You might recognise Saskia Lawson’s work. If you’ve been following Atlas for a while, you definitely will. A long time friend of ours, we recently commissioned her to photograph an editorial for The Azure Issue (which you can see here!) but she’s also shot for our Brisk Issue and was kind enough to help us our during our Kickstarter campaign. We’ve been big fans of her work for a long time, so we thought it was about time that you call got to know her better.
Give us a bit of background. Where are you from?
I’m 22 and I’m from a small village near Guildford, Surrey, United Kingdom.
How did you get into photography?
It all started when I was around 12 years old. My parents noticed I had a good eye for photography whilst shooting my family members on holiday, so they bought me a little Pentax SLR. From then on I would spend my weekends dressing up my best friend and going out to shoot “fashion style” images. Over time I put a little portfolio together and fell in love with fashion photography.
Do you have any photography training? If so, what?
I have basic level photography training. Most of my career has been spent learning independently so far, though. I studied photography at college (high school for North Americans!) but skipped university to start my own business at the age of 18. University never interested me. While building my business I was lucky enough to have a photography mentor who taught me lighting, and since then I’ve also done a couple of workshops with other photographers.
You work with a lot of talented brands, model agencies, and have a very successful career as a fashion photographer already, despite your young age! What keeps you motivated and so determined to succeed?
That’s such a hard question! It all comes down to the fact I just love this industry and I love art. I want to follow in the steps of all the photographers that I’ve been admiring since my teens. I own a ridiculous amount of magazines (Note from the editor: Yes, she does, I’ve seen her studio) and I’m just constantly inspired to improve. My parents always encourage me and my siblings to be creative, so I always try to make them proud. That’s big motivation. A personal reason also originates from college where an ex friend told me I would never make it as a photographer; I think everyone has someone they want to prove wrong… haha!
You’re currently based just outside of London. Do you see yourself moving abroad to further your career? Or do you think London is right for you?
I love London, and like most people my age I would love to live there – it would definitely make work easier. But I’m really grateful for my current set up; it’s pretty good! I have my own studio built behind my parents’ house, and if need be I can get to London within an hour.
Working as a fashion photographer in the London area for me is great. We have amazing modelling agencies and London fashion is always daring and evolving, so the UK is a good place for me at the moment!
As we all know, being a young photographer isn’t a well-paid job… especially in fashion (until you make it big of course!) So unless the London house prices want to drop anytime soon (!) I’m very content living an hour away from the city with my cat ☺
Who are your favourite photographers?
So many, for so many different reason! I could write a massive list but I’ll pick the top: Mario Testino (Obviously — he is king), Solve Sundsbo, Josh Olins, Zoe Economides, Tim Walker, Benjamin Vnuk. There are so many more.
Where, other than photography, do you find inspiration?
Art. A big part of my work is shapes and colours, which will always refer back to art. Films also influence me a lot. I love a beautiful, cinematic film.
What are your favourite films?
I loved “The Danish Girl” this year. I also love Moulin Rouge, and Australia directed by Baz Luhrmann.
What cameras and lenses do you use?
My kit is very basic. I pretty much never change my lens; I always shoot with a 50mm 1.4 on my Canon 5D MKII body. I have backup cameras which are Canon, as well.
A lot of people might not realise that you shoot with continuous light in studio. What is the reason behind this?
Well, I could lie and give a technical answer… but it all comes down to the fact that flash lighting scares me! I used flash throughout college, but I never liked the effect it was creating in my photos.
A few years ago I bought my continuous lights and I fell in love. They are fast! You can see straight away how the light is hitting the model, it’s just perfect. I always recommend people take a selfie in front of my lights because they are so flattering! They say the best photographers always use the most simple of lighting, so I always clung to that. But flash just always sent me into a panic. My style of work uses lighting that’s quite soft and diffused; I prefer a natural looking light. I do own Bowens flash heads and recently did a flash lighting lesson with the wonderful Rossella Vanon, so I will start using it more soon! I was taught how to create the same effect in my previous work, but with flash, so I am really pleased!
