Better Photography Featured Edition #70 Summer 2013 – Amber Gardener – Naturalight Photography

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5 Questions from Facebook Friends

I am asked a lot of photography questions about how, why, what and when from time to time – so instead I asked my Facebook friends – ask me what ever you want and I will answer them – so I picked the top 5 questions, What awesome questions they are – excuse if I rant or stray -but these are my honest answers and feelings and to those who know me you know a good chat can last a while!

1: Why did you choose family and new borns as the focus of your business? And have they always been the focus?

Great Question that needs a bit of reading to answer!

In my business as with my life – when younger I let the road take me wherever it led – I went with the flow and ended up wherever and dealt with the blessings and trials as they presented themselves to me. Coming with age – I am a little more particular with my road travels!

Having always loved photography as a child, watching people hold these black contraptions that are a click noise and the associated ‘cheese’ that came with it – I knew I loved cameras. At 17 I began working in a retail camera store and learnt everything to do with photography – back to front.. I guess you could say I learnt the back end – that era was all film –  film processing and when I was 19 Kodak released its newest digital camera that had only kb size files and it was about $1499 for a whizz bang digital camera.

Selling on the floor – knowing cameras inside and out – answering every question under the sun as a retail sales person – I guess you could say I learnt a lot on the job – it came as second nature and felt so natural – I wouldn’t just sell what we were told to sell – I would find out what the customer wanted to shoot – what their interests were and I would match a camera to those needs – people would come into the store to buy a quick point and shoot for their home life, kids concerts & holidays, – and leave smiling with an slr with a telephoto and thanking me for getting to know them and to educate them as to better their home photographic experience. It delighted me to have them return with rolls of film and to show them their capabilities and awesome results.

I printed in a mini lab and learnt about emulsion, about CMYK and about colours. Also exposure – looking at images from many people from every aspect of life – I could flick through a pack of 38 images hot off the press, held in my hands and see every image – looking for dust or images that were too dark or over exposed – so I could then go back to re print them. I was fastidious and although I ran a generic corner store mini lab – I took a lot of pride in the results and how I could better customers happy snaps.

One day a ‘professional’ photographer came in and left  a wedding he had been commissioned to shoot. My first thought – why were you printing your images at this little consumer lab and not a pro lab? My second thought as I loaded the negatives into the print machine – lets see just what a so called ‘professional’ photographers work looks like. Seeing the results left me gobsmacked – he got paid to shoot that? If I were the bride I would not be overly happy with the results.

SO Naturalight Photography began. In 1997,  I was 18 years old and I placed an ad in the Leader Newspaper & Independent Newspaper for wedding photography – in a time when we only shot film and there were a handful of photographers on the Mornington Peninsula/Bayside – 95% of them male – it raised a few eyebrows! In the meantime I shot a few family and friends weddings and built a folio. My first wedding was a 2nd wedding of a lovely local couple – their images were just gorgeous and I guess from the get go I had a creative and different way of looking at the world and composition. I am a romantic at heart – with a love of vintage – antiques, old fashioned values, love songs and growing up watching Anne of Green Gables and Wuthering Heights – I believe in the power of Love and the family unit.

When I was 20 I began work at the Independent Newspaper – in a journalistic role – I was based at the Dandenong office and sent down as far as KooWeeRup all the way up to Oakleigh including Cranbourne and some Frankston work. It was a very fast paced always on the go type role. I used to rack up around 100-150kms driving in any given day and shot a range of commercial products, to news, general interest & political stories. I learn so much in that role and left after a year and a half, there is a lot of nastiness in the world and some times I was left in tears at a few of the stories I had to attend or cover. You have to try to dis associate yourself from a lot of what you shoot and for someone like myself who really wants to capture and to show people their beauty and love – looking at crime scenes or even road accidents, left me feeling flat and sad for the victims. I look at this as a real learning experience, having to think on my toes – learnt a lot about light and how to utilise what I had in front of me which every day was totally random.

