Richard Photo Lab

Richard's Photographer Spotlight: Sylvie Gil

Today in Richard Photo Lab'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 oneŠ... 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.

Image by Sylvie Gil

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.

Image by Sylvie Gil

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: Portra 400, Portra 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!

Image by Sylvie Gil

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 Photo Lab 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?

SG: Savory.

R: Chocolate or vanilla?

SG: Chocolate.

R: Dogs or cats?

SG: Cats.

R: Urban or rural?

SG: Rural.

R: Warm weather or cold weather?

SG: Warm weather.

R: Biggie or Tupac?

SG: 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?

SG: Crossword.

R: Batman or Superman?

SG: Superman.

R: Historical Non-fiction or SciFi/Fantasy?

SG: Historical Non-fiction.

R: Comedy or Drama?

SG: Drama.

R: Truth or dare?

SG: Dare.

Image by Sylvie Gil

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!