Interview: Catching Up with Jerry Ghionis
By Stephanie Boozer
This month, Australia-based photographer Jerry Ghionis graces our cover. We last covered him in March 2008, after he had transitioned from his large, bustling studio (Xsight) to a smaller, more intimate boutique studio. We caught up with him recently to find out how it’s been going down under. Here’s what he had to say.
Professional Photographer: Now that you’re two years in with the new boutique studio, how is life as a photographer?
Jerry Ghionis: It is going even better than expected. Even with the amount of traveling that I do between teaching and overseas weddings, I still manage to shoot about 25 weddings a year. A trend that I’ve noticed for my studio is that about 40% of the weddings I’ve been shooting are overseas and strangely enough, many of my clients lately have been fellow photographers. With the exception of a few amazing weddings that I photographed in Rome and New York, most of my clients are working professionals, mainly in the corporate world, who appreciate photography and are willing to pay for it.
Back in March 2008, you had published your first coffee table book and launched an online classroom called The i.c.e.Society. Is that project still going full steam?
I’m very proud to announce that in January 2011, we celebrated the third anniversary of the i.c.e.Society and that we now have over 2,000 members. The i.c.e.Society is stronger than ever and I’m really excited about some big changes coming up over the next year when we upgrade the site. We’re rebuilding it from scratch to be bigger and better, more intuitive, and to make it even easier for everyone to access all of the lessons that are available online.
Any new accolades you’d like to share?
Although I unfortunately didn’t have enough time to enter into the PPA awards [International Photographic Competition] this year, I’m proud to say that in 2009 I achieved diamond level Photographer of the Year for the third year in a row. I also received my Masters at PPA as well as Craftsman this year. Also in 2009, I won WPPI’s Album of the Year award for a record sixth time. And just last year, in 2010, I won first place awards in the traditional, contemporary and photojournalism categories at SWPP and also won wedding album of the year. It was a very big evening for me because I was named Wedding Photojournalist of the Year, Fashion Photographer of the Year and the Overall Photographer of the Year—the top award of the entire competition.
How has your style evolved over the last two years?
The focus of my photography has always been on creating images that are glamorous and natural at the same time, with a heavy emphasis on storytelling. But in the last couple of years, I’ve paid a lot of attention to shooting my subjects with more empathy and shooting through the eyes of a loved one. I believe that this, in part, has made my work a lot more sophisticated than it used to be.
You’re known for your ability to communicate and direct your subjects naturally. What’s your take on that?
I think I certainly do naturally connect and build trust with my clients, and that certainly helps me to achieve a certain look in my images. And although I am somewhat of a perfectionist when it comes to posing and that last-minute finesse, my couples don’t feel awkward or uncomfortable while I’m directing a shot. Everyone who ends up in front of my camera has complete trust and faith in me and knows I have their best interests at heart. And that level of trust is what will make my subject willing to respond to any direction I give them.
You’re also known for dramatic lighting. What’s your approach?
I always prefer quality of lighting above a great location. I’m constantly looking for pockets of light everywhere I go. I usually look for strong directions of light, no matter where it comes from, whether it’s the sun, window light, or off-camera flash or video light. I use lighting as well as the subtraction of light to create depth, drama and add dimension to my images. I very much prefer to take my time and create in-camera what some would achieve afterwards in Photoshop.
If we peek inside your camera bag, how has it changed over the past two years?
I now mainly shoot with two Canon EOS 5D Mark IIs. One of the cameras usually has a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM EF lens on it, and the other has a Canon 17-40mm f/4 L USM EF lens. In the last year or two, I have also introduced the Phase One camera system with a P40+ back to my arsenal. The quality and dynamic range of that camera is absolutely incredible.
What do your seasoned eyes see happening with portrait and wedding photography these days?
I was recently surfing random photographers’ websites and a common trend that I saw was that many of them were focused on showing images of decorative details at the expense of exploring emotion, relationships, storytelling and glamour. Very few of the new generation truly understand lighting and posing and unfortunately, many images that I see look like glorified snapshots.
I feel that there is a new generation of photographers, many of whom have become lazy shooters and then overzealously Photoshop their images. I am a strong believer in in-camera artistry, although certainly believe in finessing an image in Photoshop to bring out the best in it. The advice that I give my digital artist when retouching an album is that I’m looking for “invisible Photoshop.” That basically means that most of my images will be color corrected and will have some retouching, but not much more than that.
Many images that I see these days are different for the sake of being different, rather than being done for a specific reason.
Any new projects on the horizon that you’re excited about?
I’m really proud to announce that I’ve just released six brand new PicPockets. PicPockets is a series of educational tools in the form of a deck of cards, with the aim to inspire and educate professional photographers. These next PicPockets are all focused on posing: Posing the Bride, Posing the Groom, Posing the Bride and Groom, Posing the Bridal Party, and Posing Wedding Family Portraits. I’ve also released volume two of the popular Greatest Clicks series.
One of my proudest recent achievements, though, has been the creation of a non-profit charitable organization named the Soul Society, that I co-founded with my wife, Melissa. The Soul Society was created with the specific purpose of caring for poor, homeless and orphaned children in third-world countries, one soul at a time.
Another momentous occasion was my own wedding that happened just recently. It was even more special because I photographed the bride’s coverage myself, and also photographed both of us together with the aid of a mirror, a tripod and a cable release.