I didn’t plan to shoot families or children – again this opportunity presented itself to me when pregnant with my daughter – attending a hospital tour and asking if they had a newborn photographer, which they didn’t, so then I became the resident newborn photographer in 2002 at The Bays Hospital Mornington. Newborn work then led to family photography and playgroup/kinder photography. It is all interconnected and comes under family photography. Even weddings – they are a Family occasion and I next had couples ringing me to then photograph their pregnancies and then newborns. So then became Amber the family photographer.

In 2005 I received a call from my fellow photographer friend who I worked with years before in retail, she was the resident at Peninsul Private Hospital and was moving far – so she asked me to take over her role. I was truly flattered that she asked me and feel truly blessed even to this day. I have met 90% of my loyal and return clients/friends through the hospital and adore what I do so much. I am given a job and entrusted to capture these precious moments.

The important factors I find set me in good stead to be a successful photographer and business woman is that I am dedicated, never afraid to ask, always thinking outside the square, ethical and more importantly evolving. You must always grow, always stay true – but always adapt to the the fast changing industry that is Photography. It is not a phase – if you become a photographer you live being a photographer. Your whole life and family life becomes Photography – like Van Gogh cutting off his ears – he was an artist – I too am an artist – not quite ready to cut off my ears – but I am so dam passionate about what I do and the main feeling I have about it – is LOVE. If I didn’t LOVE what I do, I wouldn’t do it.

2: Tell me about your product shoots? Why do you photograph people’s products?

A photographer always needs new and exciting products and props to work with, I have the pleasure of being associated with SO many beautiful (not to mention clever) people and companies. I like to give back -remembering when I first started and being friended by other photographers, who always helped me. A co worker helped me buy my first camera, the camera rep gave me a deal with my first prime lens, the fellow photographer who gave me digital camera to play with – always given things -you must always give back in life AND in business. Many of the products I have photographed have given some new founded businesses a real head start and not to mention networking their products through my group of friends and followers. I like to select products that are unique or unseen – something different to the normal grab it off the shelf made in china vibe we are so used to. When I photograph new products, my photos then look unique too! It gives my clients and friends something new to experience!

3: What would you be if you weren’t a photographer?

This question really had me thinking and you know I cannot answer it more than this:

With a love of singing ( it’s in the family), with a strong sense of business/retail and a love of coffee – I think all I can say is I would be a cafe owner. I can sing while I sell and make coffee! hehe

4: What do you find is your greatest inspiration?

My greatest inspiration? Would have to be a number of things. Personally I strive to WOW my clients with fantastic and beautiful images – this inspires me to keep on keeping on with what I do.

My children, partner and family inspire me to keep going and never stop.

On a business level and thinking of other photographers – it wasn’t until Facebook came about that I ever knew much about other photographers – I lived in my own bubble of doing my own thing and focusing on my own work.

I have recently discovered and been inspired by many new photographers – not looking so much at their images – as I believe every moment happens and that moment has the chance to be captured by any one person – who happens to hold a camera – and it will be captured however they perceive the situation – no image can be replicated as that moment only happened that once. They either succeed in capturing that moment or they fail technically – but isn’t all photography art? Yes it is completely. I am more so inspired by their presence, the person they are – by their ability to touch others, with an image – this inspires me more.

Some photographers whose stories inspire me:

Sue Bryce – from her humble beginnings to her discovery of talent and business capabilities

Russell James – An Australian who has made it big overseas shooting Victoria’s Secret and other huge campaigns.

Nirrimi Firebrace – a 19 year old who has taken the photo world by storm – she is an open and honest photographer who shoots campaigns for Billabong Surf Wear being some of her noted works.. She is unashamedly natural and flows – her works is sublime.

5: How to you make people feel at ease in front of your camera? How do you get the best out of each individual? smile

I think the main thing is trust.

My clients know and follow my work – they see me as a Great photographer, they trust in the knowledge that I know what I am doing. A client who lets go and is totally at my direction will have fabulous images.

