By Daniela Degrassi
It’s easy to make vegan choices when it turns to food, fashion and beauty products. With the increasing demand of plant based items, the amount of information provided by brands and their packaging has made things a bit simpler for vegan shoppers. But there are still some unexpected areas that can be using animal by-products without our knowledge and despite our best intentions.
Take photography for example… Even yours truly, with a long career as a lifestyle photographer, until recently I didn’t know that not everything around the photography world is animal-friendly… And I am not talking about the photographer’s camera bag…
If you’re surprised, sit tight and keep reading. Today we’re clearing the air on what’s NOT vegan about photography with Lilly Sells, a UK based wedding photographer and featured vendor in our Vegan Wedding Directory UK page. Through a long interview, Lilly is shedding some light into what you should look out for when booking your wedding photography.
Lilly, where did your vegan journey begin?
My vegan journey officially began as recently as 2017 but has been something my partner and I have more loosely followed since around 2013. We’ve been vegetarian for all of that time and always tried to avoid dairy wherever possible. We found it a struggle to completely remove it from our diet though as it’s so overwhelmingly present in so many products. Eventually with more research into the dairy industry and the nutritional benefits of a plant based diet I realized that I needed to make more of an effort. If you want change you really do have to be part of it. I haven’t looked back since.
Photo by Lilly Sells
Why did you decide to make your business vegan?
As a vegan it seemed natural to me that my business should strive to follow the same ethos. For me photography is all about preserving beautiful moments for my clients and I see no reason why this can’t be done in a way that preserves the beauty of our planet too. We all need to do what we can to help the environment. I think this is often harder for small businesses but even small changes can make a difference. I think there has been a real change in the wedding industry in recent years with regards to being more environmentally conscious and its definitely gathering momentum.
Photo by Lilly Sells
What does being a vegan photographer mean?
Aside from my diet and the products I use in my personal life, to me being a vegan photographer has meant that I have striven to be more ethically minded when conducting my business. This has covered a wide range of things. In terms of products, this may come as a surprise but many photographic materials are not vegan-friendly. Film for example, contains gelatine as it helps preserve the strength and longevity of the film. Shooting on digital is the obvious alternative to this which I imagine all vegan photographers use.
While researching for my own prints I discovered that companies such as Ilford have ensured that none of their chemicals contain animal products, and none of their chemical products are tested on animals. However like so many printing papers, the paper itself contains gelatine. Apparently paper does exist now that is resin coated, made using a layer of wood pulp over which a layer of plastic is placed, usually polyethylene. This was not always the case but fortunately things are starting to change. It is quite difficult sometimes to ascertain from printers exactly what their photographic paper is made from. It was actually the hardest thing for me when thinking about making my business as vegan as possible. When asked for prints, I use a printing supplier that to the best of my knowledge uses a plastic based layer. For me, this was one of those times where veganism became about what is possible and practicable. The world is frustratingly behind in so many ways which means there are sometimes unavoidable harms. This is difficult. I have come to the realization that as a very small business I can just continue to research this field and make the most ethical choices I can.
Photo by Lilly Sells
But I know that all the physical products I give to clients that request them are eco-friendly and come from sustainable sources.
For example, the presentation boxes that I deliver to my clients are all hand-made by a small family run company. They are constructed from European grown pine and Baltic birch plywood. Neither of those species are endangered and any wood-waste is given away free of charge to the local community. Obviously being made from a natural material, the boxes are completely biodegradable, including the soft interior filling, but are created to be treasured forever. If any of the boxes require a color coating, only water based, non-toxic stainers are used.
When I am asked to create a wedding albums I relay on a UK supplier who creates beautiful high-end ‘Fine Art’ albums. Their online design system, whose servers are PAS 2060 certified as carbon neutral, allows photographers to build a completely unique narrative into each album and then send this over to clients to proof before printing starts.
Photo by Lilly Sells
I spent a great deal of time researching suppliers when looking for album makers, and this company’s commitment to reducing their impact on the environment was by far the best I have seen. Everything is clearly displayed on their website which I have found to be quite rare. Sustainability is at the heart of all the materials they use. The paper choices, Art White and Art Cotton are PEFC certified from sustainable sources. The cover boards are FSC certified 100% recycled material and End boards being 90% recycled and 10% from sustainable sources. When designing the cover of these albums, there are many choices, including natural linen and vegan friendly leather. This of course appealed to me greatly. On top of this their shipping cartons are made from 100% recycled cardboard and they use carbon neutral shipping couriers.
I think it’s so important to use sustainable materials wherever possible so I’ve carefully selected these suppliers. I love supporting small businesses wherever possible.
There does seem to be a movement happening in small businesses to use plant based printing methods. Soya ink for example. However none that I have found so far offer photographic printing services. You can print business cards, leaflets, posters etc all from plant based materials but as of yet, no photos. Hopefully in the near future the technology will be there for them to offer photographic printing too. The future vegan printing needs to be easier and more accessible. It will be such a giant leap forward!
Why might vegan couples want to choose a vegan photographer?
I think many vegan couples want their wedding day to reflect the way they live their lives as much as possible. Weddings are naturally such personal occasions; as unique as the couple and the story that lead them to the big day itself. But at their heart, these celebrations all have something in common, they are all about love and togetherness. Veganism, for many, is about showing love and compassion to all, so it seems natural that couples who hold this view may want their wedding suppliers to be like minded.
Photography being a vegan option isn’t the most obvious choice in the world. What can be vegan about photography? For my business it’s about being as ethical and mindful as possible when delivering my work to my clients. I think by choosing a vegan photographer, a couple knows they are working with someone who shares their values and ultimately will deliver to them a set of beautiful photographs to treasure that have been created with the environment in mind.
Lilly Sells is based in London but she’s happy to travel to capture beautiful moments that are full of life and joy! She works in a relaxed documentary style, seeking to capture every wonderful detail of your wedding day and beyond.
A feminist and independent spirit since she could remember (her childhood heroines were Pippi Longstockings and Katharine Hepburn) Daniela Degrassi found her creative outlet as a lifestyle photographer, working mainly in Northern California where she lived for 15 years before moving back to her native Italy to continue to be her autistic sister’s primary caregiver. Vegan since 2014, she found a perfect way to carry her message of compassion while celebrating her love for the wedding industry launching The Kind Bride in February 2018..