Meet Hayfield-based photographer Sara Porter

Self portrait of photographer Sara Porter

Self portrait of photographer Sara Porter - Credit: Archant

It’s a bold decision to ‘give up your day job’ and make a life-long interest your means of earning a living but photographer Sara Porter has never looked back

'Casey and Lianne'

'Casey and Lianne' - Credit: Archant

Born in Liverpool, Sara Porter is an award-winning photographer based in Hayfield. Although always interested in photography, she became a chemistry teacher but after teaching for 14 years she became a photographer full-time. She now has a successful career in commercial, wedding and art photography. Sara had a six-month exhibition of her work at Leeds City Museum and recently completed the photography for their permanent new exhibition ‘Voices of Asia’.

How did you become interested in photography?

When I was young there were always cameras around the house. I remember having a small 110 cartridge film camera in the 1970s which I took everywhere with me. I was lucky while taking A-levels as we had the opportunity to study photography at the Open Eye in Liverpool. We used SLR cameras, developed our own work, and had the scope to be artistic rather than just record what we saw. Photography let me be creative without having to draw or paint. As my twitter description says, ‘Can’t draw. Can shoot.’ I have a passion for using images to tell a story, which photography allows me to do, and I’m lucky enough to be able to do it for a job.

Describe a typical working day?

I don’t think a photographer has a particular typical working day, except maybe when you are not shooting. Then it involves administration, contacting clients, suppliers, editing and planning upcoming shoots. Days when I am shooting can be exceptionally varied. Whilst working on the Voices of Asia project I would find myself at a Hindu Temple one day, then at the market the next, and one day I went straight from a studio shoot to a restaurant shoot and finished with a night-time street shoot. It’s very much about being prepared and knowing what your client is looking for and making sure that you supply them with high quality, creative images.

After a shoot you back up the images, which sometimes have to be sent straight to the client. Then you recharge equipment, check your plan for the next shoot, pack your bag and hopefully find some time to recharge your own batteries.

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Does the scenery on your doorstep tempt you to try landscape photography?

There are so many great landscape photographers, I’m really happy to just enjoy the scenery. People today are often so busy recording everything around them that it’s easy to forget to be a part of an experience and not just record it. I love running and walking and for me the Peak District is just a fabulous place to do both. I’d much rather experience it and enjoy it than feel I have to stop and set up my camera. Of course, that’s not to say that I don’t on occasion take my camera out and I will be shooting some Peak District landscapes as part of my new art project, but it is not a landscape project as such.

How did you approach preparing for the Voices of Asia exhibition?

The Voices of Asia was a great project to work on and for me a real learning experience on Asian culture. The brief was to capture a feel of Asian life in Leeds. The difficult aspect of a job like this is in approaching members of the public to take part in the project. You need to make sure that people quickly feel happy and relaxed. They need to be able to trust in you and the work that you produce.

What work are you most proud of?

The Natural Beauty exhibition that ran at Leeds City Museum for six months last year has been a high point. I was commissioned to create approximately 60 photographs from their natural history collection which is in storage. There were thousands of items to choose from including taxidermy, skulls, insects, eggs, the range was incredible. The museum was keen to raise awareness of their collection and needed a fresh approach. I wanted to make people look more closely at something that if displayed in a cabinet you might walk briefly past.

The exhibition was in four sections: Miniatures which concentrated on insects; Close Ups, a selection of macro photography images; Headshots which looked at skulls and was a mixture of colour and black and white; and Portraits which used the museum’s taxidermy.

It gave me the opportunity to create more graphic design artwork which I had been wanting to do for a while and it was great to see some of my work printed out at over 1m in height. Five pieces from the Miniatures section also led to me being Joint Winner of The BIPP (British Institute of Professional Photographers)/ Towergate Provisional Fine Art Portfolio prize which was a real honour.

Any best or worst moments when you’ve been on an assignment?

Best moments are the feeling you get when you know that you have nailed the shot you were looking for. It’s also a great feeling when you give a client the set of images that they asked for and you’ve included some extras that they didn’t and they really go for the extras because you have given them a vision that they hadn’t even thought of. It’s a lovely feeling when you get feedback from people who don’t realise that their work or themselves even, could look as good as it does because they’ve just not had it photographed professionally before or they’ve just not looked at it in the same way that I do as a photographer.

Worst moments are probably all location related as there are so many factors involved. Weather is a frustrating factor as you have no control over it and if you are working to a timescale, rescheduling is often not possible. You have to think quickly on your feet and be creative. I’d rather call them challenging, I love my job too much to have worst moments.

What advice have you for anyone setting out on a career in photography?

Be realistic, photography is exceptionally competitive. A lot of people would say since the arrival of digital cameras, but it was competitive before. It’s really a case of making sure that you and your images stand out. Be skilled at what you do, do not offer a service to a client that you cannot perform to a high standard. Unfortunately there are photographers who aren’t skilled enough to be offering the service that they do, so make sure that you are not one of them. It is not possible to have a long term career in photography without the skills.

Finally, photography is an art and as an art it is subjective, so there will always be people who love your work and people who don’t. Be happy about the people who love your work and don’t be disheartened about people who don’t. Art is a personal choice and it would be a very boring world if we all loved the same things.

Who has inspired you and is there a photograph you’d love to take?

I love photographers who create concepts that go beyond one image. The last photography book I bought was ‘The Silence of Dogs in Cars’ by Martin Usborne, which is beautiful, and in complete contrast I love Kirsty Mitchell’s Wonderland series.

I’ve been fortunate to photograph many interesting, talented people of all ages with stories to tell. Although I’d love to photograph Willie Nelson. I’ve always wanted to shoot him, with my camera that is! As to the countryside, living in Hayfield means there are so many local beauty spots that I’d be hard pushed to choose just one. I love the bleakness you get in the Dark Peak during winter and I will be incorporating some of that into my next project. I would love the opportunity to do a long term project based on farming in Derbyshire, capturing the reality and beauty of the working farm through the seasons.

What’s next on the horizon?

I’ve just finished some work for the Holiday Inn in Liverpool and now that I’ve finished work for the Voices of Asia exhibition, I am putting the finishing touches to an online shop selling fine art prints of my work. I am also working on a new fine art project which incorporates Dark Peak landscapes. n

Sara’s online shop opens on 31st May. Commercial, art and online shop; weddings and portraits Twitter @saraporterphoto