For the photographer's interview series, today I wanted to introduce to you a fellow and very friendly photographer - Therese Debono. I met Therese at a friends wedding, but I really got in touch with her when she wrote a beautiful heart warming article which described a harddisk failure in relation to her photography work which was successfully recovered (see the blog post here http://www.theresedebono.com/blog/2017/8/31/how-i-got-my-white-hair) That blog post really echoed something in me (as something similar had occurred to me!) ... and the rest is history.
I am sure you will find her replies below really interesting and motivating as I have found them. Her views are very much inline with my idea of photography.
Therese graduated from the University of Malta with a Masters of Fine Arts in Digital Arts and is currently reading an MA in Cultural Heritage. She is currently a freelance photographer and lecturer at MCAST and the University of Malta.
So Therese we wanted to know, how did you get into photography and specifically into wedding photography?
Photography found me in 2007 during a casual trip with friends to the sister island of Gozo. One of my friends had a DSLR. He asked if I could keep it for him. I asked if I could use it. Of course at the time I used it on Auto however I spent a whole weekend shooting and the rest is history. I took a course to learn shooting in Manual, and practiced non-stop. I never imagined that I would ever get into wedding photography. I used to see it as an impossibility at the time. However in 2010 I got a phone call from my first ever clients. The groom had seen some work of mine on Flickr, and he insisted that I was going to shoot their wedding. I invented each and every excuse possible not to shoot their event. However he insisted way too much. And there I was camera in hand, shaking and shooting my first ever wedding, with a kit lens and a 50mm.
Did you always want to be a photographer from an early age? How did your studies help you in the photography world?
I cannot say that I always wanted to be a photographer however now I can say that finally I am doing what I was born to do. But I am 40 hey, so it’s about time I recognise that, even though a part of me still thinks that I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. Since a young age I knew that I always wanted to become an architect. I worked as a draughtsman for 19 years and I admit that my background has helped me a lot in terms of framing, composition, light and shadows. My mum does say that I used to shoot endless rolls of film of my baby sister, however I do not recall thinking that I wanted to be a photographer. But when I started photography I knew that photography was not just a hobby. I realised early on that this medium was bigger than me, and that it was going to take over my life, and in fact it did. In 2015, I graduated with a Masters of Fine Arts in Digital Arts were photography was my final research project. Since graduating I somehow couldn’t deal with going into work anymore. I did not feel as passionate as I used to for my drafting career. I felt that I could do more, differently. So I am currently reading another MA in Cultural Heritage where my research yet again deals with how photography represents place. All this might not have a direct link with wedding photography, however my approach in wedding photography is more documentary rather than traditional, so that is where the link is: documentary photography.
What is your favourite photography genre? Do you think your wedding photography is influenced by this preference and how?
My favourite genre would be documentary. From documenting streets, places, people and events, I am just fascinated at how this medium can capture and freeze moments forever. And wedding photography is the perfect milestone in a couple’s life that deserves documentation to treasure these moments for the rest of their lives.
Moments after the ‘I do’ and before the first kiss
What books / resources did you find more useful at the beginning of your photographic career that helped you prepare for today?
It’s not books that helped me at the beginning of my career, but following the right mentors and also tutorials and online courses. However early on my interest in photography was not in editing but in the history of photography. I believe that we can learn so much more when we research and look at the masters of photography. So one important book to read is ‘The Genius of Photography’ by Gerry Badger. It really helps the photographer understand how much of an impact photography has been during the years, how important it is to shoot images with meaning and above all understand that our work is not about clicking the shutter only. Photography is more than that. The invention of photography gave us the facility of ‘fixing’ images on paper, thus we have memories in print.
We all agree that photography is not about equipment, though professional equipment helps. Can you tell us what is currently in your photography bag when preparing for a wedding (flashes, triggers, tripods, other useful accessories)? Do you have different setups for different occasions or do you always shoot with the same set of cameras and lenses?
