After taking an enormous leap from the menswear industry in the U.K. to food photography in the U.S., photographer Charlotte Lea found her niche in interior photography. With a passion for translating a comfortable space into an image that still holds that same feeling, Charlotte Lea aims to capture the experience of each room she photographs. Enjoy a glimpse into her breathtaking portfolio below to see how she accomplishes this.
Your journey to photography has been an interesting one. Please tell us a bit about it.
I grew up in the UK, surrounded by design. My parents ran a menswear design consultancy, and naturally, I jumped straight into the fashion industry after leaving school and worked in menswear for 12 years. In 2016, I came to visit my brother who lives here in LA and a switch flipped while I was there. I came back full of so much inspiration and realized I needed something more. The day I got back to the office, I asked myself, “what if I just quit?” In that moment, I had an overwhelming gut feeling that that was the right thing to do – it was too much to ignore. Two days later, I quit my job of 12 years with absolutely no idea of what was next for me. Piece by piece came together after that. I’d always loved photography and after leaving my job, I threw myself in with no expectations of where it might take me. I started just shooting every meal that I made and from there built my clientele and was shortlisted for a Worldwide Food Photography competition. I applied for my US visa, sold my house and everything in it and I moved to LA in January 2017 with a suitcase and just five boxes.
My US Food Photography career didn’t turn out as expected. I had a lot of remote work from my studio which I found fairly lonely but little did I know there was something else in store for me. My boyfriend is a furniture designer and I was photographing some of his work that had been staged in a new construction. That is the day I knew that shooting interiors was exactly what I was supposed to be doing. I lit up inside. It inspired me to take a leap and reach out to a designer that I’d admired for some time and shared my work. Soon after that, we booked our first shoot together which was then published by Domino. Things just started to flow from that point. My business transitioned from 100% food to 100% interiors within a few months, As cliche as it sounds, what is meant for you won’t pass you by.
Did your twelve years in the menswear design industry imbue you with any skills/insights you still use in your photography career?
Absolutely! I think working in the menswear industry for such a long time influenced my eye and that is portrayed in the way I shoot – both in Interiors and my Fine Art Prints. Clean lines, minimal, balanced and maybe noticing that little something special that might go otherwise unnoticed. The way I would refine a design is a similar process to what I use in my photography. Do we need a lighter fabric, is the collar big enough, do we need larger buttons, should the jacket be a little longer? It is all about understanding those visual subtleties.
Your interior shots are so beautifully done, they seem to each tell their own story. How do you bring life to each photo? What is your process?
For me it is mainly about getting the right frame, which is always part art, part science. There are the fundamentals like the characteristics of light and technical camera functions, but a lens can be a tricky thing. My job is to translate the way a designer makes a space look and feel into a two-dimensional image through that lens. That is the art. That is the part that excites me most about getting up and doing what I do every day. Things don’t always look the way you think they’re going to, and there’s a challenge to find the sweet spots on every project.
What does a typical ‘day at the office’ look like for you?
I like early mornings. They don’t always happen as I have a habit of staying at my desk into the evenings but when they do, my day starts with some light exercise and yoga. A cup of tea, always, before I get to my desk. Then onto a bit of admin, sending proposals, booking agreements, etc and answering emails before diving into an editing session. And somewhere in there, I stop for a little home-cooked food.
What is key to having an excellent photographer/designer relationship?
I think that the key is the same for any type of relationship – flexibility. I don’t mean that in the sense that we all expect people we’re working with to be flexible. I mean that everyone has their own style and way, and being able to learn what those things are and adapt to them for each client is what keeps things running smoothly. Some designers are very hands-off at shoots for various reasons. Others are more hands-on and love having a creative professional to bounce ideas back and forth with throughout the day. I’m very comfortable flowing in that way, too.
What key piece of advice would you share with a new photographer?
Keep learning, keep practicing and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Master a tool before you upgrade – squeeze all of the juice out of that lemon!
Your fine art photography gives us a glimpse into what your free time might look like. What brings joy to your life when you’re not behind the lens?
My boyfriend and I love to explore. Being a Brit, I can’t help but want to be outside in the California sunshine. Anywhere from the coast to the desert, we love finding new places to enjoy together.
What fuels your editing sessions? Do you have a favorite playlist or podcast?
Most of the time it is music. My boyfriend used to DJ so I am blessed with a playlist for every mood possible. Although I do go through stages of listening to books on Audible.
What is the most rewarding part of being your own boss, and what part could you do without?
Of course planning your own schedule is wonderful – deciding when and how often you work but of course, you have to wear many hats and that can be a lot of juggling but one thing is for certain, I could never go back!!
Given your relocation from the U.K. to the U.S. you’ve had the opportunity to create a new home for yourself, what does a well-lived home mean to you?
Selling everything you own and starting from scratch is a very surreal feeling, but it’s freeing at the same time. There’s this fresh start, and it gave me a chance to reflect on my own personal aesthetic at home. With the California style being so different to the U.K. I was taking everything in with a fresh pair of eyes. I had this urge to feel settled at home quickly, but I found myself being more satisfied by being a little more patient, living in it and seeing it evolve. Waiting until I find just the right piece or just the right piece finds me. I am around so much beautiful, inspirational design and it makes me want to be more intentional with purchases. It is a slow process but filling a home with things we love is what is most important. You don’t have to follow a particular style or trend – just selecting things that bring you joy is what makes a home for me.