Fiona Elizabeth Podcast Episode 17

Wedding Photography Passion with Fiona Elizabeth

Fiona Elizabeth profile image - holding headphones, sitting in front of mic
Fiona Elizabeth

Fiona Elizabeth joins us to share her unexpected journey into wedding photography and the challenges she’s faced along the way. Discover how Fiona balances the artistic and business aspects of her work and also helps others to do so through her Wedding Photographer Mentor programme. She is passionate about helping others to create successful wedding photography businesses, providing guidance and support drawn from her years of experience.

Hear the stories behind her impactful personal projects, including a poignant photographic essay based on the struggles of those living in a refugee camp in Calais. Her time there clearly moved her deeply and left a lasting impact on her as an artist and as a person. She then takes us on the road to her Fellowship in fine art with her “Atrophy” project. Inspired by the housing crisis and the many houses left empty and falling into disrepair, Fiona created a series of images with models on location that was to become her successful Fellowship qualification panel. 

We also touch on the difficulties of imposter syndrome – even in the face of great success winning a category award in the Icon photography competition in Vegas and working as a judge at The Society of Photographers Convention. Fiona shares openly and honestly in this exclusive interview.  

All images © Fiona Elizabeth (used here with permission)

Find out more about Fiona’s Wedding Photography Mentor service

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Transcript of Fiona Elizabeth Interview

Joe Lenton: Welcome to the Focused Professional podcast. Today, our guest is a well-known wedding photographer, and also The Wedding Photography Mentor, and also another award-winner. It’s Fiona Elizabeth. Hello, Fiona!

Fiona Elizabeth: Hello, Joe! Thank you for inviting me on.

Joe Lenton: It’s a pleasure. It’s great to be able to have you on the podcast. So, you’re well known for your weddings and for also mentoring other wedding photographers. So what was it that attracted you to weddings as your main genre, to shoot professionally?

Fiona Elizabeth: Okay. So that’s a really interesting question because it wasn’t really where my heart was when I first started. So, when I got married and had children I went back to college to study photography because I had this dream and passion to be an artist and create art and sell it down in a nice little gallery in Brighton, and that was my dream, and that was my passion. But on that journey to get to that dream the lecturer at the college was a wedding photographer and he needed a second shooter and asked if I would go out with him. So, the first wedding I did with him, I was like, this is just not for me. You need a thick skin to play this game and I’m quite shy at heart, really, and I didn’t – I kind of felt very exposed. Let’s put it that way. So anyway, I went away and I started editing the photos. And I thought, actually, these pictures are pretty Ok. They’re not too bad. 

He invited me out again and I was really watching how he managed the crowd and how he managed his couples to create outstanding work. And he really is an absolutely fantastic photographer and friend. He really is. I really enjoy – I really enjoy his company as much as I do his work. It’s incredible. And so he really influenced me. And I thought, why not? Let’s give it a go. And what I really loved about it was to be as creative as I possibly could in that environment, to have the ordinary, and I know it sounds like a little bit of a cliche, but to take the ordinary and make something quite spectacular out of it, I found that I enjoyed that challenge. So yeah, that’s it. So the rest was history really like, that’s how I started in the game.

Joe Lenton: Right. So you’ve got used to herding cats now then, have you?

Fiona Elizabeth: Yeah, more or less. Yeah. Drunken ones…

Joe Lenton: Its because that often seems to be one of the key things to wedding photography, although, of course, there are different styles. There are those who like to be a bit more documentary and hide in the background those who like to take over a bit more but it’s a lot more than just photography skills, isn’t it? It’s – how did you learn from him then, about how to deal with people? What could you observe that you could then use yourself?

Fiona Elizabeth: I didn’t learn that from him as such, but I realised that I was very good at being able to read body language. I was very good at being able to read people – read a room. I can walk in to a room, and I can sense the atmosphere, strangely. Which means that I become more observant of the people who are in there. So, in terms of being able to manage the crowd and manage people. I think it just came naturally. And as my skin got thicker, and as I became less sensitive to people turning their backs on me when I held up the camera or making stupid comments – sometimes quite crude comments.

Joe Lenton: Hmmm.

Fiona Elizabeth: Then, you know, I was able just to kind of get into my flow, and I thoroughly enjoyed it even more. It became a bit of a game.

Joe Lenton: You find the awkward person who doesn’t want their photo taken, and then you make a plan for how you’re gonna get them at some point.

Fiona Elizabeth: More or less.

Joe Lenton: Yes, so you’ve developed your own style of wedding photography over the time that you’ve been doing it. Could you describe what your signature style is?

Fiona Elizabeth: Yeah, I would say that it comes from a place of timeless, classical and quite elegant, really. I always want to create photography that is definitely timeless. The – my couples can feel really elegant in their pictures, and and feel really proud of how they look on the wedding day. That’s the – that’s my main objective when I’m photographing my couples because they spend so much money on their clothes, their garments, their dresses, their veils, their shoes. And I think it’s just such a very beautiful way to capture striking photography which they’ll be able to look back at and go, “yeah, I really meant that I really remember how I looked, and I remember how I felt.” But then I mix that with the reportage and the documentary and the you know the almost like a B roll, if you like.

