Today we bring you a glimpse behind the curtains in the digital workshop of our friend, Lee (@lee.vernall). The colors and lighting he captures paired with the tones he edits with are nothing short of gorgeous. Not to mention the plethora of images he's made available for your editing pleasure in the current round of the Mextures Collective. Read more about his work and his process below!
I’m Lee and I live in Bristol, UK, born and bred in Cornwall!
WHAT WERE YOU LIKE IN HIGH SCHOOL?
Tough first question! Well I was a bit reclusive in school. I got bullied a fair bit. I was different to other kids but it didn’t stop me having friends, doing what normal kids did. I was a joker to those friends and I played a lot of music! I didn’t look back on that part of my life. Oh also I was in a band that toured the UK supporting the (now famous) Deaf Havana. That was a pretty cool year (2009).
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP?
Well, ya know, I’d love to be a photographer full time; work for a brand maybe. I still haven’t figured it all out yet. Growing up I wanted to be a rockstar, like all 15-year-old kids in 2009, but it didn’t pan out that way. I’m not too old to get a degree in university, so that’s an option.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE COMFORT FOOD?
Oh man, probably pizza! So cliche! Or anything savory, like a pasty of course, I am Cornish after all!
WHAT IS YOUR SPIRIT ANIMAL?
Definitely a cat. I’m stubborn and only happy after being fed!
WHAT TWO CELEBRITIES WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO BE YOUR PARENTS?
Wow! That’s a thinker! But I’d def have to say Rik Mayall as Dad, he was a brilliant comic actor when I was growing up, I learned a lot from his attitude towards life. He sadly died in 2014. Also I’d go with David Bowie, I mean why wouldn’t you?! Bowie was a huge inspiration growing up, especially through the late 70’s early 80’s, he was a genius. You could learn a lot from these guys.
WHAT IS THE CRAZIEST THING YOU'VE EVER DONE?
I’ve never been crazy in the sense of the word, but I have to go back to when I was playing in the band. We announced our tour the day before actually setting off, I dropped everything to do this for 3 months, living in a van or hostels with 5 other dudes, living off the cash we made each show, which wasn’t much! It barely covered petrol! But that was a crazy time, felt a sense of freedom along with it.
WHAT'S THE MOST INTERESTING THING ABOUT YOU THAT WE WOULDN'T LEARN FROM INSTAGRAM ALONE?
Well to be honest most people look at a 6”4, 17 stone man covered in tattoos, and they wouldn’t think that I love the delicate things in life! It’s a huge misconception on my part! People have told me that ‘I don’t look like I love nature’ which is just dumb, anyone can and everyone does in once sense or another, and so they should!
HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO PHOTOGRAPHY?
I guess you could say I started more or less when I moved to Bristol. It was the first time I’ve left Cornwall for good and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself. At that time I was photographing vaping products, and they would use those photos on their Instagram, websites, etc, and I would get free vape products. This was going back to late 2015, early 2016. I had a lot of inspiration from great photographers like @brettfhill and @just.vape based out in Arizona. Those guys were killing the product game in their field, and I wanted to be just like them.
I got bored of it real quick and ended up dissolving it all and basically stop using Instagram to post anything. I only started picking up a camera again in late 2017, around September/October time.
From 2017 it was better. I started being more interested in the world around me more than the places everyone photographs. Don’t get me wrong, if someone gave me an opportunity to photograph say Lake Bled tomorrow, I’d quit my job and be there! But my playground was Bristol, and everything it had to offer. Sadly at this time I was clueless on how to use a camera properly instead of just full auto mode.
I started hitting the local landmarks like Clifton Suspension Bridge, and taking ideas from other photographers and what they captured. I have to thank Josh (@wecollectskies) for being one of the first local lads who helped me in my early stages, his consistent theme is brilliant. But slowly and surely I started to find my style a bit more, started loving the moodiness of autumn and winter and try to take advantage of that.
My whole philosophy was to create imagery that was easy to find. For example there are many photos where people won't know where I took them, to let you in on a secret, some came from my local park, or the local cemetery about 5 minutes from my door. I used to feel like I was cheating, by not going to all these brilliant places and have a certain appreciation for them, but I don't drive and public transport can only get you so far. Now though? if I can't go to the photos I want, I let them come to me, wherever I can find it. I just tried to capture the nature that was here, now.
Also people that I follow on social media kept me interested in what I do, from all the guys at @mood.magic and the content we feature, to people that pop up on my explore page on Instagram. It's fascinating to see peoples style change and grow. It makes me do the same thing, maybe a little slower than others but still good all the same!
HAS SOCIAL MEDIA PLAYED A ROLE IN YOUR WORK?
Yes absolutely, despite its flaws, Instagram is and probably will always be my only platform I feel confident enough to get a good response from people who create the same content. You have little families within communities on IG and it's very humbling to have someone comment positive things on your photos. Like everyone, I do have issues with the algorithm on IG. At one point this year I would constantly try to beat the algorithm by posting photos at certain times and with certain tags and always worrying if enough people would see it, and on and on it went. I got sick of that. So I went back to basics, I created what made me happy, and what I felt in photo form, it gave me an enormous sense of well being, and it was reciprocated by the people who follow my feed.
