Lucy Alcorn (@lucy_alcorn) is an Australian fashion, beauty & still life photographer based in Sydney, Australia. We have published her work on numerous occasions and she shot the cover story for this very issue. Having worked for huge international brands and publications, we were eager to talk to her about her work, influences and see what made her the successful photographer she is today. Here's what she had to say...
Solstice: Tell us about your background and early life?
Lucy: I grew up in Newcastle, Australia, as the daughter of an art teacher and a graphic designer - I think I had no option but to be a creative! One of my earliest memories is sitting on my dad’s lap in front of his then cutting edge Apple Macintosh in the 90s, and playing around on what was probably the first edition of Photoshop. I was obsessed with magazines and adored reading through my Aunty’s piles of Cosmo and Vogue. The beauty section was always a favourite and I can really see the impact it had on me now. When it comes to photography, I first picked up a camera documenting a high school project where I created graffiti stencil artwork, and that's when I really started to love the process.
Solstice: How did you get into fashion photography?
Lucy: I moved to Sydney in 2009 to study a Bachelor of Fine Arts at COFA (UNSW), majoring in Photomedia. My studies started with many different disciplines, and I was definitely one of the slowest students in the Photography class, all the other students knew what shutter speeds did and what an f-stop was, I felt totally out of my league. I took a studio lighting elective and started at the same baseline as everyone, and I think that helped me flourish in there. I loved learning about the science of light, and being able to have full control of constructing an image. After Uni I worked in a camera-hire business, and had access to a vast library of photography equipment that I was allowed to play with after hours in their studio. I booked my first job shooting Kaftans around this time, and started the steep and exciting learning curve that was photographing for a living.
Solstice: What is the fashion/beauty industry like in Australia?
Lucy: We’re a surprisingly fashion and beauty obsessed island, and we have tonnes of talented and brilliant creatives in our little patch of the world. Australia still very much takes its cues from the global markets, and we are heavily influenced by North American trends. We’re like the feisty little sister of the family, trying to stand out but still working on carving out our space! I would love to see brands here taking more creative risks and pushing boundaries, making truly original Australian content. I had the best experience recently, working with a beauty brand welcoming the harsh Aussie sun, which was so much fun! I would say the Australian market has been unacceptably slow to embrace diversity, but we are getting there finally which is great to see, and I look forward to us making better progress in this area.
encourage those who are suffering from depression and mental illnesses.
Solstice: What would be your dream job as a photographer? Is there a particular brand/person that you haven’t worked with that you would love to work with in the future?
Lucy: I feel extremely lucky to have had the privilege of rewriting my dream list a few times over, after crossing off shoots for Sephora, Harper's Bazaar and Clinique, and seeing my work on billboards in my city! High-school Lucy could never believe it. I think I will always be satisfied as a photographer, because there will always be something new and interesting to reach for. I would absolutely love to shoot a campaign for Fenty, I just love everything about their playful and inclusive vision, and their brand aesthetic. It’s cliche but of course I would love to shoot for Vogue one day, and would die to shoot with Duckie Thot, Adwoa Aboah or HoYeon Jung! I have folders on my instagram where I save dream models, clients and publications, and I can’t wait to tick more of these off.
Solstice: What are your favourite pieces of photography kit? Have you changed to a mirrorless camera yet?
Lucy: Yes! I was an early adopter of the Canon EOS-R, as my old camera fell apart on me, and I have since moved to the R5 which I am totally obsessed with. The most crucial part of my kit would have to be my Godox AB600 flash heads, there are millions of creative options with them, and I love learning about new approaches to crafting light with them. Until recently I shot almost everything in my portfolio on the Canon 85mm 1.2. She’s heavy, chunky and clunky, but creates some of the most magical images possible. The Canon 24-70 RF is one of the newest pieces in my kit, and has stolen my heart. I was initially taught that you shouldn’t shoot beauty with a wide lens, but I have been having the best time trashing that advice, and shooting dynamic and exciting images at 24mm!
Solstice: As a professional photographer it’s incredibly important to have a presence on Instagram. However, they are now focusing more on video, how does that affect you and your social media strategy?
Lucy: At first I grumbled, but I have been loving creating videos now that I have the hang of it! ANY photographer can jump behind this tried and tested reels formula: a few simple snippets of BTS footage, followed by a few of the final resulting stills. It’s snappy and easy, and the crowd goes wild. I’ve also been enjoying creating beautiful motion, my biggest challenge here has been my great love of shooting with flash, and being forced to learn to shape light with a constant source. It’s made me grow and learn techniques that I apply to normal shoots now too. I think it’s important to remain flexible as a creative, the industry will move ahead with or without us, so I think it’s worth keeping a finger on the pulse and trying to be an early adopter of anything that seems interesting. I’m predicting that 3D/CGI modelling will soon collide with the everyday world of a working photographer, so that’s certainly an area that I want to explore next!
Solstice: What is your advice for an aspiring beauty & fashion photographer?
Lucy: Don’t give up if you really want this. The only way to succeed is to do the work. So just enjoy the journey, set small and large goals and celebrate as you tick them off. You’re probably undercharging. Try doubling your rate on your next enquiry and see what happens. You’ll probably be annoyed at how easy the increase is! I burnt myself into the ground over the smallest quotes for so long, and never left enough margin for the boring essential bits of running a business.
On that note - outsource! Go get help with your bookkeeping and taxes, set up good foundations early to make your life easier. Get someone to help manage your emails and your calendar if you hate it. If you can barely breathe because you have so much retouching to do, it’s time to hand over the reigns to one of the many, many talented retouchers out there who will end up doing a better job and replenish the available hours you have.
