Do you remember the moment when you took that picture, or held that camera in your hand, that changed the way you see the world? The moment when you just knew that photography was IT. The word passion resonates with so many and in todays world of life coaches and feel good gurus. Until something else more shinier and brighter distracts, where one passion is replaced with another and then another and then another.
Todays blog post is about the story of my journey through pictures, and the many struggles, triumphs and joys photography has given me over the years. My Passion! Through my journey, I hope to inspire and educate both for the seasoned professional and the hobbyist. I will try not to embellish and bore you with the finer details of my earlier years, but in order for me to express the sentiments behind some of the proceeding images, I will need to convey where it all began for me and some of the sacrifices. Passion is not just a word for me, it’s a journey that is both exhilarating as it is crippling. The first time I ever picked up a camera was at 21. It was then that I finally knew what I wanted to do with my life.
With film and cameras being so expensive, I would work 3-5 jobs at any given time, from hospitality to security to finance, what I used to call, an addiction to ALL things photography. One of those jobs was working for The Age newspaper as a security guard. My plan was to get to know the picture editors and work out how to become a newspaper photographer. I met some amazing photographers, who are considered legends today. Bruce Postle, John Lamb, Wayne Ludbey just to name a few. During night shift I would walk through the darkrooms and rummage through the bins and study all the rejects.
My plan came to fruition, and I was offered a cadetship, but by that time with a mortgage over my head the pay was way too low. Wedding and portrait photography seemed like a logical progression, with the ability to slot work in between my day job. Studying the photos gave me an insight into story telling in one frame. It gave me an insight on the lengths these guys would go to, to tell that story. One of those images, I remember to this day, of a homeless man lying in front of a newspaper stand poster, with the headlines the rise and fall of Alan Bond. These were the days where Photoshop was not a thing and the decisive moment was not only a skill but a necessary pursuit for the photojournalist. This period of my career is where everything was approached with childlike merriment.
Never happy with my photos but happy to be taking them. To this day, I haven’t taken the perfect photo. I was happy to keep on experimenting. Happy to keep learning. Happy to take a photo without any preconceived ideas of what makes a great photo.
The joy of processing your negatives and printing in the darkroom, was probably the height of my learning. This is where I discovered the zone system, formulated by Ansel Adams. Even in todays digital world his zone system can be used. I recall going to one of his exhibitions and marvelled at the print quality and the dynamic range of white’s through to blacks and the detail he was able to get in the highlights and the shadow. Whilst todays histograms shows 256 shades of grey Ansel Adams used only 9 (besides pure black and pure white) to manipulate the contrast
in his black white imagery. His philosophy was to expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights. The opposite for today’s digital world, where we expose for the highlight and develop for the shadows. So the same principle applies, just that we do the opposite. Could you imagine photographing a bride in white, in full sun, and I exposed for the shadows, with today’s digital cameras, the highlights would be in danger of clipping with no detail in the whites and no details in the flowing veil in the sun.
Shooting film also required discipline. The cost of film, developing and printing was pretty expensive. As a wedding and portrait studio in the late 80’s and early 90’s, it was not uncommon to shoot 10 rolls of 120 fiim and maybe a roll of B&W 35mm film for a wedding. Which meant that a wedding coverage amounted to 155 frames all up. Compare that to todays average wedding coverage in the digital world, where it’s not uncommon to provide our clients anywhere upwards of 1,500 – 2,000 frames. During the film days, every image needed to count. Every pose and every detail needed to be captured, within the confines of 155 frames. Learning to make every image count meant that we had to ensure we understood, not only the basics of photography and the exposure triangle, ,but posing your subjects and understanding direction of light and storytelling, just to name a few.
When I mentor todays photographers I try and instil the same discipline of slowing down. Consider the light, your subject and all the tools at your disposal. Obviously the liberty of shooting digital means that we have an opportunity to give our clients variety and to use the extra time to create more moments and meaningful stories, without the constraint of film.
