Nancy Lisa Barrett In Focus with Alf Myers

About 7 years ago I moved to Preston, Lancashire and in doing so I needed to build a new social circle that was local to the city. Photography was my key to that circle and with a photo walk or two under my belt, it began to grow. It was during one of those walks that I met Nancy Lisa Barrett (now Phillips.) Since then I have got to know her and know her work. I've even had the pleasure of working alongside her from time to time.

As Nancy continues to grow her business and brand you'll find her images of people, weddings and places appearing in many magazines. As you'll quickly come to discover, Nancy's precious way of looking at life is, in my view, rather unique.

AM : Evening Nancy, and thanks for joining me for a chat about your photography. I think it is fair to say that it has changed over the years that I've known you. If I recall correctly, we first met on a Lancashire Flickr group photo walk where we did some Urbex at an old abandoned power station, back in 2012. From there we crossed paths a few times before you introduced me, or should I say convinced me, to visit Preston Photographic Society.

Since then your life has changed dramatically and during this time you've explored many a genre of photography: portrait; studio work; wildlife; landscapes, and product photography to name but a few. However, it is your wedding photography that I think you're most well known for. Your images, which have appeared in many a magazine, bring a timeless and endearing quality the them. Your clients must get very emotional when they view your work.

Looking back to those early days to where you are now, can you tells us about how your photography has changed and what brought you into the world of wedding photography, which I'm sure the very idea off fills most photographers with fear?

NB : Hi Alf, and thank you for selecting me for your 7 questions….you swine…haha

I’m not going to bore everybody stupid. I started photography because it was my ‘escape’ for a long time. A lot of peeps who know me will understand that expression which will sum up many years of, let's just say, 'taxing times’. And there it is, no more, no less. I haven’t loved photography from a young age. I was too busy grooving to jazz, jazz funk, disco and house music…that was my ‘photography’! I loved art, design, textures, theatre, cinematography…and in loving these things, it has impacted my photography in later years.

I remember joining the Flickr group and meeting yourself, Paul, Gilly and Foxy and going on outings. I loved ‘street photography’ before it became cool to love it, haha. It was the cheapest photography, along with close-up photography because I had the cheapest kit. It is what it is. Make the best and try and be the best…but be humble. I came to adore photography, not just love it. It was a part of my soul, a part of me and it took over my life, in a good way.

To this day, some of the best photography I did will be the photography I did to document the ‘dementia plateaus’…it was the most stressful time of my life and also the most creative. It was like being in the twilight zone of Louis Wain and Annie Leibovitz. I’ve always had a vivid imagination (years of reading books and not watching telly). I think it moulded me, but at the time I couldn’t see that. The photos I did back then are about to be used in a project soon, so watch this space…

Photographing Mum's Dementia

In the next few years, I joined college and did photography (did it help me…no…it was a bums on seats exercise, sorry). I joined the PPS (did it help me…yes and no, I enjoyed my time there and the good peeps there gave me good advice on the photo walks which I’ve carried on to this day). I learnt nearly everything from YouTube and smashing photographers/friends sites. I started to go my own way and always wanted to be different (not always correct though, haha). I see things very differently than a lot of people and I remember watching a movie about Temple Grandin and how she saw in pictures what people spoke about and this is exactly how I saw the world. I didn’t feel different anymore, there were more people like me, woo-woo!!

Wildlife photography was my hobby. I was rubbish, I still am, haha…but I adore it. I enjoy the ‘not knowing what’s going to happen next’ feeling to it. I love how you’ve got to be quick…and I mean super quick to catch the birdies/wildlife. I learnt to be quiet and get closer..... because I had crap equipment, it was the pits, ha ha.

I remember one day Brian Sandham asking if I could second-shoot for him for a wedding. I said yes, must have been mad, ha ha! Anyhow, to cut a long story short, I loved it. It would seem, keeping quiet and getting closer helped in wedding photography too. Catching small children doing funny things was the same as split-second small bird flying timing. These two opposite ends of the scale photography things were the same, and I loved it. I loved the scary buzz it gave me and still do to this day. You only get one chance to get it right…so no pressure then. Brian taught me a lot. Down to earth, funny and a wealth of info and not too up his own to freely give away info.