I talk – quite a bit, I think I am a chatterbox but this puts people at ease and we talk about day to day and I love to hear what your interests are and I get to know a lot about my clients as we chat at a session.

I am not a show pony nor a stringent task master – I am a simple person with my own strict guidelines that I mentally follow, my work is YOU and it has to capture the Love between two people – the bond between a Mother and child and the innocence in a child’s gaze.

I look at people angles, I look at their whole person – and I seem to naturally put myself and choose equipment that best shows off that persons beauty and character.

When you look at an image of yourself, that I have taken – you see yourself in a light you never see.

THANK YOU for reading and THANK YOU for caring enough to ask. Without my beautiful followers, clients and friends – I couldn’t be.



Advice, Tips and Help?

  • What drives you to become a Photographer?
  • When are you a “Professional” Photographer?
  • When do you have the confidence to charge?
  • Is your work of a high standard?

A little about me?

Being a working photographer for such a long time – this being my 15th year! I have worked so hard to build a reputable business and I understand the fundamentals required to run a successful photography business. I work around 12 hours a day – that is shooting, editing, emailing, driving,phoning and printing. Working with around 15 families a week, I run a very active boutique studio in Mornington.

I have 4 children and a wonderful supportive man.

The bottom line is – I express myself through my photography – I see so much good in this world – that is littered with so much negative. I believe in LOVE and I see this in people – I want to capture that to always remind people of their capabilities and beauty. I paint ( not much time these days!), I sing, adore Music and I am an Artist with my camera. I LOVE and LIVE what I do every day and wouldn’t have it any other way.

I get asked a couple of times a week for advice, tips and help. This is fine with me and I am glad to share and try to help.

Usually I am being asked by Mums, School Students and even people from across the globe who stumble upon my blog and Love what they see.

I am going to be brutally honest and I am writing this in a positive light.

Mainly to those who are hanging a shingle and calling themselves professionals. Honestly – this scares the heck out of me – why?  For the unsuspecting client. They are TRUSTING their precious photographic moments with an amateur? You cannot get moments, or time, or babies first smiles back.

Everyone starts somewhere and we should embrace that – photography is for everyone and anyone.

Making Active Steps

Since DSLR’s dropped in price – many people have access to a decent camera at a low price and there are many ” people who are good at taking pictures “, who have a light bulb moment and think/say “I could turn this into a business”, completely, yes you can.

But in saying that – photographers (usually with reputation) are then holding workshops – why are Great photographers having workshops? Because there are SO many, absolutely SO many “new” and aspiring photographers trying their hand at photography. Workshop rates have SKY rocketed since the digital camera movement has evolved.

1: The newbie charges nothing or at a severely discounted price. (The professional loses business).

SO that photographer needs to generate money they normally would through clients they have lost – so they figure – why not –  I will hold a workshop. Why else would they sell their secrets? If you can’t beat them – join them philosophy and that is a true business person. I’ve contemplated holding workshops – but I am actually too busy to do so. Workshops are beneficial – don’t get me wrong and the need for education is definitely positive – as this new generation starting in a digital age and having never shot Film are entering this industry substantially undernourished technically.

2: The step from not charging to charging – is a huge step. When are you professional? The minute you charge a person for a service – friend or not – they have an expectation of what their results will be.

A friend will take anything for free and tell you it is good if they don’t have to pay or fork out for their own DSLR.

Chances are your image is better than their point and shoot $200 samsung with a flash. It is by no means any way to measure your talent and use that as reasoning to become professional.

I have clients whose weddings I shot 10 years ago – who have come to me for newborn photos of their 3 children and now family photos. Happy and satisfied customers mean the world to me and this makes me smile knowing I have such happy, loyal and dedicated clients and new friends.

