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Luana Martignon photography journey, founder of Intimate Portraits by Lu

Hi there, I'm Luana Martignon, a 33-year-old female photographer based in Cambridgeshire.

I thought I'd share my photography journey with you over the years!

My First Photo Ever

I honestly remember this as if it happened yesterday. My dad used to LOVE photography, and he had a film camera (which I now own, but it doesn't work anymore). My parents and I lived in a top-floor flat in a small Italian countryside village. We had a pretty big balcony, and during the hottest months, we would enjoy outdoor evening meals. My mum was pregnant with my brother, and Dad decided to take a family photo using the film camera's timer.

At that time, I was just 6 years old and eager to seize my chance! Shaking with excitement, I took my very first photo: a somewhat wonky, low-angle portrait of my parents, happily cuddled up on our home's balcony.

I couldn't find that particular photo, but I found one taken a few years earlier by my dad, featuring me on that very same balcony.


Early years

Fast forward to the mid-2000s, when I was a fairly self-conscious teenager discovering social media for the first time. Yep, if you are old enough you got it, I am talking about MySpace.

MySpace was THE social media back then. People my age would create their profiles, even learning HTML coding and if you were in someone's Top Friends it was a pretty huge deal!

I started to make friends online and discover new music, organising going to gigs and always trying to sneak backstage (I was pretty good at it!). I can happily say I made lifelong friends following small Italian pop-punk bands around and wearing a lot of eyeliner.

At this stage, I had a pretty lame point-and-shoot camera, the quality was terrible, and my main focus was capturing the moment more than creating an aesthetically pleasing image. I just wanted a photo to "prove I was there" - Fun Fact: I was never the popular kid!

This is also the age when I started taking self-portraits as a form of self-help, and I never really stopped.

Just a small example of my incredible photography back then... *cough cough*


And how I eventually improved! Woo-hoo!

The life-changing moment

Every year since 1932, Venice has hosted one of the biggest worldwide events in the film industry: the Venice Film Festival.

My hometown is a twenty-minute train journey from the romantic city, which means that every August since 2017 I had a a fixed appointment in my summer schedule: the red carpets. This ended up being my actual photography school: surrounded by professional agency photographers giving me tips, I spent 10 days running around taking photos of celebrities (and my group of friends' shenanigans) every year. This is when I first felt able to create a real connection with people, as these celebrities would often end up interacting with me in a different way than they did with the actual photographers there. Being a simple fan with a camera probably helped a lot, but it still gave me the motivation to pursue photography and I loved capturing those interactions as well as documentary style candid of these famous people just being themselves on the red carpet.

When I moved to England, I ended up shooting at the BAFTAs, at Leicester Square premieres and working for the BFI a few times.

Some of my long-time favourite shots (these were truly hard to choose!):

University and The First Years In The UK

I studied Visual and Performing Arts at IUAV (Venice, Italy) and graduated with a dissertation on Tim Burton's artwork from paper to screen. That dissertation is still one of my biggest "proud of myself" moments ever! Tim Burton's work was a massive source of comfort for me growing up (emo kid alert), and my dream was to work with him as a Still Photographer.

This is why during uni and in my first years in the UK I was working on short films and music video sets taking behind-the-scenes photos (with a full-time waitressing job or working as a live-in nanny to make enough to get by).

I really, desperately wanted to work in film. I wanted to work for Tim Burton, let's be honest, to the point that I did even give him my CV in person at some point! And managed to keep it together!

I was tapping in and out of so many types of photography: weddings, events, red carpets, behind-the-scenes, charity work... It was my job "on the side", so I had the luxury of only picking up work I genuinely wanted. Stills photography (film sets BTS) was still the dream but I didn't mind travelling to Istanbul or Svalbard to document charity projects either LOL!

Not too long ago

But photography wasn't enough to get to the end of the month and being an immigrant and only relying on myself, I had to prioritise my mental health: stability became the priority.

Around 2018, my career took a different turn. I had moved from London to Cambridge a couple of years before and I started working for small businesses, eventually becoming a Business Development and Operations Manager in a sustainable personal care products startup. At least I loved their ethos and I could use my creativity to problem-solve! Plus - I could sneak in some product photography and the usual work on the side too.

2022 was a very productive year for me, photography-wise. I completely upgraded my kit, which made me feel more creative and motivated than ever, and I started organising more and more shoots to try new things. I was quickly starting to realise that my photography passion was still there and pretty much on fire. And that I was still great at creating a connection with people using my camera.

End of 2022

The kick in the bum I needed finally happened.

The sustainable business I was working for told us they were going to close for good in January 2023.

That was my opportunity, once and for all, at the age of 32, to seriously put all my time and effort into my business. Give it a proper go!

I started sorting out my old website and making connections.

By February 2023, I was fully self-employed and ready to kick ass!

My first big job was a weekend packed with female comedians' headshots in London. I noticed how most of them would talk about themselves before the shoot, saying stuff like "I hate my photos taken", "I look terrible in photos", "I am so awkward in front of the camera" and so on. Then, I watched them transforming during our session and honestly glowing by the end of it. They would give me feedback such as "I had headshots taken before, and it was so awkward but this was amazing and I had a lot of fun" or "I actually look like myself and I love it!".

Something started changing inside of me. I felt like I was able to help people, to make a positive impact on how individuals saw themselves. And this was proven by the referrals brought by this work!

How Intimate Portraits by Lu Came To Life

Early this year, I received a voice message from one of those female comedians (and friend):

"My friend wants to have some nudes taken and I thought you might be interested. What do you reckon?"

And that's how I met my first intimate portrait client.

"S" and I spent a few weeks organising, planning together, and chatting. I said I wanted to do a long shoot and spend an afternoon together, so we could be creative and try different things. She was all in!

It was an incredible, eye-opening experience: watching someone flourish and increase their body confidence, shot by shot, was truly extraordinary. Almost as much as looking at their reactions when they saw the final images, telling me they were drawn by the more artsy one and the details.

I had found my life call and I started building my website, approaching potential clients, and sending model calls right away: no time had to be lost!

If I say so myself, I cannot be prouder of my photography journey and how it brought me here today.

This is my story. Thank you for reading.

Click below to read my clients' testimonials.


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