Professional photographer James Day talks to FOCUS about the influence growing up in the New England has on his work, being adventurous with his clients, his passion for photographing weddings Australia wide and beyond, and the importance of nurturing young photographers.
Tell us about where you are from and how you got into photography…
I was born in Armidale in 1985 and lived there until I was about 25. I shot my first paid job at 16. It was actually a family shoot for the librarian from my high school, which seems fitting now, because I was always into photography – and family and relationships are really important to me.
It wasn’t long before I realised that wedding photography was something I loved doing. In the very beginning, I couldn’t really decide what to focus on exactly – advertising, sports, marketing, news; there are just so many different genres in photography. When I was asked to photograph my first wedding, I realised it had everything in one. It was just non-stop fun to me, because one moment you’d be photographing a landscape, the next moment crazy action, and then the next moment you’d be photographing something reminiscent of fashion. You know … It was just a constant change between five or six photographic genres in one day. Since then I have shot over 600 weddings in Australia and overseas. Even though I’m based in the Sydney region now, I always love coming back to the New England to shoot local weddings – there’s something special about shooting weddings at home, where I started this whole amazing journey.
How did you make the transition from an aspiring photographer to a professional photographer?
It was just one of those really slow transitions for me. I learnt how to take decent photos, and people would see what I was photographing and ask me about my work. That built up more and more over the course of many years, and I learned a lot from people around me.
So, with the experience and knowledge I’d built up behind me, I asked the guy I guess you could call my hero to take me under his wing. His name is Simon James, and he’s based in Melbourne. I remember calling him, shaking with nerves, asking him, “Will you help me to become a better photographer? ”to which he replied, “Yeah, come on down!’’ So I got to spend some time in Melbourne with him, carrying his bags, helping him out, and learning everything I could from him. That was one of the biggest steps in my transition into becoming a professional. It’s been a constant evolution since I started. Now I’m focused on wedding photography itself and photographing weddings for Australia’s most adventurous couples – which is the kind of style I shoot. It’s very fun and outrageous and a bit crazy.
What would you say has been the most adventurous wedding you have shot?
One of the most adventurous weddings I’ve shot was only a few months ago. The ceremony happened in the middle of a river. The bride stood upstream and the groom stood downstream, and they basically met in the middle of the river, with their families in tow. The majority of the guests were standing in the water, with some standing on a little sandbank. They had their ceremony standing right in the middle of the river, the reception was on the riverbank, the bride and groom spent most of the day barefoot. I shot the wedding in my board shorts, as I had to run up and down in the river photographing their day.
As well as photographing amazing weddings like that, you’re also a Fujifilm ambassador. Tell us about how that fits in with your wedding photography.
Yeah, I am an ambassador for Fuji, so they sponsor me to speak at different events. Being asked to work with Fuji was kind of a dream come true … You know, one of those things that if you had told me as a kid growing up in Armidale that I’d be sponsored by a camera company, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. I’m one of only two wedding photographers sponsored by Fuji in Australia. I’m also sponsored by another company called Vision Art, who make wedding albums for professional wedding photographers around the world.The most important part of these professional relationships to me is that I can meet and speak with and encourage other photographers, and I try to do that as much as I can. I also speak at Australian and international conferences and run my own workshops to help other photographers grow and learn. That’s how I learnt, from other photographers, so it’s important to me to give back in the same way.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Not eating all of the wedding cake! (Laughs). You know, after a long day photographing a wedding, you may have had a bit of travel to get there, then you might be photographing for 10 to 12 hours and then at night you see the wedding cake and you’re like, “Oh, man!” It’s a bit funny, but it’s true! Apart from that, it would be the many hours spent sorting and editing. So, right now, the wedding I shot on the weekend had 12,285 images, and this week I have the job of sorting through those images. I think differently to a lot of photographers, because most photographers try to limit the amount of images they shoot. This leads to them not having such a heavy workflow throughout the week but, for me, when I press the shutter, it’s like buying a lottery ticket. When you press the shutter, you never really know what’s going to happen; moments change from millisecond to millisecond and for me, I would much prefer to have more tickets in the lottery. So, even if I discard more images, I have more chance of really nailing a shot. So that’s usually my week filled – sorting through photos.
It does go to show how passionate you are to get that perfect shot. This leads us to our last question; tell us your passion for the New England.
I have spent most of my life there, and the people of the New England really nurtured my love of photography as I grew up. So the people that have hired me past and present to go back (to the New England), I’m completely indebted to them. For me, I love going home, I love seeing my family, because all my family are still here. But also, there are not many places in the world that can beat the scenery of the New England region. My wife, Catherine, and I actually got married on a family property just outside Armidale and used all local vendors for our wedding. There are so many beautiful venues and talented wedding suppliers locally, that really do put together some of the most glorious weddings that you’d ever see.