An Interview with Photographer & Entrepreneur Olivia Bell

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You have reached the archive of articles posted on my personal blog. This blog is no longer updated, but you can read my latest articles at my new website The Creative Photographer and find my photography ebooks at my new store.

Thanks for reading! Andrew.



Photo by Olivia Bell

Olivia Bell is not just a photographer. Together with her sisters (Rosanna and Sasha) she’s built an online business around their work by selling prints, Lightroom presets, Photoshop actions and desktop wallpapers plus a photography eBook called Photography Tips, all marketed through social media websites such as Flickr and Facebook.

I like the distinctive style of Olivia’s photos, and the way she use techniques like selective focus to create atmospheric images. But I’m also impressed with the way she has created such a beautifully designed website and online business. Clearly, the Bell sisters are going places. Here’s the interview:

Interview

How would you describe your creative vision – what themes are you trying to explore in your work?

My goal (or vision) is to capture the emotion, beauty, and realness of life, mainly life around myself. Whether I photograph an animal, a still life, nature or a portrait, that goal never really changes.

I don’t really explore themes. If I find something, which catches my eye, I may attempt to master that area. For example, I recently wanted to take some photographs of food and explore the difference between portraits and food composition!

Who are your three favourite photographers and why do you like them?

I feel a bit silly when I’m asked questions like these, mainly because if I’m 100% honest I don’t have any.

I follow about 200 photographers on Flickr, so when I login to upload a photograph I may see a few photographers, favourite them etc, but that’s all I really do. I don’t have any real favourites.

You live on the south coast of England. How does this affect your photography? What influence does the scenery and weather have on your work?

I try to use my environment as much as possible, so a pretty big influence. But I have yet to really explore the countryside as a “landscape photographer” might. I do love using the landscape as a backdrop for portraits, and to create a mood.

You have a lot of beautiful photos. But if you had to pick one as your favourite, which would it be – and why?

I can’t really say I have a favourite, but I absolutely adore this one:

Photo by Olivia Bell

I love this one because of the challenge. The contrast of the snow and the horses made it difficult to get the ideal exposure, at the same time capturing their motion.

You describe youself as being self-educated on your website? Can you explain that a little? Is it true that you never went to school?

Yes, I never went to school. My parents chose to educate me at home, but they did not do “school at home” – i.e. we did not follow the national curriculum and I was not made to learn any particular at any age or time.

For example, I wasn’t told to learn about Henry VIII when I was 13, or what 2+2 is.

Neither was I given lessons in the 3 r’s.

So I am self-educated, yes. But I was not left in a room to “educate myself” – I was guided by my parents. So when I wanted to learn something they would help me find a book or other resource on what I was interested in at the time.

My first proper exam was when I took my driving theory test!

How did you get started in photography?

I sort of fell into it. My father had a Canon EOS 5D which I asked to borrow a few times so I could try taking a few portraits of my sisters. The real end goal being to have a nice picture!

I ended up helping my sisters use the 5D, so they could photograph me too (I didn’t know about tripods or remote controls for self-portraits).

Obviously the first few attempts didn’t turn out very well, so gradually we did more and then more and the more I did it, the more I loved it.

At what point did you realise that you could use it as a vehicle to start your own online business?

We sort of realised it when we were asked for photography tips, followed by requests for Lightroom tips and Lightroom Presets.

What are the most popular and successful products that you sell on your website?

Our most popular products have been our Lightroom Presets and Photoshop Actions.

You use a lot of social media sites – Flickr, Facebook, DeviantArt, Twitter, Formspring. What role has social media played in the success of your business?

I think social media is fantastic. For example, Formspring has helped me to share all the FAQ’s I get via email with anyone who follows my profile.

Facebook and Twitter have been wonderful as I’ve been able to communicate with other photographers, and followers.

From a business point of view, communicating with followers is really important, not only to me, but to them as well.

I feel it’s important to keep communication lines open so I can give 110% to those who want help.

You’ve written your own eBook ‘Photography Tips’. What inspired you to write the eBook? What sort of things do you cover and what’s the reaction been like to the eBook so far?

Two things really…

I began to get a lot of questions regarding my technique, and a lot of “how to” queries. So I wrote this eBook to give anyone who reads it a complete inside view. The way I wrote it is the way I taught my youngest sister Sasha to use a DSLR.

At the time I was receiving these questions, my mother was writing her own eBook which was what gave me the idea for an eBook as opposed to answering questions one by one.

It has had wonderful feedback, which has been an honour.

A unique aspect of your business is that involves your sisters as well. Tell us a little about that – what roles do each of you play and how has that contributed to your success?

We don’t really have separate roles. But having said that, there are areas where we are each individually responsible for, but if we need help in these particular areas we help each other.

For example, I do a lot of managing, but then if I’m not getting things sorted, they tell me how to manage things! It’s a on-going circle really.

Success wise, it’s definitely made us stronger, I believe. The support we give each other is massive and we’re very honest.

I’m very impressed with your photos, websites and online business. What advice would you give anyone who would like to do something similar? What are the most important lessons that you’ve learnt?

If you’re looking to improve your photography and photographic eye, the one thing I would highly recommend is a project. It doesn’t need to be a 365 project, but definitely something that gets you doing something regularly.

I have done 250 days of my 365 project and the biggest thing I’ve found is how much I see without my DSLR.

Last weekend I was at the Birmingham NEC for a conference (not at all photography related) and for two days I had my 365 photo to do, but the environment I was in was, to be frank… very ugly. Yet I managed to see these gorgeous blossom trees, which I used for both days.

The big “duh” moment for me was, I know before my 365 project I would never have even noticed them. Or if I had, I wouldn’t have thought they would be beautiful enough to photograph.

Day 248:

Photo by Olivia Bell

Day 249:

Photo by Olivia Bell

Here are a few thoughts from lessons I’ve learnt:-

The foundation to a business is marketing and customer service.

Communication, good communication is key to success.

Don’t let rude or negative people on the Internet knock you.

Inspiration rarely arrives at your doorstep – the only way I have found inspiration is to pick up my camera and start somewhere.

It’s hard work. I dedicate a huge amount of time to my work and photography. Needless to say, drinking, partying, getting drunk and having hangovers are not on my “to-do” list!

Videos

Some behind the scenes videos:

Photo gallery

Photo by Olivia Bell

Photo by Olivia Bell

Photo by Olivia Bell

Photo by Olivia Bell

Photo by Olivia Bell

Photo by Olivia Bell

Photo by Olivia Bell

Photo by Olivia Bell


Links

You can find Olivia Bell at these websites:

Olivia Bell Photography

The Bell Sisters

Olivia Bell Facebook fan page

Olivia on Twitter

Olivia on YouTube

All photos copyright Olivia Bell. Please contact the photographer for permission to use in any way.

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3 Responses to “An Interview with Photographer & Entrepreneur Olivia Bell”

  1. Robert Wilson says:

    Interesting article. It was nice to find out more about Olivia. I love her work and she is one of my favourite photographers. I bought her e-book and totally recomend it.

  2. nicole says:

    I love olivia & her sister’s photographs !

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