Khar Market, Mumbai, India. Client: Mr. Todiwala’s Bombay cookery book
As a lifestyle photographer, London-based Helen Cathcart spends her time voyaging around the globe, shooting everything from exotic hotels to beautifully curated food. She is a creative who draws from years of experience both in the freelance field and behind the picture desk, first working as a photo director and freelance picture editor for high-end establishments like British Vogue. Cathcart eventually decided to turn to shooting full time and her client roster includes National Geographic Traveller, The Guardian and John Lewis. Though she boasts an undergraduate degree in Photography and a Masters in Design and Art Direction, Cathcart attributes her technical knowledge to schooling from other photographers in the business and learning a little something new from each assignment. Traveling everywhere from Patagonia to the Australian outback, the photographer has a broad, extensive portfolio that she needed to organize in a clean, appealing way. Cathcart spoke to us about the life as a freelancer where every day is different and how Squarespace keeps her from having to struggle with coding.
Chowpatty Beach in Mumbai, India. Client: Mr. Todiwals’s Bombay cookery book.
You were a photo director for several years working with clients like British Vogue and others. What made you decide to transition into photography full time?
“I had always planned to be a photographer but it proved difficult to get work straight out of university. I learned so much on the commissioning side and was also able to commission myself at the travel magazine company that I worked at for 5 years. Eventually I got to the point where I thought I was doing a better job than some of the people I was commissioning and decided just to go for it.”
How does your background as a photo director inform your current photography practice?
“It actually feeds into it a lot. I understand more clearly what the client is looking for, and what questions to ask to clarify that better. It also allowed me to understand the best way to approach other picture editors for work in the beginning. Having spent a long time looking at other photographers’ work, I feel I have lots of subconscious inspiration and imagery to draw upon.”
Beresheet Hotel Israel. Client: Condé Nast Traveler U.S.
You started your career as a photographer in Sydney. How is the industry in Sydney different from that in London?
“Sydney seems like quite a while ago now and I’m actually going to return for a short time in January to try and shoot some more out there. I think just the light and lifestyle there is inspiring and definitely produces a certain style of photography. Everyone’s life centers around living well which is why food, interiors and lifestyle photography is so good there. I think I was at an advantage being from the U.K. as they seem to hold that in high regard, even though they have some of the best photographers. There are a couple of established photographers in Sydney that the magazines seem to stick with.”
Can you tell us about one of your more memorable shoots?
“Probably a shoot for House and Garden in Patagonia. I was photographing the Awasi Hotel which is so remote and beautiful. Crossing a wide, desolate plain, I was galloping on a horse alongside tradition gauchos and my camera swinging on my back. I remember having one of those ‘Wow, my job is amazing’ moments.”
Rickshaw driver, Mumbai, India. Client: Mr. Todiwala’s Bombay cookery book.
Awasi Hotel, Patagonia. Client: House and Garden.
Did you have an old site before switching to Squarespace? If so, did you have any issues with it?
“Yes, I built my old site myself using Dreamweaver after doing a short coding course when I couldn’t get any work in the early days. It was so tedious! My coding skills didn’t let me go far enough to fix any glitches which proved very frustrating, and it was so time consuming to make even small changes. It just started to look so dated compared to everything else out there.”
What made you decide to use Squarespace to showcase your work?
“I needed to have some one build the site how I wanted, but I needed to be able to easily update myself. I had a friend who is a coding genius that lent a hand. He found out that Squarespace would allow him to tweak the templates to how I wanted, but then allow me to easily make content changes. It has a very user friendly, intuitive interface.”
Describe your design aesthetic and how that works with your images.
“I like to tell a story with my photos so I feel they need to be shown together and not as one stand alone photo. I did an MA in design and art direction when I couldn’t get work as a photographer so the design is very important to me. I know how it can make or break your photography. I think carefully about what images work alongside each other and I like it to be clean and the fonts are very important. I knew I needed a homepage which quickly showed lots of images so those commissioning got a feel for my work immediately. Having been a picture editor, I knew I hated it if sites loaded slowly or if I had to click through a lot to see work. You probably make your mind up in about 3 seconds as to whether you like their work or not. And the design of the website influences that a lot.”
What is your favorite part of using Squarespace as a photographer?
“That I can very easily upload new work.”
Christmas table. Client: Booths Christmas catalogue. Photography and styling: Helen Cathcart.
Olivier Parpillion fisherman, Bourget du lac, France. Client: Easyjet Traveller
London Fields, London, England. Client: Getty images
All images © Helen Cathcart