I’m not going to dwell on the next bit but I got pretty ill for a few years and as I was recovering, I took steps to start my own wedding photography business. It was a long hard process (the illness and the startup) but you've got to keep on keeping on if you want to be successful. I met my husband Andy (another photographer who is awesome in every way) and we furthered the business plan. A humbling moment for me was when I thought I had completed my website and I thought it was super duper fantastic. He got 12 strangers (not friends, colleagues or work-mates, but complete strangers) to review my website…they absolutely slated it!!! I was gutted, angry…but the most important thing…..I learnt from this. I’ve taken that feeling I felt into my photography life, as of now. It will never leave me and it will always keep me on my toes, forever.

Self Portrait - Cancer

Fast forward some years. I’ve got many weddings underneath my belt now, many portraiture assignments and a jolly lot of commercial work. It’s taken a lot of hard work!!! I don’t just do this to make a quick buck. I do it because I absolutely thrive off this industry. Times can be tough but they are never boring. I love the creative process, love meeting new peeps and planning a photo session and coming up with ideas that are personal to the people I am working with. My work process is to give something ’soul’ to give it ‘depth’…to give it feeling. It’s not just about taking pictures, it’s about crafting beautiful memories.

I’ve been in a few magazines over the past couple of months and I’m about to be in another one - all shall be revealed. I’m also about to shoot a front cover of another magazine, exciting times ahead. I do a lot of prep work with my photography assignments and I don’t do that many over the course of a year. We (Andy and I) try to put quality over quantity every single time.

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this little insight into how I tick/have ticked/and am ticking into the future. If I could give any advice to photographers just starting up, it would be this:

Be humble…always


Stop…and smell the roses.

AM : I've watched you during this time and seen the impact on not only you but your photography too. However, there is one thing that I don't really think you highlighted here, maybe because others see it more than you, and that is your enduring spirit. Your positivity and energy has been, and continues to be, a light in the deepest of dark.

You covered many a topic too. From the ways of learning about photography you've tried, to the people who have made an impact on your life, past and present. You mention that a movie about Temple Grandin helped you to be......well, you. Allowing you to accept the way that you see the world, you've now turned this into a talent in the way that you express the world through your photography.

It was Brian who first opened the door to you for wedding photography and now Andy, who tends to be your second shooter. I may have to chat to him sometime and learn his story too as he is a talented landscape photographer. Anyway, back to you and I'm going to pick up on a point you made towards the end. That bit about what you do is to bring "soul" and "depth" to your images.

For me this is the key to a lasting image and to do it means that you have to invest a part of yourself in the process of making the photograph.

Are you able to describe how you go about doing this? What is it that you're looking for or which triggers the idea of the image and then how do you develop the idea? Is it instinctive or planned?

NB : A good friend of mine said to me the other day about the amount of prep work I do for each photography shoot and she said she didn’t know of another who did that much. Personally, I don’t believe for a moment that I’m the only one who does my ‘homework’ though. I’ve got wedding, portraiture and commercial clients and each have their own quirks, ideas and stories to tell ( i especially like this bit). I think in order to capture a person/persons well, you have to know stuff about them, personal things which when they talk about them, their eyes light up, they have passion, they have emotion. I try to capture that by putting a spin on it creatively.

For example, I’ve just done a big commercial shoot. The brief was ‘quirky in the care industry environment’ To me, these subjects jarred, they didn’t sit well, so I asked for more info. The client then told me about some personal stories of their clients, about how they lived, comical escapades they had come across and unusual occurrences. As soon as I had this information, not only could I picture the scenarios but I could design a ‘mind map’ on my laptop and then send my collective ideas to the client explaining how I would photograph her clients. The point is, I needed the personal insights. If I had not pushed for info and she’d not helped me with these stories, my photos would had been soulless, with no ideas and no feelings either way.

Another example was a maternity shoot where the mum-to-be had very sadly suffered miscarriages before. I drew some ideas for her which incorporated flowing rainbow material because this was an important point symbolising her lost little ones - hence the term, Rainbow Baby. The mum-to-be has also paid in advance for a baby shoot and a one year old shoot with the rainbow theme all the way through it. I felt this shoot was quite beautiful but poignant, mum had a very good look to her. I couldn’t quite put my finger on the words and I remember saying on that day, the words ‘a regal sadness’…

The last example is a pretty straightforward one…wedding clients love Queen…we are doing a Waynes World Bohemian Rhapsody shoot on their wedding day…that’s alls I can say for the mo. It was the first thing that came into my head and this is where Temple Grandin (mentioned in previous question/answer) comes in. I could picture the wedding photo for them as soon as they said Queen, I described in detail to them what we could do…they are well up for it, ha ha!!!!

