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James: Now you’ve been in photography for around 30 years.
Mauro: Yes, that is the case, but I am 21, so don’t ask me how. So, yes it’s just on 30 years this year.
James: And you’re rated as one of the top five studios in Australia. You have a significant online presence as well, so it’s all going well for you, but I want to go back to the beginning.
James: How did you get in to photography?
Mauro: Well it still feels like yesterday, actually. I still remember taking my first photograph ever, which was at the age of 14, and my high school gave me a camera and took this photograph of eggs, and I placed letters on them, and I called it Alphabetical Eggs. And in 1986 there was a competition called The Age Nikon Comp, and it was for students, and from the first photograph I ever took, I won an award for it. So-
James: The very first photograph?
Mauro: The very first photo I ever took.
Mauro: So, I don’t know, I would call it a fluke, but it did well. It was good.
James: That’s got to ignite your passion, doesn’t it?
Mauro: It did. I think it really did for me, sort of maybe realize at a young age that if you put your mind to things you can really, really do really well.
James: What was the process back then?
Mauro: Film. Paper. I still remember, on my pushbike, buying my first 10 sheets of 8x10 Ilford paper, and it’s got a distinctive smell when you pull it out of the … obviously in the darkness … it’s got this beautiful distinctive smell which I miss now, because the darkroom’s non-existent. I haven’t been in a darkroom for many years.
Mauro: So yeah, that’s how it basically started.
James: So as a teenager, you were doing the whole processing of the film as well.
Mauro: Correct. So-
James: You probably wouldn’t do that these days, in the sterile environments that kids are growing up in.
Mauro: Very true, very true. In those days, you know, the good old red light like you’d see in the movies, and the film, and the paper developing through the developer, and it’s a bit like the old-time movies, really.
Mauro: But it’s something that I look back at and I’m very fond of, and amazing memories of it. I’m actually getting goosebumps while we talk about it. I really miss it, actually.
James: It’s just cold in here, isn’t it?
Mauro: Yeah, well you could say that.
James: Now do you think that whole process of developing film, and having the film cameras … do you think that photographers were more skilled back then?
Mauro: Look, nothing to take out … nothing to say anything bad about photographers today. I think it was a different skill to what it is today. Film definitely taught me to have a keen eye, or what we would call an eagle eye, which pretty much meant that once you take the photograph you’ve really got to pay really close attention to things, because you can’t Photoshop anything. That’s a [crosstalk 00:02:43]-
James: And you can’t preview it straight away.
Mauro: Yes, you can’t. But even when I bought my first digital camera, I even … I blocked the preview on my digital camera and just shot as if I was shooting film.
James: Do you think that’s had a huge impact on the photography industry, the whole digital side of things?
Mauro: I think it revolutionized the industry, so I think that the word impact is even an understatement, I think.
Mauro: Digital has completely re-revolutionized the whole industry itself, for good things, and also for bad things as well. For the better and for the worse, I guess. A bit like married life, really, isn’t it?
James: Well what are some of the bad?
Mauro: I guess it’s a lot easier for people, just common people, to take photographs, and for them to think that they’re photographers, and there’s nothing wrong with that, because everyone’s a great hobby photographer, but years ago we were magicians. Years ago we’d turn a latent image into a photograph, where now it’s just easy to view, and easy to photograph.
Mauro: So that’s one of the reasons. I also do believe that film in the old days as well, for me, created a different feel, a different mood that I still don’t feel that digital has captured yet.
James: Do you still dabble in the old film photography and cameras?
Mauro: Look, I’d love to say, “Yes,” but no, I don’t any more. I wish I had the time for it, but I am happy to say that I was probably one of the last wedding and portrait photographers in Melbourne to stay in holding on to film ’til, what was it? 2009, I think it was.
James: Gee, it was good to hold on that long.
Mauro: Yeah, so I held on as long as possible, when all my friends were already switching to digital. I was still on film in 2009.
James: Do you still have any of those old cameras in nostalgic-
Mauro: Yeah. Yes, I do. I do. I look through them all the time. Look through them all the time. It’s just fantastic.
James: Now you describe your style as morphing fashion, photo-journalistic, and wedding, all in to the one.