Joe Lenton: Yeah. So you’ve developed a few different styles and different genres, really. So you did a lot of the wedding photography, and then, perhaps, people might be surprised, actually, your fellowship, rather than it being in weddings, you chose to do like a location Fine art nude style. What was it that made you go that direction rather than thinking about doing a fellowship in weddings, for example?

Fiona Elizabeth: Well, actually, that was my natural path to take fellowship in weddings, and I was very fortunate to have achieved my Associate in wedding photography. And I was just I was on this – I was on this path to get my fellowship. And then something happened, and I hit a glass, a creative glass ceiling and I felt that I couldn’t push through it. There was this ceiling, and I couldn’t smash through it. And actually, what I noticed was my photography rather than getting better, was actually getting worse. And it – I just couldn’t quite understand why that was happening, and I think generally I was putting too much pressure on myself. So I kind of, took a step back, and I thought, Well, I really need to kind of discover who I am as a photographer, you know. There’s more to me than creating wedding photography as much as I love it, and as much as I strive to create the very best I can. So I went on a journey of self-discovery, actually. And you might not know this, Joe, but it first took me to the Calais camp in – oh, sorry – the jungle camp in Calais.

Joe Lenton: Yeah.

Fiona Elizabeth: So I started documenting and created a photographic essay of life in this camp, which was it was. It was very – it was horrendous. It was horrendous. And I’m – I feel very passionate about what’s happening in the world today in terms of the migrants and how people are suffering, but that’s for another day.

Joe Lenton: If you’re somebody who sort of feels, reads the room and feels the emotions when you go in, going somewhere like that must have been really intense, then?

Fiona Elizabeth: It was really hardcore.

Joe Lenton: Yeah.

Fiona Elizabeth: And I – one story sticks in my mind. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the privilege of photographing this this guy. He didn’t want me to photograph him, but I had seen him – my journey to the Calais was across 2 weekends, and the first weekend I came across this guy, and he was full of hope. And he was full of passion. I can’t remember the – I think he was from Afghan. Can’t, I can’t quite remember but he was full of hope, and he was full of passion, and his aim was to get to family who had re-established themselves in the States. That was his drive. And he was a really great guy, really interesting. And I really kind of warmed to him. Anyway, my time at the – that weekend came to an end, and I went back the following weekend, and I saw him again and he was a shell of himself. And the – what happened within those 5 days when I wasn’t there was horrendous. So the French had come in and actually destroyed the camp. So, on my second trip, the smell of burning rubber and the town itself.

Joe Lenton: Oh, wow!

Fiona Elizabeth: So they’d actually created a High Street, a black market High Street, where they had cafes, there were restaurants. They were selling food and clothes, and it was a city in itself, it really was. There were churches, there were mosques. There were, you know, schools for kids to be educated all in this shanty town. And obviously the French had gone in and destroyed it. Incidentally, Theresa May was Home Secretary at the time, and on my first visit she was calling for the migrants to come over. Young, younger – to the kids, basically to come over to the UK and get themselves out of that destitute of a place. Anyway, this guy had a terrible experience, and he had been forced to stand outside a tent while this monster of a man had gone in and raped a woman.

Joe Lenton: Goodness me! That’s quite something. Is – were you able to have this published at all so that you could share what you’d experienced, share your story with others? Cause obviously, for most of us this is so far outside of our everyday experience that you know –

Fiona Elizabeth: I did – sorry – I did produce a book called London Calling. I wrote a photographic essay about the experience, but it’s a very sensitive book, and I haven’t done anything with it. Maybe there’ll be a time in the future. I’m waiting for that right time. But it was a horrendous thing to go through. So that actually, so strangely enough, that experience then led me to go to a more interesting place. So when I came back and I had produced this body of work I kind of felt like I had a passion of looking at what was happening politically and wanted to use my photography as a way to tell a story in that sense. And there was a lot going on in the paper at the time about the housing crisis. So not only were we dealing with all the migrants coming over in small boats, but we were also dealing with our own economic problems and housing crisis was a big one, and I kind of felt very drawn to the story. 

And when I started delving emotionally into the the politics of it, I – it’s gonna sound a bit strange – but I couldn’t understand why there was so many, I mean, obviously, I do understand, right. But at the same time I was questioning – there are so many derelict buildings up and down the country. They’re listed. They can’t be knocked down. They can’t be reused. They’re just there, and they’re just left to rot. And it really kind of threw up a question – why? We could, you know, put people in these. We could redo them. We can keep some of the structure, you know, surely we could do something with these places. And then that kind of moved on to feeling, well, once upon a time they would have been full of love and family, and that’s all gone, and I likened that to lost souls, lost spirits. You know the loss of humanity within these buildings. And so, me being me, I decided to embark on a new adventure and a new journey. And I had 6 fantastic models who came on board the concept. And we did actually – and I don’t recommend this to anyone who’s listening. So please do not do this! We we did actually work inside derelict buildings. We did one shoot 2 shoots in a derelict building. Every time we went back to the building it was getting more and more dilapidated, to the point where it became too dangerous.

Joe Lenton: Yeah.

