It’s been awhile since we’ve had a wedding photographer on RAW. Jay, Southern Light Photography, the artist formerly known as Photos by Jay is an Australian based wedding photographer out of Sydney. For those of you who lean towards the wedding photography side of things there is some good information in here, so enjoy.
Tell us a little about yourself?
I’m Jay Valabjee, and I have been running my wedding photography studio, Southern Light Photography, for 5 years. I live in Sydney, Australia and have for most of my life. I worked in software and web development for about 7 years and found photography to be a much better fit, so I quit my job to give this photography thing a shot. I’ve been married for just over a year and we have a little daughter, Macy, who takes up all of my spare time.
What inspired you to get started in photography?
Like many other professional photographers, I started out with a steadily growing passion for photography. I wanted to make some money on the side to pay for all the expensive gear I was lusting after, so I started advertising as a wedding photographer (as apparently they get paid the most!). As luck would have it, I realised that this is all I wanted to do, and two years later I quit my day job to run my business full time. I’ve never looked back.
What gear do you take to each shoot and what lens can you not live without?
I take 2 x Canon 5D Mark II bodies, speedlites, pocketwizards and my lenses (24 1.4L II, 35 1.4L, 70-200 2.8L II, 85 1.8, 135L). I could shoot an entire wedding with the 35L – it’s such a versatile focal length and the prime produces sharp, crisp, 3-dimensional images. I also love my Paul C Buff Einstein strobe with Vagabond mini lithium battery pack and beauty dish for location work – I believe it helps my work stand out from most of the army of so-called “natural light photographers”.
How do you market yourself and has social media been an important part?
I spend a lot of time researching search engine optimisation (SEO) for my website and by using key phrases strategically on my website and adding relevant alt-tags to my blog images, I find that Google picks up my website and images quite well in its organic search results.
Facebook has been huge in promoting my business. It’s purpose built for us photographers as you can tag brides which drives traffic and gets people viewing your work. I’m not entirely convinced Twitter is useful for marketing to Australian brides. I find that you need to devote a lot of time to building social relationships on Twitter, which is time I’d frankly rather be spending with my family!
What’s your favourite photo that you’ve taken and does it have any significance?
This more illustrates the kind of photos I love to take at weddings. Amidst the chaos and beauty of a wedding there are a lot of people connecting and sharing their emotions. We are always on the lookout for these little moments which, as I learned at my own wedding, are some of most valuable photos your bride and groom will have from their day.
Select a photo you have taken, explain how it was taken and how did you edit it?
I love this photo I took in rural New South Wales at my cousin Rohan’s wedding. It was a miserable, wet day but the sun poked out for about half an hour, which I took full advantage of. I placed the couple in the patch of sun and asked them to “have a moment and ignore me for a while” so that they could relax and enjoy each other’s company. The image out of the camera looked great but it needed some punch. I enhanced the brooding clouds by lightening the lighter parts and darkening the darker areas to increase contrast and drama. I did the same for the vines, grass and couple to draw attention to the parts of the image I wanted to highlight. A little bit of selective Vibrance and the picture was ready.
Almost every image my studio produces receives a similar lightening/darkening treatment when it goes into a wedding album or print.
What processing tool do you use and do you believe in the camera doing all the work or in post ?
We use Photomechanic for culling, Lightroom for 90% of the post processing work, and Photoshop for the really fine retouching work. With the increasingly powerful feature set of LR we are finding we use Photoshop less and less, which speeds up our workflow immensely. I believe your image needs to be 95% perfect when you look at the back of the camera. There’s no substitute for good technique.
Whats your favourite photography accessory other than your camera?
I love my speedlites. By taking your flash off camera you can play with a huge range of lighting effects which can have dramatic effects on your image. I love playing with modifiers like softboxes, beauty dishes and color gels to achieve different effects. It will make your work stand out and does not cost a lot to get started if you start with some cheap Chinese radio slaves and flash units.
Where do you prefer to post your photos online and why there?
The blog and Facebook are essential in my business. They are 24/7 ads for my business and crucial for the ongoing success of our studio. I’ll also be ramping up our Flickr presence this year, and we have some big plans for Pinterest (which again is the perfect medium for us photographers to visually share our interests and build a following).
Do you ever get photographers block and if so what do you do to get inspired again?
There are a few photographers whose work constantly inspires me. Before heading out to a wedding I always have a quick browse through their blogs to get some ideas and inspiration. My favourite photographer and educator is Jerry Ghionis.
Is there anything you wish you had done when you first started in photography that would of made a difference?
I’ve recently changed my business name from “Photos by Jay” to “Southern Light Photography”. I personally wish I hadn’t started my business with my own name in it, because when I added more photographers onto the team it made it difficult to promote them. It attached me to the business, which, in my opinion, may make it harder down the track if you ever want to step back from the business as a photographer, expand, or sell.
Any advice for new photographers wanting to go pro?
Go for it. Bear in mind that running a photography business is hard work, and you will likely not make as much money as you’re making in your current day job, for at least a few years. You’ll be taking photos about 5% of the time and the rest of your time will be spent promoting yourself, answering enquiries, writing up contracts etc. if you’re truly passionate about what you do, however, you will take great pleasure in every facet of running your business.