Photographer Luisa Brimble and stylist Caitlin Melling make magic out of the simplest things. A few weeks ago they stopped by Incu HQ for an impromptu photo shoot – Caitlin carefully rearranging the fresh produce and delicate tableware she had sourced for the day, and Luisa effortlessly navigating the set and the natural light streaming in through a window. Afterwards we sat down for a chat about what it’s like working together, the upsides of social media, and their advice for budding creatives.
Photograph by Hugo Sharp
Hi guys! Tell me a bit about what drew each of you into the creative field.
Luisa: As a child I was surrounded by aunties who were always creating, whether it be cooking, baking or making costumes for shows. Somehow it stayed with me but growing up I was encouraged to work in a field where you can earn more money so I studied Administration and Accounting. I decided that I wanted to work in the travel industry because I heard that you get discounted airfares, hahaha, so I pursued that. My last job before I became a photographer was as a Marketing Coordinator for a travel company and I eventually became their in-house Graphic Designer. I started freelance photography 9 years ago now and still love it.
Caitlin: I grew up in Canada and I actually studied Botany at university there – I’ve always had a fascination for anything made by Mother Nature. Alas I think I was a bit too creative to excel as a scientist! While studying I took some elective courses in photography and that’s when I became interested in making images. A few years later, I got into styling by replying to a job posting for an unpaid fashion assistant. From there I went on to work as a paid fashion assistant for a few years, and then moved over into interiors, props and food and that’s where I finally found my groove.
How did you guys meet? What were your first impressions of each other?
L: I met Caitlin at a workshop I ran with Beth Kirby of Local Milk in Byron Bay, possibly two years ago now. My first impression was, “This chick is cool and dresses well... she’s got style!” She was wearing a beautiful long slinky dress paired with Adidas sneakers and I thought that she just came out of some fashion catalogue.
C: I wanted to learn how to use a DSLR and ended up with a bonus group of new friends. Lu is unpretentious, extremely generous and loves a good laugh – it’s easy to feel at home with her straight away.
What do you look for in a collaborator? It must be as much about personality as it is about talent.
C: I think the best collaborations happen when creative people are generous and kind to each other.
L: The first thing I look for is what they can bring to the table. For a collaboration to work, all of us need to enjoy doing it because we are creating things for love. Positive energy is important, 100%.
Photography by Hugo Sharp
A lot of people assume that photo shoots are glamorous affairs but I know it’s actually a lot of hard work and organisation. What are your priorities when planning a shoot?
L: When I start to plan a photo shoot selecting the team is my first move, then putting together the mood board and shot lists and then a lot of to- and fro-ing prior to the shoot date. Locations are always hard to find especially if you’re shooting outdoors. You almost want to keep that one a secret when you find something special hahaha!
C: The biggest priority for me is having a clear vision of what we’re trying to achieve. What story are we telling? The hard work goes into sourcing products and props that are best going to translate that story into a beautiful image. I’ve got a good little team that I can call on when things are crazy – assistants that know how to work quickly and a top-drawer courier who moves everything around for me and always swoops in to save the day when things get hectic.
When you work together, what have your roles been on the day of the shoot?
L: I’m very casual on set, if there’s a stylist involved I let them do what they do best and if something is not working for me then we work together as a team to find a solution. I prefer working this way. Also sometimes I find that in big shoots it’s usually been the most experienced person who runs the show but I’ve recently been on a shoot where there’s an utmost respect on both ends. It feels good when you really both collaborated in creating that image.
C: I will usually show Lu a bit of what I’ve got planned and start to set things up. From that point, I’m happy to take direction and collaborate with her on the set up and sometimes we might rearrange a bit until we get to a sweet spot where we’ve found it all works.
Luisa, obviously each collaboration is different but is there something that you try to bring to each project?
L: Laughter! Always laughter! As a photographer during photo shoots and projects people look up to you for suggestions or input. The most important part for me is that I make you laugh, if not then usually I find the shoot a bit tense.
Photography by Hugo Sharp
You have a few signature shots like the bird’s-eye view of the dining table or the sideways shot of girl holding a bunch of flowers. How did they come about it?
L: I think the bird’s-eye view was definitely influenced by working with Kinfolk when they first came out or maybe even before that. But it went into over- drive when everyone embraced how different the magazine was. The girl holding flowers series was definitely a spur of the moment - it happened during preparation for one of the Kinfolk dinner series. Since then I’ve just been shooting something similar over and over again.