Fiona Elizabeth: So, I searched for a new venue, a new location. But just thought, you know what this isn’t safe for me, let alone, these incredible women. So I hired locations in London. The old – there’s an old church in Peckham, and there’s a safe house. And so, although they weren’t derelict, they had the impression that they were.

Joe Lenton: Yeah.

Fiona Elizabeth: It was much safer, and the girls were much happier. And yeah, I shot a project called Atrophy. The girls were covered in white clay and so – white face-paint sorry – and then full as earth clay. So they resembled the sort of cracking of the plasterwork and the paper falling off. And yeah, and they worked incredibly, incredibly hard as I directed them through the process.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, it’s quite a project, that sort of thing. It sounds to me like the common thread really is that you’re somebody who’s very much inspired by and wanting to tell stories. So your wedding photography, then there’s also your documentary photography. But then also this this fine art nude panel – is all seems to be very story motivated to me. Looking at that is that something that really connects with you, then, people’s stories?

Fiona Elizabeth: Yeah, definitely. I think I’m quite connected to people, anyway, generally. But I do think that every time we pick up our camera there is a story to be told. Even if it’s, you know, even if we’re photographing a guitar or watch Joe!

Joe Lenton: Even a product photographer can tell a story. Yes.

Fiona Elizabeth: But, you know what I mean? We are storytellers. You know, we’re visionaries, and we’re and we’re storytellers. And you know we have, you know, a unique ability to be able to capture something which actually comes from within us as a person. So we all have our own, you know, USP, if you like, but we can translate that into beautiful storytelling images. So, yeah, very much. Very much so. Yeah.

Joe Lenton: So you talk about translating out from what’s at your heart as a person, I mean, I’m very interested in what motivates people. Sometimes it’s particular values. So, sometimes it’s, like, ethically driven like you wanting to tell the story of the migrants and so on. I wonder – what is it that you would say is at the heart of what you do? That sort of gets you out of bed. What’s your “why”? What’s your motivation?

Fiona Elizabeth: My kids. Oh, we’re not allowed to swear, are we?! Those little “beeps!” No, they’re great. No, they – yeah, my family obviously motivates me more than anything. But, you know, other than that I’m a very passionate, very nurturing person, and to be able to put something back and help people to achieve their own goals is a massive driver for me, because I didn’t have that growing up. So as a creative growing up in a family that was driven by data and science it was very difficult to fit into that sort of space, and as much as I tried, it never worked for me. It just wasn’t going to work. So, to be in a position where I’ve worked hard to get to where I am today in terms of my fellowship and my awards, to be able to then take all of that knowledge and experience, and package it up to help others is is a real – it’s a real passion. It’s a real dream of mine, actually.

Joe Lenton: So that, presumably, is why you decided to set up the Wedding Photography Mentor?

Fiona Elizabeth: Hmm! It is indeed. Yes.

Joe Lenton: Those opportunities to give back, to share your experiences with people, and to be for them I guess something, perhaps, that you didn’t have so much yourself?

Fiona Elizabeth: Yeah, very much. So yeah, to help guide them through being a creative. Being creative is not an easy – I mean, it can be – for some people it just comes naturally, and you know, but others struggle. I mean we – because we are very sensitive to our environment sometimes we can really struggle with that. And also we can really struggle in business as well. Structures never really great. We like to be free and adventurous

Joe Lenton: Yeah.

Fiona Elizabeth: We like to create.

Joe Lenton: Yeah.

Fiona Elizabeth: So to give, to create a place where that is fundamentally the core of the program, to create a place where it’s safe for creators to come and learn business acumen as well as excelling creatively, has been a real – I can’t put it into words. I just – it’s a driver. It’s like, you know, that I wake up in the morning and I feel excited about creating this space for people to come to learn to thrive.

Joe Lenton: So you sometimes find with business, when we’re talking about the photography industry, there are people who, on the one hand, are almost well, “I’ll do anything that brings the money in” and it’s very much about – profit is central to everything that they do. And then there are for others for whom their style how they are as an artist is is much more central to what they do. Where do you sit along that sort of spectrum there? And do you think it’s possible to make a living wherever you are along there? Or do you have to be a little bit more hard-nosed business to make it work?

Fiona Elizabeth: Yeah. Well, do you know what? We can be starving artists. No problem at all. But I think what I’ve learned is that you need to have the 2 running side by side. You have to embrace the business, and there is a resilience – there is a resistance to embracing business because people don’t understand it. And it’s not really what turns us on, you know. We’re creatives and so we like spending time and crafting and creating, and that’s all very well and good, but unfortunately it won’t keep the lights on. So it comes to a point where you have to embrace the business side of things, to be able to realise that you need to be able to fund and support your family, and if life has taught me anything it is to embrace both from the get go. Because the more you set up the foundations of your business at the starting point, the more you can enjoy being the creative. If you don’t have the business foundations in place, or you don’t know how much you really need to earn just to keep the lights on, you’re – you get kind of lost wanting to be the creative side of things, and that’s where your heart is, and that’s where your passion is, but you can’t do that if you haven’t got the money to fund it.

Joe Lenton: No, no.

