An Interview with Lee Osborne from Sartorialee
Posted on September 01 2018
Editor of the fashion, travel and lifestyle blog, Sartorialee, Lee Osborne has had an extraordinary career spanning publishing, creative direction, photography and content creation, including ten years as Creative Director at Condé Nast Traveller magazine. We interviewed him to find out more about his life and passions, both professionally and outside of work:
Lee Osborne from Sartorialee - Photo by William Osborne
Tell us a little bit about yourself – your background, lifestyle and career.
As I child I was always drawing and painting so I suppose it was a natural progression for me to eventually work in the creative industry. I’ve been in the publishing business for twenty years now, working professionally as a creative director, having graduated from the University of the Arts with a Design & Photography degree. Ten of those years were spent working on the esteemed luxury travel and lifestyle magazine Condé Nast Traveller before I established my own luxury content studio Osborne Creative in 2017. Whilst I’ve directed photo shoots in all four corners of the globe, I’m an experienced photographer and writer in my own right.
Where were you born, where do you live now, and where would you like to be in the future?
While I’m an Essex boy, and yes, I am proud of the fact despite the jibes (I was born in Chelmsford and spent my childhood in Braintree), I feel most at home in Bedfordshire, where I’ve lived for the past 19 years. Who knows what the future may bring but I plan to stay in this area.
Who or what inspired you to become a professional photographer?
I’ve always had a passion for photography, but I guess it started when I began going on foreign holidays with my family as a teenager. I used to play around a bit with my mother’s Olympus Trip compact camera initially, until I got my first proper camera, an Olympus OM10 back in the days of film – digital hadn’t even been invented. I then got really in to processing my own images in the dark room at art college, before specialising in photography as one of my chosen paths during my degree at the University of the Arts (formerly the London College of Printing). Initially I was an art director who directed photographers, but I gained a wealth of experience over the years working with some of the best photographers in the business. It inspired me to get behind the lens myself and take it up professionally.
Do you have a photography ‘idol’?
When I was younger I was in awe of the Brazilian photo journalist Sebastião Salgado – I went to see his show at the Royal Festival Hall while at University in London, and was left spellbound. A friend of mine, the photographer Andy Morgan bought me a copy of his book ‘Genesis’ for my 40th birthday. The imagery is jaw-dropping . Nowadays it would have to be the streetstyle photographer Scott Schuman The Sartorialist, who’s fabulous fashion portraits of New York inspired me to set up Sartorialee. I met him at Pitti, the menswear show in Florence, and found him to be a very humble guy. His notoriety behind the lens has led to many a collaboration designing his own menswear lines with leading brands in the industry and I guess that’s a dream of mine.
What is ‘Sartorialee’? Tell us more about it.
Sartorialee is my men’s style blog which I put together in my spare time. ‘Dressing the globe-trotting’ man is its mantra, and is basically an outlet for me to write about my other great passions in life, travel and menswear. I file impassioned copy and imagery, well curated postings on sartorial-relevant content that I like, from product launches, designer and company profiles, sartorial destination pieces, behind the scenes in the production process and interviews with interesting sartorial players – in a nutshell, how to be the best dressed version of yourself wherever you travel.
How were you introduced to the fashion/style/luxury industry?
Working for Condé Nast exposed me to these areas, but I like to think I’ve established myself as a menswear expert largely off my own back, through my enthusiasm for the subject, networking and the content I produce. I’ve been commissioned to write and shoot articles off the back of the blog by luxury brands as well as travel and luxury titles from Canali to Harrods and Plaza Uomo magazine.
What’s in your kitbag currently?
2 Nikon DSLRs (1 spare), 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, wideangle and zoom lenses, plenty of lens cleaning cloths (because I’m always losing them), a pocket case for my SD cards.
Lee Osborne's Billingham Hadley One bag - Photo by Lee Osborne.
If you could take one camera, lens and accessory with you to an important event or trip, what would they be?
Nikon full-frame camera of course would be pre-requisite. Despite owning a bevy of different lenses, I always end up returning to my tried and trusted 50mm lens. It’s probably the lens that best defines me. I first discovered it when Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist blog started using it for his streetstyle imagery and I’ve loved its capacity to create such low depth of field in full length portraits. Bokeh heaven. All contained within a Billingham bag, naturally.
When did you buy / acquire your first Billingham, and what made you consider it over other bags?
I bought my first Billingham bag around the same time as I bought my Olympus OM10 – The Hadley in khaki canvas and tan leather - and I’m pleased to say it’s still going strong. It’s now being used by my son who’s into his photography, too. I get him to take portraits of me to use on the blog and it’s a great way for him to learn the ropes of photography from his old man - always in manual mode, I hasten to add.
Lee Osborne with the Billingham Hadley One. Photo by William Osborne
Which is your favourite Billingham product and why?
It would have to be the Hadley One - I have the all black version which is super smart. Having had the Hadley when I was younger it was obviously engrained in me. As well as accommodating my DSLR and lenses it has a slip at the back for my laptop which keeps everything very handily together.
Which feature would you like to see in a bag in the future – something that isn’t available in any camera bag right now?
I’m a big fan of camera backpacks that have a back-facing zip closure facility to avoid being pickpocketed. It’s a simple but genius idea to reverse the zip so it’s not facing the outside.
Which subjects are you most passionate about in photographic terms?
I would have to say portraits because they always spring surprises. Sometimes you have preconceived ideas of how a particular person will behave in front of the camera and sometimes it’s completely the opposite to what you’d imagined. Some people who exude confidence aren’t always the best sitters. I’ve had quite a few people say I have a relaxed persona and they feel very at ease with me in front of the camera, which is flattering. Above all I want people to be themselves in front of the lens, not put on an act, try and be somebody they’re not. The camera never lies.
