Through a series of trial and error experiments, Estonian photographer Liisa Härmson learned to create brilliant portraits that embody a well-rounded talent. In The Language of Colour project, Liisa is guided by this technical balance and an inspired state of mind—it leads her to design sets, paint faces, and even model for the dramatic stories displayed in different shades. Her knack for pulling an audience in using these vibrant images is a testament to her ability to capture the fine detail of her vivid imagination.
We were grateful to catch up with Liisa for a Behind The Lens look into her creative process!
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a 24-year-old woman from Estonia, currently shooting weddings in Estonia and Norway with Håvard (my fiancé). I enjoy baking apple pies, hiking in the mountains, annoying Håvard, and reading about neuropsychology.
Where do you call home?
Home is any place that makes me feel like I belong there. So far I’ve felt some sort of spiritual connection with Estonia (obviously), Norway (my fiancé is Norwegian), Switzerland and Oregon. It might have something to do with mountains, forests, and fresh air. I’ll forever be a northern girl.
How did you become interested in photography?
I got really interested in photography when I was around 17—I did my best friend’s makeup, took some photos of her, and then decided that portrait photography was my calling. I sold my camera and started saving up for professional gear. It took me a a few years to save up enough money, but it was worth the wait! I finally got my Canon 5D Mark II and the 135L when I was almost 20 and started the 365 days project, taking one photo a day for an entire year—the rest is history.
Where do you find inspiration for your The Language of Colour series?
I’ve always been so fascinated with colors and the thousands of shades they each posses. It feels like each shade of color has its own story to tell and that is what I try to do—paint emotions with colors.
You do your own styling and makeup for each photo in this series. How did you learn to use the face as a canvas for such amazing works of art?
Trial and error—my favorite method of learning! Most of the time I have no idea what I’m doing (especially considering that I’m someone that has gone through life with applying makeup only a few times a year) and have no clear idea of how it’s supposed to look afterwards, so I just start with a color and a brush and end up with something completely unexpected! I suppose it’s similar to drawing or editing—if you are inspired, your inspired state of mind will guide you. It’s a wonderful feeling to let go of control, stop over thinking and just follow your instincts instead.
It looks like a lot of time and effort goes into creating a set. About how long does it take to prepare for a shoot?
On average, it takes around 1.5 to 2.5 hours.
You primarily use yourself as a model. How do you set up for a self portrait?
I lie down on the floor, have tripod and camera above me and try to get the perfect focus—which can drive me completely nuts. I switch to manual focus and set the remote to shot every two seconds. I check how it looks on the screen every few minutes and adjust the background and foreground accordingly. I normally have a fabric as a background and feathers/plants/shiny objects/Christmas decorations hanging down from the lens to add more depth and create a bit dreamier atmosphere.
What is a must have in your gear back for every photoshoot?
The 135L lens! I LOVE that lens so much. It’s so flexible, so incredibly good with light and SO sharp. It’s an amazing unicorn of a lens, really!
Can you share with us a bit of how you post process your images?
I adjust highlights/shadows/exposure in Lightroom and then move on to Photoshop. I use very many layers and edit all the tiny details I can spot—highlight the bright areas, correct makeup, bring out the shadows more, etc. Skin editing is probably the most time consuming part of editing (perfectionism is my nemesis).
Do you have any plans for the future of The Language of Colour?
The series has probably reached the finish line, at least as of now. It might still grow sometime in the future, but my mind is overflowing with lots of new ideas for a couple of new stories. Whatever I shoot though, my love for colors will always be there.
Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers?
Trust your instincts and never compare yourself to others—don’t ever forget that you are a unique individual on this planet and no one else in this world has the same perspective that you have. The key to success is to find out what sets you apart and pursue that. Dig deep and use your experiences. Embrace who you are deep down, with all your flaws and complex human nature. Try to focus on the possibilities instead of what could go wrong. Be persistent. And most importantly, don’t let doubt and fear poison your passion—keep going and enjoy the journey, because those who pick themselves up after falling down are the ones that will be successful in the end.
Are you a photographer? Would you like to be interviewed for the Behind The Len series? Leave your links in the comments below!