Fiona Elizabeth: So so the 2 are very much in sync with each other. And the more, you know, I kind of like to say to my mentees, we’re creative, right? So let’s be creative in business. There’s nothing wrong with reframing it. And don’t be scared of it. Embrace the challenge, embrace the creative challenge of business, and it becomes a bit of a game, and you don’t have to lose yourself in it totally. But if you ignore it, you’re never going to move forward. And you have to be able to – you’ve got to know your figures. You need to know your marketing message, you need to understand your avatar. You need to know who you’re talking to, where those people hang out. They don’t always hang out on Instagram or Facebook, or LinkedIn. You know sometimes your ideal market, your ideal client, might not care for any of that at all. So where, then, are you going to find them? And by understanding all of these bits and pieces to the puzzle and getting the foundations laid and in place then you can start reaping the benefits of money coming in through doing what you love, which is shooting and creating outstanding photography, and then you can even go off on another tangent and go right well, do you know what? It’s the weekend, I’m gonna go and create something outstandingly beautiful. I’m gonna do something reckless and dangerous. And, yay, photograph it!

Joe Lenton: Yeah, yeah, I don’t think that trying to run a photography business has to kill the fun of it. I think, yes, you need processes in place to make things run smoothly. You need to understand is there a market for what you offer? If so, where is that market and so on, because otherwise you’re just producing something with no idea whether it will even sell. So you need, you need to understand those things, I think. What people who are of the creative mindset need to be a little bit careful of is that perhaps, that they don’t fall out of love with the creative pursuit that got them going in the first place, as they start to put themselves in the business boxes.

Fiona Elizabeth: Yes, I agree, a hundred percent. And do you know what I think that social media has got a lot to answer for that because we all feel that social media is a place for us to draw and find leads and to attract our clients, and then we get bogged down in the work that we have to do to even show up on social media. Post once a day. Post every other day. Find something to talk about every day. Do a video. Be present. And then you kind of think, okay, well, if all your efforts are tied into one channel of marketing you’re on a losing game.

Joe Lenton: Yeah.

Fiona Elizabeth: And you’re destroying your soul because the algorithms, the competition, the saturation of every industry – it’s just too much for somebody to break. It’s too much for somebody to break. You have to understand that there are multiple channels of marketing, both offline and online, and to choose which one you really want to go down. Having spoken to a lot of photographers this year, everybody puts their eggs in one basket and everyone’s putting their eggs into social their eggs into the social media basket. And it’s just not – it’s just not how to run a business. It will kill you.

Joe Lenton: It’s – I wonder whether there are some genres where it works better than others, but certainly from my perspective with commercial work, with product work, that is not where my clients are coming from, and for other elements of what I do with mentoring people and so on – yeah, you know, you’re making more of a personal connection. But you need to understand where your clients are going to be, are they somebody who’s going to be searching on Google for it. In which case should you be putting your effort and your time, your money into SEO and a good website? And – or are they somebody who is on LinkedIn every evening? Is your audience really going to be someone who likes to watch 10 minutes of TikTok videos every day? But you can feel as though there are all these channels. You’ve got to do them all. But yet sometimes people forget old media, don’t you think? So, what by old media, I mean printed stuff, you know, real things you can hold in your hand.

Fiona Elizabeth: OK, so it’s essential. So, everyone who comes onto my program will go through the process of ensuring that their websites are absolutely up to scratch in terms of they have their branding sorted, they have their presence sorted, and they are positioning – they are beginning to position themselves as an authority within a very crowded market. Once they get that into a place of near finished, or they’re happy, we then talk about printed material. Because you cannot have a wedding photography business without a brochure, without a portfolio, printed portfolio without stock of wedding albums, because when you start to actually do offline marketing, and that is talking to a wedding planner that’s talking to the bridal shops that’s talking to events planners, your venues. You need to have this material in your hand. So when you go and see them, you’re actually armed. And you’re making a – what the the driver of social media is nothing more than having a conversation. It’s nothing more than having a conversation. It is an area where you almost have proof of life. Yes, I do exist. Yes, I am real. Yes, I am a photographer. This is the work I create. Do you like it? I’m glad you like it. Let’s start having a conversation! This is a conversation starter. But to actually be able to draw business in, and to create conversations which will convert into monetary conversions, they’re face-to-face communications.

Joe Lenton: It’s a very different dynamic, isn’t it? When you get face to face with someone it totally transforms the conversation versus just texting backwards and forwards on an app, or something like that. You connect in in a totally different way. And I think that there is that danger that people get lured into spending more and more time on social media and thinking, “well, why is it not working?” And then people will say to them, “oh, well, you’re not posting enough.” So they post more and they get on – it seems to be a beast that just wants an endless supply of food that doesn’t necessarily –

Fiona Elizabeth: An endless supply of food. You’ve got it quite right, absolutely. But the the way to play social media is to be quite smart with it as well, and to understand that this endless supply of food needs to be fed and how to feed it. It has to be fed quickly. In a sense that you have to get your message out there quickly. You’ve got 60 seconds to turn somebody on. You need to be able to use language more than just an image, because it’s so oversaturated with images. To actually get someone to stop and start to read is the challenge, and when they start to read they have to be totally engaged to actually get to the end of the post. And that structure – when we start looking at social media in that way and that structure of communication then it just becomes even more exciting because this is when, as creatives, we can go right, Okay. Let’s tackle this a different way!