The point is this, I couldn’t do the above without prior knowledge, prep work and general nosey-parker-ness, ha ha.

So…what happens when I have to ‘wing it’ - and I have done so on many occasions. One of the most memorable occasions is when all my flash power failed putting paid to the really cool ideas I had using OCF (Off Camera Flash). I went back to natural light and a reflector and just used years of experience and set up other shots which I’d used many times before. The thing was to keep calm, keep smiling and seriously, don’t sweat the small stuff. It also helped that I have a decent camera which handles ISO very well, ha ha.

On another note, if I’m doing my hobby photography like wildlife or street photography, it’s so random and so not planned. I also don’t shoot that many photos, surprisingly. The trip to London the other week I shot about 50. Before I go out, I pretend I’ve got 2 Kodak 24 films so I have to seriously pick my shot. It makes me more discerning and makes nearly every shot bob-on. I get a right kick out of that. I just feel that’s experience and confidence (not big-headed-ness, there’s a difference) though.

To sum up:

  1. I think if you’re being paid for a job, there has got to be a certain amount of planning.
  2. When it all goes ’t*ts up…be prepared to wing it and at least look like you know what you’re doing
  3. If it’s chilled out photography, take one lens, slow down and make the photos count.

AM : Thanks Nancy, you go into a lot of detail there and the examples really support your point of how by getting to understand your clients you can then go on to develop the ideas, and therefore shoot.

However the process doesn't stop there. You have that early stage; the 'requirements gathering' so to speak. Then your ideas and planning phase, with maybe further consultation with your clients. Then the actual shoot be it a wedding, portrait or something more commercial. Then for me an very important part - post processing.

So this question is almost in two phases. First, on the day of the actual shoot and with people, how do you help to get your subjects at ease and relaxed, to produce such wonderful images?

Secondly, what's your post processing regime and do you have preferences for software packages?

NB : I’ve got to know my clients so well beforehand that I’m like an old trusty friend that they can feel very comfortable with at all times. Some of these people are telling me beautiful secrets about their wedding day that nobody else knows about. This is down to detailed planning and the biggie - trust. They must trust me to get on with it; trust me to be alert at all times; trust me to blend into the background etc. When I usually get to my client on their big day, whatever the celebration/event, I know enough to keep everything flowing, ask the right questions, move to the right area…have the biggest sense of humour ever, but then, know when to be serious and problem solve!

There is another reason for this which nobody has ever picked up upon…..I’m profoundly deaf. "So what?", you may ask. My hearing aids failed big time once for a wedding, no amount of fixing helped. I knew I could do everything in a silent world just with hand signals…..and believe me, that takes some doing. All my clients know about me being 'Mutt and Jeff', ha ha, and it’s never been a problem, you’ve just got to get on with it…end of!!!

Post processing? What’s that? Ha ha…

To tell you the truth, I do very little. I try to get it correct in camera. I don’t take thousands of photos any more, I make them count. The only reason for this is that I don’t want to spend days editing. Without going into too much detail I usually come back from a wedding and back the photos up in 3 different places and then I do a final copy and a neighbour gets it (just in case my house burns down, lol). I’m a bit old-school, I don’t do any cloud stuff…don’t trust it, and that’s that, ha ha.

I usually just go through my photos and the ones that make me stop and go “wow”, I give 5 stars. If I end up with 300 after that I then give 4 stars to the next and get rid (from Lightroom only) of all the rest. There will be a few that I will make an extra special effort with. I use Lightroom because of the batch-editing, Photo-shop because it rocks, Nik Software because the mono is kick-ass and Rad Lab because it’s a little bit modern and quirky. I always think less is more and one of our mottos is KISS (keep it simple, stupid) ha ha.

There is no big formula for what we do, there is no set pattern…every client, every scenario is different. Some days we feel like graceful swans with panicky legs underwater - whilst juggling soot…and we wouldn’t change it for the world.

