Photographer of the Month Interview: Dylan Toh & Marianne Lim | Aperture Academy

Featured Photographers, March 2013:   Dylan Toh & Marianne Lim

This month, our featured guest is a photography team, Dylan and Marianne of Everlook Photography. We really appreciate their time to share with us! Please visit their site links to see more of their terrific work, and to let them know you enjoyed this interview.

:: How did you get your start in photography?

[Dylan:] Ever since we have been together, we have loved travelling. On returning from one of our first trips, we found that we were so disappointed with our photographs that we invested in a film SLR, the Pentax MZ-50. We found learning through a film DSLR very difficult and at the time, my work had me occupied for 60 hours a week. This really wasn’t conducive to taking a hobby seriously. We really began to take more interest and learn the art of photography once we obtained our first DSLR, the Canon 20D in 2006. Thereafter, once I finished my medical training, I had so much more extra time on my hands with which to learn and to contribute to online resources. It is from then that I really felt I started to improve.

[Marianne:] Our “hobby” really began to take off in 2008 with our first exhibition in a cultural Arts Centre where we actually sold some of our work. I had also written to the editor of Australian Photography magazine and we had our first ever publication later that year. From there we have won awards, been featured online and in international photography magazines as well as had several more publications in Australian Photography.

:: Were you both always photographers? Or did one start first, and bring in the other?

[Dylan:] I only consider myself a photographer since after 2008. Before that, I was only playing at being a photographer!

[Marianne:] I remember showing Dylan how to use the aperture and shutter speed functions…

:: There is a good balance in your work between the weddings and the more commercial side of things, with the landscape work. Do you have a favorite? Landscape work can often be trying with weather, conditions, limited shooting windows (Iceland excluded); what is it about the wedding work that you enjoy most?

[Dylan:] I enjoy the fact that we get such an intimate view into the couple’s most special day. The emotion that is displayed never loses its impact no matter how many weddings we do.

[Marianne:] I prefer the landscape work because there is less stress and also the opportunity for solitude. The nature of weddings is to work with people and to capture their one special day, which puts a lot of pressure on you as the photographer. You must know everything about your equipment and be prepared to use your contingency plans if things go wrong. With landscape photography I treat it more as a hobby than a job, so if I miss a shot I might be disappointed but there certainly aren’t any legal problems that may arise as a result of it.

With weddings I get caught up in the day and telling the story and I love capturing the details of the preparation that has gone into the wedding. Mostly though, it’s the couple’s reaction on receiving their photos that gives me that feeling of gratification and appreciation.

:: Are you both wedding specialists, or is it something where one has taken up the primary photographer role in a wedding shoot and assigns roles for the other?

[Dylan:] We stumbled across the wedding genre because friends and work colleagues initially asked us to photograph their weddings after seeing our early travel photography. Thereafter, all of our business has been spread through word of mouth and we have had to develop our roles in the industry. Over the years, we have developed roles. Marianne will photograph the bride, and me the groom in preparation. At the ceremony she will take the wider shots and I will have a long lens for details and intimate portraits. On the location shoots, we tend to mix it up a little depending on who has the better ‘mojo’ on the day!

[Marianne:] What Dylan said!

:: Having done weddings myself, I have to aks, how do you handle the stress of shooting someone’s “magical day”?

[Dylan:] I feel that after the first few weddings, we had the technical aspects of obtaining ‘the’ shots down and the rest was creating good composition and lighting from the given scenes. The stress levels have come down (but not entirely abated) from being more comfortable with wedding shooting style and also just learning to enjoy the day and run with the emotion.

[Marianne:] I guess the luxury of having someone you trust to cover your back also helps a lot. I know if I miss a shot (not that it happens!… right?) Dylan has probably captured it. We’ve worked together from the start and we both know where we’re going to be without having to tell each other. I find that I’m stressed leading up to the day but once I’ve gone through all my equipment, got all my paperwork together, and finally depress the shutter and take that first photo, I’m in a completely stress-free state.