Mauro: Yes, all in to the one, on one day. I wouldn’t say that it’s all in the one photograph. I guess, as a photographer, I’ve sort of really observed the trends — the market, where it’s going — and I’ve really never paid attention to it, to be honest. Especially the avant-garde style we do, where we incorporate props and tell the story with the bride and groom. That has really sort of sky-rocketed the studio into sort of really standing out, and I believe that that type of style has sort of really caught a lot of brides’ and grooms’ eyes.
Mauro: It is a niche market, there’s no doubt about that. We’re not for everybody. We don’t want to be for everybody, either. That style’s really helped the studio. In a wedding, I guess candid photography is really important, regardless of how you look at it. We sort of concentrate on candid photography in certain aspects of the day, especially during the morning ceremony, but obviously there’s … if there’s time between the ceremony and the reception, the good old avant-garde’s going to come out, regardless. So, you know …
James: Yeah. So with the props, how do you manage in the lead-up to a wedding, to plan those props in advance with your clients?
Mauro: Very simple. It’s always about the bride and groom, and this is where, maybe, our style is a little bit misunderstood, and obviously we talk to our brides and grooms and see what makes them tick, and what makes them special. One of my great photographs that I love is a photograph of the bride throwing confetti in the air, while there’s a car full of rose petals falling out. It looks like a beautiful, picturesque shot, but people don’t realize that that car was Grandad’s car, that the bride had, and from a very young age she was promised that she’d be driven to her wedding in that car, and her grandad didn’t make it, so those rose petals symbolized Grandad’s spirit, and again, I’m getting shivers as I talk about it.
James: Yeah, it’s beautiful.
Mauro: There’s a lot of stories behind images, that I think people, if they take the time out to really have a look at the images they’ll understand it, and that’s why it is so special to each bride and groom.
James: How much time would you spend with a bride and groom in the lead-up to their wedding day, in terms of meetings?
Mauro: I’ve really streamlined it, to be honest. All I need is about an hour and a half with them, a month before the wedding, and obviously we have a good chit-chat, from then to the wedding day, about little props and all sorts of different things, and timings and so forth, but it’ll take me a good hour and a half to chat with them prior to the wedding, and getting to know them when they first walk in, probably another hour and a half or so, so about three hours or so, yeah.
James: Now you’re saying that your style’s not for everybody. How important do you think it is for each photography business out there to find their distinct style?
Mauro: Exceptionally important, yeah. Styles come and go, and this is why I think photographers need to sort of be ahead of the 8-ball there, and really be themselves. Come up with a concept that’s a little bit more different, that’s a little bit more eye-catching. I think that’s really important, so standing out is very, very important, as a photographer.
James: Well it’s done well for you. You’ve got accolades and awards pouring in from all over the world.
Mauro: Ah, it’s all smokescreen and mirrors. Don’t believe everything that you hear.
James: I just walked in to your studio today, where we’re recording this podcast, and you’ve got a bench as you walk in with all of these little trophies that you’ve won.
Mauro: Yes, yes.
James: It’s quite impressive.
Mauro: Look, I think it’s great winning awards, and I think it’s great there’s institutions out there that really reward photographers for hard work, and not just for photographers who have been around for 30 years, but even just photographers who’ve been photographing for a year. I really encourage any photographer, at whatever stage of their lives in photography that they’re in, is to enter competitions, because it gives them a little bit of a gauge of where they’re at. It allows them to speak to other fellow photographers, and if you keep obviously entering in competitions, year by year, you can sort of really see whether you’re improving, where you’re going wrong, where you’re going right, and of course it’s always a great little sales thing to add to your bottom line, where you can tell your clients that you’re an award-winning photographer, and nothing’s more beautiful than to mention to your bride and groom that their wedding photograph has won them an award.
James: Absolutely. How important is it to you to keep your skills current? Do you still find yourself doing further education and learning new things?
Mauro: Yes, very much so, although I must say when I look at my whole day in photography, only a very small portion of that is photographing. I think 80% of everything I do these days is business and marketing, and everything else that sort of goes in between, and sales, and that’s really where most of my time goes, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve sort of maybe spent a little bit more time in the other end, more so than the photography, but I am learning as I go, regardless. Every day there’s always something new. Everything from a different little piece of lighting, or different technique, different pose, you name it.
Mauro: … a different pose, you name it. Different time of day to photograph. It’s always finding something new.
James: How hands on are you in that editing process after you’ve taken the photos?
