Our life journeys often take us to unexpected places we would never have considered – but suddenly the door opens and a new opportunity presents itself. One such door opened for Peta (formerly of Maho & Pea) to join forces with Shari to form the new partnership of We Are Alchemy Photography. This brand new collaboration between very different, yet kindred spirits brings a fresh perspective to their photography. With their relaxed and unobtrusive approach, Peta and Shari will put you at ease, so that you won’t even notice they are photographing you. Throw in a great sense of humour and fun, and booking these girls might just be the best wedding decision you make! 2015 is gonna be a big year!
Can you tell us about how We Are Alchemy was born?
Shari: I met Peta at a photography workshop and just had a feeling we would become friends. She seemed interesting and cool and I thought “yeah I could do with a little bit of that in my life”. I had no idea how that would play out however, and least of all the way that it did.
Peta: Fast forward to late 2013 and I found myself diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Having left my day job to shoot weddings full time, I found myself faced with the dilemma of “what if I can’t work through my busiest wedding season while going through a myriad of treatments and surgeries.’ I reached out to Shari to see if she could be a “help, we need backup!” person and very quickly our friendship was formed. Shari was able to step in on the few occasions when I was having surgeries and filled her boots perfectly. Over time, my then partner in business decided to pursue other avenues and it only seemed natural to pair up together to continue the adventure!
What do each bring to your new partnership?
Shari: I thought I was organised until I met Peta! And in the absence of that being such a requirement from me I have become a bit more free flowing. So where she has the day prepared down to the minute (thank god) I find that leaves me better able to think on the spot when things don’t go to plan. I am also pretty short compared to her…oh OK compared to most adults then. So we seem to view the world slightly differently. Which makes for totally different perspectives and angles when shooting.
Peta: Both Shari and I have been taking photos since we were teens, way back when photography was offered at school and we could spend hours and hours in the darkroom. I ended up working predominantly in the music industry and with bubs and families. I like to think that we both have the same personable nature about us, quiet achievers in a way that helps our couples to feel comfortable and at ease.
How would you describe your photography style? Do your styles differ from each other?
Shari: This is such a common question with such poorly executed responses…truly I have been looking for one for some time now that I can steal and use for myself. In all seriousness though I think the reason is that labelling your style as one particular thing can in many ways limit the expansion of it, and the morphing of it into something completely different. This is basically my excuse for having not come up with a good set of adjectives for the images I make…
Peta: We both have a very similar aesthetic and will be quick to say the other is the better photographer!! Shari was my go to when I was going through treatment for the simple reason that I felt she viewed the world in the same way I did and shared the same appreciation for little moments and values as a whole.
Does your new partnership with each other, inspire you to new creative areas and endeavours?
Shari: We have come to photography from different paths, Peta has had formal training and I am often picking her brain about such things. Obviously this is of great benefit to me but I think too that the way my mind comes to query helps her see things in a different light also…
Peta: For me personally I am looking forward to working with someone new, after working with my other-half for a few years. Being able to bounce ideas with someone new is an integral part in keeping my creative ideas fresh and new.
How do life experiences shape you as a photographer?
Shari: I still work part time in my Osteopathic clinic and so observing life and people is something that comes naturally to me these days. I feel it has given me a useful eye for body positions and lines and also insight into how people relate. All tools that have translated well into photography for me. Who would have thought!
Peta: Oh what a good question and a tough one to answer! I have personally had the most unorthodox and crazy upbringing that I like to think has prepared me for anything that life throws my way. It also makes for a natural ability to adapt to different family situations, relationships and to get the best out of our clients. Having lost parents myself gives me experience in dealing with the sensitivities around those who may be missing loved ones who cannot be there to share their big day. Being a parent myself helps with gently prying out a smile from the shyest of flower girls or roping in a rascal page boy.
The crazy life experiences also help to notice life around you, not to take anything for granted and to see the world in a different light. It can be surprising the photos that our clients love best, they’re usually not the ones they asked for or had on their ‘must have’ list, more often they’re little moments shared when they don’t realise anyone is watching. Having an appreciation of life and its beauty definitely helps us to find those moments anywhere.
Is it the wedding guests and their natural expressions that attract you – or the other 101 little details that you love to capture?
Shari: I really had to learn detail shots as I naturally gravitated towards images of peoples reactions and expressions. I am totally addicted now and can’t wait to see what little creations people have put together and how I can capture with that same enthusiasm.
Peta: A bit of everything to be honest. I’m a sucker for gorgeous detail and even the detail that you wouldn’t expect to look back on and remember fondly. Couples put so much effort into planning their day so capturing that is important to us and to them, those little touches can easily be forgotten over time so what better way to relive the beauty than through photography. Add to that the people, emotions and unexpected events that can happen on any day and its all a pretty wonderful experience to be a part of.
How do you remain unobtrusive on the wedding day, so that people are not conscious of you and your camera?
Shari: I’ve spent my whole life trying not to be noticed so this feels kind of normal to me…plus I am small and can duck and weave!