My favourite lens is the prime 35mm f/1.4. I can shoot a whole wedding with it! I am not a big fan of flash work though I admire others who use it. I would rather use natural light so I am forever seeking light. I have the following in my bag:
Canon Mk3 (main camera), Canon Mk2 (backup), 24mm f/1.4, 35mm f/1.4 (top fave), 85mm f/1.4, 70-200mm f/2.8 (leave fave) 2 flashguns, a pair of triggers, stand and umbrella. I mean I pack up all this for a wedding especially if the wedding runs into evening. However knowing the venue, the available light on location etc helps me be prepared beforehand. However you never know what colour temperature those extra lights the couple ordered would be. They might give off horrible green highlights for example, so in some cases I would have to use a flash etc. I adapt to the locations as I go along really. There were instances where I used the 24mm over the 35mm for e.g. I do not enjoy working with zoom lenses. I feel that they really restrict me from getting into the action. I believe that if you are right there in the action, you get the best photos that portray the best emotions.
If your whole photographic collection was burning, and you could save just one photo you took, which one would it be and why?
I really cannot answer this. There is not just one photo, there is the whole archive. So probably I would burn down together with my archives. I do have some favourites like the ‘Sunny and the Fair Lady’ series, but then again what about my clouds series, and the Power Station series…no way…if my collection was burning, I would burn with it.
Which is the photo which took you the most time and effort to take?
Again I cannot really pinpoint this. I work in projects, so most of my personal work is not about one photo but about a body of work. To be honest with you, photography is not an effort for me. I mean I never feel that I have to really put a lot of effort. When I shoot, I feel, I observe, I shoot. So each and every photo is done with all my effort, from my heart.
What are your thoughts on the next evolutionary steps in photography for the future?
I lecture photography on many levels and various units at Mcast and University and the one of the many things I say to my students is this: Do not ever disregard photography as just clicking the button. I urge them to look into the history and meanings of photos. I fear that with social media, young people use photography without realising how powerful a tool they have at their disposal. If you think at how much pain past inventors and photographers have gone through in order to get to where we are today, I think one would understand the medium’s importance and treat it with reverence. Or so I wish to think…
I am particularly fond of the colour tonalities you use in your images - giving them such as a legacy style. How much does post-production play a role in your photography?
First of all, I chose earlier on that I wanted to be a photographer and not an editor so my program of choice for post processing is Adobe Lightroom. I want fast and precise, and my work is all about truth and reality. I am not interested in changing facts or removing wrinkles. Following Henri Cartier-Bresson’s quote “After a certain age, you got the face you deserve I think” and I firmly believe in this. Apart from this I am inspired by the work in colour by Vivian Maier for example, so I try to develop and work in developing presets in Lightroom that somehow echo the past with a fresh contemporary intake. It’s all a question of research. That is why earlier I mentioned the importance of photography history books over technical books, because in order to shoot, one needs to get inspired, one needs to look and absorb great photos, analyze the work to a point that it is imprinted in your subconscious forever, thus helps in developing your shooting style as well as your editing style.
What advice would you give to new photographers to improve quickly and effectively? What advice would you give to the more experienced ones?
Beginners: Read the manual. Do not expect your tutor to know exactly how your camera works. They teach you how photography works, then it is your responsibility to learn how to use your own camera to get the images with the right settings. Practice a lot and a lot and before posting each and every image on social media, get a photographer mentor to help you in constructive criticism. Just because you have a camera round your neck, you are not suddenly a photography.
Semi-Pro: Do not price cheap just because you want new clients to beef up your portfolio. Pricing cheap will only do the following: tag you as a cheap photographer and this label will remain with you for life, and you will be ruining your very own market from where you have to earn your bread and butter. If you want portfolio material you can work with a pro and ask for permission to use some photos for portfolio for eg, but never ever price cheap and worse of all, do anything for free. Ask yourselves would a doctor examine you for free? If you do not know how to price, ask for advice from professional photographers, plus you can’t price on how you live. If you still live with your parents who pay the water and electricity and who still provide you with free lodging, then you have to price as if though you are paying for all this too.
Pro Photographers: Let’s unite. Let’s all help one another. One too many times I was faced with bad attitude of not sharing. People so scared to share for fear that they would lose their clients. There is work for everyone! And once again do not under-price just so you can boast about a full wedding season calendar, Price right and you will still be earning a decent living.
What are your future goals as a photographer? Do you have any long term plans or on-going projects?
I always have projects ongoing. At present I am finalising my thesis where I am researching how the spirit of a place can be represented in photography, so I am all about shooting places, observing streets and places. However the streets remain my muse, my studio if you like. I love capturing life as it happens and intend to keep on doing that. I work on my dreams constantly but never restrict myself with timeframes on my personal projects because I always believe that tomorrow or the day after there will be an even better photo to capture.