INTERVIEW // HELENA AND LAURENT
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
This week we have Bay area wedding photographers, Helena and Laurent join us in our ARC interview series. Soon to be parents, Helena and Laurent tell us of the importance of keeping their relationship a priority and they dive into their photography style, sharing insights into their creative processes.
Both are very technical, expanding now into mentoring sessions and helping photographers with their website management and SEO, yet on wedding days they aim to remain child-like, enjoying the day, improvising, and keeping things fun. We love how humble and honest Helena and Laurent are and we hope you enjoy this interview!
Finally, we’re now less than 2 months away from The Experience // ARC over in Vancouver – Fine Art, Street, Commercial + Fashion alongside Wedding and Portrait photographers will touch down this October.. So if you’re interested in grabbing a ticket and joining 150 other photographers and creatives, check out the details below.
Interview by Sachin Khona // August 2016
PHOTOGRAPHY WORK & PRACTICES
HEY HELENA AND LAURENT! WHEN DID YOU BOTH KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE PHOTOGRAPHERs?
The moment we shot our first wedding we knew we wanted to be photographers. We both came from creative backgrounds, with educations in art, design, and film photography but we had never really considered it as a career until a friend asked us to shoot her wedding. The whole experience was exhilarating and when we got home that night we were saying, “Is that really a job we could have? Could we make this our lives?”
We made a website that night.
WHERE IS HOME FOR YOU AND WHERE DO YOU WORK? HAVE YOU ALWAYS LIVED THERE, OR WAS THERE A CONSCIOUS CHOICE TO MOVE THERE?
Home for me (Helena) has always been the Bay Area. I’m a West Coast girl to the core and my family is here, being near them is important to me. Laurent was, for lack of a simple explanation, a nomadic, bohemian, puppeteer/freak-show clown living out of a veggie bus. In his early thirties he felt a strong unexplained urge to move back to the Bay (most likely so he could find me and we could get married). Nothing has been the same since and Laurent frequently says that it was the best choice he ever made.
IN WHAT WAY, IF ANY, DOES YOUR LOCATION INFLUENCE YOUR WORK?
We are lucky to live in a beautiful and extremely diverse part of the world. One day we are shooting on the coast, another it’s a redwood forest, industrial Oakland, or downtown San Francisco. Although we always say that we shoot light more so than location, new and interesting locations definitely helps keep you constantly inspired and challenged.
At the end of the day every wedding, every location, every couple, every sunset is different, and we embrace the chaos.
This job requires improvisation; always responding to the light, the people, and the energy of the day, and we try not to plan too much. It’s not unusual for us to walk into a session with no idea of what’s going to happen. We have to trust our gut, start somewhere, and just know that we will make something beautiful out of it.
DO YOU HAVE A DESIGNATED WORKSPACE OR OFFICE?
Yes. We live in an artist live/work warehouse in Oakland. In our unit we have an office space and a photo studio. Laurent built us two big tables where we each have our computer stations, and we can modify them to be either sitter of standing desks.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST DEFINING MOMENT IN YOUR CAREER? OR
DO YOU FEEL THERE WAS A TURNING POINT, MONUMENTAL TIME, OR SERIES OF EVENTS IN YOUR LIFE THAT YOU WERE FELT AS THOUGH YOU WERE ON THE RIGHT PATH IN REGARDS TO YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY CAREER THAT BROUGHT YOU TO WHERE YOU ARE NOW?
Anytime our work really affects people we feel astonished and think, for a moment, that we might be doing something right. Feedback is admittedly a weird measure of artistic merit, because at the same time we don’t expect people to love our work, but the couple times we’ve had an image or wedding go viral it’s really touched us.
I think as artists we just naturally hope to make work that people respond to and resonate with.
When a photo story we published about the burial of our dog was shared all over the world, and people started mailing us condolence cards, and sharing their own personal stories about pets they had loved and lost, it was incredible, amazing…mind blowing.
You can see the original story here.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR STYLE VIA A SERIES OF 10 PHOTOS THAT YOU FEEL DEFINE THE WORK YOU’VE DONE IN THE LAST YEAR AND WHERE POSSIBLE DESCRIBE WHY EACH ONE WAS INCLUDED?
