My Dad was a wedding photographer actually! When I was about 11 he let me join him on a wedding job to carry his gear for him and from that day I became obsessed with the idea of becoming a wedding photographer like my dad. From then he began to train me in the skills of photography and particularly portraiture. I loved it so much that by the time I was 16 I was working for myself photographing events.
How would you describe your photographic style?
I would describe my style as organic, playful storytelling. For me 80% of the skill of being a photographer is capturing the emotion between the subjects in the image and so being able to disappear as the photographer and capture chemistry that feels organic is my ultimate goal.
You capture events and couples/family portraits… Do you have a favourite genre to shoot?
My favourite genre is weddings actually. For me, the excitement and pace of a wedding day is such a fun challenge as a photographer. Moving from being indoors with the bride; capturing detail shots, to the big dark spaces of an old church to then being in a sweeping Canterbury landscape and then a raging dancefloor keeps me on my toes and pushes me creatively and technically.
How much of your work is via client commissions vs art-based practice?
These days my work is virtually all client work and I do actually prefer it that way. For me, being able to deliver work to a couple or family or whoever I’m working with that day that really captures what they wanted and goes beyond what they’d hoped is much more gratifying than photographing from my own brief. If I’m honest the only thing that I enjoy more than client work is photographing my friends and family!
You shoot as a collective with your friend and partner – what do you enjoy most about this collaboration?
I’m so lucky to be able to shoot with my friends, photography can be a really lonely industry so friendships within the photo world have been key for me! One of the best things is being able to work with people who know me well enough to know what I’m thinking haha. It’s pretty great when your second shooter knows exactly what you mean from one facial expression.
What shoot, personal or professional, are you most proud of and why?
I feel like the answer to this question changes constantly. It’s hard to pick one but this year I shot the wedding of a friend of mine that I think is the work I’m the proudest of simply because of the way it changed my perspective on the way I shoot. For this wedding, knowing the couple meant I was able to relax a little more and take the time to think more about what was in the frame and the way I was shooting it and simply slowing down and breathing, thinking about each shot as an individual work totally changed the way my images were composed and are still some of my favorite images I’ve ever shot.
How has your ability and confidence progressed since you began shooting?
Considering I started at 11 years old I’d say hopefully quite a lot haha. It’s a funny thing being a creative because I’m starting to learn that almost all of us have some sort of imposter syndrome that stops us from being able to celebrate our work and how far we’ve come. It’s so obvious looking at each shoot how I’ve improved from the last but I still turn up to each job feeling like I’m faking it. I think a key thing that has really progressed in the way I shoot in the last year or so is knowing my camera so well that it’s more like an extension of my hand than a tool I have to manipulate. In the past, what my camera was doing got in the way of me being able to focus on what was happening in the moment and I don’t feel like that so much anymore.
What do you wish you had known about photography before you learned it the hard way?
There are so many things I could answer this question with but I think the most apparent has been how important it is to manage expectations, communicate with clients in a way they understand, and always under-promise then over-deliver. So much of the job is managing a client’s experience and I think it can be the most make or break aspect of a job. I didn’t understand for a long time that it didn’t matter how good the images are if they aren’t what the client thought they were getting. So simple but so important.
What equipment do you use?
I use Nikon cameras, mostly because that’s what my dad always used. Full disclosure, camera gear is not the part of the job that I find particularly inspiring haha. I often turn to my much more tech-savvy friends to help me with buying gear because it’s the one area of my job I am completely out of my depth in haha.
What does your post-production process look like? (Please tell us about the journey to capture and develop/polish a piece in your portfolio).
Post-production for wedding jobs is no small job. After finishing shooting for the day I always come home and set up shop for a few hours backing up all of the photos taken that day (often a lot more than I should have taken), and over the next few days, my picking process starts. After usually two rounds of refining the collection down I begin to edit. This is where I get to play with colour and light and the mood of the images; one of my favourite parts of my job. Once I’ve created my desired look I develop a preset from that and apply it to all of the images and then go through and make small refinements to the edit on each image. One of the unique things about wedding photography is the sheer number of photographs sent through to the client. This means creating a consistent look and feel to all of the images is really important.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I’m just in the final few weeks of craziness of wedding season! I’ve just presented my final project for my Bachelor of Design in Visual Communication which is actually a graphic design-based qualification and I’m now working full-time as an in-house graphic designer at a private girls school. Leaving high school I really wanted to diversify and gain a different set of skills to the ones I had in photography and my studies at Ara Institute of Canterbury have been amazing for that. The final project I presented was a brand design assignment around creating a new way for women in their early 20s to find success in business; a subject pretty close to home. Finishing up the year has meant I’m jumping back into the wedding season, which I couldn’t be more excited about.
How do you see your work and practice developing, and what are your main aspirations?
My main objective at the moment is to continue to upskill technically in order to create images that aren’t just lovely but interesting and unique. I find every little trick I learn gives me the ability to create a different type of image than I’ve created before and that process keeps me passionate and motivated to learn. As a young creative, my aspirations are sky-high but exactly what they are isn’t clear to me yet. Every time I work I get to know myself and my style a little better and that makes my own aspirations a little clearer. I’m only at the very beginning of my career and that’s a pretty exciting thought. I have always loved work within the humanitarian space so I would love more opportunities there.
What does your dream commission look like?
Such a good question! Right now my dream would be to use my images to share kiwi design with the world. We have something so unique to offer here in our little corner of the world so being able to see my photographs advertising our brand of design internationally would be a dream.
Do you have any insider tips for budding photographers out there?
I still feel like a budding photographer myself! I think if I could give any advice it would be to stay teachable, stay humble but back yourself. We all feel like we’re just faking it till we make it so don’t be intimidated by that feeling. Keep being creative in every aspect of your life and it will always help your craft.
How can people get in touch and see more of your work?
@melissagrace_photography on insta