Joe Lenton: Yeah, yeah, definitely. And I think when you look at advertising campaigns, whether that’s the sort of adverts you see in breaks in TV programs, or whether it’s adverts you see printed in magazines, they are the sort of thing that most of us just flick past very, very quickly. But when you’re starting to market your own business, they’re well worth learning from, because they’ve been doing it for decades, many of these big businesses.

Fiona Elizabeth: Centuries!

Joe Lenton: They know how to grab attention quickly and make sure that you absorb everything that’s in there, and they also know that they don’t have to speak to everybody. They speak to their target market with it. So, I encourage people to have a look actually at adverts sometimes. I know they can be a bit naff. They can be a bit silly. But the point is, how are they getting your attention? Not necessarily exactly what they’re saying. But how are they doing this? And that’s something I think we can then reapply for ourselves.

Fiona Elizabeth: Do you know what? There are 2 adverts that really come to mind, right? Do you remember the BT advert where the poor guy was climbing over Snowdonia, or something? He was trying to reach somebody, and it was pelting down with rain. Or was that British gas? I don’t know. And then there was the Guinness ad with the white horses.

Joe Lenton: Oh, yes. Yeah.

Fiona Elizabeth: The waves with the white horses. Now these are the ads that if anybody wants to learn about marketing, advertising, messaging, then go back to the golden era of advertising. Because there you will have outstanding storytelling. Today – I don’t really watch too much TV today. Everything’s box sets and trash telly. But back in the day, those adverts were phenomenal. When I was working in TV they were very close to my heart. To live my life again I would love to be a director of adverts at that time. But yeah, so there’s some advice. Go and have a look at old commercials from the eighties and nineties.

Joe Lenton: Yeah. They’re often things where the latest special effects, the latest research into how to communicate with people are used first. They’re often where, if you take your sort of pounds per minute budget on a program, adverts are often a lot higher than a TV program in what they’re spending on creating it. So the production value is really high. It’s something polished. But yet so often we think, well, if I just stick some quick, selfie up and bung a couple of lines of text under it, then, you know, I’m being genuine. People know who I am. People will like me, and if they like me they’ll buy off me.

Fiona Elizabeth: Hmm.

Joe Lenton: Look at those adverts. Not quite so simple, is it?

Fiona Elizabeth: Its not quite so simple, no. But maybe not so much look at the visual aspect, because the visual aspect is obviously striking and we can’t be film makers. Unless you’re a videographer, and then you’ll go, you know, eat your heart out – special effects and all sorts. You know nothing to stop you, right. But it’s the script you want to be listening to. It’s actually the language and how they structure that storytelling script to get you to take action after the advert. And back in the day, incidentally, they weren’t 60 seconds. I think they were probably more like 30 seconds. They were very, very short.

Joe Lenton: Yeah. You’ve got very little time to get people’s attention and to try and hold it. So whatever industry you’re in, it’s a battle. So I mean, this is one skill, then, to some extent, that you need to be a modern wedding photographer. I mean, what else would you say are the key skills, the key things that you need in your armoury if you’re going to be a wedding photographer today?

Fiona Elizabeth: There are so many choices. Okay, so there are many, there are so many choices, there are so many styles. And you can play around with lots of different things, but the strongest armour you can have when photographing a wedding is knowing light without shadow of a doubt. But, you know I mastered natural and ambient light for one reason and one reason only: I work on my own. So I don’t have the time during a wedding to set up a flash off camera flash and stuff like that. I don’t. I have used it in the past. I’ve used it. I’ve experimented with it. But I’m not very technical, funnily enough.

Joe Lenton: Leave that to the nerds like me.

Fiona Elizabeth: So I just want to keep everything super simple.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, yeah, I there’s a there’s an important lesson in that, though, really as well, isn’t there? If you over-complicate things, you’re creating more things that could go wrong. So yeah, I think it is a good idea to keep things simple. But if people are – perhaps they’ve been going for a few months trying to set themselves up as a wedding photographer and thinking, hmm! I’m not really there yet. Do I carry on? Do I do I give up? Would you say there’s a certain amount of time that you actually need to get established to be realistic about it? Because weddings are often planned in advance. So if someone’s starting out, within 6 months, should they really realistically think that they would have their business up and running?

Fiona Elizabeth: It’s a good question. And I’m just reflecting on all the photographers I’ve helped to date. Many of them are transitioning from other areas of photography into wedding photography, and they’re just kind of like starting out. Some have been in it for 15 years, but haven’t quite had the confidence to make a full go at it.

Joe Lenton: Okay.

