michaels presented multiple award winning photographer Kelly Tunney as part of our Insight Lecture Series held during Melbourne's Photo Show on 22nd July.
Kelly’s mission is to help you find your photographic creative confidence and hang on to it for the long haul.
Creatives always want to try new ideas and extend their creativity just about every single day. But how do you find creative confidence and how do we hang on to it for the long haul? Finding what will work for you is important - maybe it’s not through awards, but it’s other forms of experimentation or reinventing yourself and your brand.
As a photographer, I come together with clients over how they see the world, and how they want to be seen in their own little part of it.
I provide every couple that I photograph with a collection of prints from their day. It is important to me that you see your photographs as printed images – call me traditional, but it’s something that I like to do.
I want to give you something you will want to hang on your wall, not just something for Nanna's fridge.
Kelly's awards include:
2017 ACT AIPP Wedding Photographer of the Year
2016 ACT AIPP Professional Photographer of the Year
2016 ACT AIPP Wedding Photographer of the Year
2015 AIPP AUSTRALIAN Wedding Photographer of the Year
2015 ACT AIPP Wedding Photographer of the Year
Find Kelly on:
Kelly's lecture was proudly sponsored by Nikon
Well, good morning, everybody. My name is Peter Michael and it’s my great pleasure to introduce Kelly Tunney.
Kelly comes to us from Canberra; and you know we think it’s cold here, I said to Kelly, it must be pretty good down here, but she said to me it was still pretty cold here. But at least we don’t go minus, yet.
Ah, it’s still pretty cold here!
We’re very lucky to have Kelly because she created history. She was the, at the Strobe Professional Photography awards in 2015; she was the very first female to win the Australian Wedding Photographer of the Year!
So that’s fantastic. That’s not the end of her awards; she got 11 more Awards, but the other one I think I should point out is that she was the Telstra ACT Young Businesswoman of the Year a few years ago. Kelly has been kindly sponsored by Nikon, so thank you, Nikon; and please give a warm welcome, a warm Melbourne welcome, to Kelly.
Thank you. Big thanks straight off the bat to Nikon, of course, they’ve been a big supporter of me for a number of years and they’re pretty awesome. So, thanks, Jules, for bringing me down… up… no… down… down…
Yeah; I know my geography.
I do tend to float around; I do tend to ramble occasionally; I’m very prepared but I will let you know I’m probably not super polished, and certainly not as polished as my friend (Kristen Cook) - put me to shame!
So, this is the title of my talk today.
[Slide snowing the Nikon logo and “Confidence, Trust & Kick-Ass Wedding Photography”]
So, yes I am a wedding photographer based in Canberra, I shoot all over the place, but I’m hoping that anything that I can pass on today might be relevant to all of you, hopefully.
Anyone in the room who does shoot weddings?
[Audience members raise their hands]
About two of you, awesome.
Maybe this will inspire you to get out and shoot some weddings - they’re pretty fun!
So I will talk about what I’m going to discuss today, in like 45 minutes; I hope I can speak to that timeframe.
I’m going to talk about deciding on what to be awesome at, in this amazing photography job that I do; how I outsource things in my life to make it a little bit easier for me; evolution in change, which I think is a really important one, especially in the current climate that we’re in, in this industry; my 3:00 p.m. pickup success story; you’ll understand what that means in a little bit; my addiction to comfort; a book I discovered called “The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a - probably can’t say a swear word, but it’s F-U-C-K.”; longevity in this industry after 10 years, and that’s where I set - so I’ve been around longer than 10 years, and what sort of comes after that for me.
I’m going to touch on some awards stuff and creativity and things that have helped me probably get to this stage today.
So, going right back when I was 2 - that’s me.
[Slide shows image of a young girl with blonde hair]
Thanks, it’s kind of the reaction I was hoping for!
So, I shot my first wedding when I was four and then… [Laughter]
No, I don’t… I don’t want to sound like that cliché; you know it’s like people talk about when you first started photography, and it’s like, well I was born with a camera in my hand; and yeah, I was not like that; but that’s just a cute photo to set the scene.
It is hard to talk about yourself, I admit that it’s probably not my forte; so I created a fun fact sheet about me, so I can say in 10-15 seconds or less, a little bit about me.
[Slide shows a list of information about Kelly]
Some relevant, some of you probably don’t care about, but anyway; play the clarinet for 14 years; I still think I can but I probably can’t; I’m an only child; I did study photography, since I left (E-12); this is my first time in this store – that’s a fun fact - I do like to drink wine; shot my first wedding on a Nikon film camera; F601, back 90-something-or-other; have a pretty cool family; a very nerdy accountant husband; two identical twins; one on earth and one in heaven; and my mum’s a little crazy.