1. The way subject are framed in that bold green space is almost painterly, The moment feels natural and un-posed (and it was in fact a natural moment). We took an otherwise chaotic space in an old army bunker and framed them in such a way that the subject felt peaceful, as if the green went on forever.
2. This image is the start of story. We love it when we can capture that feeling of the unknown adventure and the beginning of something great.
3. The dark and moody colors, the natural pose, the compositional balance between the subject and the shipwrecked boat, and the couple framed by the mountains in the background, it all came together in this one. This is how we like to describe romance, it feels honest.
4. Hard to believe that this is even a real moment. After the ceremony, with the bridal party surrounding them, the flower girl needed a big hug from the bride.
This probably only lasted a couple seconds but it feels like a hug that goes on forever.
5. A friend of the bride assembled the props, which are in fact giant cardboard flowers. The dress and suit were actually made by the bride, and friends arranged the Flowers. The combination of this magical creative community, and the beauty of this particular moment made it all come together. I especially love images like this that just make you wonder what was really going on.
6. This moment came out of the chaos, and there was no plan beforehand. It was the last location during our shoot, the couple said “it’s like American gothic” and I ran into the barn and grabbed some gardening tools. We took the shot and that was that.
7. We love it when an image reads like a painting.
We were given access to a vintage aquatic plane at the reception venue, the Oakland Aviation Museum. We asked the couple to have a seat and the setting sun cast a beautiful orange light through the window. We just let them enjoy the moment of peace together and took the photos without any posing or suggestion, and this is what happened.
8. There’s something about creating a clean, bold, symmetric, simple image out of the chaos that is the real world. We love working with interesting architectural spaces and integrating figures into them.
9. I don’t think we could do the work we do without wildly creative couples like this one. Mathilda in Big Sur, with her green wedding cape that she made, reminds us that wedding photography is a 100% a collaboration.
10. This image kind of says it all and doesn’t need explanation.
WHAT INSPIRES AND MOTIVATES YOU TO CREATE?
Really just the act of shooting inspires us. Sometimes in the middle of the season we feel burnt out and driving to a wedding can be hard, but once we’re there we start to get excited, and we notice beautiful moments and beautiful light. Soon we are running around excited like little kids and super inspired. Loving our clients helps a lot too. We work with the best couples!
Travel, adventure, good food, smooth whiskey, new friends, beautiful sunsets … all those things feed us and inspire art.
DO YOU HAVE ANY CREATIVE TRAINING OUTSIDE OF YOUR WORK?
Personal projects. Whenever possible we try to travel. Documenting stories is what drives us. And then we each have a list of personal projects we want to tackle. It’s great getting your brain to think about photography outside of weddings. Anytime you shoot something different it exercises your brain and give you more to work with next time you shoot a couple. Also, it’s important to relax your brain and get it to slow down.
Meditation is amazing, or hikes where you try to observe and not think too much. It quiets your brain so you can hear your subconscious creativity, which is often more brilliant than anything you can think of when you’re trying really hard to be brilliant.
WHEN YOU GET STUCK CREATIVELY, WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU DO TO GET UNSTUCK?
It’s important to play around on your own. Sometimes it’s just experimenting with a new photography technique, like trying different lights, or smoke bombs, or free lensing. Or find a new subject that inspires you and that you feel comfortable experimenting with (could be a friend, a model, a landscape, street photography). Anything you can think of that gets you excited you should do it. That’s inspiration. Get excited about something, then do it! Play. Most of the photos may suck but there will be at least one photo you are proud of, and it’s how you get to the next place.
Then sometimes I think you just need to wait. I’m not sure it’s even possible to feel inspired all the time, but it comes back. Sometimes you have to just chill out and keep on trekking until you find your flow again. Most of all, try not to stress the down times and use that time to clear your head and relax your brain. Get out of the house, have fun, hike or try meditating.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN A PIECE OF YOUR WORK IS FINISHED AND NEEDS NO ADDITIONAL WORK?
That’s a hard one. I don’t think I really know if something’s finished until years later. If I look at an old photo and I don’t want to completely re-edit it, then its done!
