A few clicks, a chirp of a connection made, and a pixelated screen slowly sharpens to reveal an animated Lisa Paarvio waving at me from the other side. “Hey, you made it!”, she exclaims. Clearly the internet is better in rural Catalonia than in London, as my first words emerge short and staccato. But Lisa picks up the thread and tunes in, demonstrating the sort of nimble footwork that has served her well in the frenetic world of action sports photography.
To industry insiders, Lisa’s work has been making waves over the past few seasons of the Freeride scene, notably through her sessions for Fox apparel. Her action photography is fresh, vibrant and composed, revealing graceful mid-air moments suspended in time. So how did she get her start in photography?
“Usually, everyone says, ‘Oh, since I was small I had a camera and da, da, da.’” explains Lisa. “For me though there was nothing until I was almost 20. I'm 27 now, and I was studying and wanted to be a sports physio. Unfortunately I have allergies for liquids, perfumes, even sometimes shampoos, which put paid to that career!”
A long-remembered hobby though, put photography on the map. “I’ve always liked drawing a lot and in school it was my main subject. So my Mom was like, ‘How about photography?’. She thought I had a good eye (hopefully two!), so maybe I should try it, although I never had a camera - not even a digital camera or anything.”
Like many paths in life, once the idea took hold, things happened quickly, as Lisa explains. “I found a course to study photography, got accepted and I loved it immediately. I mean, I really, really enjoyed it, and at some point figured out that I could maybe take it somewhere. After that I found an advertising agency based right in my town, so I showed up in my jogging pants one day thinking I’d just leave my showreel with the receptionist, but I ended up talking to the boss and somehow got an internship to start immediately. So I cut my teeth shooting almost 1,000 products a month, which was killer!!”
The bike though, was calling, and a course project led to Lisa’s first two-wheeled shoot. “A friend took me to a bike park in Germany with a rider from Switzerland, and we just did the whole thing, and I enjoyed it a lot. It was super fun.”
However, migrating from the studio to the relatively uncontrolled environment of outside action is not always a successful transition, and can catch out seasoned studio photographers. “Yeah, and the perspectives are different as well. I mean, you're going to be looking at it in a whole different way. You know, the problem is you learn a lot in advertising and commercial photography because you are working with light and you have to set it up and you have different materials. You need to know about the materials and the light, and all these kind of things - you become very technically proficient. But sports photography is the opposite for me. It's working with only what you have in the lens.”
Eschewing even such things as flash, it’s an approach that exposes an unaltered, natural feel to Lisa’s work, but as she explains, patience is key. “Even if I have to wait a week because of bad weather or something, I prefer to wait to get the shot I want. The trick is in finding those moments and recognising them.”
Deciding to travel the world after her course ended, a chance meeting at the X Games with her now partner, Spanish bike ace Andreu Lacondeguy, led to Lisa diving into the bike industry at the deep end. “Andreu knew that I was about to start travelling anyway, so he was like, ‘Why not come with me?’, and as I couldn’t think of a reason not to, we hit the road.”
Another fortuitous meeting with a seasoned photographer led to some priceless hands-on experience. “Andreu is really good friends with the Italian photographer Ale Di Lullo, who has been in the industry for the last 15 years. He gave me the chance to actually come with him, and he showed me how he edits and what he’s looking for in bike pictures and how he organises himself, and those times were enough for me to just see what is actually important.”
Luckily, Lisa is just as generous with her own tips and thoughts for taking a great action shot. “We all tend to think in images, and photographers are usually able to imagine things before they're actually happening.” she says. “You have to have a vision of the image that you want to create, and what I love to do is to work with the basics. For example, having something in the centre of a picture is already less appealing. Instead, you can contain everything, but there’s a little element just in the corner where your eye is drawn which provides a release. After the composition there’s the colours - if everything is green and I put someone there in a black shirt, there’s not much of a feeling, but swap it out for a a red shirt for example, and it's already a way different feeling. What's also pretty great is if you try to give the picture depth of field, then you have blurry parts in the front, or in the background, not only the rider.”
Composition, colour and depth of field might be the photographer's trifecta, but the light that pervades Lisa’s pictures is from another planet altogether. “Haha, maybe you're lucky and you have epic light. It's not always happening, but a lot of times you are really lucky, and you can try to create a little bit of drama in the whole thing: is it with the scenery, or is it just with a tyre, and how it goes over the dirt and the dirt spirals out - things like that. Bike riding is an action sport, so I try to show that - it's not a model shoot! So if you focus on the things that are really about this sport, and don't just try to put bike, rider, scenery, you can get some great results.