Light and Landscape: The Portrait Photography of Sarah Ann Wright

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Portrait photography by Sarah Ann Wright

Sarah Ann Wright is a photographer from London in the UK. Like the other photographers I have interviewed recently, she includes the landscape in many of her portraits. The interesting thing about her work is the geographic spread, there are portraits taken in England, Iceland and the south of Spain in her portfolio. The light and landscape (not to mention the climate) are different in each location and that has influenced her style. Here’s the interview:

Sarah Ann Wright interview

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I live in London, UK. I’ve studied art and design in some form for most of my life, from GCSE and A levels through to a BTEC and BA degree. I have a degree in Graphic Design but it isn’t much use to me, I was more interested in illustration, and it was a poorly taught degree. I’d had a few photography lessons in college at foundation art and design level prior to university, but it wasn’t until I went backpacking in 2006 with a new camera that I had my eyes opened to photography, how wonderful it could be to capture a fleeting moment or memory.

When I got home in 2007 I decided I was hooked, and bought myself a little SLR. I began building on from my college days and teaching myself photography and editing techniques, and I’ve never stopped learning since.

How would you describe yourself and your personality? This may be bit of a deep question, but how does your personality affect the way you take photos?

People say I haven’t changed much since school, so I hope they mean I still see things simply rather than calling me immature. I grew up drawing and painting, and I think this influence has stayed with me in my editing process. I like clarity and don’t often create an image because I want a meaning behind it, sometimes I’m just inspired by a colour or a word. My works are based on stories or memories, or just purely because I built a nice scene and wanted to capture it. I’m a very simple person, I don’t tend to build complicated images.

I can see that you use natural light in a lot of your photos. Why is that, what is the appeal of natural light for you?

It’s a simpler light, and a softer light. It’s also a more easily available light. You don’t have to drag any equipment around, bar a reflector, for natural light. It’s also unpredictable, which is something I quite like, especially if you build clouds into an image too, they change so quickly. When I shoot outdoors it makes sense to use natural light to keep the balance.

Having said that, I’m not afraid to experiment with flash and now I’ve moved house and finally have space for a small home studio, I’m looking forward to working more indoors with artificial light. I like to be flexible enough to have knowledge in both natural and artificial light.

How do you decide whether to use natural light, or blend natural light with flash?

If I’m outdoors and I want to use flash, firstly I decide if the flash will be the main light source in the image, or simple be fill light. Fill gets quite useful when I put my models under a lot of trees, as it helps reduce the green cast and reduce shadows where I might not want them. I’d also use flash if I wanted to balance with a sunset, or the sun, though I do this much less often because we have less visual sunsets here in the UK.

I only ever use Canon flashes and modifiers outside, I can’t really carry anything heavier, so I’ve put together a simple toolkit that I can carry about with a couple of flashes, stands and modifiers. The only downside is they tend to be more flimsy than my indoors studio lights, and it takes more effort to be able to overpower the sun. Even without flash I always have a reflector to hand to bounce or block light.

How would you describe the quality of the natural light where you live? How does it change with the seasons, and how do you use this in your photos?

Living in the UK and London, I see a lot of cloudy skies and rain whatever the season! But clouds make for lovely diffused light, so I don’t really mind. If I’m lucky enough to catch a golden hour they can always be beautiful whether you’re in a park or surrounded by buildings in the City. There are a few parks in London I always go to if I’m lucky enough to get sunlight and golden hour, I love how big they are, and how you can get lost in them. I’ve shot in parks in summer and have totally managed to forget I’m in a big city, it just depends where you go to shoot, and how secluded it might be. The seasons are always great in London, again parks really come into play, especially in autumn and winter as they change so dramatically.

Portrait photography by Sarah Ann Wright

There is a strong link between the landscape and the portrait in your work. How does the landscape and the light inspire you? What are the challenges and rewards of working outdoors?

One challenge is weather and light, you don’t really know 100% how the weather will behave, and the light follows on from this. But then the unpredictability means you often get happy accidents in camera. I always see the landscape as a backdrop to be built upon, with the model figure added to interact with it, or compliment it’s scale / grandeur.

