This week, on The Journal we've taken a podcast excerpt from Imprint by Natalie Walton and speak with leading lifestyle and interiors photographer, Lean Timms where she shares the pivotal role mentors have played in her life, and why she is now paying it forward. She also share how following her curiosity enabled her to discover her passion for photography.



Q.Where did you start? Were you creative as a child?

A. I grew up in a little country town in southeast Queensland on a property there. And it was a really interesting childhood because it was such a small country town, but it was also very affluent because it was a mining town. So there was always a lot of things going on. There was a lot of great community happening there all the time, and my parents are really involved. So I had this really lovely childhood of being isolated in the country, but also just having this lovely little bubble around me of great things to do all the time.

I was a really creative child. I was always really into music and I mean, I used to play drums.I was really into dancing, I was really into drama. I used to sing, I loved musicals. So that was a huge part of my childhood and I just loved performing arts at that point in my life. And it's so interesting now because obviously I love creativity and love creating, but back then it was all about performing and being on the stage and now it's very much behind the scenes and creating behind the scenes.

When I was 13, this lady came to town and she opened this incredible dance school. Her name was Melinda Taylor, and she just became this amazing mentor for me who allowed me to grow and encouraged me with my confidence and really helped me to see possibilities in this creative world for my future. 

So, I applied for an exchange program to go to Sweden again so I could dance. I lived in Sweden for just under a year and absolutely loved that world and became an absolute fan of Scandinavia ever since. Then, I came back to uni. I studied dance and drama as well, so I did a bit of a creative performing arts degree there at QUT in Brisbane. It's so interesting what we are told as we go along because I do remember a lot of people sharing with me that maybe dancing wasn't going to be the best choice in terms of a career, and would I be able to make that a career and would I be able to make money from it? I was always encouraged to go down the education route, and so I ended up doing a double degree and doing education as well. So I became a dance and drama high school teacher, and I loved teaching so much. Like I'd already been teaching, my mom was a teacher, so I kind of grew up in that world. She taught kindergarten and preschool. So I did love the idea
of going into education and it also ended up fitting really well into the next few years of my life.

I ended up marrying my high school sweetheart, Jacob, who is just my biggest teacher and so intelligent and wise and such a loving man. We spent 15 years of our life we were together, which is I guess a pretty significant time at that point in your life when you're growing together. And he's still one of my closest friends.

But I'm sharing this story because Jacob had, I guess it was a lot of influence in my life and how I got from I guess back then to now. So Jacob, he's an engineer and he was in the Navy, and so after we graduated, we ended up just traveling all over Australia with his Navy posting. So, every two years we would pack up house and we'd move somewhere else. But during that time, I would just pick up jobs wherever I could as a dance teacher or a drama teacher at high schools. And I didn't really love it, to be honest. It was pretty hard. I loved the creative element, I
loved the sharing element, I loved the education side of things, but a lot of the schools I was teaching at were quite difficult.

I just looked at things then, in that point of time, and just thought, I don't know if I really want to be doing this. I've always been such an independent person and I just felt like maybe there was another way, maybe there's a way that I could still be creative and potentially teach, but do this in my own time and my own way and hopefully I guess feel a lot more fulfilled from that.

I was about 23 when my darling dad passed away, and it was a really good shakeup for me at that time because I wasn't super happy in this life, I guess in the way that I was working. He passed away I think within six months of his diagnosis, which was just a shock to our entire family and turned our worlds upside down. Anyone losing a parent, you do really look at the world differently and you have a different perspective on life.

It was a really amazing gift now that I look back on it, because at 23 it gave me a really good mirror insight into the world and into our mortality and this idea of, well, life doesn't go on forever and now is the time to make choices to live a more fulfilling life and to choose, a career, a lifestyle, whatever it looks like, that makes me more fulfilled and more happy.

I got to that point and really started to make some big changes then.