So that’s me!
Now you know everything about me!
[Slide shows a bride in a black and white photo with partial colour]
Okay, this is important to set the tone, so you know just; hopefully, how far I have come.
I shot, this is my first wedding I ever photographed, and yes, as you can see I was excellent.
So, it was around 1995 I believe; I used to… actually I shot all my weddings on film until 2008, but I used to shoot - I’d have a couple cameras going, and had black and white film; so, I’ve shot this, developed it myself; printed it myself; and I think the kicker was really the hand-colouring, which was really quite innovative and a step ahead of its time.
I even used like, you know, I think back then you used to use these very fancy oils, and I just went to watercolours, like from K-Mart or something; and got that effect; so yes, that’s where I started.
[Slide shows two wedding rings and a card with “journey” printed on it]
This is important to show you I think that I have moved on since then; I’m going to show you a quick slideshow, it goes for a couple of minutes, of most of my current client work - it’s all weddings!
So, yeah, enjoy!
[Slides change showing various beautiful wedding photos]
That was a bit longer than a couple of minutes!
Deciding My Direction
Okay, deciding what you’re going to be awesome at.
So moving on from the first wedding photo I ever took, I showed earlier; to be honest I never thought weddings was for me; you have to be pretty – well you don’t have to be, I shouldn’t sort of stereotype but - you are pretty involved in the day; there’s a lot of pressure; I think… I come from… it had a slightly different personality even to what I did; what I do now; I was pretty shy, I suppose, and pretty reserved, and didn’t like to be in people’s faces. So, for me, I didn’t think it was going to be weddings to be completely honest.
I think in the beginning I tried everything as well; I thought I needed to be photographing pets, and I needed to be newborns and corporate work, and underwater photography; I don’t know, and while I did all those things, I think it’s a good place to start, and sort of taught me a lot, and I learnt a lot through that, but I was spending so much time on trying to do things that I didn’t enjoy and I just couldn’t be across all those genres; just didn’t make sense.
I think the huge sort of turning point for me and when I began to shoot wedding, was just; I talk about it a bit later on - is when I got that confidence to just be myself - I wasn’t, didn’t really feel like I was limiting myself either by sort of focusing on one thing, because that just meant that I got better at it, I suppose, with practice.
When I talk about outsourcing at this point, for me it came, I was starting to shoot a lot of weddings really quickly; my first three years I was shooting up to about 67 or 65 weddings a year, by myself - which was, yeah, dumb - there’s no way I could do that now.
But, I was still trying to do other work, I suppose, and because I was getting this growth and reputation and people were asking me to do all these things, I was like yeah, yeah, yeah, but when it came to like, maybe, you know these couples having babies and things like that; sorry Kristen but, yeah, newborn photography is not my bag at all; and it would give me so much anxiety, like so much anxiety that I thought I was a really bad photographer because I didn’t enjoy it.
So, lucky enough found someone who wanted to, who was like Kristen, who just loved smells of babies and doing these great things with them, which I did not even though I’m a mum, and I get it; but she just wanted to shoot and didn’t want to run a business, so I sort of palmed off all this work to her under my business, and sort of, you know, accidentally started this sort of portrait business on the side, but it was still under my name; so it sort of worked in that sense because I didn’t have to do it; but you know, at the end of the day you can always say no – so. I’m a big believer in that.
[Slide showing a beautiful wedding scene in a Mediterranean setting with the words “What I reckon I’m awesome at now”]
What I think that I’m good at now, and again that’s taken a long, long time; I’m really lucky that I can find great clients now.
I think once you’re a bit further down the road, you know, you do build a good reputation and people will trust you, but I can be really not afraid of being a bit of a dick, you know, I’ll try anything and I think that people are on board with that; I have that confidence to sort of do that and I don’t mind if it doesn’t work; often it doesn’t.
My New Approach
You know even when I’m shooting weddings now as well; I just have a different approach to it to what I used to do when I first started out.
So I’m pretty… I will put the camera down and go and talk to a nana for 10 minutes, or help the bridesmaids out, or do all that sort of stuff because it’s all about building rapport and sort of, you know when you’re photographing people we need to have that sort of, engagement with them; and you know, I’m never afraid to ask; so I’ll use some pretty out-there examples of that pretty soon as well.