Mauro: Very minimal. I’ve got a trustworthy digital retoucher, Jason, who’s been with me now for close to five years, and he’s a master at what he does. He puts up with my creative criticism, but we work really well together, and because I am from the film days and film school, I know nothing about photo shop.
James: But that’s great. You know how to take a fantastic photo and tell that story. And then to let go of the reins a little bit and let someone else in their expertise of retouching and touching up a photo. That allows you to free up your time for the business and marketing side of things.
Mauro: Look, definitely and I think for me as a photographer at any stage, I’d probably want to be out there photographing and maybe doing sales and marketing, than possibly being stuck in front of a computer. Nothing wrong with that I must say, because I guess it’s quite therapeutic being in front of a computer and working on your images, which I do dabble in a little bit. But I guess I’d prefer to be out there and photographing more than anything else.
James: You mentioned before the photo that you love with the granddad’s car and the rose petals. Would you say that that’s one of your absolute favorite shoots, or have you got a few others in mind that you came up with?
Mauro: Look, I guess, as I’ve gotten older in the industry, and I’ve experienced life. As I’ve progressed in my wedding photography or any type of photography, is I’ve started to place a bit more of an importance on what the families are doing, and especially on a wedding day or even as a portrait. But moments where the father first walks in and sees his daughter. Or moments where, grandma is watching on where, she’s by one stage she realizes that she’s watching her granddaughter get married, the big milestones.
Mauro: So I guess experiencing life and experiencing loss myself, with my parents and so on. I think as a photographer I’ve become a lot more sentimental, and a lot of my work has got that real sentimental touch, which I think we need to portray on weddings because, it’s important to also produce a wedding album that is not only gonna touch one generation but two.
Mauro: So you can imagine someone getting married today, where their children’s children will be looking at their wedding album. So it’s a pretty powerful thing. So, and they’re things I take comfort in knowing that, every album or every wedding I do, my main objective is to encapsulate that for future generations.
James: Beautiful. Now your accolades. Let’s go back on that.
James: You’ve got them from all over the world. Do you get overseas often for weddings?
Mauro: I do. I wish I could do a lot more of it. I guess as a photographer, if you do spend a good four, five weeks overseas, you’d want to know that you’re busy in those four or five weeks. And as of what 2013 I spent quite a bit of time in New York, and affiliated myself with some great wedding coordinators. And then went on for probably about four or five years. But you know what, I miss Melbourne.
James: Home is where the heart is.
Mauro: So I still do quite a bit overseas, but I really love Melbourne, and at the end of the day we’ve sort of got to realize that, even especially for me, if I do go overseas and I guess this is how a lot of photographers should look at it. And it depends also at what stage of their lives they’re at because, if I went back 20 years and a client said to me, Mauro, I’m getting married in Italy. I really can’t afford much as a photographer, but I’ll fly you up, and you can photograph my wedding. I’d jump at that opportunity.
Mauro: But just recently even, when was it last week, I had to take the decision on where I was asked to photograph a wedding in Florence, and it was on a Thursday, and I looked at the calendar, and it was gonna be a busy weekend because obviously in March it’s always busy. So I had to decide, what was I going to do, charge triple my costs, or shoot the two weddings in Melbourne. So I had to take on the option of shooting the weddings in Melbourne.
James: I did a few weddings over in France and Italy a few years ago, but now I’ve got a three year old and an 18 month old. It makes it very difficult-
Mauro: It does.
James: … and life has changed so much. So every time I do have to go away, even if it’s a regional wedding, I get the guilt. I feel guilty for leaving the family behind. There’s the opportunity every now and then to go to Fiji and take them with me, but it’s just different these days.
Mauro: It is. Look, it changes, but it changes for the better. So, I guess even as a photographer after having kids myself, two girls. And my girls are what, 13 and 16. There’s stages that I’m caught daydreaming looking at moms and dads and thinking that, my goodness, that could be me in the next 10 years or so.
Mauro: So it’s really changed me as a photographer looking at little flower girls and page boys. I’ve never took so many bloody great pageboy, flower girls photos in my whole life since I have in the past five years. Same goes for the parents. So you become a lot more sentimental. And I think it does nothing but, makes you become a better photographer.
James: Let’s move onto a bit of the marketing side of things for your business. And I’m gonna have a sip of beer.
Mauro: I’ll join you there. It’s great. It taste good.
James: It feels like a Friday.