Via @leantimms on Instagram

Q. How did you then transition to your role now, and make those actionable steps?

I think in the back of my mind I was always thinking, okay, how can I shift this? What can I be doing? And I had a few ideas in mind. I thought maybe I'd go into songwriting, maybe I would be a florist. That was really exciting for me. I had some ideas, I just wasn't sure what that looked like. And then, when I came home, that's when Jake and I got married. We got married and then we moved over to the US and that was our first international posting together. We were so excited, but there was a big part of me that was like, oh gosh, we're moving to Florida.... am I going to find like-minded creative people there? 

We got there though, and we just had an amazing time. We fell into this incredible community, we were both really into rock climbing. Florida's really flat, so we would be going on these adventures every weekend going rock climbing, and I've been sharing a lot of our activities and adventures on Facebook just with friends. This was back in 2013, so Instagram was really fresh at that point. You kind of go on Instagram, add the filter, and then you go back to Facebook and actually share the photos. So, I was loving photography, but I think it was just all taken on my basic iPhone at that point. Then, I had a really lovely conversations with a friend of mine, Beth, another rock climbing friend, and she said...

Lean, have you ever taken photos on a proper DSR camera?

I said, no, I haven't. She said, would you like to borrow my camera this weekend when we go up to the mountains? I said, I would love to. So we went up to North Carolina and while everyone was rock climbing, I had this camera and I just got so excited. I'll never forget the first photo that I took on this camera, it blew me away, it was a complete fluke. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was a wild blueberry in the bushes, in the forest and this blueberry was in focus, and then everything around it was out of focus and this dappled light coming through the trees. It was so beautiful and it just made me really excited.

So from that moment I was thinking, this is a really cool tool for me to be able to share all the things that I'm doing on a blog. Blogs, they were the thing back then. I would get really excited about logging onto the computer and seeing who blogged that day or that week, and I thought maybe I could do that. Particularly, because we were overseas, and it was all really exciting for me in this whole new adventure. I thought, okay, what if I share our travel stories because we're doing that a lot anyway. Then, I was really into cooking and really into food, and it was such a joy for me to move to the other side of the world, have the seasons reversed, have a very different climate, go to the farmer's markets, find different food there. So I would bring this food back and I would create recipes and then I would take pretty average photos of these recipes and I thought, well, what if I'm sharing those online as well? So I thought, okay, I'll do that too. Maybe my parents, maybe my friends might follow and think this is interesting.

So I was just so inspired, I guess, by this creative lifestyle. At this point, honestly, I didn't know what I was going to do. I think, about six months into our two year posting, I knew that I was changing my career. But, I was so unsure and I thought, well, why don't I go out and I start to interview creatives who are out there, who are already doing full-time, freelance creative work, and just ask them how do they do this?

I would say... Hey, I'm coming to your city, I'm coming to your town. I would love to meet you. Can I spend an hour with you? So I'd take some photos and then I would send them an interview and they would fill that out, and then I would post it on my blog. As much as I loved meeting these people, and as much as I loved writing the recipes and doing the travel stories, I really loved getting my camera out and taking photos every single day, wherever I went. So I started to really lean into that.

My first ever contracted job that I ever had, sent me on location, paid for my flights, booked me a high car, booked me accommodation, and they gave me sort of a loose itinerary. And I just remember thinking, oh my gosh, this is amazing. I thought, Is this for real? This is actually a job?

I loved it so much. I loved everything about it. I loved that they gave me the independence to organise the shoots while I was there.

This is probably end of 2014, and I was just enamoured by this type of work and I thought, that's it. Okay, I'm done with the blog now I just want to do this. So that's what really launched me then into my photography work in terms of what I do today.

Via @leantimms on Instagram

Q. How did you learn the skill? Or was it just purely a trial and error process? Do you think you have to be technically minded to be good with a camera, or do you think it's something that anyone can learn?

