Interviewing Johanna Rontu, our photographer

By in Interviews

Today’s interview will take you a bit deeper behind-the-scenes of Lilja the Label photo shoots. We just spent a week on the beautiful Island of Mallorca to shoot our next summer’s campaign (spoiler: it’s going to be SO good!) and thought it was only fitting to share this experience with you through interviewing our photographer for this trip, Johanna Rontu. Johanna is based in Helsinki and has been an important part of our team since the beginning of season 2021 and are so excited to introduce her to you!

Click to browse the Johanna Rontu website / Click to browse her Instagram @johannarontu

Lilja the Label photographer Johanna Rontu
Lilja the Label photographer Johanna Rontu

Hi Johanna! Thank you for joining us today. Let’s start with a short introduction of yourself and your background! How did your career in photography start? Which part of photography do you enjoy most?

I started taking photos when I ended up working for my boyfriend in the summer of 2017. I helped him to produce content for his social media and through that I ended up taking pictures every day and carrying a camera with me everywhere I went. Quite soon I started to photograph my closest friends and that’s where the whole thing took off.


I have always been interested in shooting portraits and especially woman. I also focus on fashion and lately I’ve started to shoot dancers. I have a 15-year base in classical dance and that’s why I’m particularly interested in bringing out the movement in my shoots. Quite often I explore different poses through dance and movement, and it has helped me a lot in photography.


What would you say defines your photos? What is your signature style?

I would say that my style is quite natural, minimalist, and serene. I love to use natural light in a soft and dramatic way. Quite often I try to mimic that sweet soft natural light in my studio when I’m building lighting for a shoot. My style is also very down to earth, and my color palette can be found from the nature. Light and colors are the ones that interest me the most and gives me the biggest chills. Everything else can be very simple if those things are in place.


It was such an amazing experience having you shoot our next summer’s campaign! How do you prepare for a shooting trip like this? How has this experience been for you?

Even though 3 weeks has passed since our trip, I’m still overwhelmed about everything I got to see and experience in Mallorca with the team <3 This trip was very special for me since it was my first job gig abroad and I had a unique opportunity to create something that I would never be able to do in Finland.


As with any coming work project, planning is the key. Before the trip I got quite specific instructions on what kind of atmosphere and style Laura was looking for Lilja’s pictures. I had made moodboards to get in the right mood for our shoots and to be clear that we were on the same page with Lilja. Scouting different shooting locations in advance saves also a lot of time when you go to a place you haven’t been before. Also packing your gear properly is so so so important because it’s your job to make sure you will get the photos even if you got robbed or something broke. That’s why I had 3 cameras with me and double back up hard drives.


You’ve shot some other campaigns for Lilja before. Do you prefer shooting in a studio or in nature? What do you focus on when shooting for Lilja?

 I definitely prefer shooting in nature with natural light. I do feel that nature is a more creative playground for me, but I have been practicing hard on my studio lighting, since here in Finland we don’t have natural light for a long period of time.


With Lilja we try to use natural light as much as possible and shoot in location because those give the most natural look. Lilja’s style is very down to earth, and we always focus on creating material that is easily approachable for the customer. We use models with different body types and skin colors, and nothing is ever too edited. I think that we are a great match because we share a lot of same values and visual ideas.


Shooting products like swimwear can be a rather intimate moment between the photographer and model. How do you make sure your model feels comfortable and confident in the moment?

I always tend to say that I’m not the quietest photographer since I’m constantly giving feedback and trying to hype the atmosphere on a shoot. Really, you should sometimes see me shooting when I’m super excited because it can look quite amusing 😀 Once again, I think it’s my job to make sure that my models are comfortable and have them trust me. Always be king, warm, humble and value your models and their body. I’m always giving 100% of my presence on a shoot and that’s why I feel that I’m quite easily approachable, which is the key element when you are taking more intimate photos.


Where do you take inspiration from?

I do pay a lot of attention on what is happening in the industry and learning and taking inspiration from other creatives. I’m quite often inspired from dance, light and nature but sometimes it can also come from a political issue such as climate change. I have learned that inspiration needs that ”dull and empty time” to emerge because that’s the spot when you let your mind wander . This is something that I’m still learning since my own time schedules can be quite full and I’m often running from one place to another. Still, you can’t plan or rush inspiration.


If you could have a photoshoot with anyone in the world, who would it be and why? What would be the location?

 Right now, I’m at that spot where I’m hungry to learn from other people and thirsty to absorb new perspectives to my own thinking. That’s why my answer is, from whom I would like to learn from rather than whom I would like to photograph and where. In my biggest dreams I would like to have an insight of Peter Lindberg’s mind and be a fly on the roof in his shoot. There are so many professional photographers that I look up to and would want to learn from.


Lastly, what advice would you give to other aspiring photographers out there?  

A small list of things that have taken my own work significantly forward:

  • Dare to say “yes” to things that might frighten you
  • Appreciate your team
  • Stay kind and humble
  • Be open to learn from others
  • Be well prepared for a shoot
  • Don’t be afraid to contact people
  • Show your work and especially the ones you are most interested in
  • Work long term and patiently for your own vision
  • Trust your intuition and know your worth


Thank you so much for taking part in this interview Johanna! Wishing you all the best and can’t wait for all our future work together! If only it was next summer already…

Film photos by Johanna Rontu from our recent trip to Mallorca
Film photos by Johanna Rontu from our recent trip to Mallorca
Film photos by Johanna Rontu from our recent trip to Mallorca
Film photos by Johanna Rontu from our recent trip to Mallorca
Film photos by Johanna Rontu from our recent trip to Mallorca

Some film photos by Johanna from our recent trip to Mallorca – we headed to the southeast part of this gorgeous island to shoot our next summer’s collections.

So excited for what next summer will bring!