Mauro: It does, doesn’t it?
James: So let’s move on to the marketing side of things about your business. You’ve got a huge following on social media. Obviously that takes time to build up, and Instagram is going crazy for you. Is this a critical tool in marketing your business these days?
Mauro: Look, I’ve always … I guess it’s one of those things. It’s sort of like, my theory with everything is, you either damned if you do or damned if you don’t. Instagram is a great tool to get your word out or get your photographs out there, same as Facebook. Especially now the way Facebook and Instagram has really allowed people to advertise and expand, and I think that’s a great tool to reach, large sums of people.
Mauro: I think it’s also a great tool to also showcase your work to other international photographers. I actually had just accidentally went through my Instagram insight, the bit where you press a button that says insight, and I just had to look at where most of my followers are coming from, and I have more followers in New York than what I have in Sydney.
Mauro: I was pretty proud of that one. So I thought that’s pretty good. And so you can really sort of reach the world there. I really can’t say that, as a photographer, Instagram and Facebook has changed marketing for us, but it has definitely helped it quite a bit.
James: Were you one of the first ones to jump onto the social media side of things, when it first came out and you had the opportunity to directly target your audience. Were you right on that?
Mauro: Look, I can’t say I was because, it’s only maybe been the past five years that I’ve sort of really matured into the social media aspect of things. I can’t say I really have to be honest. I think I’ve always let the photograph do the talking and word of mouth and referral.
Mauro: So, all photographers out there, all video people out there, anyone in any in industry, nothing really at the end of the day does beat word of mouth. That automatically qualifies your customer. And then that compounded together with your marketing, and everything else that goes with it is really what creates your business.
James: There is the downside to social media, and there’s a lot of trolls out there. Have you ever come across the trolls and how do you deal with that?
Mauro: Look, I must’ve met … I guess I know that I’m ugly anyway, that’s why I’m behind the camera. So, I don’t really pay too much attention to that. I haven’t had many trolls to be really honest. I guess, you can’t say something too bad about a wedding photograph. So I haven’t really come across that to be honest. I don’t think I’m famous enough yet [inaudible 00:18:25]
James: Maybe we need to get the cameras on just to see our faces here.
James: Now they say that failure is a chance to learn. Have you had any big failures in your photography and stuff that just didn’t work?
Mauro: I’d probably have a list of a thousand failures when it comes to business especially, and even photography. As a photographer, the best thing you can do is learn from your mistakes. I’ll look back at, the 30 years that I’ve been in the industry. I did make a lot more mistakes earlier on in my day, and I learned the hard way.
Mauro: I am from the school of hard knocks, because obviously when I started in, when was it, the early 1990s, there wasn’t many seminars. There wasn’t the internet where you could learn from other photographers around the world. Associations were just starting to establish themselves. So, the community of hanging around many photographers wasn’t around either. So, I’m pretty much self taught. Everything that I know now is really from the eras that I’ve made in the past.
James: And what kind of eras would they have been? Like, give one of the biggest mistakes you think.
Mauro: Biggest mistakes, as a photographer for me when it comes to photographing, was taking things a lot more easier than I do now. I must admit, in my younger days, especially in my 20s and into close to my 30s, where I’d sort of really treat it more as a job, than what I would as really understanding the whole day in itself and capturing it properly. So …
Mauro: Standing the whole day in itself and capturing it properly. So it takes time to mature. As a younger photographer I do feel I was maybe a little bit too confident, which I shouldn’t have been. I also feel that that was the stage where I could have really built the business even bigger where instead I decided to let my ego take over a bit.
James: Do you think it was that, or do you think your mind was thinking too much about the settings because we’re sort of fresh in that business?
Mauro: Yeah, a lot of it is to do with that. I think as you’re maturing as a photographer and learning, you’re probably spending more time on photography than anything else. I’d probably say yes, I agree with you there.
James: Lots has happened in the industry over those 30 years. From plenty of photo studios out there, like this fantastic studio you’ve got her in Fitzroy North, but a lot of businesses are now closing up the studios and going to more of an online focus only. How do you feel about that?
Mauro: Really good. I think it’s fantastic.
James: Fantastic for you because you stand out as the only studio around?