[Slide shows a bridal party in some sort of devastated tree area in black and white, with the words “Don’t follow the crowd”]
This is a pretty easy one I think; for me, those of you who might know Canberra, or have visited Canberra were a pretty conservative town, we’re not Melbourne; so when I started my business in 2006, you know, we’re largely made up of 80% public servants, you know, or work for the government; and we had a huge photography community, but it was pretty regimented and it was pretty structured and conservative, and I just started doing… following them; I was doing what they were doing and realising it wasn’t really what I enjoyed.
To Be Different
It was pretty easy to stand out in that world for me, so I just did the opposite of what everyone else did, and that’s sort of how I stood out; but even now, I’m certainly was not the most popular wedding photographer in the world but I am, I think, up there with consistency.
I can say that; because I follow this motto still, as best as I can; it is harder now than ever before, I admit that, but in the early days it was really easy for me to sort of stand out.
[Slide shows a blue sky and a bridal couple walking along a ridge with the words “Success and what it means to you – Not Other People”]
Running My Business
This is a good one too, I think, in running a business or not running a business; like, I’m sure there are plenty of people here that don’t do that and certainly don’t have any interest in that, and that’s fine too; but I had to figure this out pretty quickly, you know, having a small young family as well.
I couldn’t do all the things that some of my colleagues were doing, which was shooting weddings all around the world and travelling months on end and running workshops and doing that sort of stuff; and that to me wasn’t really successful; I didn’t want to do that.
[Slide shows a collage of photos of smiling and serene people with words saying “Be happy every day”]
I thought I did for a while, but I didn’t; and this is a very cheesy slide, but you know, for some people it’s like, we all measure our success really differently, I think, and maybe your success is just not having a job and just relaxing and drinking beer on a deserted island somewhere, and being that lady up the top. I mean it’s not really very realistic.
Maybe it’s speaking at something like this; maybe it’s, I don’t know, whatever it might be for you; I had to figure it out pretty early on for myself and once I sort of did a full circle of trying lots of things and it wasn’t working very well in my life; and with relationships and you know family, and that kind of thing, I had to look at, for me…
[Slide shows a black and white photo of a bride and her veil is being blown away by a strong breeze, but she’s laughing, and the words say “For me…”]
[Slide is a collage of a young boy]
My Life Balance
There we go, this guy here.
For me, my success was being able to pick him up at 3 o’clock from school every day, so I was lucky enough to have this business where I could do that and not many people get that opportunity.
So I’ve been able to do that - he’s 13 now, which is weird because I’m in my 20s – [Laughter]
And he’s still laughing, I’m not sure, but anyway… um, even though now, like, he wants to catch a bus home and doesn’t want me to pick him up; I still go and pick him up from like the shops, so it’s still part of the process; but for me, this is this my success is everything about running a business and being able to do this.
You know, I did work in a traditional workforce for a little while there; I hated it, I couldn’t sit in a desk to save myself.
[Slide shows a black and white photo of a scene of a dog and two young boys – through the glass of a front door, and the words say “Family life and kids”]
So I think once you sort of figure out this sort of stuff, it’s invaluable. Like I said, I’ve been at this for 11 years, almost 11 years now; running a business is super hard; really challenging, but you know, as you move through your life and what’s happening with family and that kind of thing, it can be like a tap - you can turn it on and off when you like, you know – so, mine’s gone fast and slow, and like, now that Hayden’s a bit older; I want to ramp things up again.
So you can sort of put that dedicated time into something like that, so it’s pretty good that we have that ability to swap and change.
[Slide shows a portrait of a bridal couple in black and white, with the words “Evolution and keeping up with change”]
My Challenging Start As A Wedding Photographer
Speaking of which; this is really tricky.
I think at the moment, you know, when I started out I think I was in a real hurry to get somewhere really fast.
I was really craving business and I wanted to get there really quickly; I didn’t want to take my time at all, but it came to me and I wasn’t actually ready for it.
So, once it did happen, like I said, 67 weddings - I think that was around 2009, I did that - that’s the most that I did and it was like the year after that, as a result, was like my marriage was almost ending; I never spoke to my mother; I was a terrible friend; I was just useless; I was working probably nearly a hundred hours a week, ninety hours a week, it was kind of insane; but I thought that that’s what I needed to do, because on paper I looked like I was successful, but everything else in my life was just a disaster, you know.
[Slide shows a bridal couple and friends dancing wildly, in black and white, with the words “I got too cocky”]
So, after that, I think for me, I think in beginning it was so easy that I just realized, or thought at the time, I don’t need to do anything to keep this business afloat; it’ll just keep ticking along by itself, and everything just kept coming to me, so I just stopped doing anything.