What has been your biggest obstacle so far in your career?
The business side of a career in photography never fails to shock me. I have had a few issues, and being freelance I have no one to ask help, and sometimes no knowledge of what to do. Working with big companies and having very little business training, I’ve had to learn how to manage, and produce the job, all whilst trying to pull of a successful shoot…it gets a bit tricky!
I’m lucky that I have good contacts and friends who answer all those embarrassing business questions for me.
How do you go about the organisation of a shoot? Do you have a process?
All depends on the type of shoot. For example, for an editorial, if I see a theme or a magazine I would like to shoot for I will gather ideas & moodboards that represent what I’m imagining for the shoot. I will then contact a team; first a stylist as the clothes will play the biggest role in the shoot. Sometimes we will need a pull letter, so contacting the magazine would be the next step. Following all of that to complete our team, we all agree on a model. This involves emailing various agencies to see which models will be free on the day. Over time you learn who you like to work with in a team, so often I work with the same people which makes things easier (and fun too)!
A day before the shoot I confirm with everyone and send a call sheet. The same applies for a test shoot; it usually just means we have a smaller team and the shoot is more relaxed.
For a client shoot I don’t play a part in the process unless the client asks me to. I usually just make sure all my kit is ready, and that I have an idea of what the job needs to look like.
Do you think that social media and the internet has been beneficial to your career? How do you utilise it to your advantage?
Massively. I can’t remember my career before Instagram. How sad is that?!
I have had numerous clients who have found me via social media, so that is a bonus. I know some people who don’t even have a website, so I think social media is responsible for a lot of work at the moment. I’ve had a website since I was 16. Yes, it’s changed and evolved a lot, but personally I would always want a website. It’s the first impression a client or magazine will get of you, so I always keep it updated.
I use social media to keep people updated with what I am shooting, including little behind the scenes photos and new work. If a client looks at your social media and sees you have been busy working, you could look more appealing, I guess!
I use the internet for inspiration via Pinterest and online magazines (although I am addicted to print magazines). It’s so easy to keep up to date with trends online now.
Where do you hope to be in 5-10 years?
I’d love to be living closer to London, hopefully in a beautiful, bright home studio.
Work wise I have a list of magazines I dream to work for. I have recently been enjoying commercial fashion work more too, so I hope to shoot for bigger companies. I also REALLY want to get a sausage dog.
What advice do you have for aspiring fashion photographers who might look up to you?
Just keep shooting and keep practising. You aren’t going to become a better photographer by spending hours on Instagram. I learnt that from sitting around for 6 months after I left college and didn’t know what to do with myself! The more you shoot, the more you learn, the better you get and therefore the more work you’ll get. A personal style will come over time from shooting personal work, so test shoots for me are always really important. Also just be nice to people!
And lastly, any funny stories for us about shoots you’ve been on?
Every shoot is funny in some way. When I was younger I was chased by a wild horse out of a field, and fell in a ditch filled with stinging nettles. Location photography is not my thing as my friends will tell you!
I was on an editorial in the grounds of a beautiful hotel once, and it was Lauren, my make up artists’ birthday. A wasp was in our models shoe and stressing her out, so Lauren told her it was a ‘hover fly’ to try and calm her down. Lauren got stung by the ‘hover fly’ and her foot swelled up to be enormous!
Another insect related story was a feature for “Professional Photographer Magazine.” I had imagined the shoot to involve bumble bees. I should note that I am terrified of bees! I collected 3 dead bumble bees and we used them on the models hands throughout the shoot. The bees kept falling on the floor. This happened so many times that their legs and wings began to fall off. It was just ridiculous!
I also quite often fall of my chair…so that’s always eventful!
You can see Saskia’s latest editorial, Blue Hue, in The Azure Issue!
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