IS THERE ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR THAT YOU TRY TO COMMUNICATE THROUGH YOUR WORK?
I guess I try to create a sense of mood and emotion through nature. I love just getting lost somewhere I've never been before. I try to push myself out of my comfort zone and just find what I would like to photograph, and the rest just follows. Plus I feel it's important to be as original as possible, which is hard considering how saturated styles are. My work to most people isn't anything special or 'it's been done before'. But I digress, I photograph what I feel, and try to translate it as best I can.
HOW DO YOU GENERALLY APPROACH YOUR EDITING PROCESS FROM START TO FINISH?
My editing process is very minimal to be honest, I mean now that I've figured out how to properly use Lightroom and Mextures. For a time, I'd spend hours and hours editing a small portfolio of photos and constantly change them. Before last year I didn't know how to use any Adobe software. I actually can't even use Photoshop... Maybe one day I'll figure it out! Since shooting in RAW, Lightroom has become my bread and butter for all of my photos. Lightroom allows me to give the general feel to the photos I want, by using self created presets. I have around 5 or 6 basic presets that I use for IG, to try and keep my the theme consistent. I always export through Dropbox, its just quicker to get into Mextures for the final touches. I always crop photos 4x5/8x10 as a rule of thumb, it gives better resolution when uploading to social media. I normally tend to edit as soon as I'm home from a shoot, because I know how they'll look when they're finished.
HOW SPECIFICALLY DO YOU USE MEXTURES IN THAT PROCESS?
If Lightroom is my grunt work then Mextures is definitely my polishing rag! It allows me to fine tune my images to how I want them to look overall. I tend to pass them through my formulas to see what overlays fit and what doesn't quite work. Also I do like to use the guest formulas too, to see what others creations look like on my images, it's all good fun. Mainly I like my photos to almost look like paintings, so I heavily use the 'Mummify' texture, and use it as an overlay so it doesn't protrude through the image too much, and then I sometimes use 'Sky Earth' to give it a darker, moody look. Most of my formulas contain these 2 textures as standard, with added extras depending on what image I'm editing. At the end, I adjust things like the amount of fade I want, and just touch up the exposure and contrast levels.
Some formulas I’ve used on past and present photos:
'Somebody' - MVGFFCM
'Wire' - IUEFUSJ
'Biscuit Base' - GAYXWBI
'Susie Smooth' - VFUZRBF
'Doomsday' - HBQGPCR
WHAT IS IT ABOUT MEXTURES THAT MAKES IT SUCH A VITAL PIECE OF YOUR EDITING PROCESS?
I think it's how accessible it is, there is always something for everyone who subtly or heavily edits their photos. Plus I like how you can keep adding more layers to create something unique. It's also handy to have as an app, out and about, final touches before committing it to social media. I have the Lightroom app as well, and these 2 have become staples in my work, especially with a busy work life.
PICK TWO OF YOUR FAVORITE PIECES: WHAT IS IT ABOUT THEM THAT MAKES THEM STAND OUT TO YOU?
I guess the first image was during the snow day we had here in the UK. I had to walk home from work, and I walked through St.Georges Park, Bristol. I tried to capture something that took up the whole frame, and this was the result. I gave it a warmer look in the final edit, it was an interesting result, as opposed to the 'coldness' of the actual image. Still one of my favourites, and not likely to capture this again, in this place. It didn't do too greatly on IG, but for me it's a great photo.
The second is very recent, it was at Leigh Woods, Bristol. I love faded almost polaroid looks to my photos, and it was one of a few I didn't use Lightroom for. The weather helped in this shot a lot, giving it a natural mood I was looking for. After the initial export with no edit (just crop), it was straight into Mextures, then on to IG. That image became a staple of where I wanted to go from there, almost like 100% translating what I want into photo.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO CREATE MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE?
It's a great feeling creating something out of nothing, a sense of achievement out of a hobby is awesome. It's also great to have folk on social media look at your work and say they're inspired buy it, it drives me to create bigger and better things, maybe continue that inspiration for others. There's no better feeling to be part of something, to have that praise, and feel good about yourself.
IF YOU COULD TAKE CREDIT FOR ONE INSTAGRAM FEED, WHOSE WOULD IT BE?
That is a huge question, simply because there are many I follow with many different styles, of which I admire equally. But I'd have to say Kaori (@tiny__tiny__). Just a wonderful human being, and her IG inspires me a lot. You should definitely check out her stuff, words don't really do it justice.
WHO ARE THE PEOPLE THAT HAVE MOST INSPIRED YOUR WORK?
There are few that have inspired me from the start, and I don't tell or thank them nearly as much as I should, so luckily I have this platform to do so! There are a few people at work who have inspired me and liked what I've done, so a huge thanks to them also:
And of course the most inspiration you can get is from people you interact and chat with every day, so a lot of that comes from the guys at @mood.magic, Susie (@soulfulwanderings), Hazel (@hazel_merleyc) and Rob (@rjshawkins). They've accepted me into their small family and are very supportive. Thanks guys!
See more of Lee's work right here on Instagram!