When it comes to the art of capturing meaningful moments, Southern California photographer, Elizabeth Johnson, is a force behind the lens. It should come as no surprise that we discovered her by way of the gorgeous interior photography she produces. Working with creatives we love including our girl, Lindye Galloway—Elizabeth delivers the dreamiest home tours to our screens. We tapped the photographer to learn more about her process, musings and glean how she balances a beaming business all while being mom to four little loves.
Tell us a bit about your journey to becoming an interiors photographer and the inception of Elizabeth Johnson Photography. How and when did you realize this was your dream job?
My path to an interiors photographer wasn’t exactly the quickest one but now looking back it seems so obvious that it has always been my dream job! Hindsight is always 20/20! When I graduated college I took a corporate job to pay rent in my dream city, San Francisco. I lived there for 6 years, met and married my husband and then we eventually moved to the burbs. After having our first child I honestly thought I’d never go back to work, I had always envisioned myself as a full-time mom. However when our son was 6 months old I got the creative bug, and I knew it was my time to do something for myself, a little ‘side gig’ to being a full-time mama.
I started with a sweet little stationery shop on Etsy, Pretty Smitten, which turned into a lifestyle blog that I still write today. I quickly found one of my favorite aspects of blogging and running the shop was styling and photography. I learned the technical skills from my Dad, a lover of film photographer and an avid landscape photographer, but didn’t realize I shared his love of photography until then. He bought me my first “real camera” so, in addition to photography for my shop and blog, I did what all moms do…photograph their children. I then officially launched Elizabeth Johnson Photography and never looked back. During these years we also added three more babies to our family and made the move to Southern California.
I started by photographing families, which I still do to this day. Capturing a mama to be, a sweet little newborn, or a lively family has and always will be a love of mine. But when I started photographing interiors something just clicked. My love for interior design, styling and photography collided and I just knew I was in the right spot. I truly feel honored that designers choose me to photograph spaces that I know a lot of work went into creating.
When it comes to your shooting style and process, what inspires your work?
Light! I’m forever looking at how light enters a space and how it makes the room come alive. It allows me to find the best angles and photograph how a room feels, not just how it looks. I’m also incredibly inspired by the designer themselves. I’ve always had such an appreciation and interest in interior design, so to be involved in that process and see how a designer’s mind works on photoshoot day is such a treat. By appreciating their vision, from the bigger layout and space to the details in styling, I’m able to find and create the best photographs to showcase their work.
What do you love most about capturing interiors vs. people?
Photographing interiors is such a collaborative effort and I thrive off of the creative process between the designer and myself. I love how our eyes combine to make the perfect photograph. The designer sees how styling will look for their client and I see how it will look through the lens. We photograph, adjust styling, photograph again…and I just love that process. Working and creating in thoughtfully designed spaces just makes me happy!
Do you find that you gravitate toward shooting a certain design style?
I’ve been in California most of my life so I think I just naturally gravitate towards a designer with a relaxed California style. I’ll never tire of neutrals, vintage accents and a house that flows with the outdoors.
You’re a mama to four beautiful blondies (they’re so unbelievably cute!). What advice do you have more other entrepreneur parents when it comes to giving your family and business the attention they both need?
My four sweet kiddos are my reason for everything. I think they are the initial reason I became so interested in both photography and interior design. I picked up a camera to document them and I designed our house to make our family a home. While interior design has become a passion of mine, photography has become my career. Balancing 4 kids and a photography business is a lot of work, but what I love is that I’m in control of my schedule. I’ll never be the busiest photographer out there and I don’t take on every job that comes my way. I realize that may not be the fastest route to “success” but for me, it’s much more about balance and being there when my kids get out of school. We have family dinner nightly, Friday movie nights, and lazy Sunday mornings. We also have basketball practices and horseback riding lessons and a preschooler who can be stubborn. Being in a big family is chaotic, loud, and requires a lot of organizing (and patience!), but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’ve found that planning ahead is key to success. If I have our week planned out (carpools, family time, dinners, etc) then I’m able to focus on the task at hand. So that means when I’m at a kiddo’s event then my attention is with them…but when I’m with a client, my attention is 100% on that job. I also couldn’t do it without the support and encouragement from my husband. He is, and has always been, my biggest cheerleader.