Tell us a little about your Hildur, the Icelandic Queen of the Elves project. It seems very ambitious in terms of resources and creative scope. Where did the inspiration come from, and how did you manage to organise the shoot?

The shoot was really a case of spontaneity. One of the models, Anna, had modelled for me before – she lives in Iceland but studied in London. I met her on Model Mayhem and shot with her a few times when she still lived in London. I just happened to mention one day to her on Facebook that I’d love to shoot in Iceland one day, with some icebergs and whatnot and she suggested that she would take me to some wonderful locations and model for me should I ever want to go to Iceland.

So, living in the UK where European travel is so cheap, I went! My friend and fellow model Twig came too, as she had met Anna on a previous shoot and I thought it might be fun to work with two models, but also because we love travelling about together. As it was so last minute I wasn’t really able to source designers clothes like I normally would, so relied on eBay and vintage stores to provide clothing, and was lucky that a very talented headpiece designer was willing to lend me some pieces to take, to complete the outfits.

Portrait photography by Sarah Ann Wright

The wonderful thing about having a native model for you is they know all the best locations! So Anna was able to take us to some really beautiful spots, as well as teach us about Iceland, and we got to try Icelandic food as well as listen to Icelandic music. It’s such a wonderful place, I can only imagine how magic it was for her growing up there!

Anna has an ice series of her own that I’m working on, hers is more inspired by a maiden lost in nature. I shot both models with the idea that the stories would come later – the location and light was enough for me to shoot with without thinking of anything further, but when I started to work on Twig’s images, I noticed how much of an Ice Queen she looked in them, which led me to research Icelandic folklore, and came across the legend of Hildur – I thought the idea suited her images perfectly.

Portrait photography by Sarah Ann Wright

I’ve never been to Iceland, but it must be an amazing place to take photos. Most photographers go there for the landscape, but you’ve found a way to incorporate the Icelandic landscape in your portrait and fashion work. How did the landscape there affect your creative approach? Did it inspire you? How was the weather and light different to what you are accustomed to working with at home?

I do love landscapes but when I see one I’m usually thinking how I could incorporate a figure into one! I only had Google images to work with before I went, so I tried not to plan too much, but instead bring several outfits and props for different options. It turned out the landscape mostly spoke for itself, so I kept clothing and the models simple, as not to overpower the drama of the landscape. The same applied to my editing, I found it was quite minimal compared to what I might usually do, as I wanted the colour and light of the landscape to shine through, especially in the ice lake.

The light there was wonderful – we arrived not long before sunset so had a few moments of golden sun before it disappeared over a mountain, but it was more of a colder tinged golden hour. The ice lake reflected so much light that it didn’t matter we were losing it as the sun went lower. I did very minimal editing here as the ice lake already provided the cold colours that I was looking for.

Portrait photography by Sarah Ann Wright

The weather was cold and windy on the black sand beach we shot at, so the models would take turns in coats which I shot them individually, but the wind was a great addition to such a striking looking beach anyway that it didn’t matter if it affected my images.

I had no idea what to expect in terms of weather, we were lucky when we arrived as Anna said it had literally been raining solidly for two months! The first day I got there was the first day it hadn’t rained, which is a good thing really as although I was prepared for cold (and it turned out not to be as cold as I thought it would be) I hadn’t actually considered rain, or what if I do if it did rain!

I also really like your photos taken in Spain. How does the landscape, weather and light differ in Spain from what you are used to at home? How does this affect your photography? Inspire you? Help you be creative?

My Dad lives in a small village in Spain, surrounded by mountains so there were a lot of fun areas to shoot in that just weren’t possible in the UK, like a cactus garden and dried up river bed. I liked the challenge of such a hot dry landscape that was so different than what I was used to at home.