I just waited for the phone to ring, or the emails to come in; pretty much, I, you know, did that a few years ago and then realised, it’s too… you can’t do that; you get too complacent; everything sort of dries up.
So, I was really not booking any weddings; losing heaps of money; back when I was sort of shooting these 50 or 60 weddings, we had four staff; my husband, who is an accountant, like quit his job for a couple of years; we were like, doing really, really well; and then all of a sudden we weren’t doing really well, but you know we had to!
So, I had to then take a step back, look at the business and sort of start getting sort of proactive again.
And, I think why it’s like, you get into something that if it comes easy to you, it’s comfortable and you don’t really want to challenge yourself because that’s too hard.
Keeping Ahead - Being Different
So, the thing that I probably do now, and I’ll talk a bit about longevity - it’s really hard in this industry, to stay relevant and to stay at the top of your game - so I talk about how I do that, which I think is really important but, for me, I try and get out of this zone all the time as best as I can; even when I’m tired, you know, and you get to this period of time of the year for winter, where it’s really quiet, and this is my time to like go and do things that you know, I don’t normally like to do.
That’s what I’m going to talk about here, was how I did that.
[Slide is a pair of photos of a model on a magazine cover]
So, back in Canberra there’s a magazine called “Her Canberra” - it’s not Vogue, or Harper’s Bazaar, or anything exciting like that - but it’s just this really great publication, with some core creatives; the readership is sort of the 25- to 45-year-old woman; so it’s sort of my target market, and these are just editorial stuff that I did for them this year and last year.
[Slide shows a model photo of a young woman in white and pink with a green vintage motor vehicle in the background]
[Slide shows a young woman in white standing near a berry tree of some sort]
[Slides show various images of models]
Again, they’re nothing super exciting, but you know, I really like what Kristin said before; it’s like, you get into something so regularly and you start, it starts to lose that shine, and it’s not exciting anymore, and weddings can be like that even though they’re pretty damn exciting and hectic and busy, and that kind of thing; but they are exhausting.
So it’s nice to sort of get out of that zone a little bit.
[Slide of “Token Inspirational Quote” and a bokeh photo of raindrops on a window]
One token inspirational quote for the day, but this is a good one.
Without sounding cliché, “Greatness is hidden in you and not in the masses; if you want to be like everyone else, just listen to them; but if you want to find greatness then you’d better start listening to yourself.”
That’s it, I just like that.
[Slide shows a soft focus image of a bride from behind, with the words “It’s “normal” to be “different””]
So, like I said before, you know, it is normal to be different now - it is really hard to stand out.
I find it challenging all the time in my business.
[Dark slide with pinpoints of light and the words “Feel the fear and do it anyway”]
So, for me, the things that I’m going to do to try and be different, is, this is a really tricky one because I find that if I work in pressure situations, I fear for my life; I fear what people are going to think of me; I do the best stuff; and it’s uncomfortable and gross and sweaty and you feel disgusting, but I am never ever, ever afraid of just asking the question; I think that can be applied to any work that you do, because, well, you know, what, they say no? Then you move on.
Letting go of what your head is telling you, I think, this is a really tricky one in the wedding genre as well; we are so saturated with so many great images and we want to look at all this stuff inspiration; sometimes you’ve just got to break that - I don’t even follow a lot of wedding photographers’ work, because it just messes with your mind too much.
So, for me, breaking old habits is really good with even gear; like, forcing yourself to, we all have our go-to favorite things - I’ll talk about mine in a sec as well – but, sometimes I’ll just go into an environment and I’m like, going to use a 24-70 for the entire ceremony; just because I don’t know, I don’t usually do that, and I’m going to feel uncomfortable about it and see what happens.
I try and do that almost as a conscious effort with every wedding that I go into, and even if it’s walking into a hotel room; this is the thing with weddings, is that you never know what environment you’re going to walk into, and that’s the scary/fun exciting thing, or weather – like, you’ve got no control, pretty much, over anything.
So you still have habits and you still have go-to things; so for me, I try and acknowledge what they are in my head; cut them down and then go right; let’s go over to this spot over here that I haven’t visited for a while, and see where that goes; because it’ll take you somewhere completely different.
I try and like, even with a reception going in and sort of thinking of a way to flash it a different way; don’t do what everyone else does with this sort of dragging shutter and lowlights sort of stuff; let’s just try, you know, direct flash right in their faces and freak them out for a while - they’re all drunk, they don’t care – so, I don’t know, anything like that; it’s like, okay, I’ve tried it; didn’t quite work – I don’t know, I’ll try something different next week.