Fiona Elizabeth: Some of them are interested in dipping their toe in, but, like you say, they’re kind of like a little bit unsure about how to move forward, and I think you have to really ask yourself the question: is it your passion? Do you want to follow this industry? Do you want to take on this genre of photography? And if the answer is Yes, then you’ll give it your best go. Nothing was built in a day. You have to give it time. Time is about structuring your foundations, your business, so you can start to draw in your clients, and when you start drawing in your clients, and you see a steady flow of work coming in, then that’d be incredibly incredibly rewarding. So I think, don’t, you know, don’t be scared of it. And you know it’s really easy for us to walk away when things become challenging and think, oh, it’s not working. I’ve only been in it for 6 months, or you know, I haven’t got 20 weddings yet. So I’m gonna give up, and I’m gonna walk away. If that’s your mindset, and that’s your – if that’s your driver, then you’re going to miss out on having a very enjoyable lifestyle business and a very interesting career that you can take and travel with. You can go all over the world. You can win wonderful awards!

Joe Lenton: Hint, hint, hint – nice, big, shiny things!

Fiona Elizabeth: Its a very interesting career to be in.

Joe Lenton: Yes, yeah. So another thing which sometimes seems to hold people back and I know you’ve spoken about this at the Society of Photographers Convention, and that before, is the issue of confidence, and in particular, this sort of imposter syndrome. So people might think, Ok, I think I can do this. And then they start to see what’s going on around. And they start to question whether their work is going to be good enough. And obviously we all need to improve, and we all work on what we do. But at some point for some people there seems to be this even when they are good enough, they are producing good work, that for whatever reason they feel like an imposter, they feel like they don’t belong, that they haven’t earned their seat at the table. Are you still finding with your mentees that that’s something that holds holds people back?

Fiona Elizabeth: Yeah. Very much so. But I think it’s also good to know that this happens across every industry. This is a psychological condition that stems from being – and it comes in waves, right? So it’s a psychological condition that comes in waves depending where we are on our journey. You know whether you know where we are in our careers. We you know, you can be incredibly successful. At the top end of the table. But you may still be having these feelings, as you rightly say, I suppose. I think it’s important to lean into imposter syndrome.

Joe Lenton: What do you mean by that?

Fiona Elizabeth: I think it’s important to understand why you’re feeling that you’re not good enough when everyone else around you says you are. I think it’s important to take time to reflect on the work that you are creating, to get a mentor. Share your work with somebody who has been there, done it, and is able to give something back. Leaning into imposter syndrome is basically a way of not running away from fear. So, if we kind of go back to and understand a bit of the human psyche, you know, we are, we are driven. We’re emotionally driven right? We’re emotionally charged, some more than others. But our survival skills, the way that we survive and have survived over millennia is basically fight, flight or freeze. And I think there’s another element in there. But I can’t remember right now what it is. But that’s basically imposter syndrome. So, when you look at imposter syndrome and say – this is in my opinion, Okay. I haven’t studied this. I am not a psychologist by any.

Joe Lenton: Your own experience of how it affects people, anyway.

Fiona Elizabeth: These are literally my own experiences. And I liken it to fight, flight or freeze, of which I’ve been through all 3 of those emotions, and I liken imposter syndrome to that as well. So when I’m feeling out of depth, which is often, maybe once a week. You know? Every time I go to the convention, when we’re sat amongst our peers, who are all incredible photographers and business people in their own right. You do tend to feel a little bit like oh, you know, what am I doing here? I feel a little bit fraudulent. But you have to remember your successes. You have to remember where you’ve been. You have to remember the journey that you’ve been on, and quite often you have no idea what everyone else is feeling or thinking you just – you just don’t. Its impossible for us to know that. So we can only really go on how we feel. And if those feelings of I’m not good enough, start to bubble up, lean into it. Because basically, what your nervous system is telling you, your – and it is your nervous system – it’s telling you to protect yourself. So run.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, it’s feeling like I don’t know what to do here, I feel threatened. So yeah, it’s that kind of instinctive response. And I think what a lot of people don’t realise is that it doesn’t necessarily go away. You know you can win awards. You can get a fellowship. You can be a photographer for many years. You can run a successful business. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be feeling super confident and fine about everything all the time. A lot of people don’t realise that the person standing on stage receiving an award might actually be thinking, I don’t deserve this. I shouldn’t be here, you know. 

Fiona Elizabeth: Well there’s a funny story with that incidentally. So that’s exactly what happened to me literally at the beginning of this year. So I had decided that I was going to put my big girl pants on and enter into the Icon awards in Vegas, right? So once I got my fellowship with “Atrophy” I was very shy, and I didn’t really shout about it. And I kind of like I love the work. The work is beautiful, and it’s stunning, and it has picked up awards. And obviously it gave me my fellowship, but I didn’t really run with it at the time, for many reasons. But the Icon awards had come up. Also, it kind of coincided with the beginnings of Covid, incidentally. So those 2 big sort of things happened at once. So I put my big girl pants on. I thought, right, I’m just gonna go for it. See what happens. So anyway. So I put a couple in and one image did well, obviously “Atrophy.” And one image didn’t do so well, which was one of my wedding pieces, which was fine. Okay. The wedding piece had already won an award at the convention, so it was quite interesting to see that that didn’t make the cut. 