The step from amateur to pro is a big one – and you the new photographer in a busy digital age are a small fish amount squillions of photographers or faux-tographers ( a new term for newbies who point and shoot and never step off Auto?) – stepping into a bigger pond – treading water with the millions of not so small fish.. the tank grows and grows..
You need to step above – there are levels of skill, levels of client business and levels of putting yourself out there.

You just need to be prepared to learn, workshops are handy, online workshops are fantastic – BUT you learn most on the job, behind the camera, UNDERSTANDING your camera, looking at your results and asking for honest feedback and also the main thing, your client being happy looking at their childs’ face staring back at them for example.

Being a part of the AIPP – The Australian Institute of Professional – a long standing institution that represents and adheres to a strict code of conduct for all members. Photographers must pass a judging of a number of images – judged on quality/aesthetic and technique. All Accredited photographers must have a working with children check, years of experience in the field as a professional and also Public Liability Insurance. This is a fabulous safeguard for clients to be assured that the AIPP has endorsed the photographer. The AIPP is a mecca of education and learning – photographers are there for one another with support, ideas and advice and you feel part of a photographic family.

You cannot bottle “successful photographer” – while I am successful – there are those I look up to each for various reasons.

You do not want to be a dime a dozen -there needs to be:

  •  point of difference to your work
  •  a market for your work
  •  finding on going – on paying work
  • knowing your client and who your business attracts
  • being able to  keep up with todays fast growing and ever evolving technology
  • financially maintaining your business, there is a lot of output before you get income

Costs incurred by a photographer annually:

Equipment/ Maintainance/Programs

Insurances on Equipment/ Public Liability Insurance/Membership fees to Clubs & Organisations

Rental cost on Studios (or building a swish in home studio)/ Fitting out your studio/ Lights/Props/Furniture

Among the many more I could list but I know you get the drift!

If you feel good taking photos – do it!

If it feels right to take the leap into photography do it – if you are ready to be judged, if you are ready to be criticised (this happens from all avenues) and you can hold your head high and say;

This is my artistic contribution to people/ to life/ to customers – if you want to engage a viewer and take them away from their everyday life for 5 seconds and sometimes a lot longer – then you too are a photographer.

When you put the word Professional at the start – this opens a whole new door and you have a lot of important factors you will need to consider.

#Food for Thought by Amber Gardener – Naturalight Photography

Paul & Stef’s Wedding – Amber was a guest! by Naturalight Photography

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It is very rare that I get a chance to be a guest at a wedding. It was SO beautiful to relax and enjoy the day and night with our friends on their magical day. Of course I caught a few impromptu moments with the couple – setting up a few poses and was the dreaded guest snapping over their photographers shoulder for a few of the family photos – all in all it was a beautiful day. Congratulations to Paul and Stef – Thank you x

Melba what a show pony! by Amber Gardener

There is a little bit of a story behind this one!! Well I had been scheduled to shoot at Barak Estate for Mornington Life Magazine – after being briefed on the style of shoot – Spring Racing was a theme – so in my mind – I creatively say to myself – I need a horse. I put the call out on face book, no one can come as it is a week day shoot. So driving on the day of the shoot along bumpy Barak lane and I notice a rider on his horse in his property – I stop my car, whiz down the window and randomly yell out – “hi, I am a photographer and we have a fashion shoot down your road at Barak, would you possibly have a horse you could bring to us for a few photos??”- Terry yells out – yep no problems, I have a nice chestnut that will be perfect. So off I drive – still shocked I found a horse and thankful how tinny I am ( I have a habit of being tinny – thats for another blog…).

Well when Terry walked in the gate with Melba on the lead – she was just breathtaking – he then began to explain – she is actually a MOVIE STAR!! Starring as one of the leading horses in the film just real eased called The Cup – about Damien Oliver’s life as a champion jockey. Melba played MEDIA PUZZLE –

Our models were new and still learning the ropes of modelling let alone handling a huge horse – so I was so proud at how they kept their cool and did the job – in true model form! Terry a trainer was so patient and a Godsend!!