Storyteller turned photographer
When Lydia Winters started out at Mojang Studios – the makers of Minecraft – she was the seventh employee at the company and the first woman to join. Now, she hosts an online show with millions of attendants and is the chief storyteller for a game that has become a household name the world over.
But Lydia craved another creative outlet and over the years has honed her craft as a photographer, specialising in product and watch photography on the side of her day job. As a product of the social media generation, she’s looking to market herself and find her place in the photography space – and she has the perfect background and tools to do it.
Lydia shared how she got into storytelling and her plans for her photography, as well as how she gets inspired for her product shoots and the importance of building yourself as a brand.
The relationship of storytelling and photography
The position ‘storyteller’ is much like social media managers and content strategists – decades ago they didn’t exist. But working her way into a field that was so new was simply another way for Lydia to express her creativity.
“I’ve always been a creative person and that has guided me through different career paths – elementary teacher, photographer, and my current 10 years within the video game industry,” she said.
Managing the storytelling elements of a company, and creating stories with photos, are certainly closely related. And so, it’s unsurprising that Lydia has found a love for photography besides her current work. “Photography and storytelling are intertwined for me. My mom has always said I have an eye for photography, which I realize can be interpreted as seeing a story.
“I don’t try or need to separate them because it’s what gives me a distinct photographic style. For a long time with my photography, I wanted desperately to follow the styles and trends of other amazing photographers.
“When I started creating and capturing my own stories, not only did I love photography again, but finally found my style emerging from my images. You can’t develop your style when you’re busy trying to replicate or compare yourself with others.”
Finding her way to product photography
Lydia took some time to find her way in photography as well as discovering her specialization in watch photography. Like many others during the pandemic, she was looking for a new way to express herself creatively when she found a passion for the discipline. “I’ve done many different photography projects over the years and I find that I prefer the constraints of a specific subject or medium,” she explained. “I started taking photographs of flowers (@enjoythewander) as a way to get outside and be creative at the same time. It taught me that I preferred photographing objects instead of people.
“For the first time, I saw a distinct style developing with my photography. The thing about Sweden is that there are no flowers during the winter. In February 2021, I grabbed a watch and took a photo. It turned out that product photography merged my passions for photography, watches, and storytelling.”
Lydia likes to post some tips with her product photos on her Instagram so followers can utilise her ideas – it’s all part of her community-minded mentality she takes from Minecraft.
“I hope people view my work and feel a sense of curiosity and inspiration,” she said. “I show the behind the scenes of my photography and enjoy surprising people with how I captured an image and sharing tips on how to do it themselves.
“It’s exciting to think of the combination of final image and behind the scenes as inspiring others to start taking more photographs.”
What makes a good product shot
When creating a good product photo, Lydia believes it comes down to a balance between showcasing the subject while still creating an overall interesting aesthetic. “It’s one of the reasons I see product photography as being similar to portrait photography.
“I approach each watch as if I were taking a portrait, deciding what characteristics I want to highlight, how I make it stand out from the background, and how the surroundings build the story I’m telling.”
While a watch is a complex and detailed object, Lydia finds inspiration in the details of the elements around her. “I draw inspiration from nature, textures, feelings, and colors – searching for details that aren’t usually noticed. I’ve realized this is why I enjoy macro photography and product photography of watches. With smaller objects, the details become more important within the scene and composition. “
Building yourself as a brand
The importance of being a brand as well as creating a product, or photograph, is not lost on Lydia. “It's essential to build yourself as a brand rather than just a company! The brand is the gestalt, the intangible feelings that someone has for the company.
“It’s not only about the product or service, but how you portray it, who you partner with, how you talk to your customers, and how you act overall – your brand is the sum of everything you do and how it’s perceived. As an individual, it’s about being true to who you are, standing up for what you believe, and what your art says about you.”
In this day and age, with social media offering opportunities to get work and promote yourself, there is a whole new world for budding photographers to navigate as they look to build a portfolio and attract clients.
Lydia has worked on this with her watch photography on Instagram, and now she’s looking ahead to launch a Youtube channel with her partner. “My partner and I have many overlapping hobbies, watches and photography being two of them.
“We’ve been talking about creating video content again for years now, but never landed on a subject. Sometimes the videos will be about watches, sometimes photography, and other times watch photography.
“It’s a fun way to be creative together and use the skills we've developed over the years to help teach and entertain other people. We have completely different creative visions and styles of photography which makes us a great complement and balance to one another.”
Starting a Youtube channel can be a scary prospect to many – especially those who prefer being behind the camera rather than in front of it. Lydia’s skills as a presenter have developed through her time hosting Minecraft shows – but she says it takes work and time to get to the point that you at least *look* relaxed on camera.
“It surprises people to know that I get very nervous before [a show for Minecraft],” she said. “As soon as I step on stage, the nerves shift into excitement. People tend to say I’m natural at being on stage and in front of a camera, but it’s actually taken years of work.
“Even my year as an elementary school teacher shaped and refined my presentation skills. If someone seems natural at something, it usually means they have worked incredibly hard to make it appear that way. When I look at older videos of myself, I can see there’s been a significantly positive change – I always want to be better than the last time which drives me to continuously improve.”
The time of the boys club is over
As a woman working in the video game industry, Lydia is no stranger to being the minority in a room. But she believes times have changed and this will lead to an incredibly positive outcome for all.
“My hope is there are more women and people of colour getting into photography [in the future]. The more diversity and representation in photography, the better – with diversity comes new ideas, thoughts, voices, and perspectives and more stories being told.
“It’s time for the old boys clubs to be a thing of the past. Many times, there are more stringent hurdles women need to overcome to gain access to groups, especially when there’s technical knowledge involved. I’ve seen this in gaming, watches, and photography.
“To get more women into photography, we need more openness as a community, more men being advocates, and the sharing of knowledge with different learning styles in mind.”
Finding a camera to match your photography style
Taking the step from hobby photographer to professional requires the right tools – and Lydia has found the perfect Hasselblad camera to assist her on her product shoots. “My Hasselblad kit has helped transform my photography – I’ve learned to be more purposeful and detailed from shooting with medium format.
“Gear doesn’t define your photography but absolutely loving your gear can make you want to shoot more. Also, I’m obsessed with the Hasselblad user interface, the clean and simple design lets me do what I like best and not get bogged down with hundreds of menu options.
“With Hasselblad, I’ve finally found a brand and camera system that speaks to my photography philosophy, style, and inspires me to want to shoot more.”
Her love of Hasselblad, and the Hasselblad Heorines program which she is now joining, goes way back to the beginning of the project. “I’ve been following the Hasselblad Heroines program since it started in 2019.
“I instantly gravitated to the photography of Anna Devis and Maria Svarbona. Each of them has such a distinct style and a strong aspect of storytelling within their images.
“Being able to discover and be inspired by amazing female photographers was something I hadn’t been as exposed to from other brands. Each year, I look forward to the new group of Heroines and I’m humbled to join the other amazing women for 2022.”