On that same note, it’s hard to you know when to stop shooting in general. Sometimes we overshoot and sometimes we don’t shoot enough because it’s just hard to know when you’ve got it. And during portraits you are limited by how long the couple can stay focused, and enjoy themselves. At some point the moment is just over and you have to move on.
Often we overshoot, and then when we are culling we see we nailed it in the first shot! There’s no way to tell really, its kind of a feeling and takes time to figure out. But slow down, think about your setting, check your focus, and try to be ready as soon as you put the couple into position. Right at the beginning is often when they are most natural!
ARE THERE ANY KEY LESSONS IN YOUR CAREER THAT YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE? OR BEST PIECE OF CAREER ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
Biggest and best advice we can give is don’t compare yourself to others. These days it feels like everyone is just overly obsessed with presentation and looking good on social networks. Accept your own path and live a life that you love, do things that make you happy, be the best version of you, all that inspiring motivational poster language has a lot of merit.
DESCRIBE A PHOTOGRAPH BURNED IN YOUR MEMORY THAT YOU NEVER TOOK BUT WISH YOU HAD.
This just happened at the last wedding we shot. The isle was lined with these candles and right after the procession mom sat down in her seat and her dress started to catch on fire. It wasn’t serious but both of us dropped our cameras and ran in to try to help. Later we talked about this interesting ethical question that photojournalists deal with a lot more than we do in the wedding world: when do you take the photo and when do you help out?
Considering that she wasn’t in danger and they controlled the flames quickly, we both wish we had tried to get the shot.
CAN YOU SHARE ONE CREATIVE TIP THAT YOU USE WHEN YOU ARE WORKING?
Have fun! Don’t take your work too seriously. Getting anxious or stressed really taxes your creativity. You simply can’t do your best work if you are stressed out. A peer and Friend, Jonas Seamen, told us recently that he goes into weddings with the idea that he’s going to see it like a kid would see it. We couldn’t say it better, so we just paraphrase him now. And it makes perfect sense, what’s the point of doing this if you’re not enjoying it.
We’re both pretty technical people so we constantly work on shooting with more freedom, more like a child. Being too serious is never fun!
WHAT ARE THE THREE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS IN YOUR LIFE?
1. Happiness! What’s the point of this life if you’re not enjoying yourself? Don’t put being the best at one thing over living a balanced life, spending time with friends, travel, and making time for personal projects. This also includes being good to yourself and to other people.
2. Our relationship.
We have to remind ourselves of this all the time because running a business together is hard to can put extra pressure on our relationship. But we both agree, our relationship has to come first. We’ll split up our business before we split with each other.
3. Be Yourself. You’re never going be someone else so you might as well just embrace it, and be the best version of you.
DO YOU WORK IN ANY OTHER FIELDS OF BUSINESS?
We have a Photo Booth we rent out, we rent out our photo studio, and we have started mentoring other photographers. Laurent is a powerhouse when it comes to building websites and SEO, he did it professionally for years and worked for a major biomedical company building their site and working with their marketing team. He will soon be mentoring other photographers in website management and SEO optimization. We’re very excited about it.
CAN YOU SHARE A BIT ABOUT YOUR DAILY SCHEDULE? WHAT WITHIN YOUR WORK DO YOU NOT LIKE TO DO AND WHY?
We’re working on this because we tend to be generally unscheduled. The need for some basic structure was one of our big takeaway lessons last year. Being self-employed it’s just so easy to work all the time. So we’re still working on creating more of a routine. Generally, the mornings are a good time for errands and dog walks, because the streets are empty and traffic is light. That being said everything in our lives will supposedly change in September when our baby is born and our lives are turned upside down :)
WHAT WITHIN YOUR WORK DO YOU NOT LIKE AND WHY? DO YOU ACHIEVE WORK/LIFE BALANCE?
We don’t like sitting at our desks all the time even though that’s most of what this job entails. We use our standing desks to change position so our bodies don’t hurt and we move around every hour because sitting all day is really bad for you! We listen to the radio or podcasts to stay entertained. And we try to work in 3 to 4 hour chunks because any more than that and your productivity can really plummet.
