Photography, to me, is all about moments – and capturing moments is what Elleni of Elleni Toumpas excels at. There is a ‘stillness’ about these moments – a ‘fly on the wall’ quality where the surrounding sounds and distractions fade away and all you are aware of is that little nugget of a moment. What are they saying, what are they thinking, how are they feeling – it is these thoughts that create the never ending story that photos shot in her distinctive style, will continue to intrigue. Let’s find out about Elleni’s style.
What is your photography background?
I first picked up a camera back in high school, it was a Canon film SLR. I never took it seriously back then but would spend time documenting my friends at parties, family and the occasional holiday. I was always interested in art though, drawing constantly as a kid and studying art in high school. It is the thing I tried the hardest at, even though my more analytical brain was way more adept at mathematics and physics.
When I left high school I did what any kid with decent grades would do, I pursued a degree in science! After a year of this I realised I couldn’t bear to live with never knowing if I could have made a career in the creative arts, so I changed courses and started a generalist multimedia degree. It was within that course I first dabbled with developing my own film and from then it wasn’t until I had graduated and digital SLRs entered the market that I picked up a camera more seriously.
Why wedding photography?
Let’s be totally honest here, when I first picked up a digital SLR I never really thought about being a wedding photographer. When I first started shooting, over 10 years ago, I spent most of my time photographing musicians. I would photograph gigs, festivals and even shooting portraits for album covers and promotional stuff. The very first weddings I shot were for people in the music industry. They hired me as they didn’t want a traditional wedding photographer and requested that I shoot their wedding in my music documentary style. I had never considered shooting weddings prior to this as wedding photography was still very traditional, but once I realised I could shoot weddings my way, I was hooked!
The concept of love and attraction is something I find fascinating from a sociological and psychological stand point so for me, once I got deeper into this world, I became even more fascinated with the people and relationships I was working with every day. For me a career is more than something I do just for money. As soon as I became obsessed with the idea of trying to document love in one image, what that meant and how that looked, I knew wedding photography was for me. Five years ago I devoted myself to wedding full time and the rest, as they say, is history.
Where are you based?
Melbourne, Victoria but I travel all over the place.
Do you think that you have a recognizable photography ‘style’?
I think so. I have been told by friends and peers in the industry that I do but, to be honest, I find it hard to describe my style. I guess it is a melting pot of dramatic ‘hero’ shots, lighter happy moments and the endless pursuit of trying to capture that one shot that sums a wedding story.
How do you keep your ideas fresh with each wedding you photograph?
I location scout for every wedding, even if I have previously photographed the location. For portraits, especially, I like capturing the shots that couples ‘expect’ from the venue they have booked but at the same time I always try and push myself to find new hidden spots or ways that I can use the lighting conditions in a different way. I think trying to shoot as uniquely as you can for all my couples is important.
How do you make nervous brides and grooms at ease so that you get the best shots?
Meeting couples even before they finalise their booking with me is important so that we can break the ice and get to know each other a bit. Catching up again a bit closer to the wedding day is equally as important – getting to know a bit about the couple, who they are, what they are interested in, and just who they are as a people to me. I want a more genuine relationship with my couples, and not to be just another “wedding vendor”.
Photographing moments can be a really intimate practise, no one likes being in front of a camera so the more you can do to make couples feel comfortable with you, the better they will feel in front of your lens. Also I am quite a sarcastic person with a terrible sense of humour (according to my partner) so couples seem to relax as we laugh together (or is it that they are laughing at me!?)
I also offer the option of engagement/couple sessions prior to the wedding day so if a couple is feeling especially nervous I like to use this opportunity to hang out and help them to adjust to being infront of the camera as it’s really good practise for their wedding day.
Your shots sometimes focus on an individual in amongst the crowd. Do these shots serve as a counterpoint (or point of stillness) to all the activity around them, allowing the viewer to create their own story of the picture?
Most certainly! I think context and story is so important in anything you document hence why I love not just focussing on an individual, but also on how they also fit in to the ‘scene’. I strongly believe like any day, a wedding day is full of highs and lows. There is so much fun, laughter and moments that are full of energy but what really fascinates me (and has done even back when I was photographing music) is the quiet intensity that can be captured in the ‘in-between’ moment too. These ‘points of stillness’ hold so much drama and anticipation before exploding into another moment of full energy or emotion.
Some of your shots are very atmospheric, with dark trees or cloudy skies. How important is the light to create the atmosphere in your photographs?
Light is super important with the type of shots I like to grab. The eye is always drawn to the lighter part of the scene so watching where this light falls and setting up the subjects in this light is important. Moving around the subjects and putting the light behind or on the side of them also creates moody or dynamic images. You can’t control the weather, however, and day to day in Melbourne the light is so variable, so knowing what you can do with certain light and how it will come out in the final image is vital.
Do you feel that surroundings are as important as the people at the wedding to create the sense of place and occasion in your images?
