Natural and soulful, Michael Gray’s work behind the lens has seen him travel far and wide. We’re all for his ethereal, light-filled snaps and the relaxed vibe the Sydney photographer brings to the table.
With a knack for capturing those organic moments that matter, Michael picked up a camera for a mate’s wedding in 2010 and hasn’t looked back. The chilled out Sydney-sider is all about fun and relaxed wedding photography, without the cheesy overly posed shots. With a beautiful and natural photographic style and energy for documenting real moments, his work really does speak for itself.
We caught up with the man behind the lens to find out how it all started and where his photography journey has taken him so far.
Tell us a little about your background and the path that brought you to wedding photography.
I was at uni studying Economics and Biotechnology (random right?) It was the classic, graduate high school with no idea what I wanted to do, so I enrolled in something I cared nothing about and immediately started to realise it was a weird life choice. I was saving for a car at the time, and before I pulled the pin (on what would eventually be a 1991 Toyota Corolla, still my favourite ever car) I was asked to shoot a wedding for a friend. At the time, I had a Canon Powershot (a camera that could fit in a shirt pocket) and nothing else. So I blew my life savings on a canon DLSR, and the rest is history. I can’t believe how random it is that I’m now a photographer. Looking back, it’s certainly not what I aspired to be when I was in school, but I could not be more into what I do. I am eternally grateful that its worked out this way.
How would you describe your photography style?
In one word, natural. In many other words – it’s something that is continually evolving. The longer I do this, the more I begin to question what parts of what I’m doing are lasting, and I want to create for people something that feels real. I mostly hang back and try to capture the essence of the day. If dad’s wearing his boxer shorts around the house, photos of that have a deeper emotional connection than asking him to tidy up for the sake of a ‘more perfect’ photo.
I’m heavily against the cheesiness/overly posed/superficiality that can creep into wedding photos, and so I’m constantly asking myself what my purpose is for taking a certain shot. I want to create a capsule of photos that can take people back to the day as they felt it. My creativity is one thing, but truly I feel like its limited, and not as beautiful and lasting as just being there to capture each day in its unique and awesome way.
Was wedding photography always the passion? What other personal projects keep you busy?
Not at all. Ive always loved photography, but never saw myself doing it. I’m a passionate home-cook. I would love to one day be in a kitchen. I’m all about the local farmers market and get more pumped on a perfectly smoked eggplant for a homemade babaganoush than most. If I’m not cooking I’m watching NBA, and if I’m not doing either of those things I’m hanging out with my awesome wife Jane hiking a mountain or drinking coffee.
When did you shoot your first wedding? How do you feel the industry has changed since then?
I photographed my first wedding in march 2010. It was for a friend, and I had no idea it would lead to me being a full time photographer just 18 months later. Since then, the ride has been amazing. One big thing that has changed for me is Social media. I’m awkward on Instagram, I don’t really know how to use it properly. I feel like I continually need to show the same kind of photo, that everyone seems to like and comment on, but that leaves me a little one dimensional. It’s something I find really tricky, as so much of the industry now uses social media (for good reason) I feel like I need to just be my awkward self a little more and open up, though for sure, even having to think about what I’m going to post is a very different vibe from what I was thinking about between weddings in 2012. It’s amazing because it means we can all be sharing in things instantly, but its challenging because for me it feels like I’m only able to show a tiny facet of what it is I’m trying to deliver.
Another really cool way I’ve seen the industry change, is that couples are having more and more confidence to just throw out the rules. I love that people are being more personal in their wedding. I feel like when I first started every reception fit a very similar mold. I love that more people are now asking… why do we have to cut a wedding cake? Lets have fondue instead. It’s really creative, and personal, and I’m looking forward to seeing that continue.
Who are some other photographers you admire?
I have to give a huge shout out to my brother in law James Day. He was absolutely incredible in helping me every step along the way in those early years. Constantly challenging the way I approached editing photos, my camera technique and bigger picture philosophy. He is one of the most gifted people I’ve ever seen at getting two people in love to open themselves up and be fully themselves. There is so much more to a wedding photo than the composition and light, and he has taught me everything I know about how to use emotion to take a photo to a whole different level.
Do you have some favourite wedding vendors you love working alongside?
So many! Though truly, If somehow you are reading this looking for inspiration for your own wedding, my advice would be to just go with your gut. When I was married, we did so on a property that had never had a wedding (The Orchard Farm in Tallong), used a caterer that had never done a wedding (though for real this guy needs a shout out, it was to this day the best thing I’ve ever eaten… Janson from Texas rangers BBQ is the man!) had a friend do absolutely insane flowers (FLORRY you are a gem) and it was just perfect. I guess what I am saying is, find vendors that suit you as a couple to a tee, and trust your instinct. It sounds cliche and a bit salesman-y to say it considering its what I do for a job, but it really is the most incredible day of your entire life (I haven’t had kids yet so admittedly it could be bumped down) but just make it fit you in every way you can!
What are some of your go-to sources of inspiration and/or professional development?
Early on, I was so hungry to learn everything. I was inspired by so many things and by so many other artists and photographers. I would read blogs, buy tutorials, set myself photo challenges, talk to as many older, established photographers as I could to get as good as I could as fast as I could. Now, my inspiration is the people I’m photographing. It is all well and good for me to enter a photography competition and win gold, but that is not something I take any inspiration from at all anymore. I am focused on trying to continually refine what it is that I can deliver to people, so that their expectations for what the photos mean to them and can do for them are totally exceeded. It’s hard, but that in its simplicity is my sole inspiration at this point.
What’s the most memorable wedding you’ve captured?
I have been tremendously lucky to have photographed so many incredible weddings. Every single wedding has aspects that I really respect and enjoy, though there was one that will forever be one of the greatest days of my life. I was in Spain, about 2 hours west of Madrid, in this little cottage in the middle of a forest. I slept there the night before, and woke up to shoot the preparations at 7am. After many tears of joy, ridiculous countryside to shoot in, heart warming laughter and dangerous dance moves.. I was lying on the driveway at 6am, with the bride, groom and 15 or so of their friends, looking up at the last of the stars before the sun came back up and just in that moment was the happiest I can remember. I can’t even believe I was 22 at the time. To think that I was working in that moment seems crazy, and to look back on the photos now, I still smile every time I see them. Often I really strive to become more than just the photographer at a wedding, and really have fun with the guests and become a mate to the bride and groom, but that wedding was an experience ill never forget.
Finally, do you have any tips for couples planning their wedding?
Your friends and family are there to celebrate the fact you are promising to love and stay committed to each other through thick and thin, for the rest of your lives! That is what matters, truly. Not the colour of the flowers on your cake or what song the DJ plays for your bouquet toss. So whilst its incredibly fun to plan all those small details, my advice (for what its worth) would be continually re-set your perspective on how amazing your partner is, and how much you want to love them for the rest of your life. Its such a beautiful thing to photograph when people are deeply moved by the promises they are making – and so they should be – a marriage is absolutely beautiful and absolutely worth celebrating. So when you are planning your day, try not to let a supplier having bronze cutlery instead of copper cutlery be a big deal. It won’t matter to you two years down the road, I promise. But what will matter is the person who you’ll be waking up next to, so make sure that is the focus of what all of this journey is about.
Images Michael Gray |