4. Tell us about the time when you first got started in photography.
My first photography experience was with my father's old camera that I absolutely destroyed because I was too curious to see what was inside. My life as a professional photographer started when I was offered training as a wedding photography assistant. It was very hard for me because besides producing good photographs, I had to master three other major aspects of:
a) Staying out of the way
b) Basic life crisis management i.e. dirty wedding dresses, missing groom, lost rings, etc.
c) Technical problems i.e. of shooting in limited time and space, etc.
On top of that, I was shooting everything on a f|5.6, speed set to 125 on a film camera – back 6 years ago!
5. In your opinion, what does it take to become successful in this industry?
Patience and not beating yourself up. With so many good photographers suddenly available in the web space, it's hard not to feel bad about your skills and creative approach. The traditional aspects of composition, light and content take time to master but I kept on reminding myself that a talent is only 1% raw talent, the rest is hard work.
6. What was your biggest challenge coming into this industry?
The biggest challenge is money because I wanted to improve my skills as a wedding photographer and also because I felt afraid to miss any important moments of a wedding. As a result, I would end up buying extra films each time, and that ate up my assistant fees. With the introduction of digital cameras, I could finally cut my expenses (and fears) down.
7. What are the best perks as a Photographer?
You get to see the deepest and most hidden parts of a person. I enjoy photographing women in their most natural state to show them just how beautiful they are. The pleasure of watching their confidence level rises as they see the photos means everything to me.
8. How do you plan for your shooting sessions?
a. I get my ideas based on location, concept or through a model's preference.
b. Select my model(s) - Some models are easier to edit while others have lesser facial expression control. So it's important for me to calculate editing time vs directing time and match a model to the role she needs to play.
c. Select the wardrobe - I will usually select clothing items and accessories that will maximize my options and variety.
d. Make a list of poses/ideas that I want to capture - drawing stick figures and funny shapes to create visual reference for myself (I have a very strong visual memory, so during shoots, I don't even need to look at the list once I've made the drawings).
e. Decide on lighting - I do not like surprises and start with a set idea in mind. If I have the time, I will do variations on lighting effects as we go along.
9. How would you describe your work to first time viewers?
Natural and relaxed. I'll wait for a person to open up and in that course of time, try to get their personality to come through.
10. Do you shoot to what your heart tells you or do you go through a complex check list in your mind when you produce your work? Describe the feeling/check list.
I plan everything prior to the shoot. I would start with a 20-minutes warm-up session. Within this period of time while the model relaxes him/herself, I would actually study their body movements, to see what is comfortable for the model and so on (these photos generally do not get processed). It's only in the following 15 minutes that I will start directing my model according to my observation. I try not to push further than that, especially if the model is not experienced enough. I prefer to shoot with the same people over and over again because it allows them to get familiar with my style and manner of working. In that way, they would also feel more relaxed and comfortable.
11. From your experience, what subjects gives you the greatest satisfaction? Any examples?
I love taking pictures of brides! I want a bride to look back at her photos and feel confident and beautiful about herself. I love creating an intimate atmosphere in which a bride allows me to take semi-nude pictures of herself even if she does not think she is perfect. I absolutely love a woman's natural state of beauty and want all my clients to gain the extra bit of confidence by letting her know how I find her beauty utmost fascinating.
12. From your experience, what subjects are the hardest to work with? Any examples?
Once we had a bride that wanted pictures with babies and horses in the same frame. You cannot tell either to stand still, smile and keep their eyes open. Also not at high noon in the field.
13. What is your philosophy when it comes to your work?
Motivate and praise. My pictures must show a person that feels good about herself, so I work hard to find something to praise the model about. "Stunning, Great, Wow!!" are a standard set of words I use in addition to specific comments. Never a criticism or a negative word, never a sexually related comment. Most of my first time models leave feeling satisfied and would come back to me with their honest suggestions.
14. Describe who/what inspires you, tell us why?
My husband, Forgiss - Sean Nel, inspires me. He shares his knowledge on photography freely and never fails to help anybody that comes to him. He creates a safe environment for me to learn and I'm now his Number One fan. The next person would be my sister-in-law. She taught me a lot about the importance of “natural woman” photographic style. She has been in the wedding photography industry for 13 years and has never failed to become close friends with all her brides.
15. What do you do when those creative juices just seems to evade you. How do you "get creative"?
I'll go for window shopping, movies or a short drive. I am a very visually-stimulated person. The variety of colors and textures I see around will help me create this desire to produce greater photographs. I don't believe in browsing through photographers' works. I would get frustrated seeing their work because I feel I couldn't have produce the images myself.
16. Tell us about a time when inspiration just hits you, and you felt the insatiable urge to create. What did you do with that energy?
Most of the time, it happens when I am trying to fall asleep. I have to force myself to shut down on many occasions because I would continue dreaming about shooting and designing. I call it "runaway thoughts" because it's actually my state of mind most of the time. I'll get very tired of those creative urges and try to stay ahead of my mind.
17. What have you discovered about yourself through photography?
Being a loner. I never thought I would enjoy people so much.
18. Whose work do you admire the most? Why?
Sean, Forgiss. He might not be the most published photographer around, but I have deep respect for his work ethic and I can see that investing (be it financial wise or confidence) on other people can be a goal itself. He is also very consistent in his work - he does not rely on his inspirations or mood swings and yet produces good, reliable images every time.
19. Do you have any advice for those who are just getting in to stock photography?
Practice, ask and don't get discouraged. Stock photography is a business and you need to treat it as such. The fact that your image is not selling is not because you are not talented, but simply because somebody else made what a client needs more. Research your buyer and produce on demand. No shortcuts - good quality is a must for constant sales. (Editor – That's sound advice there!)