But it feels really good, you know, and I think even - I’m a bit of a conceptual thinker, as well, I’m all for the moment and I’m all for the candid stuff that you get from weddings, but I do often have processes and ideas, and I have ways to journal those ideas, and I bring them out every wedding and I just get my assistant to flash them through my eyes so I’ve got some sort of a go-to; it’s interesting how our creative brains work.
Everyone has a different process, but if you figure that sort of stuff out, don’t be afraid to be a methodical planner like I am sometimes because great things can come from that.
[Slide shows a bridal couple against a wall or on the ground – perspective is not known – and the words, “The life changing magic of not giving a f**k”]
Let’s touch on this really quickly, because in personal life; business life; whatever, this is, for me, about 18 months ago was a significant game-changer in my life; and I have to, it’s honest to God, by my bedside table, and it’s got like little chapters that might be relevant to what’s happening in your life at any given time; but this is the thing: It promises to teach you - I won’t read it out, you can see that – but, it’s how to stop spending time you don’t have, doing things you don’t want to do, with people you don’t like.
The author is (Sara Knight).
Often when I do a few of these talks I’ll throw a few of them out in the audience, but I didn’t have time to buy anyway, so you don’t get them - so you have to go buy it yourself.
She did do a follow-up book I think, at the start of this year, and it’s um, how to get your shit together or something; and I think that, apparently, is awesome as well; but that doesn’t apply, like for me, in a business, it’s tricky you know, you’re often in these situations where you’re doing things you don’t want to do, but you feel like have to: This is sort of giving me a bit of courage and stronger shoulders to say, you know what, thanks for the opportunity but, no, not today, don’t want to do that.
[Slide shows a young flower girl asleep in a church pew with the words, “I’m not sorry – Anymore”]
And actually what I wrote here is like, it’s, that’s, that very thing has helped me run, what I think is a bit more of a unique business model these days.
[Slide shows a very dark image of a bridal couple silhouetted in an entranceway with the words, “Information Overload”]
So, information overload; this is so relevant to everything; whether anyone’s up here talking to you about business; gear; we are just so saturated with, in our industry, with so much stuff.
Gosh, it’s just, it can be really, really overwhelming.
[Slide shows a black and white photo of a couple at the water’s edge – ocean – and the words “My advice – write this down” and a bulleted list.]
For me, some practical, very simple stuff: Learn your craft; know you gear; find a mentor, and take your time – Take your time… like whatever you’re doing; and whenever it is you decide to pick up photography - like I said, I studied photography straight out of year 12, I don’t know any different; you know, I know plenty of people that pick up a camera well into their 50s or 60s, whatever, as a hobby, a passion, and it goes to great things.
So, it’s not a race for anybody.
[Slide shows another black and white photo of a bridal couple walking along a ridge, with the words “My bag of treats” and a list of Nikon gear]
The Gear I Use
This is a good one - my bag of treats.
Well, I’m still hanging out for that free D5; I probably don’t think it will happen anytime soon.
This is what I run with at the moment; I have since gone from - what did I have? I went straight to a D2X, back in the day - so I went straight to like, the big chunky workhorses, and I’ve never, I’ve worked my way through to the D3, D3S, D4, and then, no doubt eventually, the D5; but I have tiny little hands - [Holds up her hands to the audience] There they are - but I like the feel of, you know, these robust cameras.
I’ve never actually run with a D800/700, anything like that; for me, these ones are beasts; they’re amazing, you know, as wedding photographers, they’re in crazy weather; they’re thrown in the back of my car; they don’t break, you know, they’re pretty good.
Probably my favourite - the 58 that I bought about a year ago or so, is one of my favourites; it actually pretty much never comes off, and I float between the 24 and 35 for weddings; I think it’s key.
Even ceremony, I still don’t like, I like environments to breathe; I like to see; I don’t need close-up faces really; I want to see if they’re laughing; I want to see what they’re laughing at; I want to see who’s around them; I want to see, you know, environmental stuff.
So, for me, wider is better.
I’ve evolved from that, too, like my 70-200 used to be my fixed, sort of, workhorse.
But, yeah, pretty much don’t use that anymore.
Actually, I don’t even think I take it – it’s heavy.
[Slide shows a “Hello, I am “Your Mentor” label on white]
Mentoring; like, I do a tonne of it for all sorts of people.
