Today in Richard's Photographer Spotlight, it's Sylvie Gil! 15 years in the industry has granted Sylvie a masterful understanding of the nuances of fine art wedding photography and how to elevate artistic passion into a lucrative career. Named a top photographer by Martha Stewart in 2014, Sylvie travels the world capturing beauty on film and sharing her techniques and know-how at her workshops. Find out the one and only camera and lens Sylvie uses, why she almost quit the biz, and how finding a fresh approach to your work can help grow your business, today on the blog!
Richard: What first sparked your passion for photography?
Sylvie Gil: My beloved Dad was the one who first got me interested in photography. I excelled at art in high school, and from an early age, my father believed I should be a photographer. Instead, I decided to study business and communication in college. After a couple years in an advertising agency in Paris, I realized I needed to do something more creative, so I decided to explore the world and bought a one way ticket to America. As I was departing, my Dad slipped a Nikon FM2 into my bag—and that was it!
Right when I started my career as photographer, my father died. I was very young; this might explain why I always shed a tear at the father/daughter dance and why I love capturing emotions. It is huge responsibility... I love it and I take it very seriously!
Richard: Making the leap from photography as a personal passion to a paying gig is a big one... how did you decide to pursue it as a career?
SG: I was exploring the world of fashion photography when a friend asked me to shoot her wedding. The wedding was featured in a Canadian magazine, and then the phone just started ringing. The idea of shooting weddings was appealing to me because it would allow me to work from home, and I could stay near my two small boys. My kids were both diagnosed with juvenile diabetes as infants, so my life was very challenging.
For a couple of years, I trained with some of the best wedding photographers in the Bay Area, and when I started shooting full-time, I immediately hired office staff to stay on top of my deadlines. It really helped me juggle business and parenting. It turned out to be a dream career as a mother, but I made sure to keep a three-week summer vacation on my calendar for them.
R: When you aren't shooting for clients, what do you LOVE to photograph?
SG: I love to photograph my children, my trips around the world, and beautiful scenery… Through my images, I try to create the world that lives in my dreams.
R: How do you find a balance between being creatively fulfilled and being able to pay the bills?
SG: I love to talk about probability and longevity… I divorced when my kids were young, and I had to financially support us. So, there was no question that my business had to be profitable long term and always inspiring! There were a couple of times in my 15+ years career that I felt stuck artistically; I had consistent work, but I needed fresh ways of looking at things. When you work for a corporation, you just change jobs—but when you are self-employed and need the income, you have to be more creative. Each time, I explored different approaches: I learned from others, surrounded myself with inspiring employees, collaborated with industry friends, worked harder, and it resulted in my business growing stronger and healthier.
Today, all I do is shoot, travel, and create images I adore! My workshop in France embodies all of my passions. It is a way to share my love for photography and my French heritage. It is not only a learning experience for my attendees, but for myself, as it challenges me to reflect on my career and intimately share what I have learned in my years of business. That’s what keeps me inspired: exploring, being challenged, and learning from others. All in all, I am grateful to have built a brand that is attractive to my dream clients.
R: What is your favorite camera and why?
SG: I only use one camera and one lens: my Contax 645 with the Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm f/2 2.0 AF Lens. I like the consistency it creates in my work. The Ziess glass makes for a very sharp lens and the camera feels at home in my hands. I feel that these two components have given me my personal photographic style. I love Kodak filmstocks 400, 800 and Tri-X for black & white.
R: What's your first memory of shooting with film? Why do you continue to shoot it as a pro?
SG: When I started shooting weddings, there was no digital photography. Film was the only option, and I even developed it in my own darkroom in my basement. What I witnessed under the enlarger was amazing… it was so beautiful and fulfilling to see the images come to life. With film, every single image counts, you have to think about every shot; it can be very challenging at times, but that’s the fun of it.
When digital came around, I felt like a dinosaur. I remember sitting at my desk in tears, ready to quit. I could not envision myself using digital cameras. So, I embraced what I loved: film photography. It was risky... but in the end, it paid off. Since my commitment to shooting film, my business has flourished and I feel appreciated for what I do best! The beauty of shooting film is when the downloads come back from my lab and the images are in perfect condition. It’s truly incredible and rewarding. I shoot all film at weddings, and I am thankful to Richard and Kodak!
R: Why is it important to have continuous communication with your lab(s)?
SG: My lab is my second set of eyes… If they don’t understand my aesthetic and how I see beauty, they will be no help. So, conveying my vision to Richard has been an essential part of my business. Albany is an amazing listener and a sweetheart; I am grateful for her understanding and thoroughness.
R: Do you have any pre-shoot rituals?