WHAT WILL YOU BE DOING (OR HOPE TO BE DOING) 5/10 YEARS FROM NOW?
Having more fun. The rest seems kind of like details.
THE CORE // FOUNDATION
IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE ASPECT OF OUR SOCIETY THROUGH YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Marriage is hard and sometimes I hope that maybe our photos will inspire a couple to stick it out during one of those rough times when they may be unsure about their relationship and maybe they’ve forgotten what they love about each other. I sometimes fantasize that some day, a couple out there will look back on their wedding photos, and they will feel a little extra push to keep trying.
In general art seems to help people focus and connect with their emotions. Seems like we can use all the help we can get with that. Through our adventure and travel photography we’re able to bring attention and focus to other cultures, other realities, and I think that has a net positive benefit to the world, it helps people get out of their own little world for a second.
If our work could really change something huge in the world, I would opt for a solution to global warming, income inequality, or maybe the end of war. But until then, maybe it saves one marriage, keeps people inspired, and emotionally connected.
ARE THERE ANY MANTRAS THAT YOU LIVE BY?
Deep Breaths! Control of your breath is control of your emotions.
IF YOU ONLY HAD 24 HOURS TO LIVE, HOW WOULD YOU SPEND YOUR DAY?
Geez, these questions are getting really dark. I’d like to think that I would visit all my family members and friends, go on a great walk, take some beautiful photos, and eat a delicious dinner, but I might just end up spending the day crying and drinking (hey you asked).
HAVE YOU EVER DOUBTED YOUR TALENT? IF SO, HOW DID YOU WORK THROUGH YOUR DOUBT?
Every day! Every session! All the time but you just keep going and work on being grateful and positive until you get your mojo back.
IF YOU WERE NO LONGER ABLE TO USE A CAMERA, HOW WOULD YOU EXPRESS YOUR CREATIVITY?
Both of us come from painting backgrounds so that might be what we go back to. Helena hopes to start drawing again someday and Laurent spends at least an hour in the kitchen every day creating delicious edible art.
JOIN US AT THE EXPERIENCE // ARC
Are you a wedding or portrait photographer looking for an edge?
We’ve just raised the bar..
This is NOT your typical photography seminar.
Welcome to The Experience // ARC, a one-of-a-kind event for passionate photographers and creatives.
We’ll have 10 speakers from all over the world joining us over 3 days.
It’s time to find your voice, challenge your perspective, refine your vision and become a better artist and entrepreneur.
You’ll experience expert training, creative challenges, bold new techniques, powerful connections, amazing adventures and have a hell of a good time, all in one of the most breathtaking cities in the world as our backdrop, Vancouver, BC.
Learn more by visiting our new site for The Experience.
QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS WITH HELENA AND LAURENT
Your favourite podcast(s)?
Favourite music // Share a (Spotify) playlist?
Film/Documentary that is a must-watch?
Your favourite book // A book you are currently reading?
A website you regularly follow?
Last place you travelled?
Favourite photographer or photo project outside of your genre?
Do you have a favourite poem or quote?
“I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes. If there is not a new man, how can the new clothes be made to fit?” — Henry David Thoreau
Favourite TED Talk?
“The Surprising Science of Happiness” by Dan Gilbert
Last gallery/exhibit you visited?
Witch-Wife by artists Caledonia Curry (Swoon) and Monica Canilao at Chandran Gallery, San Francisco
Your favourite photography book?
A creative you’d love to see interviewed on ARC?
Links to your personal work/projects?
We’ve been doing a lot of travel photography during our off season. You can check out Indonesia, Vietnam, Paris, and Mexico here: http://www.helenaandlaurent.com/adventure-photography/
Can you share a short assignment / project that has benefited you in the past OR create / describe an assignment that you feel can help those reading this interview?
It’s simple, but take a photo every day.
Try it for a week, a month, a year, whatever works for you.
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR TIME HELENA AND LAURENt!
You can see more of Helena and Laurent’s work here // Web
UP NEXT …
Stay tuned for an interview next week with Seattle Wedding Photographer
and host for The Experience // ARC, James Moes.
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