I think, for me, I never had one really; although I did work for a photographer while I was sort of in my early 20s, and just starting out, but he was like, he was in his 70s, so he taught me a lot of darkroom, sort of old school - we made our own albums and frames and all sorts of stuff – but, I still have one now, you know, and go to them for; things change and like I said, we’re forever evolving.
I think if you have somebody that you can trust and you can talk to and you can, whether it’s in business or just in how to run my camera; get, find one; get one; they’re just invaluable.
[Slide shows a black white image of hands on the hips of a white dress with the words “Friends, collaboration, and a new company”]
That leads on to, for me, how I have collaborated over the years with friends and other people in the photography industry; because, you know, for me I have to think; I don’t take this job – “job”, it’s hard to call it a job sometimes - I don’t take it for granted, and (Kris) and I were talking about this yesterday, like this is our job; this is pretty freakin’ amazing that I’m in Melbourne talking to pretty much a roomful of strangers about how inspirational photography and art, and how great it can be; but you know, you have to think the longevity of how long you can stick around this - it’s hard, and it’s changing and that kind of thing - so I’m all about, what is next, all the time; I want to be here as long as I can.
So, don’t do it alone.
[Slide changes to a soft focus image of a bridal couple dancing and the words “Don’t do it alone.”]
[Slide is a black and white image of a bride looking at something small in her hands, and the words “Best mates/not best mates/best mates/not best mates/best mates/not best mates”]
So, I had a particular friend I met at an event, not like this; except that there was alcohol involved - there were drinks - and basically our friendship evolved to becoming really great mates, and this slide is; we were competitive - so his name is (Dan O’Day); there might be a few people that know him - he’s okay; he’s an all right photographer - but we are best mates, not best mate, best mates, not best mates; over and over and over again.
We live in the same town; we have a lot to do with one another; we fight like brothers and sisters; so we thought what would be great is to own a business together; that would be really good, and that has an awful lot of challenges, I’ll tell you; but for me, this is what we call the “(Dan O’Day) and Kelly Tunney’s Retirement Plan”
[Slide shows a website with “All grown up weddings” as the heading]
So, we are the same age; we are weak apart, and our bodies are a bit tired; and our backs are a bit sore; so we created, in 2013, All Grown Up weddings; which is a wedding collective agency, run from Canberra.
So, we have nine shooters all across Australia; we shoot about 100 weddings a year, give or take; and it’s pretty cool.
We have a space in Canberra.
[Slide shows an interior image of an office and desks and tables]
This photo is a little bit old, but we have our shooters come in there; we have a studio manager; I’m there most days; Dan swans in and out when it feels like it; but the idea for us is that, hopefully, if we don’t kill each other before then; is, um, you know, even if we step out from shooting the weddings, we’re still involved; we’re mentoring these guys a lot, every day some of them, some are a bit more high-maintenance than others; but they’re pretty great people, and they’re very fun, reliable, and we’ve created this little community; it’s tiny, you know, there’s ten of us, if you count (Heather).
But, we go away together a couple of times a year, and we help each other; that’s what it’s all about really.
[Slide shows image of people on a green field with a rainbow in the background]
This is us on our first retreat; (___) sound; Again, this is part of the hard part of talking about you and your successes, that I don’t enjoy a great deal; but for me, in 2012, I’d been entering Awards - the AIPP Awards: Australian Institute of Professional Photography, those of you who don’t know what that is - run Awards every year; I’d been doing them for like five years, I suppose; I think I’d literally come, runner-up, four years in a row; 2012, I don’t know everything sort of aligned and I won pretty much everything that you could win!
I won, in one night, but it happened to be in Sydney, and it was this one particular year that we did a proper big night – dinner, lots of chairs, hundred; let’s say a hundred people, it was probably 50, I don’t know, but it felt like a lot of people - and
[Someone in the audience has their cell phone ring and apologises]
Sounds like Canberra!
In that room for me, was kind of every photograph idol that I had known for a long time: David Oliver, Pippen (Schembri), Ray (Schembri); all these big wigs, to me; and anyway, won this stuff and was like, okay, I think until then while I was successful in client work, I didn’t feel like a success in the industry; I just didn’t feel like anyone knew who I was; so it was like great, I’ve got permission and I’ve got freedom to just do whatever I want to.
[Slide shows a black and white image of a bridal couple walking away with umbrellas, and a lady in a swimming suit trying to duck out of the photo, with the words “Freedom!!”]
So, the thing is for me, when I started doing that I had to realize it wasn’t, it’s not all about you, it is about them; but you know, there is a much bigger picture - especially with weddings – so, with the awards, while I go into it with a mindset of I’m trying to do something to them, but selfishly I’m getting something back in return; it’s a bit of a funny thing.