To a degree. A beautiful scene will always make my job a little easier but I think that a good photographer should be able to make interesting frames within any scene. I believe it comes down to how you end up using light and the angles in a space. In saying that, I find some locations make it a touch easier as in some spaces, no matter which way you shoot, the lighting is perfect or every angle provides an interesting use of lines and space. In scenes like this you end up spending less time worrying about those elements and you can just concentrate on documenting what you see.
How much planning do you undertake before shooting a wedding?
Six weeks before a wedding I generally meet up with my couple again to establish a wedding timeline. Aside from photographing on the wedding day, I see my other role as that of timekeeper. I have seen many weddings unfold so I know the general pace a wedding day should move at in order to prevent things becoming stressful later in the day (like so we don’t run late and make all the other vendors cranky for the duration of the event). In saying that though, I try and keep everything super relaxed, if after the ceremony you want to just chill a little bit more with your guests I am flexible (and totally able to work out how we can regain some time and get things back on track whilst getting the shots you need). Your wedding images are important, but being with your guests and enjoying your day in your own way always trumps this.
Beyond this, and as I have mentioned previously, I plan for a wedding day by carrying out a location scout in the area in the week leading up to your day. I like to do this at the same time of day as your ceremony and portraits so I can see how the light will fall.
Do you think a pre-wedding or engagement shoot are a good idea?
Pre-wedding shoots are an awesome way to feel more relaxed about your wedding day portraits. I think couples look at the images on my website and presume they are all people who are way more confident then they are and this is definitely not the case! Almost every couple I meet profess that they are not good in front of the camera, but hey, even I hate being in front of the camera! I consider making couple’s see that it’s really not so bad a bit of a personal challenge. Engagement shoots are great for getting out those nerves and often when couples see the results after the shoot they tend to realise that even if they are feeling goofy or self conscious during the portraits, the results are still amazing! I really appreciate the trust that is established between myself and a couple after we hang out for one of these sessions.
Do you offer packages, or are your fees based on the couple’s requirements?
I do offer a couple of time based packages as a bit of starting point for all types of clients with different types of wedding days. From there, all packages can be tailored to add bits on like extra hours, extra photographers and other print products that they might be interested in.
How do you keep the creative juices flowing?
I find hanging out with other photographers really helps. We wedding photographers in Melbourne are actually pretty close and we hang out regularly for breakfasts and after work drinks to chat about our work and generally bounce ideas off each other. I also try to attend photography retreats or workshops throughout the year to help develop as a creative. I also try and shoot a bit of personal work in order to experiment with new techniques and grow as a photographer.
Do you have a favourite piece of work equipment that has sentimental or professional meaning to you?
I must confess, I am not one of those photographers who is obsessed with gear. When I find myself in a group of photographers who start talking about camera sensors and all that jazz, I tend to glaze over a little. In terms of loving a particular piece of equipment over another, it more comes down to what will help me do my job more efficiently.
The pieces of equipment I can’t live without tend to be boring items. Things like the bag I use to carry my lenses right on my hip, so that I can quickly swap a lens if the scene I am seeing calls for it, the camera straps I use that enable me to quickly drop one camera and bring up my second camera body in a split second because I need the lens that is just a bit wider or tighter shot for the scene or even things like my laptop which I carry around with me when I travel or when I am on the road between appointments are all invaluable to me. During the season, juggling a business on your own can be very overwhelming! From meetings, photographing, editing, not to mention all the fun business administration stuff, there is always something to be done so whilst I am travelling my laptop allows me to quickly squeeze in an extra five or ten minutes of admin time throughout the day.
If you could photograph anyone or anything who or what would you photograph?
This is such a great question! I don’t have a specific person in mind but, more so, I think of the types of celebrations I love photographing. I think I always have much more interest in photographing couples who resemble my own story or perspective on love and life. I love documenting relaxed couples from different cultural backgrounds who want to celebrate with a modern twist on tradition. I love documenting relaxed couples who include details in their wedding in a purposeful and sentimental way.
Any recommendations of favourite places to visit for short break?
I have recently returned from my second trip to New Zealand and I loved it! For a photographer especially, the landscapes and scenes on the South Island are jaw-dropping. For a quick trip out of the city Daylesford in the winter and Sorrento in the summer are always great for a long weekend.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I haven’t had much time in the past few months but when things ease up a little I love going for bike rides or a hike with friends. For a lazier afternoon, I also enjoy a good quality summer picnic with friends. Summer is still just around the corner for us Melbourne folk so #picniclyfe is going to be starting once again. Oh also, for a super lazy day, who can go past a bit of Netflix and couch time?! Plus podcasts! I love listening to podcasts.
Thank you Elleni for sharing your story. Fun, sentimental or emotional, Elleni takes photos that you will love over the years. To find out more about Elleni Toumpas visit the website.
All images by Elleni Toumpas