For many creative minds, photography is one of the many paths they can take to share how they see the world. To those who have a taste for the surreal, however, fantasy photography allows them to bring their make-believe worlds and characters to life. It’s a fertile ground for those who enjoy letting their imagination loose, and creating their own version of realities through visual stories. Among them is Philadelphia-based Liza Roberts, whose magical imagery is built on both personal and collaborative inspirations.
As with many photographers, Liza’s photography journey began with the discovery of a family member’s old camera. The intrigue began with her dad’s old Nikon film camera then progressed to an early DSLR. With it, she started taking photos of her sister’s softball games then gradually progressed into portraits.
Fast-forward to more recent times, she has already established herself as a fantasy photographer with a substantial following and an impressive portfolio. She embarked on this part of her journey, she said, when she discovered that there was an interest for cottagecore and fantasy work.
“I’ve always been a huge fantasy nerd, and when I realized I can make my own worlds through photography and other people are into it too, I was set in my path to make that my creative career,” she shared in our interview.
For Liza, this fascination for creating make-believe worlds and alternate realities is magical, not because of someone else’s idea of what a concept might be. “It has no standards to measure up to. Fantasy is about creating the world as you imagine it to be, or wish it would be,” she noted. As such, she also enjoys working with collaborators and clients whose creative visions and imagined worlds she can help translate into visual art.
Our conversation with Liza is full of interesting and inspiring insights for anyone into fantasy photography. So, we invite everyone to check out our full interview below.
Can you tell us something about yourself and what you do?
I’m a fantasy photographer, content creator and events host from Philadelphia, PA. I’ve dabbled in many different art forms and careers, from scenic design for theater, to acting and now photography. While getting to photograph influencers and clients who want to bring their fantastical dreams to life is my favorite thing to do, I also love hosting creative experiences or retreats for folks who want to immerse themselves in a weekend of creating, networking, making new friendships and make believe.
How did your photography adventure begin? How did you discover the kind of work that you do now?
When I was in high school, I found my dad’s old Nikon film camera (I’ve forgotten the specifics) and was intrigued. My dad also always had the latest tech, and that included an early DSLR which I used more than him. I always stole his camera to take shots at my sister’s softball games and anyone who would let me take their portrait.
As for the work I do now, during the pandemic, I was on social media A LOT because it was one of the few outlets still open for social interaction. I’m a huge extrovert so being on social media was really a respite. There, I found that there was a niche for cottagecore and fantasy work. I’ve always been a huge fantasy nerd, and when I realized I can make my own worlds through photography and other people are into it too, I was set in my path to make that my creative career.
What do you consider to be the most important aspect or characteristic of your visual language?
The people I photograph. I often hear, “I can’t pose or be in your work because I’m not a model.” I always tell folks, “GOOD! You’re YOU, and that’s the best.” Creating fantasy work is magical because it’s not about what someone else’s idea of what that concept might be. It has no standards to measure up to. Fantasy is about creating the world as you imagine it to be, or wish it would be. So, while I do a lot of self-portraiture or collaborative work where I come up with the concept, it’s especially magical when a client trusts me with their vision and I get to translate that to imagery.
You have many sources of inspiration for your work, including fantasy, literature and cinema. How do you usually integrate them into your client work?
My clients come to me because they want to put themselves in a world they’ve only dreamed of. Until perhaps seeing my work, they realize that they can live in that reality for a short amount of time, and have a memory of it encapsulated in an image. So, I’m pretty lucky in that my clients usually do half the work before they even come to me. They are often, if not always, similarly inspired by fantasy, cinema and literature.
Of course, sometimes, clients ask me to do what I’d like for their sessions or we collaborate on an idea. But often, folks have a full concept that I just have to translate to still images. I’m really lucky!
How do you approach collaborations with other creatives?
I’m very fortunate in that I have an incredible group of creatives I collaborate with that happen to be some of my best friends. One of us will get a wild idea and the rest of us will reply with a “WHEN AND WHERE?” Often my friends and I will chat about ideas in a group thread and use visual mood boards to make sure we’re all on the same page, and then set about getting our costumes together separately. I’m often the primary photographer for the collaboration, but I also model in these group productions. So, it’s really fun to get to set up the shot in costume and then jump in when we’re all set. The collaborative process is such a rewarding experience. I really believe everyone should reach out to someone whose work they admire and see if they can just make something fun together. You learn so much.
Can you share with us a little about your creative process? How has it evolved throughout your career?
When I get an idea for a fantasy photography project, typically inspired by other works of art from paintings to cinema to literature, I first gather visual inspiration. I always have so many things going on in my head at once. So, having a board where all my inspiration lives is so helpful. Next, if it isn’t a self-portrait project, I decide who I’m going to involve in it.
Often, I work with friends but I also LOVE working with new faces. It’s really fun to meet new folks and give lots of people a chance to imagine with me. Because I’m a bit of a perfectionist and truly like to do it all, I then go about sourcing locations, costumes and props. I love finding just the right dress with the sleeves I want. Or, a mirror that looks like it’s from the 1920s but was probably made two years ago. It’s a treasure hunt every time!
Then, of course, the actual shoot! Editing the photos is an intuitive process. I’ve developed my own presets in Adobe Lightroom and often use those as a base, then tweak depending on how I want the images to feel. The finished images hold so much work and love from so many people.
I think my process has always been similar in that I’m a perfectionist and like to do things as a one-woman show when it comes to styling and vision. However, I think when I was younger, I wasn’t as confident in my subject matter. I tried to fit myself into an aesthetic that just wasn’t mine, as I think happens with a lot of young artists when they are finding their style. I would try to do portraits of folks in modern clothing in abandoned places. It was a lot of fun, just not me and there was really not a lot of thought behind the concept other than it “looked cool.” Once I stopped caring if I fit into a certain style or aesthetic, I flourished and was able to dive into the process, and enjoy it fully.
How do Adobe products like Lightroom, Photoshop and Adobe Express help you achieve your creative vision?
Adobe has been my go-to for creating my imagery since I began in high school. I remember my dad showing me what Photoshop was, and being so excited to see what I could make with it. I spent hours teaching myself how to manipulate images and play with graphics.
Then, I shifted to Lightroom when I started doing photography professionally. It’s an incredibly powerful tool that makes it easy for me to create my virtual fantasy worlds. I can’t think of a photographer friend I have who doesn’t use Lightroom. It’s fun to get together and edit.
Adobe Express is all I use when I want to promote my bookings via Instagram stories and reels. As a visual artist, I HAVE to have my branding mirror my work. The stories have to be easy enough to quickly read while still visually enchanting the viewer. Adobe Express makes it easy to do just that.
Lastly, what would you advise to those who want to explore fantasy photography or conceptual portraits? What are some dos and don’ts?
First, I think the only don’t is don’t doubt yourself. I did that a lot before finding my niche in the genre and it held me back from creating what I love. “If I don’t create what the popular genre is now, I won’t be a successful artist.” When I let that mindset go, I was happier. I did what I wanted and loved to do, and just happened to gain a bit of following because of it.
So, my dos list would be: create for no one but yourself, be kind to yourself, and don’t be afraid to reach out and connect with those that inspire you. Networking and connections are so important for growth.
Don’t forget to check out Liza Roberts’ Instagram to see more of her beautiful fantasy photography.
All photos by Liza Roberts. Used with permission.