But, um, sorry, I have to be really quick about this.
[Slide shows a bridal couple silhouetted against a white keyhole type background, with the word “Awards”]
So, with awards, the ironic thing I think about why we do them is, for me in the beginning, was that I wanted success and I wanted recognition and I wanted to use these awards to promote my business, because then I look better; but then, full circle, you become successful and you win these things; you get a bit too shy to talk about them; it’s hard thing to talk about yourself, and blowing your own trumpet.
[Slide shows a list of awards]
So, there’s my list of things in the last five years.
So I’ve had a pretty good year, this year, as well; so you can just read them and I won’t tell you what they are, but that’s them.
[Slide shows a black and white photo of a bridal couple climbing over a cattle grate, the bride is barefoot, with the words “What’s the point?”]
The point, for me: I am a competitive person, and it’s a hard thing to admit to, and you’re not supposed to say that, but it drives me; it drives me to do better things, and I don’t feel like I need to apologize for that anymore, because it’s actually pushed my boundaries so far, because I’m competitive, that I have to be thankful for that and don’t think that it’s a bad trait to have.
[Slide shows black and white photo of a bridal couple with the word “Perseverance”]
[Slide shows the bottom half of a bridal couple – looks like they are jumping or hanging from a bar – yellow and red pipes]
What it’s done for me is, this is actually my first ever entry in 2008; now, I think it scored about an 88, or something like that. Someone didn’t like it because the heads were chopped off, but that was the idea!
I’m skipping through because I realise I’ve run out of time; but what I do want to talk about is the creative process for me which, I think is, for me everything; this is the part that I really sink my teeth into and I love the most.
[Slide shows an image of colourful food collage items]
When it comes to awards time, I often get in the zone and I try and conceptualise this stuff, and often it fails, and then sometimes it’s a success as well.
So this is one thing I want to talk through about how this image was created.
So, there is a photographer that I follow on Instagram – she’s a food photographer, she’s from Seattle I believe - and this is how she photographs her food, and I’m like, this is amazing; I love the colours; I love the symmetry of things; I love how it’s all sort of designed and laid out; and I’m like, I can do something like that with weddings!
I don’t know what, but I like it, and I thought about the one thing that; how can you show the personality of a wedding day in one frame - so the award restrictions that you have in weddings is that anything you photograph has to be from that day; you can’t go back and shoot something the day after and add a sky in, or, everything has to be on that day.
So I’m like well, shoes say a lot about a person and a lot about the style of the wedding, so I started experimenting with, what I thought was going to be great shoe photo.
[Slide shows images of shows on a striped background]
This is this at home, direct flash; my shoes; but that’s, that, that’s cool, that’s something.
Then, it just, within about literally a 48-hour process, it just went from zero to a thousand.
I got so fixated on this thing; I got lots of people involved; went and found props in shops and all sorts of things, and picked a wedding; contacted the couple, they’re like, yeah, great, makes no sense, but yeah, cool, we’re onboard.
[Slide shows behind the scenes of the photo shoot]
We had a setup; I bought these carpet circles from Fantastic Furniture - 20 bucks each – set up a, we got to the house, it was in a backyard.
These cords had to run honest-to-god, about 50 meters into the house, through guests, all sorts of things - the couple didn’t care, I don’t know why, but they were amazing - and I literally photographed 78 pairs of shoes; tapped every single person on the shoulder and said, Hey, can you just come off and take off your shoes; it would be really great.
They’re like, why, I’m like, just do, it doesn’t matter. [Laughter]
But, I was that convincing!
So literally, we had a like, a little tally, where we would photograph X amount of blue ones; red ones; yellow ones; and one of my assistants kept, like, tally I suppose of all of them, to make sure that it was the least amount of Photoshop work afterwards.
[Slide shows two colourful circles with shoes laid out on them]
Then I have to go in and cut every single one off, around I suppose, in Photoshop; and then literally, start laying them around, to sort of, I don’t know, play with it, and try and figure out what the hell I was doing.
[Slide shows a screen shot of Photoshop with various colourful circles with shoes in them]
That’s just a screenshot of the many layers that started in Photoshop.
[Slide shows a flash image of an elderly man with a cane walking down some steps]
Now this is the one thing that, again, should have touched on before - I told the stories, that while you run with an idea almost always something comes out of that that you can’t predict; you can’t plan for; you never know until you’re in it - and this for me was one of these moments.