:: Can you share a wedding "horror story" from one of your shoots?

[Dylan:] I don’t want to jinx ourselves, but we haven’t really had any horror stories! You get the odd day which is raining, varying degrees of cooperation but overall, we’ve managed to develop enough rapport with clients that the days have gone well. Our gear has all held up apart from a dropped lens at one wedding and the 5dmk2 flash hotshoe not working well for a period of time!

[Marianne:] We haven’t had any bridezillas, or over-bearing mothers, or anything that could be described as “horror”, I don’t think. If anything, as Dylan said, the weather and equipment issues are probably the only annoyances thus far.

:: What challenges do you find working as a husband/wife team the way you do? Is there competitiveness between you while you’re shooting?

[Dylan:] To be honest, not much challenge! When traveling it’s such a bonus to have a spouse who has the same interest in staying at locations for days at a time rather than just moving on. In weddings, it is such a bonus to have a trusted partner taking images at different angles of the same scenes. Our main challenge was when one camera died on our 2009 trip and we did not have a backup! We were itching for the other to finish so that we could take our own images. We have always brought a backup body since.

[Marianne:] Well, since I accepted the fact that Dylan is probably always going to be in at least one image of any composition that I take, competitiveness isn’t really an issue…

No, just kidding! I think we work well together for the reasons Dylan has mentioned, but also from a “business” point of view. I do things like research/develop websites, administrative work and trying to come up with ideas to move forward, which I like to do. Dylan helps with maintaining the blog and our Facebook page.

:: Now that you have a little one, how has that changed your perspective on photography, and more importantly the way you shoot? (I’ve seen a couple funny shots of you with a baby carrier strapped to your chests, and still shooting.)

[Dylan:] We try to involve Charlotte with our shoots within reason. If dawns or dusks are too early or late, then only one of us will head out for the shoot so that Charlotte keeps her routine. When I’m carrying Charlotte, I only do things that I know I have done millions of times before. You won’t see me waist deep in the ocean for a seascape with Charlotte on my back!

[Marianne:] I won’t let Dylan take Charlotte if he’s going to do anything that may pose a risk to her – I would rather give up my opportunity to shoot than ever put her in danger, which any sensible parent would do, photographer or not. There have been times where it has been difficult for me to just sit back and look after Charlotte, but it has taught me to simply appreciate what is happening around me and that I don’t always have to put the scene on a memory card for it to be a memory.

:: You live in a beautiful area in Australia. Will you talk about what places you’re really drawn to in that region, and why?

[Dylan:] Ironically, we have only recently started to shoot our own country. There are endless places we could list. Locally, the best locations in South Australia we have photographed would be Kangaroo Island and Eyre Peninsula. Both of those locations offer such a variety of landscapes and seascapes ranging from desert-like dunes to wonderfully rugged seascapes. Tasmania as a whole is the state which so far has us wanting to go back again and again though we haven’t been to many of the other states since our interest in photography escalated.

[Marianne:] We will probably be exploring more of our country now that we have Charlotte since long flights are not exactly easy anymore! We do have a lot of beautiful scenery on our doorstep, so to speak, and we definitely have plans to add to our Australian portfolio.

:: What areas are on your “to shoot” list for this upcoming year? Do the two of you always agree on where to go, and how do you settle where to shoot when the disagreements arise?

[Dylan:] This year, we are headed back to New Zealand in April to visit areas of South Island we didn’t cover last year. We have a brief trip to Western Australia as keynote speakers at a photographic conference. I then have a work conference in Seattle in October from which I will try to extend the leave into a holiday around the Pacific North West. We have disagreements about where to go but in the end, we always work things out and there hasn’t been a location where the other hasn’t actually wanted to visit anyway.