Anyhow. So I got a lovely message to say “congratulations! You’ve made it to the final!” I was like “what?!” I knew it did well, but I didn’t realise it did that well. So I was like, “Oh, my God!” For me, I had won, hurrah! That was great. Anyway, so I got it printed by the Print Foundry. Thank you very much. Ronaldo was a great help, and we chose beautiful paper, and we really kind of made sure that the presentation quality was, you know, top top end. And I sent it off to Vegas. And I didn’t think anymore of it. And then January came, or was it February? February, March? I can’t remember. And I wanted to go to Vegas, but I couldn’t for various personal reasons. I didn’t make it out there, and probably just as well because, boy, I would have felt like an impostor. I can tell you that much. I would have been so overwhelmed that I would have just wanted to run into the corner and hide. Anyway, I don’t like doing that. And so I was watching the ceremony on kick, and you know all the awards and stuff. And then it was the portrait division, and by this point I don’t know what time it was. It must have been really early in the morning. I was fast asleep. I’d gone to bed. I really didn’t think anything of it. To me, I’d won. I had my image had made it into the finals. So that was that.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, you’d achieved what you could hope for really in many ways. Yeah.

Fiona Elizabeth: I achieved the goal.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, yeah.

Fiona Elizabeth: In the back of my mind. I had said, Wouldn’t it be lovely to win Vegas? But never in my wildest dreams did I think I would win the category winner, and I woke up to a message saying, Congratulations! What for? What have I done now? And then another one said, “oh, your image was beautiful.” And I was like, Okay, I must have come third. That’s incredible. And then throughout the morning all of these, and I was like, what the hell has happened? So I jumped on to watch the replay, and somebody had actually sent me – I don’t know who this photographer was, actually, I don’t know who she – have never met her, but she follows me on Facebook, and she saw my image come up on the big screen in Vegas. And it had a first by it, and she photographed it, and she sent it to me. And I was, no, this is wrong. This is not right. What’s happened? And anyway, so I jumped on and I watched it, and I watched it about 4 times. It was amazing. I just couldn’t believe it, and I was delighted to win that category for boudoir and fine art. And oh, you know, to see Atrophy be a success in a place like that was just, absolutely absolutely wonderful, but massive, imposter syndrome.

Joe Lenton: Well, yeah, it’s funny, because, like you, you said, “oh, I must have come third.” Not “I wonder where I’ve placed?” It’s like. Oh, if I’ve done really well, I must have come at the bottom end of what really well is.

Fiona Elizabeth: That says a lot, right?!

Joe Lenton: Even there. So it’s something that a lot of us just find even when that sort of thing happens, it doesn’t – it might go away for a day or 2, or something, once it’s sunk in, you might think, oh, you know, feel bit good about what you do, but it doesn’t necessarily go away for good. And it’s something that, along with working on the business and working on our photography techniques, sometimes we just we have to keep working on our mindset as well.

Fiona Elizabeth: Yeah, you do. And this is why it’s important not to run away, incidentally. So, because it’s kicking in our flight mode. If we run away from everything we won’t grow as people. We will never see what is on the other side of the fence. Now life may not be greener, but it could be. So, you know, I mean, everything’s a risk. Everything’s a gamble. So if you’re going to nip over the other side of the fence, make sure it’s the right fence you’re nipping over. That’s the first advice I can give. But yeah, don’t run away from it. You will be surprised what joy and wonderments will be there waiting for you, really. It’s very, very difficult. It’s not easy. It’s not easy, and I’ve gone through last year was very difficult year, and I spent the whole year just in a place of resistance and fear. And you know I was very, very challenged, and I had a dream. I had a passion, and this psychology, the mindset was holding me back. I don’t know what it was that cleared it, but something cleared it, the energy changed, and here I am.

Joe Lenton: Hmm, yeah. Proof that you can get through it.

Fiona Elizabeth: Yeah, you can. So lean in to it guys. Just lean into it.

Joe Lenton: So as as somebody who’s involved in training others, how do you continue to develop yourself? What types of input do you look for? Is it for your business, or is it for your photography? How do you – how do you keep growing your yourself?

Fiona Elizabeth: Business, basically. So, I’ve invested into many business mentors over the last 18 months to really get an understanding of what business is and how we show up in business today. What, how to generate conversations. You know, understanding figures, understanding what we need to do and all of that knowledge that I’ve learned over the last 18 months married with all of the knowledge and experience I’ve gained over the last 15 years, more so to put into a program which is very comprehensive and very all-rounded. I can pass on all of that experience to my own mentees. And I think it’s really important to constantly challenge yourself. So business changes all the time. People change all the time. The way that we need to show up. We have to change, we have to evolve, and you can’t evolve without constant learning.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, I totally agree. Yeah. Do you have goals, then, for yourself? Are you somebody who likes to set goals? Or within a particular time of something you want to achieve? Are you somebody who works by that kind of in 5 years time I want to be here? Or is that some something that sits with your personality?

Fiona Elizabeth: Yes, and no. No, because I’m a creative. So, you know, to hold myself accountable and be disciplined is a challenge, as it is for most creatives. I do have a goal for the next 5 years. I do see my business growing and scaling. I want to reach as many photographers as I can to help them be successful and grow. I always want to be with my camera. I always want to be photographing weddings. I always want to be photographing fine art. And these are my goals, and these are my personal personal challenges as well. I think it’s important to say that time is a commodity. Time goes but you won’t get it back. Okay, so what you do with your time is an investment, and it’s important to keep moving yourself forward. So where setting goals can be important. It can also be overwhelming, and it can also be challenging. But if we do little things every day to get where we need to be, then those goals and the overwhelm will slowly wash away, that’s the first thing I’d say.