We feel ‘alive’…x

AM : I'm with you there on Lightroom, such a powerful tool. You can do so much with it, and supported by SilverFx, to give a little extra punch to your mono work, only when needed. I really like your method of editing your images. Fives and fours stay, all the rest go. Brutal but very much necessary.

And Photoshop - such a powerful tool, but 80% of it is wasted on most photographers and, as with all of the tools, moderation is the key when it comes to processing.

Right, the next question I guess. Lets stay with more of the technical side of photography, since we're in that area, and touch on equipment. I know in the past year or so, you've refreshed your gear. Want to tell us what is currently your go-to bag at the moment? Camera, lens, flash?

Also, what would be your dream kit? Or does it not matter?

NB : Oooooo technical….how very dare you, Alf, ha ha

But seriously…

I had dire equipment for many years so I learned how to zoom with my feet. I learned how to wait for the right light. or put people in the right light. I didn’t have a flash for a long time and used reflectors (badly at first but super duper much better as the years went by, ha ha) I had a Canon 100d for a long time and a 50mm lens and that was it. Whilst everybody else was upgrading I was stuck in the early 90s, ha ha. I had 2 choices: get bitter or get selling on eBay anything I could lay my hands on…I chose the latter.

The best camera is truly the one you have got in your hands at any given moment. A friend of mine is stuck in this thing where you have to be in manual all the time….f***k that…if Stevie Wonder was driving by me right now I’d stick it in P-mode and sell it to the papers….better to have the shot than still be stood there trying to figure your settings out haha. Sometimes I see forums with peeps asking, what setting did you use, what lens, what camera…..just get out there and practice and use youtube - it’s free and better than any college. Also, buy a cheap camera and learn how to use it ‘properly’. Get a mentor, get critique off peeps who don’t know ya and couldn’t give a flying tata about ya. Don’t be influenced by your friends' comments - you’re ace, you’re the best…and if you have a friend who puts 'your instead of you’re (delete ‘em lol)!!!!

As it is, I have a Nikon 750 only because Andy (my fantastic hubby) got it for me and then that means I get to use all his Nikon lenses lol! Which camera brand do I think is best…they’re all the same…a photo is made a couple of cms behind the eyepiece. I love my 750, it’s enough for me…at the moment…but I’m seriously thinking about a lighter kit and looking around at what I can sell haha….to fund it. The new Fuji for weddings…and I’ve got my eye on some other things. The DSLRs are heavy, my arm hurts carrying it all. I need a lighter kit!

Flash….aahhh ahhhhhhh…

We’ve got …i’m going to spell it how I pronounce it…yongynunus, hahahahaha….and that’s what they’ll always be called. We’ve got one of those and Nikon speed lites. It would seem that we have the basic stuff compared to a lot of 'togs, but it’s what we do with our basic system. Our specialty is creative things but at the same time KISS - keep it simple, stupid. Peeps go way too much in depth with stuff…seriously, get a life

You asked about lenses…I have 2 “go-to’ lenses, 35mm and 85mm….hardly ever use zoom lenses now. I can cover a whole wedding with those 2 lenses…love ‘em!!!!! There is something absolutely exquisite about the both of them. Dream kit? Andy has the Nikon 850, fabulous camera, probably one of the best out there but to this day I think the photographer “touches the head, eye, heart, hands’ is the dream kit…in my terribly honest, humble opinion.

AM : The wonderful Yongnuo - for the price you can't knock them at all. I think mine breed, they keep popping up every now and then. As you say, from a flash point of view you are keeping it simple, but simple generally gets results especially if you're under time pressure, and not to mention keeping away from the bar.

You pick up on two points I generally like to make too and I must admit I'm not overly good at following my own advice.

Firstly don't buy the latest shiny gear - use what you have and get to know it. The new gear won't make for a better photographer - in fact it is likely to knock your confidence as the results won't live up to they hype (well except for this Sony A7 Mk III which is just brill but don't take it out in the rain.)

Secondly - YOUTUBE is your friend! Use it and abuse it. If you have a question there will be someone out there giving you advice on it.

Anyway, I drift. I heard a few of the stories you've had on wedding shoots and doing landscapes. Of some stunning venues with equally stunning brides and the bleak beauty that one finds on the Scottish islands. Letting your mind wander, where would your dream wedding location be and if there was one person who could be there to help, who would it be? Now I know you already have him there but other than Andy, who it would be?