[Marianne:] As long as I get a few days of city escapes (for shopping) and some wind-down time I don’t have any problems with going where Dylan wants to go! Photographic holidays take a lot of planning and it’s not exactly relaxing waking up every dawn to get the best light (or at least I don’t find it so because I like to sleep!). That’s probably why 99% of photos taken at dawn are from Dylan!

:: What is your favorite "can’t live without" piece of NON-photographic equipment?

[Dylan:] My 6 foot punching bag, which hangs in the gym getting softer every day!

[Marianne:] Hmm. Hard one.

:: Having been in the photography business for a while, what have you consistently found to be the most difficult part of the job, and what have you done to make it manageable?

[Dylan:] For me, it is the balance of generating interest in Everlook photography vs. placing an appropriate value on our work. I used to be very keen to ‘give away’ things but recently I’ve come to realize that this is a damaging practice to the photographic industry as a whole. Now, I just listen to Marianne!

[Marianne:] Definitely the marketing side of things, and trying to overcome the attitude that people have towards photography in general. For example, at our last exhibition, the first question was almost always, “Do you use Photoshop?” It’s also very hard to find a good medium between trying to sell your work and selling your work at a value you have placed on it. I think you should hold firm to what you believe your work is worth, but be prepared to accept that not everyone will share your opinion. Likewise, educating the public is a bit of compromise in opinion – you don’t want to come across as superior but at the same time you need to explain some perceptions are built on stereotypes and that it doesn’t apply to the whole photographic industry.

:: How do you think the world of social media has helped photography? How has it hurt it?

[Dylan:] My feeling is that there will always be good photographers and bad photographers. In the past, only the good photographers or those who were amazing at marketing themselves could make themselves visible. These days, with social media, literally anyone can create a page and label themselves as a photographer. In some ways, this has had a positive impact in that there are many more who are striving to improve and who actually do improve (us included). The negative impact is that while the core of good photographers will always be there, the pool is now somewhat diluted.

[Marianne:] I think social media is a great tool when used effectively, and a lot of good photographers who previously had no opportunity to share their work through traditional methods (e.g. exhibitions, galleries) can now do so at minimal or no expense. The main (in my opinion) negative impact has been tactfully phrased by Dylan, but I also think that the innate nature of sharing on social media has greatly increased the occurrence of issues such as image theft.

:: What has been the most challenging location you’ve photographed?

[Dylan:] Godafoss (Iceland) in winter, with the wind blowing directly downstream!

[Marianne:] Any of the waterfalls in Iceland. I think I spent half an hour at Dettifoss once and I only managed 3 shots in that time, trying to keep spray off the lens. Oh, and Geysir in Iceland too. I was standing right next to the barrier rope and had composed a shot and in the middle of it the wind changed direction so the camera and I had a warm shower. Lucky I was in my waterproof gear and the raincover was on the camera!

:: If you could go out for a week and take only one lens with you, which one would it be, and why?

[Dylan:] 16-35mm F2.8 II – my workhorse and by far the most used. Most of my landscapes are wide angle shots, though I do always keep the 70-200 in my bag for longer focal length landscapes, too.

[Marianne:] Ditto. Clearly if we were together for that week I’d have to take the 17-40mm F4.

:: You do a lot of writing on your blog about different post-processing techniques, etc. How much do filters play a part in your in-field shooting, as opposed to bracketing multiple frames? Being a team, do you process your own images, or do you take turns processing one another's images?

[Dylan:] Both of us have a set of filters ranging from 2 stop to 4 stop soft and hard edged, as well as a dense ND filter each. I think that on the field, some scenes lend themselves more naturally to bracketing while others are more suited to creative or standard use of filters. For weddings, we definitely do our own images. For landscapes, I find that I process a lot of mine and have to *poke* Marianne to do more of hers!