So literally, that’s where the wedding was, and by the time that we were shooting this it was about 10 o’clock at night, so they were all drunk - really drunk - they had to wander down - it was dark, so this is like all flash, there was no lighting – had to walk down these stairs; all the way down to where we were; take off their shoes and they’re like, yeah, what’s this for again, and they’re falling over and all sorts of stuff.
Anyway, so this old fellow was walking down with his daughter, I think, and yeah, what’s this about dear?, you know blah-blah-blah, chatting; and he goes, ok, I’ll take my shoes off – his little grandpa slippers, pretty much - and he said, you should photograph my cane so that people know I’m an old man.
I’m like that’s a great idea, that’s a horrible idea; but okay, yeah, we’ll do that; and then, you know as you do, they’re chatting and he said, told me that his wife - so this is the grandpa of the bride - so his wife had recently passed away; and how Mary – I can’t remember her name – would have loved to have been there, and blah-blah-blah, and I’m like, that’s nice, that’s, you know, sad; and then he left, and then that was it, you know, and I probably at the time didn’t think anything more about it.
[Slide shows a colourful group of circles with shoes on them on a white background]
Until starting to put this together – so this is the end product - so when I started realising, I’m like, so he’s the…
[Sounds like she knocked something over in the background and swears]
Here’s the bride and groom, I’m like, I don’t want them in the middle because that’s too predictable, so they’re off to the side, and there are kid shoes, and there are thongs, and there are all sorts of stuff going on in there, and I’m like, I’ll put the little old fella at the top.
I’m like, I should pay a bit of a tribute to grandma, who wasn’t there - so I left an empty circle for her, because it came to me when I was putting it together, like, that’s a pretty phenomenal story, and that was this piece of art that I created in 2015, and that was part of this little success ride that I’m on at the moment; that this image has been circled and spread around all over the place; but I think, like I was saying, I never imagined for one second that would have a story to it, but it was just presented to me by accident, and I just happened to be pretty open to wanting to listen to this old fella.
So I love that image; I think it’ll be the favourite, my most favourite thing I’ll ever do; I don’t think I’ll ever top that, actually.
I’m going to skip through these because I’ve run out of time; but pretty much, I also, a few years back, asked 27 brides to be in one shot all, at the same time.
[Slide shows an elevated image of a bride walking down the street in a city area]
They all turned up in the middle of Civic; which is our city centre, and they’re, you know, riding bikes, and they’re doing their shopping, walking dogs and all sorts of stuff.
I show this when I do talks to, this project with literally a six-week project.
[Slide shows a list of what “it doesn’t always require”]
There were about… there we go five assistants, twenty-seven brides, two grooms, two hundred and fifty spectators, and literally, twenty-eight hours of Photoshop in one frame.
That went from that to that.
[Slide shows multiple brides walking around in their dresses in a city landscape]
When it got judged, no one could understand what was going on; no one spoke; and they just said “86”; next print, please. Nothing. Gone. Like, six weeks of work just disappeared.
So these are just some of my shots really quickly, that had no Photoshop to them – they happened in front of my eyes; by accident; oh, we added little triangles on that, but that was about it.
[Slide shows a group of grooms “up a wall”]
So in awards time, for me, these have been just successful as other ones and have got me lots of awards from nothing - just having a bit of an open mind.
[Slide shows various images of bridal parties in different locations – including a group of men in suits on cement pipe, with one of them doing a flip in the middle]
These are all literally one-clicks - nothing - and that’s a gymnast, that’s real.
So, it’s amazing how you can put your blood, sweat and tears into something, and make it your lifelong dream to just, you know, spend 50 million hours on something, and sometimes it doesn’t actually really matter!
[Slide shows a group of women and young girls all reacting to something on the other side of the camera – looks like it could be the moment the bride walks in]
So, this is where I wrap it up real quick - I’m a bit late.
Totally, I mean thank you all for coming as well; but, you know, I think photography, and my art, and everything that I’ve been involved with, has given me so much, but so much in terms of friendships, and people that - oh my gosh – have changed my world completely.
I’m pretty lucky to have that.
So I feel a bit thankful for that.
Now, we actually; for those of you who want to go to the Nikon stand, because we’re going to do something a little bit fun for many people; it’s a, you know, five minutes fun thing at the Nikon stand, so pretty much everyone needs to come up and go straight out there; because we’re going to do some fun shooting, and that is going to involve as many people in this room who are willing and able to stick around; and there’s going to be like, an end result, and I’m going to send you all stuff!
So it’s going to be exciting, so then we can do questions and stuff too, if you want to, and want to pick my brain on anything as well.
So, thanks for coming!
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