Joe Lenton: It’s breaking it down into manageable chunks, isn’t it? I think when you see, when you see a big goal, it can look so far off. But if you then break that down just into some slightly smaller pieces, and take each one of those pieces and break that down into smaller steps you can tick off little things every day or every other day, and said, Oh, I’ve done this. I’ve done that, and before you know it. You’re actually working towards having one of those bigger pieces complete. And you know, rather than just looking at the big view all the time that can be off-putting in some ways.

Fiona Elizabeth: It can be, and I think that for me, where I had seen the vision of having a mentoring business, the Wedding Photography Mentor, the end result of that, the bigger picture of that was so overwhelming I didn’t actually know where to start. And by breaking it down into kind of really small pieces and just getting the foundations laid, even though I wasn’t generating an income from it at that time, I was still taking small steps to be able to get myself into a position where I could start taking people on board the program. And now people are on board the program, it’s proof of concept. And it means it’s viable. And to see my mentees actually come in and succeed and take action, and to drive and to thrive, and to be passionate, and to be happy, and to feel confident within themselves there is nothing better. And each week we have a call each week there is success story. Each week there is a story of oh, I haven’t quite done that, and I felt a little bit of fear or a little bit of resistance. But we are all there in a community to help pull that person along. So for me to actually take those small steps and to get to a place where I’ve hit goal one, which is actually having some mentees, in the first place, to pass on all this knowledge and experience.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, yeah. So, and if somebody is wondering well, what sort of thing might be an indication to them that they could benefit from having a mentor such as yourself, are there sort of red flags that there might be in their business or in their work, that you might think. Well, hold on, if you’re feeling like that, then come and talk to me. What sort of things do you think would be triggers then that would suggest people should talk to you?

Fiona Elizabeth: About confidence is one. So if you’re feeling unconfident and you’re not quite sure how you’re showing up in your own business. That could be a challenge. That could be your overwhelm. It could be that social media is overwhelming for you. Website design is overwhelming for you. Having a brand and actually positioning that brand in the marketplace could be overwhelming. All of these things can be our initial challenges. As creatives we’re driven by ego. And sometimes, you know our egos. We can pick up a camera and we can take a photo, and our ego will tell us that that’s a good picture. We’re not worried about it. Okay? 

So there are 2. There are 2 sides of the business. There is one where you will have a person who – everyone, we all love photography, you know. But if you’re somebody who is strong in business, but perhaps your photography isn’t as good as what you want it your red flag would be: I’m getting the money in. I’m doing alright as a photographer. But I can’t push myself to win an award. I can’t push myself to get qualification. There is an element of me thinking, oh, I’m not really that good, but it’s paying the bills, so I don’t care. If you’re a photographer and you’re sitting in that camp, that’s great, brilliant. If you want to take your photography to the next level and not be average. Be exceptional. Charge more for your wedding photography, which means you don’t have to shoot as much. But you could still generate the same amount of income. But your photography is just, you know, up a notch. Therefore you know you value it more. That’s the driver. If that makes sense.

Joe Lenton: Yeah.

Fiona Elizabeth: And then on the other side, you’ve got the creative who’s really bad at business, but will take a photo, and they’ll look at the photo, and it will be a fantastic photo. It will be an award-winning photo, and they’ll go, “oh, I don’t like my photography.” And then you go. Ok, well, let’s get things in place here. Let’s be realistic. The photography is great. So let’s worry about photography once you’ve picked up business. Let’s get the business foundations in place. Let’s get these bookings coming through. Let’s get you shooting more so you can become more confident. So they’re very much. They’re very much 2 personas that I can help with the mentoring program. I hope I answered your question. I feel like I went off on a tangent.

Joe Lenton: And where could they – where should they go if they want to find out more about what’s on offer?

Fiona Elizabeth: Oh, right. So they can go to the website, The Wedding Photography Mentor. There’s a website there which has a little video about the program has everything there that we – what we offer and the benefit it is to the person who wants to come on board. And then there’s the social feeds that you can find me on – also the wedding photography mentor. It’s a subscription based. So currently we’re pricing it at 17 pounds per month. It’s still very much in Alpha, but we’re moving towards Beta stage soon, so the price will be going up until we officially launch and we’ve got all our ducks in a row. But at the moment we’re in Alpha stage. And basically what that means is, I’m taking on Mentees. I’m coaching I’m training but I’m also building the business as well. So we’re kind of holding each other’s hands to get this to a place of great success. And it’s very, very exciting.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, sounds exciting, yeah. Wish you all the best with that. And thank you very much for coming onto the podcast to share some of these things with us.

Fiona Elizabeth: Yeah, no problem. It’s been a joy.

Joe Lenton: Thank you very much.

Fiona Elizabeth: Thank you!

Joe Lenton: Thank you everybody for listening.

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