Peta: We often tell the couple that for the first hour or so they’ll feel quite conscious of us being there. After immersing ourselves a little in the day, chatting to the bridesmaids, groomsmen, family and visitors we find they relax pretty quickly. Finding that connection is important and before you know it they really just see us as part of the bridal party! Only recently we had a mother of the bride come and hug us at the end of the evening, telling us a story of when her son was married the photographer was quite abrasive, bossy and demanding. She was almost in tears with relief at how we blended into the day and how that restored her faith in the whole process!
It also helps being someone that HATES having their photograph taken so its easy to relate to how foreign and uncomfortable it can feel at first!
Do you plan your wedding shoots to the last detail with the couple, or do you maintain ‘freshness’ by capturing what inspires you on the day?
Shari: Did I mention Peta is super organised? Rather than this limiting our ability to be flexible, interestingly I feel this allows us both to relax a bit more and remain creative. However life is full of nuances and many a time we’ve been known to wing it in the face of unexpected change!
Peta: We tend to base it on the individual couple. Some will have shots they want and things they feel are important to capture. Others will need direction and advice. We provide a questionnaire to our clients that lets them enter in the little details throughout the planning which gives us a very good insight into what is important to them. Often all the plans will go out the window so it’s important that we can think on our feet and work under pressure and time constraints whilst giving them the best of ourselves. We will always have a plan up our sleeve however its important to be adaptable yet organised at the same time.
Do you most like to shoot a wedding when you have been given complete creative freedom?
Shari: Does this truly happen? I think there is always some level or understanding from both parties that has to take place or I can definitely see this coming a cropper. But I would like to think that couples make a choice based on what they have seen of your work, and therefore trust that you will capture them and the moments that are important to them from their day in away that everyone is pleased with.0
Peta: I think most photographers will say a big YES to this, however sometimes its nice to have a bit of both. Often our clients ideas will inspire us and feed our own creativity however there’s nothing better than a couple who are open to input and ideas you may offer them. Sneaking them out at sunset or for a full moon shot is always a winner and those who are adventurous at heart or don’t mind doing something out of the ordinary are our ideal clients!
Do you like to keep your images natural as possible – whether that be in ‘poses’ (or lack of..) or post production editing?
Shari: I have always shot film because that is all that I knew until recently, in the last few years, when I started using a DSLR. When I take a shot I see different films in my head and I have an idea of the colours and tones of the moment which are very different to the jpg render on screen. So I do my best to get the exposure and composition correct but still have to edit to make it appear as it was in my mind’s eye.
Peta: Outside of the family portraits we try to keep things as natural as possible. Most couples will need a bit of prompting but for the most part we like to leave them to their own devices so that their true relationship shines through. I’m a big fan of giving the couple a long list of cryptic instructions which they’ll obviously forget and then capturing the natural hilarity that ensues once they both realise they have no idea what they’re doing.
‘Walk down that path, stop at the tree, look back over your left shoulder, have a smooch, spin the bride around then look into each others eyes and hug’. It’s a guarantee that they’ll get to the tree, feel ridiculous and break into giggles and a natural interaction that really can’t be posed. Now I realise they’ll be on to me after reading this and see it coming!
Please describe a typical wedding photography working day for you?
Most days we try to arrive to the bride just after the hair and makeup artists get started. There are so many little events and moments that happen in the lead up to the ceremony itself and it gives us a chance to help the bride relax in our company and eventually forget we’re there. From there we scoot over to the groom and his merry men and do the same. Often the groom has it so easy and we’ll arrive to find them lazing around, having a spa, playing golf or calming their nerves at the pub. Back to the bride for the last details such as getting dressed and ready to leave; often a pretty exciting part of the day as its when things start to sink in and the nerves start to show.
Off to the ceremony, introductions to the celebrant or minister and a bit of mingling with the guests. Then before we know it we’re both weaving in and out of the events through the ceremony. Depending on the package our clients have booked, we may finish up as the reception is starting or we may end up there till the very end snapping some awesome dance floor action.
What are your dreams for the future of We Are Alchemy?
Shari: Multiple trips to the loo…I am a nervous excreter! True story…
Peta: I’m not sure I can compete with Shari’s response!
What do you like to do when not shooting weddings?
Shari: I like to do little personal photography projects to keep me fresh and explore more creative ideas that hopefully transfer over into my wedding work. Otherwise you can find me on my yoga mat or running with my fella, his little boy, and our two furry mutts.
Peta: Ironically I am planning my own wedding this year, pinteresting ideas like crazy and putting myself in the shoes of our clients! In the little down time I have its all about family (having just become a (step) grandma!) our furbabies, good coffee and mini getaways wherever we can squeeze them in…and yoga…and running…and swimming…and music…and chocolate, not necessarily in that order!
Thank you Peta and Shari for sharing your story with us. To find out more about We Are Alchemy Photography visit the website.
All images courtesy of We Are Alchemy Photography.