Take holidays and immerse yourself in the world, inspiration can pop up anywhere, especially when you give your brain a little breather. But make sure you have plenty of ways to harness that jolt when it comes, I love my notes app, a real notepad, and pin boards on all the social media apps.
My most critical advice of all is to create personal work! Do you want to shoot lipsticks for Dior? Go buy one, (PS that can be a taxable expense!) and shoot it the best you possibly can. Share it and tag them - these days their social team may even reach out and ask to share the shot! Create a full portfolio of ‘work’ for all the brands you’d love to shoot for. If you’re just starting out I promise this will help you develop and promote your skillset, and you’ll be landing a smaller local lipstick client in no time. I’ve done this from the beginning, and still do constantly. I test with agency models as often as my schedule allows, this has sharpened my directing skills, developed my retouching abilities, and allowed me to dream up the exact concepts and lighting plans I later used for paid shoots.
Make mistakes. My favourite hard lighting style was discovered completely by misfiring a light! You’ll make big and small errors at every step of this journey, and learn from every single one. Start to accept each one as a milestone on your journey to the life and career of your dreams!
Solstice: Which photographers/artists do you admire the most, and take inspiration from?
Lucy: My favourite recent find is Dan Beleiu, who shoots the most incredible high fashion content on a wide-angle lens, which draws you in and is absolutely captivating. I’ve forever been a fan of Lara Jade’s premium crispy-clean work, one of the highest compliments I ever got was someone mistaking my work for hers! Tim Walker was my awakening to fashion photography, flipping through the pages of 'Story Teller' still gives me chills. Hanna Hillier has redefined beauty photography with her flawless, barely retouched imagery that is a celebration of real skin. Alternately, Sarah brown is a celebration of deeply detailed retouching, and uber-curated images, I absolutely love them both. Mandy Stoller is one of my all time favourite product photographers, I can't help but want to create my own spin on almost everything she creates.
Solstice: Do you prefer shooting outside on location or in the studio? Why?
Lucy: I am a perfectionist that needs consistency and predictability, so location isn’t for me. In saying that, every time I venture outdoors I end up loving whatever I create. I am happiest and most at home in my studio, it’s a big blank canvas and I can build whatever I dream of in there. I love painting and creating custom sets with my partner Nic, and exploring new ways to style, light and design in this space.
Solstice: Please could you talk about your favourite shoot?
Lucy: My favourite shoot is always the most recent one - which is currently the editorial I shot for this issue! Beyond that, one of my favourite shoots was for an Australian hair and beauty brand, who chose to embrace our harsh sunlight and shoot a joyful campaign outdoors. Location isn’t usually my thing, but everything just fell into place - the talent and team were phenomenal, and I feel like we created something beautiful, unique, and Australian.
Solstice: What do you do to get inspired when you are lacking the desire/ability to create?
Lucy: This usually happens when I am overwhelmed, so step one is blocking off my calendar, tying up loose ends and taking a solid break. That could look like two weeks off, road-tripping and visiting friends like I have recently done, or it could be as small and simple as a day, or even 20 minutes off in the sun with my dog if that’s possible. Disconnecting and resetting gives my brain a break, and I usually find ideas start creeping back in once I give myself this space. I try really hard now to take care of my mental and physical health, as I am my best, when these are both functioning optimally
Solstice: How was the pandemic/lockdown for you? Was it a struggle, or did you find it to be a welcome period of down-time?
Lucy: The week before Australia went into lockdown, I had what was my most busy and lucrative week ever, and finally felt like the culmination of all my hard work was finally paying off. In Sydney we had an initial lockdown that was the same mix of anxiousness, and silliness that many of us went through, and I was grateful to my housemates for getting me through it. I used this time to finally get to ground zero on my retouching list - something I don’t think I’d ever achieved since I started shooting, as I love to fill my plate right to the very brim! We had a limbo period of semi-normality for a good chunk of time, and went into a later lockdown period which was our longest. That lockdown was super peaceful for me and healed all my nervous frazzled energy, and allowed me to set up better systems in my life and business. I also got to retouching ground-zero after overfilling my cup yet again, and made the executive decision to outsource much of my retouching from there onwards, and I am so much happier for it!
Solstice: Do you find yourself travelling outside of Australia for work?
Lucy: I haven't since COVID sadly, but I am looking forward to doing more in 2023! I’ve been lucky enough to work from New York, Paris, and Santorini across the last decade, and spent a year living and working in Berlin which was brilliant. I would really love to work in Korea or Japan next.
Solstice: In what ways would you like to see your career evolve? Where would you like to be in 5 and 10 years time? Would you like to move to another country/city in the future, perhaps one of the big 4 fashion cities?
Lucy: I almost moved to New York in 2017, and I sometimes wonder what that life could have looked like now! But I love exactly where I have ended up. I’ve spent many years building a client base in Sydney now, and it’s hard to imagine leaving, especially now that I am settled in with my partner, who is also a creative. But I would never rule it out entirely.
My future looks like larger scale shoots, with more creative set builds and dreamscapes. I would really love to be able to execute some of the crazy sets designs that I’ve made for beauty products, and adapt them into human sized sets. I’m not so interested in reality - I want to spill my mind out into beautiful, colourful, weird worlds. One of my big dreams is to land a national or global beauty campaign with a huge print and billboard presence. I want to see my work in more of the big international publications - Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Elle. It’s important to me to use my skill set to better the world, so I will be creating more imagery to help out social activist projects and NFPs.