Behind the Lens – Collette O’Neill

Welcome to the first in a series of stories looking at remarkable women; their life, passion, drive, challenges and joy. We find out what’s important to them about selfcare, and how they look after their health and wellbeing. It’s all part of our ethos here at Franchine Young to share advice, knowledge and inspiration. We hope you enjoy meeting these women as much as we have.

You might not know Collette O’Neill, but there’s a very good chance you know of her work.

A former model and now highly accomplished professional photographer in Northern Ireland, Collette is responsible for so many striking images used in private and public sector campaigns across the United Kingdom and Ireland. She has also been using Franchine Young wonder balm for several months. We were fortunate enough to meet Collette from the other side of the lens, when she photographed Franchine for the website. Here’s what we found out…

The power of play

Collette O’Neill loves playdays.

No, not an opportunity to offload her two young children to another household, or vice-versa. Playdays are rare gems that occur a few times each year. They’re opportunities for Collette to bring together a tribe of the most talented artists and friends, and they immerse themselves in a freestyle, creative collaboration. Collette, along with a make-up artist, a stylist, a designer, models… any number of artists from specific fields, all plunging head-first into a no-rules-apply, all-briefs-out-the-window expressive melange of professional talent and skill. It’s a creative cocktail that challenges, inspires, stimulates. And it produces literally award-winning results.

The sisterhood

It’s typical of how Collette works and why she is so good at her job.

She loves people, and she loves the creative force that comes together when small groups unite. It’s in part how she got her business off the ground in the first place. She was surrounded by so many like-minded women who believed in her and wanted her to succeed. Rather than stifling her, they helped her blossom and gave her the support and confidence she needed to launch her first ever business.

Along with complete encouragement also from her husband and family, Collette really drew on the professional power and selfless generosity of the sisterhood. The magic continues to this day, where there is a distinct blurring of the lines between professional associates who want to share opportunities, and incredible friendships. For Collette, they often go hand-in-hand. These women aren’t scared of each other, they’re each other’s biggest fans.

This camaraderie extends also to professional bodies.  Becoming a member of the Professional Photographer’s Association of Northern Ireland (PPANI) has not only seen Collette’s work lauded by peers, it’s helped her evolve as an artist and a business woman. There are no cliques, no guards and defences; there’s a voluntary exchange of information, advice and brainstorming so that all can benefit, and she loves it.

Making the leap into becoming a business owner

Collette loved her former career.

She worked for a design agency and although she dabbled in everything, her expertise was online. Her bosses were brilliant, she developed friendships that last to this day, and she thrived on the close-knitted intimacy of the studio. It was a place with such a positive work culture – everyone enjoyed mucking in to brainstorm, give feedback, help each other achieve. But, it was her time. Collette knew she needed to take her true passion and give it a chance to become the main event, rather than the sideshow.

It was inevitable – one of those things written in the stars. Growing up in Co Tyrone, Collette landed work as a model in her teens, and was regularly commuting to Belfast for shoots. She honed her craft on that side of the camera, but became increasingly fascinated with what was happening behind the lens, not infront of it. She continued modelling throughout university and, of course, developed friendships and networks that proved incredibly generous in sharing their talent, time and equipment. She was always headed in this direction, she just had to make the leap. It’s no surprise that her former workplace is now one of her clients.

But it’s one thing to start a business, it’s another thing to sustain it. Especially as a creative. Being her own boss, the master of her day and her destiny, is so important to her, especially with two little people onboard. But with freedom comes responsibility. She grew up excelling in arts, creating jewellery, writing, and paintings. That was, however, no sound framework for accounting, business development and management, and all the other skills required to succeed solo in business. It’s been a challenge, sure, but Collette hasn’t shied away from it. Collette Creative Photography is now five years in…

When your work is seen by the world, or when it means the world

How would you feel walking through a train station or past a bus stop, and seeing your work on display in huge format?

For Collette, it is a big buzz and definitely one of her work perks, especially when it involves charities such as her client, TinyLife. Working for major agencies on massive campaigns gets the pulse going positively, for sure. But, equally motivating for Collette is the realisation that she is, essentially, a recordist. A capturer of time. Nowhere is this more important than the private work she does for families.

Take wedding photography, for example. It’s not just about showcasing the moment, it’s about imprinting the detail, the intimacy, the memories. Knowing, for instance, she captured a mother and daughter in that special moment, and then hearing later that the mother has passed away, really impresses on Collette the gravitas of her job. Her work helps families celebrate, but also remember. If someone’s house was burning down, they wouldn’t go back in to save their television. They’d risk life and limb to rescue those photos.

It is no surprise, therefore, to hear that all Collette’s shoots commence with a chat. It’s a chance to break the ice (it’s more common to photograph people who fear, rather than face, the camera!) and get to know a bit more about the story behind the person. She digs that little deeper and as a result, she knows what her photographs have to find. Connecting with people, meeting all walks of life, learning from others; it’s all part of what makes her so passionate and talented at what she does.

Wonder balm

It’s through connections that Collette and Franchine Young met, and instantly connected.

Collette was there to photograph Franchine for her website, and the two clicked immediately. The more Collette learned about Franchine’s integrity and passion, the more interested she became in the wonder balm. At the end of the shoot, Franchine gifted her a pot as a thank you. Collette’s a no-fuss skin maintenance kind of gal. You have to be when you and your husband have two tiny tots tearing around all day, a house to run and a business to manage.

It’s no surprise that the only time Collette has for her skin is once the kids have gone to bed. Although she doesn’t indulge her skincare routine, she does enjoy the evening ritual. She’s always gravitated towards finding natural products, and so she was attracted to Franchine’s organic, pure recipe. She uses it as a nightly moisturiser and has been delighted with the results. So much, in fact, that she has now purchased a pot for her mother, who’s equally enamoured.

The cycle of the sisterhood continues, everywhere.

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