In the landscape photography world, that isn’t something you’d expect to hear too often, with most photographers jumping at the chance to photograph the most ‘epic’ light/colour possible. How long did it take you to get to the point where you felt confident/or understood your creative preferences?
When I consider for how many years I’ve been taking photographs, it took me a very long time indeed! It’s not that I don’t enjoy ‘epic’, I just find some light and some colours appeal more than others. Funnily enough, we had a bit of an ongoing joke about that on our latest Outer Hebrides workshop, when I described the colours of an earlier sunrise as a little ‘vulgar’ for my tastes. Let’s just say I didn’t live that one down for the rest of the week!
Being able to enjoy the experience without pressing the shutter is vital, though. You can miss so much if you don’t take the time to take in and appreciate your surroundings.
How often are you intrigued by new subjects, styles, or methods, and do you think it’s important to experiment and be open to new creative ideas?
An open mind and experimentation are essential and I know I can sometimes be a bit stubborn about adopting new ideas and techniques. I think that’s because I’ve very aware that there’s a danger of techniques becoming the end goal, rather than a means to an end. So, if I’m going to try something, I need to feel a definite purpose and a worthwhile reason for doing it. I really don’t believe in trying to be different just for its own sake. Every so often, however, I do let my hair down and try a new technique or approach, just for the hell of it. Knowing what is possible is beneficial and sometimes, even after many years, I may come back to that technique, having then worked out what I want to do with it.
Do you ever feel a pressure to create while you’re out in the wilderness, or to come away with an image that you consider successful? How do you balance the process with the experience?
Unless I have a specific requirement to come away with an image for commercial purposes, then I’ve learned to be pretty relaxed about being in the right place at the wrong time, or the reverse! It’s so easy to end up chasing your tail–far better to enjoy the experience and make the most of what the conditions throw at you. I love trying to find ways to adapt to the light and the seasons and often have no preconceptions of exactly what it is I am after.
The landscape dictates in a sense–it’s about trying to read what’s in front of you and then to apply your own vision to capturing that.
What do you ultimately hope to accomplish with your images of the wilderness? Or in other words, why do you create?
I don’t tend to look that far ahead and really my hope is just to keep on improving and to keep on loving what I do. I’d love to create a really cohesive and powerful body of my more personal work that I could consider publishing in a book–but I’m in no rush to do that. As for why? That’s really hard to say–it’s just something I feel drawn to do. I can’t imagine not doing it but I’m really not sure I can tell you why it is so!
I’ve noticed that you offer small group and one-to-one photography workshops. If you had to pick one piece of advice or a lesson that arises most often while you’re teaching others, what would it be and why?
That’s an easier one to answer! I’d advise that people ensure they enjoy their photography, work out what they are about and trust their instinct. Photography for most people is a hobby–it should be fun! It’s all about building up someone’s confidence so they can enjoy their craft and produce photography that pleases them.
Nowadays, social media is without a doubt the platform that most photographers share their work on. Unfortunately, it seems like the desire for acceptance and recognition can have such a huge impact on photographers and the direction they take while creating their images. What are your thoughts on authenticity and do you think it is important for people to embrace their own creative vision?
As with my advice above, it’s so important for photographers to create images for the right reasons and to be true to themselves. Now, if that means going to honeypot locations and shooting the same scenes they’ve seen elsewhere, I have no problem with that. If that’s what someone enjoys, then why not do it? But do it because you enjoy it, not to get recognition or more likes and shares. And if you’ve gone out of your way to replicate someone else’s picture, then I think it’s good manners to mention them. I’d like to think that with time, many will want to go beyond the popular locations and find ways to create compelling photography wherever they are and with their own voice.
Either way, honesty is so important in photography–we can all agree to disagree on what we find tasteful and on what moves us, but honesty and integrity should not be negotiable.
It’s often easy for people to get tunnel vision when it comes to photography and the pursuit of becoming “successful”. Unfortunately, this can often lead to them ignoring all of the other amazing benefits that come from being a photographer. If you had to pick one thing that photography has provided you with that you consider the most rewarding, what would it be and why?
I think it would probably have to be the fact that it has allowed me really to get to know places, to notice the world around me and to gain more of an understanding about my surroundings. There’s still so much more I’d like to know and I realise I’ve only scratched the surface so far. That’s part of the excitement though, the realisation that there is so much more to learn, so much more to see–even in the places you think you already know. I should also add that I love being able to share some of that through workshops–it’s really very gratifying when you see people respond to a place that is special to you.
Here at Image & Rhythm we’re all about showcasing like-minded people with the goal of inspiring others to chase their dreams and become more successful photographers. Who would you like to see us interview next and why?
There are many I could mention, but I’m going to say Birgit Potthoff–I’ve come across Birgit’s utterly captivating photography on facebook and always love seeing the work she produces. I’d love to know more about her work and about her story so far.