After a decade in New York shooting portraits of the very rich and uber famous, Lisa Carpenter returned home to Sutton Coldfield to make happy couples the star of the show as one of the UK’s top wedding photographers. Amy Norbury discovers more
High among the rooftops of New York city, Lisa Carpenter perched, camera in hand. In front of her, magician David Blaine balanced precariously on a slender railing with nothing but air between him and the frenetic streets below.
Snapping away as quickly as she could manage, Lisa was torn between the desire to capture the perfect shot and the deathly fear of seeing her subject slip and plunge to his doom.
“I was absolutely terrified for him,” laughs Lisa when we catch up over coffee and bacon butties in her Sutton Coldfield local.
“We were up on his rooftop and he kept saying ‘have you got it yet, have you got it yet’ and I was just thinking ‘God, I hope so!’ Then he took us off for the day, just driving around to capture a day in the life of David Blaine.
“I loved shooting him; he’d just come off that Eamonn Holmes interview where he refused to talk and then showed the eye he’d drawn on his palm, so I was a bit worried about it. But he was so lovely.”
Death-defying stunts aside, of course.
Today, life for Lisa is a far cry from the movie-set glamour of Manhattan. After a decade working as a photojournalist in the States, shooting A-list superstars, musicians and politicians for magazines and newspapers all over the world, Lisa now counts herself among the most sought-after wedding photographers in the country.
As the go-to girl for cool weddings around the Midlands and beyond, Lisa spends her days capturing those magic moments which make every big day that little bit extraordinary.
“I would always get starstruck by famous people, and I would have hated to have got to the point where I didn’t, where it was just a run-of-the-mill thing,” says Lisa. “And I get like that with weddings now. I still get really nervous in the run-up to a wedding, and I’m nervous because I want to do a really good job.
“And you don’t get a second chance with weddings; it’s a hell of a lot of responsibility to photograph someone’s wedding. But then I wake up on the day and I’m a sea of calm, and I love being that calm among all the mayhem.
“As a wedding photographer, you’re not just doing photos; I’ve stuck false eyelashes back on, I’ve danced with the flower girls, I’ve cleared the dance floor for the first dance, picked up drunken grannies! You get stuck in wherever you’re needed and become a part of the day.”
A career in newspaper photography began at home in Sutton Coldfield on the local papers, before Lisa jetted off to the States for the adventure of a lifetime.
“It was a really interesting time,” she says with a smile. “It was different people every week; normally you get pigeonholed as a music photographer or a political photographer but I was lucky enough to do a bit of everything.
“I did photograph the politicians; I did Hillary Clinton and Al Gore, and, of course Donald Trump. I don’t even think of him as photographing the President; when I photographed him he was the guy on The Apprentice! It was only about a month after he came into office that I thought ‘wow, I’ve photographed the President’.”
While Lisa has taken shots of some of the most beautiful people in the world, including Nicole Kidman and Isabella Rossellini, as well as Javier Bardem and Heath Ledger before his untimely death – “Heath Ledger was such a lovely guy; it was just after he’d had his daughter Matilda and he was amazing,” – there is one famous face which stands head and shoulders above the rest.
“It has to be Sharon Stone,” she says. “I remember photographing her at an event and I think I managed to take one photo and then just looked at her! She is stunning; she has this amazing glow about her and I’d love to photograph her again properly.”
Rapper Ice T proved to be a particularly interesting shoot.
“I sat in his apartment and his wife Coco was a sight to behold – she’s all boobs and bum and you just couldn’t take your eyes off her! – and throughout the interview she just sat there casually scratching his back, because he needed his back scratching,” laughs Lisa.
“He had these guys with him who were part of a band he was putting together and whatever he said, whether it was funny or not, they would laugh, and they would say ‘yes’ to everything.
“And he was wearing this huge, blingy dollar-sign jewellery and telling us that actually he’d got it from Canal Street for about five dollars. But nobody’s going to think Ice T is wearing knock-off jewellery!”
Capturing musical icons was all in a day’s work for Lisa, who counts New York hotshots The Strokes, cool kids The Bravery and CSS, and an up-and-coming Franz Ferdinand, not to mention big names like Jon Bon Jovi, among her subjects. But it was a rock ‘n’ roll legend who really made a big impression – none other than Guns ‘n’ Roses superstar Slash.
