Interview with Fine Art Wedding Photographer Lisa O’Dwyer

Today on the blog I’m going to do something you won’t see a lot of photographers doing – and that’s showcasing another photographer in their own market.

Lisa O'Dwyer

Lisa O’Dwyer is a fine art film photographer based in Colorado, but who photographs weddings worldwide. Lisa studied Art History and Fine Arts in college. After further studies in Europe, she worked in Japan for 2 years where she met her Irish husband. She lived in Ireland for 10 years and became a professional photographer in 2006. Lisa still travels to Europe to photograph weddings in historic locations, but also loves to photograph weddings in beautiful outdoor locations in Colorado.

I “met” Lisa originally through a Facebook forum dedicated to film photography when she still lived in Ireland.   I noted her work because like myself she was returning to film after many years of digital work, and I adore Ireland and was more than a little jealous of the idea of capturing weddings in that amazing country side with a medium format film camera.

I even referred  work to Lisa while she was in Ireland – I was meeting with a potential wedding client (who unfortunately couldn’t book me for their wedding because someone else secured the date before they made their final decisions) that had mentioned her and her fiancé where traveling to Ireland and had hoped to find a photographer there to do their wedding photography, so I directed them to Lisa.

So flash forward a year or two and Lisa finds herself in Fort Collins Colorado.  So after a few months of planning on trying to get together for coffee or something I opted just to have her come along to one of my favorite wedding venues on one of my weddings and be a 3rd shooter – just capture the day her way and I also got a chance to interview Lisa a bit.


First here’s the interview with Lisa.

1) I’m curious as to if there’s any big cultural and tradition differences in weddings in Ireland versus what you’ve seen here in the states and Colorado specifically?   Do they not do bouquet and garter tosses,  is the chicken dance still popular?
The first dance in Ireland usually happens at 9:30/10pm. I don’t photograph it too often there. But when I do stay for the dancing, I can’t recall seeing the chicken dance. Garth Brooks is pretty big there so there is line dancing and lots of waltzing too! Traditional Irish set dances are popular and some Irish dancing (like we know from Riverdance) too. There are no bouquet or garter tosses. The dancing usually lasts until about 2am and people don’t go back to their rooms until 4 or 5am! That is probably the biggest difference. Weddings in Ireland last until very early in the morning with a late bar still serving pints early in the morning. My typical day was only 7 hours photography-wise and I left as soon as the couple sat down for their meal. The meal typically lasts from 6-8:30pm. Also, most ceremonies are in churches and not outside due to unpredictable weather, tradition, and the law.
1B)  on the same theme, what about the difference in importance in wedding photos, is it about the same as couples stateside?
Wedding photography is very important in Ireland. I find that a lot of couples still want the professionally made album there and they make sure to include this in their budget. Professional services are well respected. Family group photographs are very important and these are the photographs that they will want for their wall. I find that Irish people are a bit humble about displaying large prints of themselves individually or as a couple though. Also, engagement shoots are a not a necessity for the Irish couple. There is not a tradition there of Save The Date cards. But I did love the engagement shoots I did there as the historic locations and romantic countryside and ruins provided fabulous backdrops for a shoot! 
These are some engagement shoots I did in Ireland on my webpage:  (an Irish couple, I am shooting their wedding at Castle Durrow in October)
and this American couple visiting Ireland who wanted an engagement shoot on their holiday:
2) So like many photographers it seems you learned on film, went to digital sometime over the last dozen years, but at some point have come back to film, what for you is it about film that brought you back?
Yes! I am 40 years old. I grew up shooting film. I studied Art History in college and also Fine Art, including B&W Photography. So I learned how to develop and print my own film in the darkroom. It was always a magical process for me. A real art form as it was necessary to compose in the camera and then to print according to how you wanted the image to look on paper. I shot with my Nikon N80 film camera up until 2005. That is when I started my photography business. At that time, everyone was shooting the new digital SLR cameras. It was the future. Film was like the backward cousin no one wanted to talk about. It was old technology. I bought two Canon 20D SLRs that had a 6mb RAW file and that I was what I started my business with. 
I found that over the years, as my business grew and I had more wedding commissions, that I became frustrated with photography. I wasn’t enjoying it because I was bogged down in the digital darkroom editing files. It took the art out of for me. I was never a fan of faddish photography anyway. I didn’t want to do digital filters and effects so I didn’t enjoy editing at all. In 2010, I discovered the fine art wedding photography of Jose Villa. I realized that film wedding photography was still a viable business model. I also realized that with film I could get back my life as I wouldn’t be condemned to the digital darkroom anymore. Plus, I would be shooting more meaningfully instead of being trigger-happy with the shutter button.
I studied how to become a better film photographer with books and the internet. And lots of trial and error with film cameras, film stocks, and labs. In 2013, I decided on my preferences and changed over my business to be a mainly film aesthetic. I still shoot digital, but it is maybe 20% or less at weddings. 
3) Do you ever see yourself going to all film or do you think digital will always have a place in your kit as well?
I shoot all film at sessions like engagements, portraits, etc. At weddings, I shoot film around 70-90%. It really depends on the lighting and how much the couple has invested into their collection and coverage. If I had the right conditions to shoot film 100% at a wedding, I would! I am in love with film and dedicated to it. Digital isn’t a substitute for it, but sometimes digital is handy in difficult lighting if I want color photographs without flash.
4) Favorite Film Camera?
Hmm, I like different cameras for different applications. I love shooting landscapes on the Pentax 6×7. I love portraits on my Mamiya 645 AFd. And I love candid street photography in B&W on my OM-1n.
5) Favorite Film and lab?
I LOVE Portra 160! It used to be Fuji 400H, but I believe that look is too ubiquitous. I think Portra 160 has great skin tones and great punchy color. I’ve been using the FIND Lab and Mammum recently, which are both great!

6) What is something you miss about living in Ireland?

I miss the great sense of history and the historic buildings and landscape. I miss how Ireland feels like one big family too. People know their past and who they are, and people look out for each more there. I feel there is a greater sense of community and sympathy for one another. I sometimes feel America is too individualistic and that people are sometimes only out for themselves here (even though I am American and born in Pennsylvania). I miss my family there too. My husband is from County Clare on the West coast of Ireland. We plan to go to Ireland every year though and I keep myself busy with destination weddings.
7) Something you love about living in Colorado?
SUNSHINE!!! I love that is usually blue skies and dry air here. I love that we can plan a hike in the Rockies or a walk on the prairie and it will not rain. I love that weddings happen outside in nature here. I love that there are great things to do with kids here like dedicated bicycle trails and playgrounds with fantastic amenities. I love that my family are here too. My sister and her family live here in Fort Collins and my parents just moved here from Pennsylvania. I also love that the wedding community here is so friendly and meets up for networking so often. I am looking forward to the years ahead!
One thing I loved about looking through the images Lisa shot at the wedding up at Dunafon Castle is that even though we shoot the same film, use the same lab, and have similar camera – the look and feel of her images are uniquely her own.   It’s very true that if you give 5 photographers the same thing to photograph you will wind up with 5 different photos.
Below are some of Lisa’s images from the wedding and if you’d like to see more of Lisa’s wonderful work be sure to check out these links:
1 comment
  • Thanks so much Mark! it is always a pleasure to connect with another film photographer that is as passionate as I am! So happy to meet you in person and spend the day photographing with you!