FIRST PERSON: Newport photographer Lisa-Jane Meates

South Wales Argus: Local self-employed wedding photographer Lisa-Jane Meates.  Pictured is Lisa-Jane at home growing up in Ballymena in Northern Ireland. (7315496) Local self-employed wedding photographer Lisa-Jane Meates. Pictured is Lisa-Jane at home growing up in Ballymena in Northern Ireland. (7315496)

AT the age of 24, Newport photographer Lisa-Jane Meates, known as LJ, has already photographed the wedding of a TV actress, started her own business and been awarded best enterprise at an award ceremony in Cardiff. Reporter BECKY CARR finds out more.

I GREW up in a place called Ballymena, in Northern Ireland. I’ve always been creative from a very young age and I’ve always loved the idea of owning my own business, even if I didn’t realise what that would be.

Art was always my favourite subject all through school, I went to Ballymena Primary School and went on to Cambridge House Grammar School to do my GCSEs and A Levels.

I did art and business studies at Cambridge House, and I absolutely loved them as they catered to both my creative side and my business mind. I thought if I equip myself with a creative skill, I can always pick up the business side later down the line.

I went to the Northern Regional College in Ballymena to do a foundation course in art and design, it basically looked at all the different areas you can go into and it was there I discovered photography.

After looking for courses, the only places that did fashion photography were London and Newport. I used to have family that lived in Wales so that seemed to be an easier place to get to and less expensive.

I came over to Newport five years ago and stated my course at the University of Wales. The course was called Photography for Fashion and Advertising, so it had the business element as well, as it was still something I was quite interested in.

I met Luke, my husband, at the church we now both go to, Christchurch in Newport, and not long after my graduation, we got married on July 7, 2012.

I have a really big family so it was a lot easier for the wedding to be in Northern Ireland, we got married in the church I grew up in.

The reception was right by the coast, I absolutely love the sea. I’ve always been a beach baby.

We’re Christians so we didn’t live together before we were married. We wanted to do it right by our faith.

It made everything a lot more exciting when we moved in. We came back to our house together and had a few days before our honeymoon. It was just really good fun, it felt like an extended sleepover. We stayed up chatting all night just because we could.

I think that when I graduated my confidence was quite low. I didn’t think I could start up a business straight away.

I ended up working for a marketing company in Caerphilly which was part of the ICE organisation.

They basically rented these offices to lots of small businesses and entrepreneurs. It had a really great atmosphere and there was a real buzz about the place. It was doing my six months there that things started to click in my mind and I decided that maybe I could actually do this.

There were so many people there who encouraged me to take the leap of faith.

While I was working with the company I started doing photography on the side. I got my website going again and I thought about it properly. That’s when I started getting work coming in and I realised that maybe I could make a living out of it.

In July 2013, I was approached by Karen Paullada, the actress best known for her role as Nadine in Stella, Ruth Jones’ hit comedy on Sky One. They recently won a Bafta just before Christmas. She was looking for a photographer for her wedding in September and picked up my card in a bridal shop in Cardiff.

I was the last photographer she had made an appointment with and I thought ‘there’s no way she’ll pick me, I’m so new to this’ but she rang me back and hired me.

I launched my business in August 2013 and Karen’s wedding was in September. It was a really good thing to come at the beginning of the business. There were lots of cast members from Stella, and Ruth Jones was there.

I got lots of free publicity out of it and Karen was so helpful and wanted my business to go well. I really do think her wedding has helped the business so much.

My work was featured in Berkshire Life magazine as well as Your South Wales Wedding and I maintained my relationship with Your South Wales Wedding in particular, and have since done two editorial shoots for them.

The most recent shoot I did for Your South Wales Wedding will be published next month. Loads of amazing wedding suppliers got involved in it, with Allison Jayne providing the amazing Gainsborough dress from designer Ian Stuart’s new Frill Me collection and Slaters contributed a few suits, accessories and even a top hat.

It was one of my favourite shoots to date as I got to combine my love of wedding and fashion photography in a single shoot. It was hectic to organise but I absolutely loved it. We got a few funny stares from my neighbours when we left my house after getting the models ready with two brides, a groom, and a host of other people.

I love photographing weddings as you get so caught up in the emotion of the day. It reminds you when you were a bride. I love being involved with the couple before and sharing tips with them. I also love sneaking around and getting those beautiful moments.

While the wedding side of things is my main focus at the moment, I also do family portraits, baby photography and event photography. I still love doing fashion shoots every few months when I manage to get the time to organise one.

I can’t believe that it’s only been 10 months since I launched my business. So many exciting things have happened.

One of the things that made me hesitate was the financial strain I’d be putting on me and Luke if I went self-employed. Luke has been so supportive and encouraging and persuaded me to just go for it. He believes I can do anything.

I’ve managed to receive a lot of support from various organisations which has been a massive help. I received financial support for marketing from the Bright Ideas Den, and have just been awarded the Fairwood Trust Scholarship which will support me financially for six months as well as providing me with invaluable support from business advisors.

I recently attended a gala in Cardiff City Hall for the Future Entrepreneur Awards, hosted by Lucy Owen of BBC Wales, which I managed to get shortlisted for after pitching to a panel of judges.

I won my category for the Best Bright Idea and the main award of the night for best overall enterprise.

I couldn’t believe it, Luke was with me and he just grabbed my hand and looked totally shocked. I had to go up on stage and they presented me with £1,000 and a surprise camera from Sony.

From that I got chatting to Lucy Owen and she said she needed a photographer for her 10th wedding anniversary.

It was the most crazy thing, it was a bride and groom themed event so there was brides everywhere. Lucy Owen managed to get into her original wedding dress, which I thought was impressive.

I just hope I can continue what I’m doing, I’m getting to do lots of projects that are coming my way and I just hope that that continues.

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