Relaxed and Natural

By Andrea Louise Thomas  Photo: Yanni

San Antonio, Texas, changed the course of Mt. Eliza photographer, Lisa Atkinson’s life. When she was 16, she decided to spend a year as an exchange student in an American high school. With a blank spot in her class schedule, she took a stab at something new; she slotted in the mysteriously nebulous offering called ‘Industrial Arts’. It turned out to be photography. She learned to use a manual camera, develop film and make her own prints in the soft red glow of the school’s darkroom. She was mesmerised by the process of seeing her images come to life in front of her eyes.

After high school, she travelled abroad. On her return she considered taking photography at university, but heard from peers that the university course was too intense. She didn’t want to feel discouraged or lose her passion so she continued to teach herself photography and studied interior design at university instead.

While working in interior design, a colleague, who had seen some of her photographic work, asked if she would photograph his wedding. Having never photographed a wedding, she felt a bit daunted, but he reassured her by saying they just wanted some relaxed shots of the day where there happened to be a girl in a dress and a guy in a suit. There began her passion for photographing weddings in a photojournalistic, fly-on-the-wall style, which was unusual at a time when most wedding photos were highly staged.

Ultimately her choice of study at university had a major impact on her photographic work. From her knowledge and experience with interior design she eventually followed a different creative path. “I reinvented my photographic career about five years ago. I’d been photographing weddings for 15 years and I decided to come back to interiors, but from a photographic point of view. Now I can appreciate and interpret other’s people’s design through my camera,” she says.

Atkinson’s hallmark as a photographer is the natural and relaxed look of her work. It reflects her easy- going personality and results in images that are both beautiful and insightful. Her portraits and wedding photographs show not just the exterior of her subjects, but their interior lives as well. There is nothing posed, predictable or clichéd about her work. She embraces the individual and quirky nature of people producing photographs that are truly original and that’s a hard thing to pull off in the oversaturated field of photography.

Photographing across many genres keeps it interesting. Her work covers food, interiors, lifestyle, portraits and the occasional wedding. While Atkinson loves capturing people, she is even more interested in exploring the places they inhabit. Her favourite genre is lifestyle photography incorporating food, interiors and entertaining, creating beautiful images of the way people live.

It was fortunate that she happened to meet Chyka Keebaugh (co-founder of The Big Group and formerly featured on Real Housewives of Melbourne). Keebaugh had a just started a lifestyle blog, Atkinson was sent out by a design website to photograph her house. The two hit it off and Atkinson was hired to photographe all the images for the website and still does. Last year when Keebaugh was commissioned to create a coffee table book for publisher Hardie Grant, she got Atkinson on board to do the photography. Chyka Home comes out on April 1st.

Atkinson shoots in black and white as well as colour. “The advantage of black and white is it’s timeless. When shooting people I think everyone looks great in black and white. It’s about using light and shade to create nuances in the subject — whether a person or a place. Colour can really bring life to something and it can be manipulated to enhance a shot, but most of the shots I take as art prints around the peninsula are black and white because it really gets the essence of the locations I’m shooting,” she says.

Atkinson and her family moved to the Mornington Peninsula about three and a half years ago.  Since then she has dedicated most of her professional time to lifestyle photography. “The spaces and beaches and light really influence the light and space I try to create with my photos. The style of my photography is very relaxed, natural, bright, and airy so living in an environment that is also really relaxed and natural helps me convey that, ” she says.

Sometimes a change of scenery can change everything. Whether it is a year abroad or a sea change, the nuances of a new place, the light and shadows are where things really get interesting. This is something Atkinson knows intimately and conveys intuitively. She breathes life into her images and they billow outwards effortlessly. That’s a photographic skill no one can teach.