This photo here is one of my first major international awarded photographs. It was taken whilst I was walking the streets of Sydney at Castlereagh Walk. It won Science and Industrial at WPPI when there was such a category. It’s no surprise that one of my first images happen to be whilst I was taking street photography, another passion of mine. When you see the building, my interpretation was somewhat different. I urge you to look at things where symmetry and shapes are at hand in a different light. Consider them as abstract art and look for repetition and symmetry.
When people ask me what is the best photograph I have ever taken, I often reply with the answer,”.. I haven’t taken it yet..” One photo however that will always remain a soft spot for me is this one. It has all the elements in what I look for when making a photograph. This photograph is taken at Rhodes in an ancient Greek Orthodox church after the couple’s wedding ceremony in the courtyard. Story telling is always in the forefront of my mind when taking portraits. What do I want to say? What kind of pose suits the environment? Where should I place the couple? How do I want them to feel? Bringing out my flash, asking them to kiss or hold the flowers and smile in the camera are all possible things that I could have asked for and we could have moved on without a second thought. Instead I asked the couple to lean at the alter, and to take their time, pray for their future and to take a moment to soak it all up.
I told them I will take a couple of photos and walk outside and wait for them. Now when they look at this photograph, all those emotions come flooding back and they also walk away with an art piece. This image also happen to win First place internationally and did very well in local competitions. I could say that it was this image that grabbed the attention of some of my peers. This was also around the time where the trajectory began of awarded images and of entering various competitions. What I learned along the way, was the ability to curate images for competition and what is required to do well in competition and all the elements to fine art printing. I was invited to judge and speak at various conventions and rub shoulders with some of my heroes, making friends along the way.
Another image that is worth mentioning is this one. What’s important to understand, is that the photo was taken and crafted during a time where the trend of static, straight faced wedding photos was a trend, inspired by American gothic painting. This trend in wedding photography was one that I was not a fan of, but needed to embrace, or at least make a version of my own. Every element to this photo was by design, from the bride and groom with their back toward the camera right through to the bridal party and their blank look. The child with his tongue out was the cherry on top. The photo is one of my favourites because it challenged me to look at all genre’s and styles in photography. To learn and expand my pre conceived ideas as to what makes a great photo.
One of the most powerful images I have taken is this one below. It has taken many years for me to talk about this image without me crying and I am glad I can write about it without you seeing a contorted face holding back tears. If ever an image personifies what I do for a living, I feel that this explains it for me A special part of every wedding is the father daughter dance, however the father in this image had only weeks to live, suffering from motor neuron disease. Instead of the dance the bride invited everyone to the dancefloor to witness a slideshow of photos of her and her dad, from infancy to her young adult life. Needless to say there were laughs and there were tears. It was a celebration of her dad holding off long enough to be at his daughters wedding.
My journey has come full circle and I am back to where I am most happiest. I mentioned earlier about the child like merriment of discovery during the early days of my photography. I wrote about how happy I was just taking pictures. I am always inspired by enthusiasts and hobbyist. They photograph with that same childlike inquisitive and creative minds. No pre conceived ideas and sometimes way out of the box. I mentioned earlier about my peers and my awards, and whilst I have learned a lot, I often ran my own race. Something happened along the way. I began to erect imaginary walls around my photography. What began as curating images for competition, I started curating images full stop. I was stuck in a creative rut, where I would think twice or second guess myself. I cant post this image, its not perfect. I cant post that, I have clipped the highlights. I cant post this, its too controversial. I was safe! I stopped pushing myself to create and to explore different genres and different techniques. The biggest mistake you can do is pigeon holing yourself into a corner.
Photography is a journey and it’s the journey that keeps the passion alive. There is no destination, just the journey.
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Authored by Nick Ghionis
This is the only person we know of who can pull off AIPP Wedding Photographer of the Year (Vic) whilst also winning the Scientific Photography award at the same time (watch out brides you’re under the scope). He’ll claim that he ‘captures dreams’ but this guy is a photography dream in and of himself. Join him on a workshop to find out why we love him so much!