Katherine Williams - NZIPP Photographer of the Year
What does photography mean to Katherine Williams?
Photography is such incredible powerful universal communication… it blows me away, every day.
Who has inspired or influenced you as a photographer?
My mother told me as a little girl I liked to be in my own world and I tried to shield myself from the things that bothered me, at school I loathed social studies and current affairs and my brother used to call me an ignoramus because I wouldn’t watch the news. In reality I was very deeply affected by things I saw about war, hate, environmental and social issues – it pained me greatly to watch or read bad things spoken by the media in a way that felt so un-emotive to me. When I discovered photography I immediately discovered the depth of emotion that can be spoken from a single capture this connected with me in an incredible way. Through my schooling and studies there were many influences - Mary Ellen Mark totally amazed me with her incredible tenacity in the lengths she would go to tell the stories (with value and love) of those sitting on the fringes of society and the honesty she achieved in her photography through perseverance and dedication. Sebastio Selgado, to me he’s the epitome of creating incredibly powerful photographs that speak to the universal language of empathy and he’s also proof that one person can influence change through photography. Then there are those artists who delved into imagination and experimentation that I also loved – the beauty of allowing oneself to take a trip into ones own world of imagination. Jerry Uelsmann influenced my desire to play with technique. NZ Painter Philip Claremont with the visual symphony, intensity and chaos he saw in the everyday, MC Escher with his elicitation of intrigue and curiosity through his drawings and printmaking.
…I can’t stop there. It’s not that I am not inspired by wedding photographers because I am but I rarely spend time looking at wedding photography. But it is many other genres invigorate my desire to grow and develop my photography further and I have found the more I see other works outside of my own genre the greater this spark becomes. Mostly it’s the people behind the images that inspire me when they create photographs that do more than ‘objectify’ their subjects, creating images that you can ‘feel’ – these move me. And I believe that comes from the very core of that person.
What was the tipping point of turning your passion for photography into a profession?
Knowing that it was possible was the tipping point, and that knowing happened when I was 15. Once I knew it could be done I was single minded that it would be the path I would pursue. On leaving school I studied photography and other than a couple of random jobs to help pay for my studies I have only ever made a living from photography.
What is your motivation to keep you driving and not being complacent as a professional photographer?
Ultimately it is the underlying burn in me that I feel lucky every day to be able to follow the path of doing what I love. I don’t want to do anything else.
Is there a go to lens that you cant live without and why?
It is so hard to choose! During my teens and 20s my lens collection featured only prime lenses. I can still hear my tutors voice in my head “move your legs Katherine, that is what they are for”. When I switched out my kit in its entirety several years ago I had no prime lenses. I missed them so much!!! And now I want to build them back up again. So currently my favourite is my Canon 50mm 1.2L. Aside from the stunning sharpness and lovely bokeh which for me adds to feeling and depth, it also allows me to be close enough to my subject to connect to and talk to them easily while working which I enjoy the most.
Photography trends and technology are always evolving how do you educate yourself to keep developing your craft?
Listen and practice. I gained a strong foundation when I was young and what I have found to be true in continuing my growth and development is that it is a great number of small things (not a small number of great things) that have made massive differences in both my business and the craft of photography. Most of these I have learnt through being involved in the photographic community, something that I am very passionate about. It can be too challenging to make a lot of big changes at once but one thing I started several years ago was during the NZIPP Infocus conferences was that I’d keep a separate page where I’d write in 5 things that I could implement on the day I returned back to the office. This ensured I had a super fast return on investment as I would typically focus on things that either aided my business or my productivity. Even though I read articles online I don’t particularly enjoy online learning, it leaves me feeling hollow – I want to be around actual real life people in the photographic community; that inspires, educates and completes me.
What is the one thing you would tell Katherine 10 years ago?
Just trying to be the best version of yourself is good enough.
On your website you mention “we believe in pushing oneself to the limit, to never settle for the ordinary when the extraordinary can be achieved” how do you build that trust with your clients to try new things?
On a wedding day I work fast (speed in working with people was something I learnt mainly through my 9 years spent working as a photographer on cruise ships!), I always ensure my clients (and their families) expectations will be met first and working quick allows me time to play. It can be hard to explain a ‘vision’ to your clients, especially since the thought process prior is just a fraction of the creative realization process. So it’s more important to me to build up a high level of trust before I get really creative so my clients don’t really feel any need to ask what I’m doing and they can just relax.
For my wedding clients I would usually do this through shooting an engagement session with them prior to the wedding. This is win-win as it builds that trust, they love what I do and the natural response is typically they will see value in making additional purchases from this session, which is great for business. During the wedding itself identifying anyone who is remotely skeptical of your ability quickly and giving them confidence is a really effective tool, you really need everyone to trust you as quickly as possible to make your day more enjoyable and creative.
With my portrait clients I’m looking for something reasonably ‘epic’ or special at the start of the shoot that they simply can’t see, like a reflection in a dirty puddle. I’ll show them the shot on the back of my camera and then trust increases tenfold immediately.
For other projects sometimes it’s compromise, the vision I have for the shot doesn’t always align with my clients so I may shoot to their vision first but ask them to trust me to also shoot it the way I think will work best.
What is hot in photography right now?
I don’t consider myself to be a close follower of stylistic photographic trends… but I certainly think authenticity is a hot word in photography right now, certainly in wedding photography.
How important is printing to you?
Extremely important. My studio is filled with the tangible – wall art and gorgeous albums, these are the things I want my clients to enjoy the most because that is what I enjoy the most. I think the overall tendency in society is to want a lot these days and that this can leave us numb. I have a preference for less of the things I really love over more of the things I simply like if that makes sense, so I encourage my clients to fall in love with even just one thing but enjoy it often.
Printing, and doing it well is one of the things that separates us as professionals and with the endless options of presentation and gorgeous paper stocks to choose from it also brings a lots of satisfaction to the job.
What does being announced NZIPP Professional Photographer of the Year mean to you?
It’s been incredibly exciting, an absolute honour. Over the last couple of years I’d started to question if I was getting too old for shooting weddings (I turn 40 in a few days J), a response to the separation I was feeling between me and my predominant client demographic and just seeing all the ‘way cooler than me’ photography talent out there. And I guess that’s a creative confidence thing, I hit a lull briefly but I’m very persistent by nature and over the past few years this has pushed me to work harder at pushing myself creatively which in turn has allowed me to create work that I am pretty excited about.
What does the rest of 2016 have for you?
There will be no rest that’s for sure! I’m pretty guilty of getting distracted easily so a focus on streamlining for better workflow efficiencies is going to be key in my wedding and portrait business; Tandem Photography. That will make way for some new projects, which I have finally started to put serious thought into after several years of knowing that I needed some new challenges and projects. My involvement in the photographic community through NZIPP has become very important to me too and I’d really love to be able to find ways to leverage my win for the greater good of the photography community.
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