What does your morning routine look like? What are a few things you do to get your day started off on the right foot?
As my husband would tell you, I’m not exactly a morning person. In a perfect world I’d be up by 5am every morning…coffee, workout, have a little time to myself… but the reality is that when the alarm goes off I have a hard time getting up quite that early! I’ve gotten better over the years though and I’m usually up by 6 am on the weekdays. Not quite enough time to work out, but getting up before my kiddos is huge just so that I have a little time on my own. I like to start my day with a glass of lemon water and then that necessary and absolutely lovely cup of coffee. I’ll usually sit down and browse Instagram or my favorite blogs. I love to start my day with that little bit of inspiration. Then it’s kids and breakfast and allll the things!
What does a well-lived home mean to you?
A well-lived home to me is one where you can come in, kick your shoes off and plop down on the couch. It’s filled with neutrals, warm tones, natural elements, and a mix of modern and vintage pieces that have been collected over time. There are design books on the coffee tables and it smells good… a mix of a beautiful candle burning and something yummy on the stove. There are kids playing and while there’s bound to be a toy or two out somewhere, it’s also clean and organized. I absolutely cannot relax in a messy house, which sometimes I think might be my downfall, but it’s true. Most importantly it’s filled with the people you love.
We often see the beautiful results of a photoshoot. Can you give us a behind-the-scenes idea of what a shoot day looks like for you?
Usually just behind the lens, right out of the camera frame, there are a lot of large plastic bins. Yep, plastic bins. They contain extra styling pieces, decor, greenery, and whatever else the designer has trekked over for the photoshoot. There are also cords and laptops and the design team and iPhones and probably a coffee or two. But again this is what I love about interior photoshoots…they are always a creative and collaborative process, and those processes are generally a little messy! We move from room to room, space to space, and shoot everything from the larger picture to the smallest details. It can be a long day but I always love the process.
What are your top three tips for a successful interior shoot?
For me, a successful interiors shoot is one where I’m able to capture the feeling of a room. I want the viewer to feel how it would be to cook in that kitchen, dine with friends at that table, or take a nap on that cozy bed.
Capturing the feeling of a room makes it come alive. With that in mind, here are a few tips for shoot day…
Light is everything, and light is always changing. If possible I’d always love to see a space before photographing it, whether in person or via iPhone snaps. I’ll have a better idea of the light and angles and what I’m walking into the day of the shoot!
Interior photoshoots aren’t the fastest and I think to the casual observer they might even seem a little slow. Hasn’t she been taking a photo of the same spot over and over? Ha! But getting multiple photos of the same shot is important for lighting and post processing reasons. I need to shoot for both the highlights and lowlights of the room to make sure I capture every detail.
Switch it up
Don’t be afraid to swap things in or out, change angles or try new things. I think sometimes there is a lot of pressure to “get it right” the first time. But creativity rarely works that way. Trust the process. This goes for the photographer and designer!
Do you have any favorite podcasts/books/resources that you’ve discovered during these past few months of change in our world that you recommend?
I just finished Studio McGee’s new book, Make Life Beautiful, and I found it incredibly inspiring. I’ve followed them since they made the move from San Clemente to Utah and the brand they’ve built together is truly incredible. I loved reading about their journey of both highs and lows and how it’s most important to trust your gut instinct. And I’m always on the hunt for a good podcast… currently I’m loving Living with Landyn for her humor, home and lifestyle tips, and tell-it-like-it-is attitude. Goop podcast and Be Well by Kelly are also on heavy rotation.