I the beginning, I was not a technical person at all, I actually kind of freaked out about the technical side of the camera. I loved the process of picking up my camera and I not knowing all of those details and just being able to look through it and figure it out as I went. So I committed to doing this every single day. I learned a little bit every day. Then from there, it was just all about picking up my camera and seeing what looked good. It allowed me some time to learn, things like framing and composition, timing and following light. So I was really inspired by digging into that side of photography more than thinking. The issue with that though is that often I'd get my photos back and they'd be blurry or they'd be too dark or they'd be out
of focus. It did take me a while, I was learning as I went and learning by making these mistakes.

I also knew that I didn't want to go and study photography formally, even when I really started to get interested in it. I was worried that the same thing would happen with what happened with my dance career and my dance journey. That in going to university, it really did stifle a lot of my creative energy.

Any kind of artistic pursuit is subjective, and then all of a sudden, if you're worried about what kind of grades you're getting or what your professor's thinking, if you're doing something right according to someone's opinion, then you're going to start changing, the way that you create, in the way that you would naturally see the world.


I'm really grateful looking back that I didn't do that, that I allowed myself the time and the space to learn intuitively and creatively just hum with this idea that if I love it, that's good enough, and if anyone else loves it, then that's a bonus.

But then I did get to this stage, obviously where I needed to understand more, and I had some really amazing mentors while I was living in the states that I learned from, and that were so generous in sharing their knowledge with me that I'm super grateful for. The first one I had, I went to a workshop over in Seattle with Iran Guga. She's an amazing cook and stylist and photographer, and I went to one of her workshops in her beautiful studio in Seattle, and she had a guest teacher at the time, which was the amazing Australian photographer, Louisa Bimble. It was exciting for me to think of meeting someone from Australia knowing I was going back to Australia, but also just to have this grounding element of, or this maybe even possibility that this world does exist out of the states.

Louisa said, "I've got all these amazing people I'm meeting and photographing. Would you like to follow me? Would you like to second me in shooting?" That generosity still sits with me. That idea of sharing and being so open to share your creative skills and industry practices, it was so inspiring.

So that was so fun. Often we'd go up to Tennessee to go rock climbing, I met some really wonderful creatives in Nashville. One of those incredible people is my dear late friend Beth Kirby, which a lot of us know as just being an incredible force of nature when it came photography and just a creative life in general, such an inspiring woman. 

I remember reaching out to Beth after we met at a dinner and just said, "Hey, can I come and hang out with you at your house and take photos of you and do this interview? We just ended up connecting, we spent lots of really fun times together, and she was so inspiring to me because, she's just such a wild child. I just loved her energy, so creative, but also very real and very rough around the edges. Just so driven and so inspiring in many, many ways. My time with her was just, it was never long enough. She would share everything with me. One of the most generous people I've met, everything's on the table and she would openly share opportunities, really honest, candid conversations about money, about business, about everything.

So for the majority of the technical side, I'm pretty self-taught. But having these incredible mentors to share the way that they did things and the way they ran their business or the way they approached shoots, taught me a lot, was really inspiring.

But eventually I had to learn the technical side of things and look, it completely changed my photography world and I really should have done it sooner. But also, like I said, I'm really glad that I learned the way that I did and slowly and built my confidence in a way that felt really good to me. 

Via @leantimms on Instagram

Q. How do you think you found your style as a photographer?

Developing my style from the beginning and also allowing myself that time just to create in a way that felt really organic to me. Not worrying about will people like it, which is always really hard. But I've certainly learned as I've gone along, just to take photos, that if they sing to me and they feel good to me, then that's enough. 

But I noticed really early on the things that drew me in and got me really excited. One of those things in particular was light. I found myself drawn to a very similar pathway where I'd just be like, oh, I'm going to take a photo of that because the light's falling really beautiful there. Or, oh my gosh, look at the light shifting here, or this time of the day, or whatever it was, I would get really excited about that. So, light became something that I was really motivated by. 