What is the photographic project or piece of work you’re proudest of?
I’ve spent a lot of time in Portugal over the years on various commissions for Wine Spectator, one of my magazine clients, based in New York. Over this time I’ve accumulated an abundance of portraits and landscapes, which, together as a collection, make me most proud. If I was to pick a favourite though, it would be my portrait of Portuguese husband and wife winemakers Jorge Borges and Sandra Tavares taken in the Douro Valley - probably my best portrait to date. The magazine ran it full page so gave it real standout. As much as I like to recce and plan shoot locations meticulously, sometimes situations just present themselves – this was one such time: a vacant copper table and chairs overlooking terraced vineyards and their panting dog Pintas completed the picture. I love the natural, relaxed feel of it. It typifies the couple’s warmth and hospitality and showcases the stunning landscape and terroir of the region. I lost my heart to the Douro Valley many years ago.
Jorges Borges and Sandra Tavares - Photo by Lee Osborne
Which project did you enjoy shooting the most, and why?
Shooting in the extreme cold of the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland made me realise just how much we take our temperate maritime climate for granted in the UK. I was shooting there for Condé Nast Traveller on a collaboration with Fuji cameras and was easily my most challenging location to date. Everywhere is covered in snow which lent an ethereal quality to the landscape which can best describe as evoking memories of those 1980s string art compositions. The sub-zero temperatures meant that camera batteries ran dry in minutes and viewfinders and lenses constantly steamed up which made it quite challenging. Luckily I’d done my homework beforehand and took spares of everything. I can’t underestimate the importance of planning, particularly for out of the ordinary places. We stayed 2 nights at The Ice Hotel where the Northern Lights evaded us. However, we were fortunate enough to experience the Aurora Borealis in all their glory on our final night at a place called Abisko – which has one of the best records for viewings and shooting them (with silk gloves on) was magical.
With developments in mobile phone technology and cameras, where do you see photography moving in the future? Any predictions?
You’ll definitely be able to have DSLR capability via a smartphone, that’s for sure. And as a traveller I rather like the concept of lightening the photography load and making it as portable as possible – without sacrificing the quality of course. I admire what Sony has brought to the digital photography table in this respect. I’ve always wondered why Apple hasn’t developed its own DSLR though. Is there an unwritten rule that Nikon, Canon and co forbid such a thing? I’m rather in awe of drone photography I must say, and wish I had the time to explore its endless capabilities further.
What advice would you give to young people thinking about a career in photography today?
I never knowingly planned it this way, but if you can make a living out of something you love I think that has to be the dream. But it takes a lot of hard graft to achieve it and you have to be constantly on top of your game. To make it as pro, there’s lots of assisting photographers in the formative years, and largely unpaid work until you can start to establish yourself. But I wouldn’t change it for the world, job satisfaction is everything. Being a photographer is only a 1/3rd of what I do though. These days I think you have to be more than just a one trick pony and the greater the skill set you can offer a client the better I think. I’ve had a lot of clients say they love that I can deliver projects in 360 degrees (photography, design and words).
What’s next for Lee Osborne? What are your next big projects?
I’m heading to Catalonia next week to photograph the Torres wine family which I’m really looking forward to. It’s a privilege to be able to photograph the leading lights of the wine world and even more fulfilling when you have a genuine interest in wine too – which I do. You not only get to photograph winemakers but they insist on sharing the fruits of their labour with you – which has led to me developing quite a palate over the years.
Where can readers follow you on social media? What can they expect to find?
My blog, ‘Sartorialee: dressing the globe-trotting man’ can be found at: www.sartorialee.wordpress.com. My Instagram handles are @sartorialee for men’s style and travel, while my business, Osborne Creative, which showcases my creative work in art direction and design, photography and words is @osbornecreativelondon
What was the subject of your last tweet or Instagram post?
It was a portrait of me, taken at Waterford Castle in Ireland. I was on a commission for Harrods magazine and had the pleasure of being guest at a wonderful dinner to launch a collaboration between Jeff Leatham and Waterford Crystal.
🇮🇪 WATERFORD MOMENT • honoured to be a guest at the Waterford Crystal Jeff Leatham launch at the stunning Island Resort of Waterford Castle Hotel • #waterfordcrystal #waterford #ireland #menswear #mensstyle #lifestyle #onassignment #suit #suitup #lifestylephotography #dinner #fiskars #travel #luxuryhotels #luxurytravel #menslifestyle #mensfashion #sartorialee #sartorialee #crystal #visitireland 📷@ellenaden Just out of shot, my insta buddy @clairebrayford who I had the pleasure of meeting in person
How important is social media to your business? Do you see this becoming more or less important in the future?
It’s definitely great, but my website is my most important sales tool. Instagram is addictive, but it’s a slow burner in terms of growing your following. I think you need a lot of patience and not give in to the temptation of buying followers. I’ve always said my approach will be to grow my social media organically - I lose respect for people that buy their audience.
Where can people view your photography? Do you have any forthcoming exhibitions, book signings, talks or appearances?
Head over to my portfolio at: www.osborne-creative.co.uk which showcases my work in the 3 disciplines I specialise in. Photography, art direction and design and words. Bookings can be made by contacting me at email@example.com or you can live chat with me directly on the site.
What do you get up to when you’re not taking photographs? What’s your biggest passion outside photography?
Spending time with my family – whether it’s mucking out the stables of my daughter’s pony or travelling far and wide to support my son playing rugby, rowing or watching our beloved Arsenal at The Emirates.
Lee Osborne can be found online at:
Sartorialee Men’s Style Blog: https://sartorialee.wordpress.com/