Caitlin, what are your biggest sources of inspiration these days?
C: I do have a huge floor to ceiling image board, yes, but I’m pretty into minimalism at the moment and so it usually only has a few small bits on it. I love the work of Anita Calero - her style, life and career path have me fascinated. I’m always inspired by Simone Gooch at Fjura, now in London, whom for a short while I had the pleasure to learn from.
What is the most difficult thing to style - food, still life, interiors, people...?
C: On certain days a linen napkin can really drive me crazy! It’s like origami meets fabric whispering.
Can you share any tricks of the trade to make something more visually appealing than it is in real life?
C: My top tip for photographing objects would be to find a good source of natural light. Light is everything.
You’ve both put on a few workshops with The Dailys, tell me a bit about what it’s like instructing aspiring photographers and stylists. Is there anything about your jobs that is innate and just can’t be learned?
L: Something you can’t teach is style because that comes with time, experience, shooting a lot and studying your favourite photographers. The first thing I ask people is who is in their Top 10 list of favourite photographers. I like making lists and studying them. I try to emulate my heroes and by doing that I get to spin the images based on what I feel looks good in the frame.
C: I think you can somewhat scientifically learn how to arrange objects but in order to really cross the threshold I believe you need to be seriously fascinated and obsessed with it, always looking for the beauty in everything around you.
Photography by Luisa Brimble
How has the evolution of the Internet influenced your work? Do you feel like a lot more of your job is consumed with social media than it used to be?
L: For me I feel that social media has given me a platform to hustle in many ways. People are always watching and if they resonate with what you do then you’re always on their minds and when one day they need a photographer or a stylist then the first thing they will think of is you. So don’t hold back, keep sharing your work. I also believe that if you create your own opportunity rather than waiting for one to come to you then good things come to those who hustle!
C: I came into styling at an interesting time, right as things were shifting and social media was beginning to dominate. On the one hand it’s cool to have so many images at your fingertips, but I think you also have to be really careful not to eat it up too much. It’s easy to suffer from image overload these days. I think social media can easily turn into a full time job – hopefully in the future I can get someone onto that!
What are your favourite and least favorite parts about your jobs?
L: Favourite - the concept generation and making it happen. Least favourite - the freakin’ logistics (i.e. the bump in and the bump out)!
C: Favourite – the people who make and grow all of the beautiful objects that I use. Least favourite – the paper- work!
Luisa, how do you balance your work and family life? It seems like it’s almost a lifestyle and it’s not like you can compartmentalise the two.
L: An understanding husband and before and after school care! At times I’d have a shoot where I only have 48-hours’ notice and it seems to work. If you really want something you find a way to make it happen. But I think the number one for me is definitely [my husband] Chris’s support in what I do. Without it I don’t think I’d be doing what I do now. So cliché, but it’s so true.
Photography by Luisa Brimble
You’ve both travelled to and worked on some stunning locations. What’s the most visually inspiring place you’ve been to either in Australia or overseas?
C: At the moment my favourite place is Tasmania. Something about the air and the landscape there – it’s got a magnetic pull on me. Overseas my favourite place would have to be the Basque region of Spain. The food. The people. The scenery. It’s like I become completely brainless by all the beauty and flavor.
L: Definitely Tasmania! I think I’ve been to Tasmania more than any other states in Australia. Most recently Satellite Island – just a breathtaking location, in- doors and outdoors. Overseas it has to be New York and I was lucky enough to experience it shooting for Hetty McKinnon’s new cookbook Neighbourhood.
Is there a kind of project you guys haven’t done yet that you would really love to do?
L: Hmmm...the current dream project for me would be to create a cookbook with a lifestyle and travel aspect and working with my favourite team. It doesn’t matter where it is as long as the team is intact.
C: There are a few ideas in the dream calendar! Anything that involves travelling – it’s so good to get out and see new things, learn and chat to people, and to give your eyeballs new things to look at.
Finally, what advice do you wish you guys could give to your 20-year-old self?
C: Take your ideas seriously, bite off a little bit more than you can chew, and be proud of yourself.
L: Never worry about money. You can always find it even if it means you have to clean houses for a living to get back on your feet. There are always opportunities and excuses are for the weak!