Also, that storytelling element just got me really excited as well. I remember realising very early that in sharing something, ,was that knowing that wherever I was in the world, the intention was to be able to share this with somebody and hopefully if I'd done my job properly, be able to transport them there with me. So I started to think about ways that I would frame the world, so people could imagine themselves there and go, oh, this is where you are in the world. Just getting really excited by, the story that's going on and all of the elements that come together to create that story or image. I feel like that has really helped me in terms of the storytelling element of my photography, which has become more of the style that I'm interested in.

Q. Can you shine a bit of a light on what your photography practice looks like now? How often are you shooting? Are you still traveling a lot for shoots? What types of projects are you working on?

I'm still traveling a lot. My weeks, they vary so much, which I love. I'm
someone who really leans into change and spontaneity. Depends where my shoots are booked as to where I am in the world. I call Canberra home, I call it my base camp. I'm here, if I'm lucky, maybe half of my year. But the last few years,
it's looked more like 3-4 months of the year, which isn't a lot, but it means that I
get to be on the road and shooting which is always so much fun.

When I am at home, it could be that I'm editing, that I am working on emails that I'm working on, other projects I've got happening, creating workshops now.


Q. Which five words best describe you?

It's so hard to narrow this down. Well, I think we've figured out the first one, which
is curious. That's definitely me. I would say intuitive, generous, which can have its up and downs, independent and optimistic.


Q. What's the best lesson you've learned?

It's going to sound really grim, but probably the lesson on mortality. It was just such a powerful activity for me to reverse engineer my life and just to realise that we don't live forever and the way our primal instincts convince us that we will. It was such a perspective giver to me and motivated me to be really bold and to give things a go and not sit back and wait both in business and my personal
life. Another big lesson I've learned is to trust, which is always being challenged, but to trust my intuition and to be guided by that and to trust that even in the really hard moments there, golden opportunities for growth and everything always works out and has a silver lining.


Q. What's been your proudest achievement?

I think it's actually choosing a life that feels really honest and fulfilling to me. I mean, I feel like it's a choice I'm continuing to make daily and I'm going to have to keep choosing for the rest of my life, continuing to learn and to challenge for growth and embracing change, but it's had the most incredible knock on effect and brought so much goodness into my life.


Q. What's been your best decision?

Becoming a photographer for sure and backing myself as a creative freelancer. It's been a really fun time.

Via @leantimms on Instagram

Q. Who inspires you?

Mother Nature for sure. The seasons and vegetation around the world. I nerd out about this and it really inspires me. People who put in effort, people who are
brave and take risks, people who ask questions and really listen. People who are open to learning and challenging the status quo no matter what age. Actually speaking of age, I find there's also something really inspiring in intergenerational friendships. I find I'm really drawn specifically to women in their sixties and seventies, often single women who unleash all their creative energy and they've got a second wind at life and are just totally killing it. They're always really inspiring. I find 'em so liberated and they've got no inhibitions. And I feel like it's an age bracket that can go under the radar a lot. But I've got a lot of beautiful friends in this age bracket and these women just make me excited to be older and I think
we need more of that type of excitement in our culture.

Q. What dream do you still want to fulfil?

Oh, I'd still love to own a summer house in Sweden. I try to go back to Sweden every year. I've still got my beautiful family there that I lived with during my exchange year, and I just find it the most inspiring country I'd love to improve on my Swedish and yeah, the dream is to live half of my year in Sweden in a
little cabin somewhere isolated that gets lots of snow in the winter and maybe even by a lake in the summer. That'd be beautiful.


Q. Finally, what piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

Good question. Really hard too, because I guess without her I wouldn't be the
person that I am now. So I think I'd actually just thank her for putting in the hard yards to slowly but surely lead me to this place where I'm better at trusting my intuition and continuing to believe in abundance. Thanks, little Lean.


For more information about Lean & Natalie's upcoming Byron Bay workshop head to the link below:

To view more of Lean's work head here