[Marianne:] : I’m the laziest post-processor in the world. I hate it. For weddings, it’s the worst part of the job. If I could just photograph a wedding and hand off the editing to an assistant, I would. But then I think my OCD tendencies would kick in and I would probably end up doing them all myself anyway. Because I’m so lazy, I try to get it right in-camera as much as I can and rely on the use of filters almost 100% of the time. I’ve been known to bracket but somehow those images rarely score a rating in my Lightroom catalogue…. It’s not uncommon for Dylan to go through past images I’ve taken and process a few every now and then!

:: In your blog, you’ve mentioned that most gallery sales tend to be of local Australian scenes. How does this knowledge come into play when you plan travel? I think knowing where the money lies, so to speak, makes the type of photography we do difficult. It’s often hard to justify going somewhere beautiful and fun to photograph knowing that it will probably not yield a great deal of profit. However, staying local and shooting the same scenes (often ones you’ve already gotten tremendous shots of) does get tiring. How do you juggle this in your business?

[Dylan:] Both of us love traveling and I in particularly love hiking independent of photography. Adding the element of photography has been a further challenge. Hence we try not to treat our holidays as work or I feel that we would lose the chance to recharge our batteries for our day job! We are fortunate that our day jobs are such that it not only supports our photography work but allows us the time to pursue our passion.

[Marianne:] We have never been concerned with making a profit from our photographic pursuits. It would definitely take the fun out of it if we had to plan our travels around locations that we think would bring in some cash. We have stayed true to our vision as photographers and never tried to take images that we think the public will like, or buy. It’s a bonus, of course, if they do, but our ultimate goal is to share the beauty of the world with those who do not have the opportunity to visit those places we’ve been. I think trying to make a profit would dampen this vision and the emotional connection would be missing from our photographs.

:: I’ve noticed that in a large majority of your work there is a perfect simplicity to them, and everything is very clean and concise. I have also noticed it in shots of your home renovation. Is there a kind of internal formula or aesthetic you look for when setting up a shot?

[Dylan:] It’s probably not something that is consciously done but I do like clean images without too many distracting elements. We both feed off each other and if our images are indistinguishable it’s because we constantly discuss each other’s images after a shoot.

[Marianne:] I mentioned OCD tendencies earlier and it probably carries over into my photography. I like minimalistic styles and space to move. I also think the finer details and placement is very important. This is evident as you say, in our renovation, and is part of the person that I am. Some of this is probably a by-product of my artistic ventures in drawing and painting, too. I think the best way to sum it up is with this quote I recently came across by Anais Nin: “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”

:: Australia is known for having all kinds of poisonous creatures. Do you have any close-encounters from your time shooting there that you can share with us?

[Dylan:] So far, so good! I have yet to be attacked, bitten, sprayed or stung by any local fauna. Ironically, the scariest experience I had was in Nepal when after returning to camp from a night shoot, I stood face to face with a Yak for quite some time while retreating backward hoping that its steady advance with me didn’t end in a headlong charge (which thankfully it didn’t).

[Marianne:] I don’t think we’re hardcore enough to put ourselves in danger while trying to get “The Shot.” There is nothing that would make me risk my person. After all, I want to continue taking photos, not be posthumously known for a photograph I’d taken.

:: What goal pushes you now? You’ve got the knowledge of your gear, processing, etc. What continues to push the two of you in your craft?

[Dylan:] There are always photographs which inspire, photographers whose stories amaze us. There are endless locations to be photographed in varying conditions to provide the opportunity for amazing photographs. Being blessed with the life circumstances to allow travel and knowing that the best is always ahead is what keeps me going. Besides, there’s so much more of the world to see!

[Marianne:] There is the challenge of photographing an icon the way you see it, or discovering a new location, or taking better images from a location. I also don’t believe our knowledge is complete. There is always something new to learn. The day you think you know everything, you’re in trouble. And as Dylan said, there is definitely much more of the world we’d like to see.

Dylan & Marianne

" has taught me to simply appreciate what is happening around me and that I don’t always have to put the scene on a memory card for it to be a memory..."

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