To begin, who are you, besides being a photographer and how did your first get into the photography world?
Hi, My name is Ariel Lii. From Shanghai, China, and currently I am a portrait photographer based in Toronto. I have a photography studio in Scarborough, LMA Studio, where we collaborate and communicate with different artists. I have loved beautiful things since I was a child and considered myself different. I especially like watching movies and love to imagine the stories and images derived from them in my mind. When I was in high school, I picked up the camera for the first time. At that time, I didn't know the complicated photography knowledge. I just recorded the moment. I began to enjoy looking for unique beauty and creating scene or person into what I imagined.
What have been your highlights?
I used to study photography at Sheridan College. I hardly communicate with my classmates while at school. As an international student, my English is not very well. I am afraid that others will laugh at my accent, so I separate myself from others. I have been shooting continuously, trying different styles, and want to use photos instead of words to convey messages. I won the Wacom Award of Excellence at the graduation showcase and I was drinking beer at the corner and didn't pay attention to the description of the winners on the stage. Then I didn't even react when I first heard my name. At that moment, I felt that I was recognized and my voice could be heard. That moment was also the beginning of my real career.
How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen it?
"The Voice of the New Generation". No restriction, use colours boldly; not be influenced by social trends, and use unique aesthetics to make a sound.
What else is needed besides the beauty? I was also exploring my own shooting style, and I also referred to popular styles or types of pictures. But even if I took a picture that fits the public's aesthetics, I sometimes think the picture is empty, without souls. I want to express an attitude, a maverick aesthetic that is not restricted by the times.
How do you keep yourself motivated and your photographic art in vogue?
I try to work with different people and challenge different themes. I like to keep thinking and make new creations. Sometimes my brain gets stuck. I would run to the park or any public space, take a cup of black coffee, and sit on a bench watching people. Observing, then imagining, relaxes me and brings a whole new perspective.
You are going about conducting a photoshoot, could you take us through the typical planning process for your images?
First, think about the shooting concept and storyline, and then make a preliminary mood board. Secondly, find the most suitable talents to cooperate with. I hope all those involved are excited about this shooting. We have encountered very talented people who did not fully act in concert with the team, which can make others feel tired. Many times I find novel ideas during the shooting process, and I just make adjustments, then the final images may have surprises.
How do you manage to make your models feel comfortable in front of the camera?
I don't like talking during shooting. Most of the time I prefer to play music, and then let the model find inspiration for me to capture. I will let the models immerse themselves in the mood.
Ariel, what are some of the struggles you have faced as a portrait photographer in a niche market?
I would say that many customers or brands will give a lot of rules and restriction, which makes creation limited. I certainly hope that everyone can work in accordance with the essence of art, but sometimes we still have to face reality and create the best photos possible. Some other situations also include bargaining such as being asked for RAW photos or lowering the price. Some clients may come to you not because they appreciate your photo style, they only come to you because you have the skill of photography. At the same time, I have to market myself to make a living, even if I don’t like to spend a lot of time on social media.
How does the day of you looks like?
Just like the weather in Toronto, you have no idea whether the next day is sunny or snowy. Full of unknowns and challenges, of course, this is always exciting.
What are your future plans/goals for the next couple of years?
My current goal is to run the studio well and to meet more interesting artists at the same time. I am currently planning a filming plan for "Third Space", about those people who have been away from their hometown for many years, but find that they cannot integrate into the culture of their hometown when they return home. They are in an embarrassing state of no identity belonging.