SG: Hahaha, ask my family and they’ll tell you! The rituals are important when they are hustling around the house. There needs to be tons of coffee in the pot and the bathroom has to be free for a couple of hours, and everyone knows not to talk to me. Most importantly my packed lunch sandwich has to be easy to swallow with no juicy sauce or fresh tomato slice! When we’re in the car traveling to an event, my faithful assistants know how to pick up on my mood. Shooting weddings is like a performance, and I still get nervous every single time. Sometimes, I even feel like throwing up! Yes, even after all these years!
R: Let’s play a game of “Either/Or”! Savory or sweet?
R: Chocolate or vanilla?
R: Dogs or cats?
R: Urban or rural?
R: Warm weather or cold weather?
SG: Warm weather.
R: Biggie or Tupac?
R: Early bird or night owl?
SG: Night owl... the best time to work is between 9pm and 2am, when the kids are in bed and everyone has left the office!
R: Crossword or Sudoku?
R: Batman or Superman?
R: Historical Non-fiction or SciFi/Fantasy?
SG: Historical Non-fiction.
R: Comedy or Drama?
R: Truth or dare?
R: If you weren't a photographer, what would you be when you grow up?
SG: I would work with little kids! I love their energy… they are so honest and innocent, funny, and so sweet.
R: What song/music do you listen to to get pumped up?
SG: Radiohead is it for me!
R: If you were a super hero, what would your super power be?
SG: My super power would be to take evil out of people.
R: What is your favorite word, and why?
SG: “Bananas”... don’t ask why!
We've missed you, Las Vegas! Good thing WPPI 2016 is just around the corner... the Wedding & Portrait Photography Conference and Expo is the tip-top industry event for photographers, with nearly 13,000 attendees ready to learn, network, and party! So, of course, Richard’s team of photo experts, film veterans, print masters, and marketing gurus wouldn't miss it. We'll be hanging out March 7th-9th at booth #1611 to talk all-things photography with you, but that's not all--we've got a whole lot more planned for the big event, and we're inviting you to join in on the fun. Register for FREE right now!
Richard has an amazing line-up of interviews with the industry's top photographers, vendors, and publications in store for this year. With up to five interviews every single day of the show, you might never want to leave booth #1611!
Stay tuned, we're still putting the finishing touches on our final interview line-up right here on the blog over the coming weeks. But until then, here's a sneak peek at just a few of the stupendous speakers we'll be interviewing:
Don't forget to bring your business cards so you can enter to be a lucky winner of a Richard Swag Bag after every interview! They're filled with goodies like discounts on our film services and print products, a copy of Flutter Magazine, free high-resolution image hosting services from Instaproofs, Richard t-shirts, and more...
Grab some insight into cultivating your emerging career and developing a road map for your path to success in the photography biz at WPPI on Monday, March 7th, from 4:00-5:30pm!
Brian, owner of Richard Photo Lab, and a slew of honorees, nominators, and judges of Rangefinder's 30 Rising Stars of Wedding Photography will take part in a panel discussion covering how to market yourself, develop a brand, and then sustain it through your website, social media and printed pieces. Learn more about this and other seminars/special events offered at WPPI 2016 here.
Bring your A-game! Get the most out of WPPI 2016 with these three tips from Rangefinder Magazine's Editor-In-Chief, Jacquie Tobin:
- Attend the Live Print, Album & Filmmaking Judging on March 5th and 6th. Even if you can only come for an hour, it's a fascinating experience and you get to hear directly from leaders in the industry on what makes for a winning image!
- The classes are super-informative and you will learn more In a week than you have in a lifetime--but remember to make time for the parties, as well! WPPI has an amazing lineup of special events, including the kick-off party on Sunday, March 6th, at the hottest club in Vegas, Hakassan, and the WPPI Fun Run on Tuesday morning, March 8th.
- Pace yourself! There's so much to do in just a week. Get some good sleep (but not too much) and stay hydrated! This will be the best week of your life!
Richard is headed to Field Trip this February 22-26 in El Capitan, CA! It's just like field trips from back in the day: a fun day out of the classroom, yet still filled with engaging learning experiences. Field Trip is a summit created for photographers who want to grow their business, expand their unique voice, connect with the community, and explore the new frontier of photography and image creation.
It’s gonna be a blast, and Richard has lots of goodies in store for you, including:
- discounted next-day process, scan, and print services for attendees during the week of Field Trip so you can see your film pics ASAP and chat with the Richard crew about your images (sign up now!)
- a class with Brian, our lab-owner, on the “who”, “what”, and “why” for amping up your photography business (buy your ticket to access the registration link)
- a one-on-one campfire session with Brian (buy your ticket to access the registration link)
Oh yeah, you can also score a whopping $300 off your ticket, courtesy of Richard, by signing up here. So, if you're looking to engage in a community of connectedness, expand your sense of purpose, to grow in the understanding of your craft, and to have a darn good time, grab your tickets today!