Liz Ansley is convincing proof that talent can be taught—and self-taught for that matter. An award-winning photographer Ansley makes her living taking photos, even though she has no formal training in photography. She has found her work well received in the book publishing industry. Her photography graces the front of books by some of fiction’s biggest names: James Patterson, Stephen King, Danielle Steel and Nora Roberts to name a few.
Ansley’s interest in photography started during her family’s two year stay in Australia, born out of a desire to capture the beauty of the landscape. Through library books, photography clubs and workshops, she taught herself the fundamentals of taking photos which led to a successful portrait business in Australia. But upon her family’s return to Plymouth in 2011, she realized that she was craving something new.
“I tried to transfer my portrait business here, but I was getting kind of bored with portraits at that stage and was looking for a more creative outlet,” she says. After experimenting with various personal projects, she realized a lot of her photos looked like they could be the covers of novels. “A few people had mentioned that my work had that kind of look, so that’s what directed me to pursue that as an outlet.” After some research, she reached out to an agency and was immediately taken on. She has been taking photos with book covers in mind ever since.
Although Ansley sometimes gets assignments from publishers, she is rarely given specific books to shoot covers for. Instead, she uses her creativity to come up with assignments and figure out what publishers are looking for. She clearly has an eye for it, given that she has sold more than 600 photos to publishers.
The element of storytelling is what drew Ansley to book cover photography and what keeps her there. “I like trying to use symbolism to capture emotions,” she says. “There’s more storytelling than you get from, say a family portrait where they’re just sitting and smiling, and there’s no story. So, I like the art of it.” The outdoors is her favorite place to work, although natural light can be hard to come by in Minnesota for much of the year, prompting her to shoot “literally anywhere and everywhere I can.” Sometimes she’ll rent out mansions or venues across the metro. “I like to shake it up and use new locations,” she says.
When it’s time to get to work, Ansley’s three best models are never too far away, as they all live under the same roof. Her daughters Chaeli, 21; Georgia, 18; and Niamh, 9, model for her photos regularly and are featured on many book covers. “They’re the most available,” Ansley says with a laugh. “I have a huge collection of costumes and dresses and props and accessories in my basement. I usually try to buy for their size, knowing that at any moment, I might want to grab them and make them model for me.”
Her daughters say that they enjoy modeling for their mom. “I like getting to be a part of my mom’s work,” Georgia says. “I get to see the finished project and be a part of these stories that I normally wouldn’t be.”
“Sometimes she can be a little picky,” Chaeli says. “But, it’s a lot of fun. I really like just posing. I have a lot of fun with the outfits, especially if they’re a flowy dress, pretending to be in a different world that’s different from every day.”
Ansley’s current projects vary, but she’s always thinking of potential future shoots. When inspiration strikes, she’s ready to grab her camera and go, and luckily, she always has three eager models ready to help her out.