With the Infocus photography conference kicking off later this week in Rotorua, we finish up our series of pre-show interviews with a chat to Dan O'Day, one of Australia's finest wedding photographers. Dan is coming over from Canberra to talk to the locals about his unconventional career and the unqiue photographic style he has developed. A self-taught photographer, Dan says that although he may not hold an official qualification he's quite confident that he's made enough mistakes along the way, and scored enough wins, that he now holds a graduate degree from the "School of Hard Knocks". As well as shooting weddings in his hallmark artful documentary style, Dan has also developed a successful fine art career, in which he strives to hold a gallery show at least once a year. He has exhibited throughout Australia and as far abroad as London.
He is a keynote speaker at the Infocus conference and will be delivering a presentation on how developing personal projects can benefit commercial work, as well as a masterclass discussing his personal philosophies and practical elements of a shoot. D-Photo chats with Dan ahead of the event to give readers a precursory taste of his style:
D-Photo: How long have you been a wedding photographer and what led you to that path?
My journey to the crazy life of being a photographer started pretty simply: I discovered photography after a nine-year career in the government. I’ve always been an artist (I used to be an exhibiting oil painter), but photography found itself in me pretty quickly when I was lent a film camera by a friend. I started shooting full-time in 2009, and it’s been a few years since then of entering contests, exhibitions, shooting like a madman, and just creating product that I find beautiful and personal. It’s all given me the career I have today in the industry. I feel as though I’ve found what I was created to do, and that’s an incredible gift. It’s been quite a ride!
You have a very distinctive style of wedding photography – how do you describe it?
I think the best words you could use to describe my style of photography would be “cinematic photojournalism”. I draw a lot of my inspiration from cinema and I enjoy very dramatic cropped landscape photos that emulate that feel. I enjoy darks and bold, deep colours of photographers and artists of other many other mediums I admire. I like non-traditional compositions and embracing minimal light in situations (rather than compensating for it). Most of my inspiration is drawn from cinema, film clips, music, etc.
What do you like best about being a wedding photographer?
I like that it’s always moving and changing. The diversity is in everything I get to do: from the couple, to the locations, to the styles of the people I work for. Everything. It’s constantly moving and I love that it doesn’t allow me to get lazy or complacent in my work. Also I find it a very gratifying job. Recently I was speaking to a friend who is a commercial photographer and he was lamenting the fact that finishing a job is very cut and dry, more like: “This job has been approved. We’ll pay you and you can go home now.” But when I get to show photos to a couple, I often get to hear them laugh and cry and reminiscing in the memories of their day that we all shared together. And it’s a great feeling. It actually makes me feel like my work is making an impact, and I enjoy that.
What's the most difficult part of the job?
Driving past cafés on a Saturday morning and seeing everyone having breakfast and the best time ever, reading newspapers, and high-fiving each other, while I’m dressed in black, wondering if I forgot any charged batteries, and psyching myself up for the big day ahead!
But in all seriousness, though: Balance. The hours and the travel are really demanding. And these days it has me away from home a lot with the majority of weddings abroad. So that imbalance in life and time away from home is likely the hardest part of my job at the moment.
What's your proudest photography achievement to date?
A personal project I did a few years ago was spending a few days with a darling couple who had been married for 65 years, named Ginger and Pearl, and photographing normal days in their life in their corner of the world. The photos I took were eventually part of a published album that won me some awards and recognition that I never expected. But also the book was given to the family after it was made, and they have been able to cherish the memories in a way I never expected to be able to give anyone with my photography. So that was a beautiful thing that happened to my creative life, and definitely the achievement I am proudest of so far.
You'll be talking about the benefit of personal projects at Infocus – what personal project are you currently working on?
I have a few on the go at any given time. One particular project I’m enjoying is You Thought You Knew You —which is a blog I've created to inspire other photographers to start shooting outside their comfort zones.
I would tell you about a few more, but then no one would want to come to my presentation on personal projects at Infocus, haha! So I guess it will remain and over-mysterious, lovely surprise until this weekend.
You're also hosting a masterclass called "Philosophies of Dan O'Day", what should attendees expect from that?
Just basically I'll be talking about the mindset I set up for myself before a shoot. I'll also be going over some of the things I touch on in my keynote in a bit more detail. I'll be doing a live shoot; showing people how I interact, how I compose, and some methods I use to help people relax while I'm shooting with them. I'll also run through my workflow (from ingesting the photos, to editing, to output of the product). And the rest I'm going to leave up to the attendees. I'm going to be there to share, but I'd like to leave an element of the session as an open panel so that attendees can get an opportunity to ask questions about what they'd like to learn or know more about.
Have you visited New Zealand much before and will you be getting out to shoot while here?
My first time visiting New Zealand was – surprisingly – just this past February. I loved the time I spent there, shooting a wedding, and I look forward to exploring more of both islands! I'm not sure how much shooting I'll get to do during my short stint this time around, but I will definitely give it a shot because I know there's plenty of lens-candy around!
What gear typically makes up your kit?
These days I use Phase One IQ-250 Digital System quite a bit – with 28mm and 45mm Schneider lenses.
On a standard wedding shoot I'll use two digital SLRs, two speedlites, 24mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.2, 35mm f/1.4, and 85mm f/1.2 lenses.
For travelling I like to take my Fuji x100 and xPro1 camera systems.
What do you get up to when you're not shooting?
Recently I have a (slightly unhealthy and definitely expensive) obsession with scouting out nice pieces of Scandinavian furniture that I can acquire. But when I'm home I love to stay in my house as much as possible, or get down to the coast to visit my family.
What do you reckon is the biggest challenge facing pro photographers these days?
Standing Out. I think the industry has been more fast-paced in its changes than ever before in the past four years. And with current trends, I think it's easy to resort to copying what's happening in the industry in order to get a foothold in it, rather than trusting your gut and doing what you like. But that trend has lead to a lot of same-same product in an ever-growing industry, and it's getting more and more difficult to pick out one's individual stroke and creativity. I don't think the market is over-saturated. I think the talent and creativity are there and so varied! As creatives, I think we just to remember to be ourselves and follow our guts in order to stand out.
Are there any New Zealand photographers who inspire you?
I love the work of Jackie Ranken. It's hard for her to produce an image that I don't love. I'll leave it with Jackie for now, but I'm sure I'll have a bunch of new favourites after my stint judging at the awards.
What is something not many people know about you?
I suffer from a pretty intense anxiety disorder and I've had more than my share of bar fights in my life. Oh, and I'm a massive fan of Roxette (seriously... I have the whole box set of their greatest hits)!