NB : Ok…I couldn’t stick to one place and one person, so did a 2 & 2 haha, but at least this one is a quick answer, Alf, haha…

Dream Wedding Locations:

The Cuillins on Skye viewed from Ord...it’s like an undiscovered little world, there is something very mystical about it. I’m surprised filmmakers haven’t discovered it, but glad they haven’t at the same time…haha.

Forest of Bowland because it’s a Dark Sky area and it would be wonderful to capture all the stars too…hopefully soon

Dream Photographers:

Richard Hardwick (who is a personal friend) one of the best B&W peeps I know and I adore how he does his own thing…less is definitely more!!!

Steven “I don't do wedding photography, I just photograph weddings.” Rooney. I came across him a while back on a Fearless Photography site. I think he’s ace and his imagery is right up my street, plus he’s from around these parts

Where weddings are concerned, I always think that there should be a lot of KISS (keep it simple, stupid)…

AM : You do have a thing for the highlands. It appears that any chance you get you appear to be there or thereabouts.

You mention Richard Hardwick and Stephen Rooney there. They obviously have an impact on you, as well as a few others, as we've talked, but Nancy, which photographers out there inspire you to go out and make images or that you enjoy looking at time and time again?

What is it about them and their images?

NB : Well…. Cecil Beaton, Robert Doisneau & Robert McCullin are the photographers whose photography I like the most…but,

I’m not inspired by anyone photographically…..there, I said it, haha…

My influences are music, cinematography, fashion, architecture, magazine covers like Harper's Bazaar and Vanity Fair, vintage postcards, art, my past, my future, history, TV adverts, in fact, anything that is not photography based.

I feel if I look at any one photographer long enough I will end up a clone of them. I’m not saying there are photographers out there who are not inspiring, there are shed loads…it’s just not my bag.

For example, I adore the Art Deco period and sometimes I see styles, fashions, films that I will translate into a photograph. Sometimes it's a two-second random clip in an advert that can hook me in and I'll find a way of translating that into a photo.

I’ve always said that you’ve got to ‘feel’ photography, I don’t want to copy somebody. Anybody can do that. I feel that to be unique, you've got to approach your photography in a different way. Is unique the way forward? Haha...I don't know...I just find it hits the spot, pushes the buttons, ticks the boxes and keeps me hooked to this painting with light business...

AM : Thanks Nancy, that is cool answer. So, so many times I've clutched at straws to answer that same question. Have I been influenced? Yes! Am I in awe of some photographers' images? Yes! Can I say who they are? Not really.

So a big thank you for making me not feel as weird in that respect.

An now to my favourite question, if you could travel back in time to that moment when you first said, "Yes, I want to be a photographer...", what would be the one thing you would think would be the most valuable lesson to have been given then and there?

NB : Don't be scared:

  • to ask people to move...politely...
  • to pose someone different to the norm...
  • to stop to move to a different angle...
  • to halt a groom walking down an aisle because his flies are undone...
  • to take chances...
  • to admit you're wrong...
  • to practice practice practice and make loads of mistakes...
  • to wing it...
  • to ask for more money...
  • to ask for help from unlikely sources...
  • to hold your own...even when the sh*t has kicked off big time, haha

...and lastly and most importantly...

  • to be humble. You are not the bees knees and you have peeps biting your ankles for the top spot. Be humble, always....

Always x

AM : Good parting words there, Nancy. If you don't mind, I'll be printing them out and posting them on my wall. I really like the, 'to ask for more money', something a lot of really good photographers find difficult.

It has been good talking to you, as always. I'm looking forward to seeing how your work continues to progress and develop.

If you want to see more of Nancy's work you can find it here -

Maria Hampton - "I absolutely loved reading this Alf."
Lorna McInulty - "Even tho I am not on the photography world, I find them enthralling."
Andy Marland - "I enjoyed that! I sometimes find it hard to talk about myself in interviews, even though I’m the subject I know best of all!"
Paul Rushton - "What an inspiring interview and story."
Bernie Keenan - "I enjoyed reading it."
Created By
Alf Myers


An In Focus with wedding photographer Nancy Barrett

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