Aotearoa NZ Photographers . . . Michelle Hyslop

10 months ago by

In our ‘Aotearoa Photographers’ series we sit down with NZ based photographers to learn more about their photographic practice and how their photography career got started.

This week we chat with photographer, Michelle Hyslop who shares a peek into her shoot planning and process along with how she’s able to capture intimacy and vulnerability of her subjects.

This article is sponsored by MyChillyBin.


Tell us a little about your background – what path/key moments or people led you to becoming a photographer, and to doing what you’re doing today?

I was a daydreamy kid, half closing my eyes to blur the light hitting the trees outside the classroom. I would spend hours in my Grandparents’ swimming pool transfixed by the light and shadows patterns underwater. I was always creating things by drawing, painting and sewing.

After reading every photography book in the Tauranga Library, I taught myself photography by trying to work out how photographers had lit or composed an image and tried to emulate these things with friends as subjects. 

Full of 18 year old confidence I took my portfolio to Auckland and visited magazines and newspapers. The chief photographer of the Howick and Pakuranga times saw potential in my  photographic eye and after trialling offered me a position at the community newspaper. It helped me learn how to work quickly, problem solve lighting scenarios and build rapport with people.

I’ve been working as a photographer since then and I still adore it. These days I shoot editorial work for magazines as well as studio portraits and lifestyle images for clients and agencies.

How would you describe your photographic approach? 

For me, the key to a successful shoot is all in the preparation. I love researching ideas ahead of time and planning out the technical aspects as much as possible so that when I’m actually on set, I can focus all of my energy on connecting with my subject. It’s all about creating a warm and encouraging environment where people feel comfortable being themselves. I think of myself as a bit of a hype girl – I’m vocal, enthusiastic, and always looking to bring out the best in my clients. My values and ethics play a huge role in my work. It’s about celebrating people exactly as they are and highlighting their best qualities. I understand that having your picture taken can be a vulnerable experience, which is why I always strive to leave my subjects feeling positive and empowered.

What pieces of equipment or tools in your photo tool kit can you not live without?

My strongest tool is my intuition both in how I relate to a subject and also in what feels right in a picture.

Looking back to your earlier career, how did you start landing your first commercial gigs and what have you learned since then?

It was a natural progression from working in editorial photography and being asked by people I would meet through shoots to also shoot commercially.

It was so refreshing to be able to discuss ideas and have other invested parties to work with rather than taking on all the planning myself. I feel myself come alive in the presence of other creatives, where we can bounce ideas off each other.

Over time I’ve learned how important pre production is, when everything is clearly laid out and confirmed ahead of the shoot it means no surprises on the shoot day.

When it comes to photographing people, can you share a little about how you’re able to capture such intimacy and vulnerability of your subjects?

I’ve learned that the more I am myself with people, the more they let their guard down with me. Creating an environment that feels safe and being present with them helps.

I like talking about the purpose and goal of the shoot with the subject, for example on the Kauri dieback project I went deep into my reason for wanting to create the project and my intentions. For some people, it took seeing other people they knew photographed to trust me to take their image. Once they could see how passionate I was about the future of the trees we stood to lose, it helped them in deciding to share their story. https://www.michellehyslop.com/kauri

What does your pre-production process look like? Please tell us about the journey of planning your shoots. 

I love a research deep dive into the subject of the photoshoot.

If there is already a brief with reference images I’ll plan lighting to match that, however if the brief is open I’ll put together a mood board with references I can draw from on positions and expressions, and plan the lighting around what I envision.

I like to do a recce of the space when the budget allows and if I’m experimenting with a new lighting style I will set up a test shoot with a friend/assistant so I can go into the shoot with the technical aspects and lighting plans figured out.

I like to work with a team of people who are inclusive and encouraging with the talent.

How do you see your photography practice developing, what are your main aspirations for the next couple of years?

I feel very comfortable in myself now, more so than in my 20’s. I think this means I can lean into subjects that pique my interest on a deeper level than when I was younger.

I recently did a series on women aging, photographing in high contrast dramatic red and blue lighting without editing away any wrinkles, age spots or signs of a life lived. I wanted to capture them in a bold way that is the opposite of the invisibility that happens at a certain age.

I would love to collaborate on concepts that challenge the images we expect to see of women.

How can people get in touch or see more of your work?

website: https://www.michellehyslop.com/

insta: @michellehyslop

email: mail@michellehyslop.com

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