Sarah is a NZIPP Accredited Professional Photographer based in the Nelson region of New Zealand’s South Island.
Tell us a little about yourself, your childhood, where you live and how you started in the craft of photography?
Hey my name is Sarah, I live in the sunny Nelson Tasman region and have done so my whole life! I have three kiddos – Lochiel 12, Kilharn 10 and Violet 7, and have been married to Denver since 2006. As a kid I was very much into art – and as I got a little older my passion for art continued, although I really wanted to be a Doctor! My Dad had a massive stroke when I was 14, so I was reluctant to leave Nelson when the time came. Instead I went off to Polytechnic (as it was called back then) to study to be a nurse. After my first year, I decided that wasn’t really for me and so I mucked around for a couple of years as a lifeguard. By chance a job came up as a Pharmacy Technician at a pharmacy of one of the locals at the pool. I applied and got the job, and worked in pharmacy for the next few years. I had my son Lochiel in 2008, and went back to pharmacy shortly after I had him. But when I had my second son, Kilharn in 2010, I knew that working in pharmacy was going to cost me twice as much in childcare as I was going to be paid, so going back to work for someone else wasn’t an option. My bestie was a beauty therapist and as soon as she had her daughter she was certain that she would just work from home. So I put my thinking cap on and tried to find something I could do myself. It wasn’t until I decided to have Kilharn photographed and Pixifoto had closed down that I found a hole in the market. And so I took some ‘sample’ photos using my little canon point and shoot that was about 5 years old and decided I could do it. The next day I went to Dick Smith and brought a Canon 500d (I didn’t have a clue what I needed so just bought something that was in stock). The rest, as they say, is history.
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about newborn photography?
Time, and skill. One thing I learnt pretty early on is that you can’t rush these newborn sessions if you want to get good photos. Patience is absolutely key. Once you’ve been doing this for quite a while you know exactly when that baby is ready and you’ll be able to do anything with them. I’m very relaxed with sessions and preparation from parents, but I want it to be an enjoyable session for them so I make myself available for as long as needed to photograph their baby. And as for skill, well even after 9 years this is still a work in progress for me. It is so frustrating when you create a set up and photograph that baby and it looks amazing, and then you check your images that you’ve shot and you’ve got your angles wrong. Every year or so I find some kind of tutorial from a photographer I admire and give myself a refresher to get those angles right.
Who has influenced you the most? Is there any other photographer that you consider as a kind of idol?
When I first started it was Karyn Flett, she’s the reason I became a photographer. I saw her work through a baby product I was following and just loved how fresh and clean her work was. I don’t follow any one particular style now and love all sorts of work that I see out there. I’m very drawn to fine art although I’m not all that good at that technique. I love Loren O’Connors work and her quirky ideas. I can’t wait to see what she enters into the Iris awards year after year.
How did you find your own photography style and what do you find yourself thinking about when you edit your photos?
My style has changed, and changed, and changed over the years. For the first 5 or 6 years it was really neutral. I didn’t use any colour at all, and I found it quite hard to get some variety to be honest. I started adding in pastels, but I’m not really a fan of pastel colours. So I brought a whole heap of Flokati rugs and wool dye and created my own vibrant colour selection. That along with my editing style has probably defined my style and differentiated me from many photographers. What do I think about when I’m editing? Hmmm – usually that I wish this was a quicker process so that I could go out and enjoy the day instead of editing photos!
What do you think is your biggest accomplishment?
I think staying in business this long as a typical ‘mum with a camera’ is a pretty good accomplishment! But I’ve had a few milestones in my time that stand out – getting my first award at the Iris Awards, then receiving my first NZIPP Distinction, and getting my “Q” (what Accreditation used to be called). They all felt like huge accomplishments.
How do you practice and improve your skills as a photographer?
It’s easy to do the same thing day in, day out and get away with it. But it bores me, so I try to throw myself at anything and everything I can, when I have the time. Usually around awards time I get very creative and try lots of new stuff. A few months before the awards my husband and I go out for a brainstorming meeting and come up with ideas. Whether I have the time to shoot them or not is a different story! I attend the ExposurePRO conference every year, because we can learn so much from multiple genres that we can apply to our own work. If I see an online tutorial that appeals, I’ll likely get on board with it. There is always room for improvement.
Any words of wisdom for the up and comers?
Get some business guidance. You could be the best photographer in the world, but if you don’t know what you are doing in business it’ll probably not last long. It’s really easy to burn out because you are undercharging, and your family suffers. You need to be earning a living from this if you choose to make it a business. Aside from the business side of things, find your photography people. I met a group of wonderful ladies early on who encouraged me to join NZIPP, and I’ve been a member since. NZIPP are my people, they are an extension of my family. I know at the drop of a hat I can call any one of them for help.
Do you have a bucket list for 2020?
We are building a new studio for 2020 – it was supposed to be finished in April but unfortunately lockdown prevented that from happening, so we need to wait until it warms up a bit so that we can lay our floor and take the roof off the existing building. I need to buy a new camera…. move to studio lighting – I’m interested to see if this changes my style. I’m looking forward to a bit of a relaunch and seeing how that goes.
What are your other passions?
I recently bought an iPad pro and decided I want to get into digital illustration. I’ve been slowly creating some pieces and probably in ten years time when I have a collection together I might start a wee shop and put them up for sale! In the meantime, it’s a good relaxer for me and gives me another creative outlet for my art. I used to play squash around four times a week but had a nasty accident three years ago and unfortunately can no longer play. I still love the game and love to watch. My oldest son races karts, so I spend a lot of time at the track, or online watching him when he’s travelling.
Why did you join NZIPP?
I was really nervous about joining NZIPP because I wasn’t sure if my membership would even be accepted. I wasn’t quite sure if I was “professional” and would have been so embarrassed to be turned away! That process has certainly changed now for the better and I love how inclusive it is. I thought that if I joined it would give me a point of difference from others in my local area, and I could use the benefits of being Accredited to leverage me in Nelson. What I wasn’t expecting to find was a hugely supportive community with so many wonderful people that I’m so pleased to call my friends. Over the years these friendships have grown and I definitely wouldn’t be where I am now without these people in my life.