“He was one of my favourite music stars to do, because he’s Slash,” says Lisa. “I was terrified to meet him and thought he was going to be a scary, intimidating character but my god, he was the nicest guy I think I’ve ever photographed.
“It was such a relief to see that he was just a normal guy who happens to be a really, really good musician.”
Lisa photographed the Guns ‘n’ Roses star during a show with his band Velvet Revolver in Atlantic City.
“The band were late going on stage and the crowd were throwing bottles, I was at the side of the stage waiting for them, standing next to the road manager and hiding behind amps,” she says.
“Then midway through the concert Slash came over and actually played his guitar for me to take photos; I think I managed about four shots before just hiding behind my camera going ‘oh my god, oh my god!’”
After a decade of bright lights and big city living Lisa and husband Jason – a Glaswegian journalist Lisa met during her first week in New York when the couple were hired by a newspaper for a story on “some bad guys” – decided it was time for a quieter pace of life.
“We wanted to move away from New York to start a family, the newspaper business was changing and, although I was riding a bit of a career high, I knew it wouldn’t last,” Lisa explains.
At the time, Lisa was The Guardian’s go-to girl on the East Coast, work which she found immensely satisfying and which she continued after she landed on these shores – until the lure of wedding bells came a-calling.
“I dipped my toe in the wedding world in New York, but not with any serious desires to be a wedding photographer. Then I got asked to shoot a wedding and thought I’d give it a go,” Lisa says.
“I remember standing at my first wedding, with so much going on all around me, and just deciding to shoot everything.”
It was this snap decision which helped to shape Lisa’s signature documentary style, and her taste of the rock ‘n’ roll, A-list lifestyle still plays an influence in her work today. Lisa’s background means her photography is slightly edgier than the norm, and she loves all things quirky when it comes to weddings.
“New York seems like such a long time ago, but when it’s part of your story it’s always there, and it definitely influences my wedding work,” she explains.
“I tend to attract people who want something a little bit different from the norm.”
But, says Lisa, the most important thing is having a connection with each of the couples whose days she gets to document.
“I do engagement shoots a lot of the time so I can get to know my couples beforehand, which is as much for me as it is for them,” she explains. “The bride and groom are going to be spending one of the most important days of their lives with me, so it’s important that they’re comfortable with me.
“Maybe the one thing they all my couples have in common is that they’re relaxed, no matter what their style of wedding is; I tend to get couples who want their day to be relaxed, a good party and a good old knees-up with all their mates. Weddings are such happy occasions and I just love seeing people laughing and having a good time.
“I get a lot of people coming up to me at weddings saying that I’m the smiliest photographer they’ve ever met and that’s really nice.
“And I’ve had circles of friends who have passed me around as their wedding photographer, which is amazing. It’s so lovely when you connect with a couple and build a relationship with them so they recommend you to their friends and then have you to do their newborn shoot when they start their families.”
After five years of shooting weddings full-time, Lisa has earned an enviable reputation. And she has the awards to prove it.
“I don’t enter many awards but the Fearless Awards are a bit different,” she explains.
Based in America, the Fearless community brings together the most creative and exciting wedding photographers from around the world. Every two months, a new collection of around 150 Fearless Award-winning photographs is chosen and, with around 10,000 submissions each time, earning the Fearless accolade is no mean feat.
Lisa is the UK’s top female Fearless photographer, with an impressive five Fearless Awards to her name.
“When I got my first one, I’d said at the start of that year that my main ambition was to win a Fearless Award. But I was slightly surprised that the first one I won was for a picture of shoes, with no bride in it!”
As well as weddings, Lisa’s specialises in portrait shoots capturing happy families and new parents with their little bundles of joy. It makes a change from portraits of Trump, Slash, Kidman et al. But Lisa couldn’t be happier.
“When I was working for newspapers I never thought I’d be photographing weddings,” she admits. “But now, some of the best photographers I know of any genre are wedding photographers. The work that people produce is amazing.
“We get to be so creative now, it’s not just people standing in a line. I love the documentary side of things, and being able to record the day for my couples.
“A 12-hour day is full of so many variables. There’s never a wedding where something doesn’t go wrong, whether it’s the ring not going on the finger, screaming flower girls going the wrong way or doggy ring bearers not doing as they’re told, but those are some of my favourite parts. They definitely make for some great photos.”
For more details of Lisa’s work, or to find out how to book a wedding or portrait shoot, visit www.lisacarpenterphotos.com