Portrait photography by Sarah Ann Wright

The weather was a challenge, since I’m not used to shooting in so much sun in the UK, or in such high temperature. As much as we tried to avoid the middle of the day for most things, there was one day where we just couldn’t. It was really windy too, which meant my flimsy flash stand was useless, and instead I just had to work with natural light instead of trying to overpower or balance with the sun, so I would ask Twig to close her eyes, or face away from the sun. Later on in the day in Spain gave beautiful golden hours, which felt like they lasted longer than in the UK, which made it a perfect time to shoot to achieve a sun-kissed glow.

There were also some lovely sunsets where I was able to experiment with balancing flash, something I generally practice less with at home as we have less sunsets, and I’m not always available when we do have a good one. Despite it being so hot and sunny, with the weather more predictable in Spain, it made it easier to shoot, knowing what to expect and when, especially with late afternoon to sunset.

Portrait photography by Sarah Ann Wright

Note: You can see more of Sarah’s work from Spain on her website at these links: Regal Wilderness, Desert Rose, A Desert Waltz and In the Cactus Garden.

What camera equipment do you use to create your portraits? And out of all your lenses, which is your favourite for portraits and why?

I use a Canon 5D Mark III, with 50mm 1.2, 24-70mm 2.8 and 70-200mm 2.8 lenses. The 70-200 is 100% my favourite, it takes the most beautiful portraits with a great focal range and it’s tack sharp.

You have a lot of photos taken with one model (Twig). How important has the collaboration that you have with her been in your creative process? How has it helped you create better photos?

We met each other through Model Mayhem about 3 years ago now, we arranged to have a shoot in my home town, and our friendship just bloomed from there. I was struck by how creative she was, and willing to think up and plan her own ideas. Sometimes even the mention of a subject can send her off into a planning whirlwind! There have been shoots entirely planned by her, where I have literally turned up and photographed – I trust her planning and creative eye completely.

The more we work together, the more I see her creative flair grow. We always have a few ideas in the work for shoots to plan together, we bounce ideas off each other, and she’s certainly willing to try new things so I knew she wouldn’t bat an eyelid if I asked her to get in an ice lake. We’re constantly talking and evolving new ideas.

Who inspires you? Who are your three favourite photographers, and why?

I’m a big fan of Lara Jade, her fashion and beauty work is so versatile and the blends high end fashion with a dreamy style so easily. I really admire just how hard she works.

I would also say all the friends I’ve made in the photography world inspire me particularly my close knit London group of Sevgi, Bella, Nizaad, Amy and Hannah – when we meet up and create, or even just go for coffee I always come away full of inspiration and having learned something new, I think meeting and networking with fellow creatives is the best thing anyone can do to help themselves learn and grow. It branches out to so many different paths.


You can find Sarah Ann Wright at her website, Facebook page and Flickr.

Photo Gallery

Here are some more photos by Sarah Ann Wright:

Portrait photography by Sarah Ann Wright

Portrait photography by Sarah Ann Wright

Portrait photography by Sarah Ann Wright

Portrait photography by Sarah Ann Wright

Portrait photography by Sarah Ann Wright

Portrait photography by Sarah Ann Wright

Portrait photography by Sarah Ann Wright

Portrait photography by Sarah Ann Wright

All photos Copyright © Sarah Ann Wright. Please contact the photographer for permission to use in any way.


Further reading

More interviews with portrait photographers:

Winter in Italy: An Interview with Portrait Photographer Anna Karnutsch

Colour and Light: An Interview With Portrait Photographer Alessio Albi

Colour and Contrast: An Interview With Portrait Photographer Cristina Hoch

The Creative Portrait Photography of Tori Mercedes

An Interview with Miss Aniela

An Interview with Photography Patrick Wack

Click the link for a list of all my interviews with photographers.

The Natural Portrait

The Natural Portrait ebook coverThe Natural Portrait teaches you how to take beautiful portraits in natural light. This 240 page ebook, published by Craft & Vision, takes you through the entire process of natural light portrait photography through from finding a model, deciding where to shoot, working with natural light and post-processing your images. Click the link to learn more or buy.



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