Mauro: Well, look. Firstly, I must say even if I went back 10 years there’d be 20 or 30 studios like mine and it’s actually quite scary to sort of see them all drop off. Now I can understand how my father in law feels because he’s getting on now and all his friends are moving on. I think that goes for me as well in the sense of my friends are no longer having the big studios and they’re scaling down and all the above, so it’s actually quite scary as a photographer. But, like I said, the internet has brought some great changes into the industry. At the end of the day, doesn’t matter what platform or what you do, or how you’re doing it, it’s all about taking a pretty picture. At the end of the day, the client’s got to like that pretty picture. I don’t think that, there’s nothing that can ever change that in photography. If you keep on that mindset, I don’t think you can go too wrong.
James: Do you think it’s a competitive landscape at the moment?
Mauro: It’s probably about 20 times more competitive than what it was 10 years ago. It’s difficult for everybody and I must say, I’ve stood my ground and I haven’t changed any pricing structures or anything along those lines. I’ve, at the end of the day, 10 years ago, things were a lot cheaper than what it is now. Life gets expensive and you have to charge accordingly. That’s probably one of the reasons why I’m still around is because you’ve got to charge accordingly.
James: It’s sad to see all of those horror stories coming up on a Current Affair and all those tabloid TV shows that the businesses who are charging those dirt cheap prices are just in it for the money and they disappear and then the clients are left high and dry.
James: It is really important, and I’m glad you mentioned it, to charge accordingly. You’ve got to cover your expenses. You’ve got to put food on the table.
James: Don’t do it dirt cheap, just do your numbers.
Mauro: Well, that’s the whole thing. I think if there’s any business minded photographers out there, we all know much time and effort we spend having to deal with a customer and what we really need to do as photographers is really break down the hours that we spend, so if we did break it down in a basic format, the time that you’re meeting up with a customer, the time that you’re photographing the wedding, it doesn’t stop there. It’s the time that you’re culling the images, it’s the time that you’re retouching the images. All that takes time.
Mauro: People don’t actually realize if they calculated the amount of hours that they spend on a wedding at the end it could be 40 to 50 hours. If you multiply that by a minimum of $30 an hour or $40 an hour, that would be the ultimate minimum and that’s not including any outgoings that you have, rent and wages and everything else that goes with it. It could be, I guess for a lot of photographers, it’s hard to wrap their heads around, but it doesn’t take long that after a year when you do your tax return and you’ve turned over $80,000 and your costs are $80,000, you learn pretty quick and if you haven’t, then I suggest you give me a call.
James: Yeah. Totally agree with you on that one. You mentioned earlier about the physical albums that you pass down through generations.
James: A lot of photographers these days are moving to digital files. Digital delivery on the USB, online. How important for you as a business is to have that physical album to hand over to clients?
Mauro: I wouldn’t leave home without it.
James: Do you offer digitals at all?
Mauro: Not at all.
James: No. It’s all albums?
Mauro: Yes, it’s all albums. Like I said, I guess I feel that my meaning in photography is to pass those images onto generations and I’m not saying that digital file photographers don’t, but we’ve specialized in producing albums here at the studio and I have one lady here called Lena who’s been with me for 15 years who produces the albums by hand and that hasn’t changed for 15 years.
James: By hand.
Mauro: By hand. So we get the album shell from the album manufacturer and we print here. We produce by hand special albums that are real art pieces. I guess people who are doing digital, photographers that are offering digital files, good on them as well. If they think that that’s where the market is for them and they’re turning over a profit and they’re happy doing that, I think by all means go for it because there’s a market for that as well.
James: How do you feel when you see the faces of your clients and they open that first page?
Mauro: One out of three times it is tears.
James: For you?
Mauro: For me, actually also for the bride and groom. Not after I’ve told them what they’ve spent, but more so for the fact of them looking through the album, they’re just in love with it. Walk out with a big smile. Funny enough, I had a really busy studio two weeks ago here and I had a client picking up her wedding album and three new inquiries where she turned the third page and she was just in awe of the album and if you had a look at all these new inquiries that were sort of looking at her and thinking, wow, look what an album can do to you. All those three clients booked on the spot.
James: Amazing. Do you bring that same client back every week now to do the sales.
Mauro: Yes, pay her $50 every week, yeah, not a problem. It just goes to show having an album is the way to go, I think anyway. I don’t know any other way to be honest.
James: There are a lot of newcomers coming into this industry with all of the ease of technology at our fingertips.
James: How important is it to support all the newcomers coming into the industry?
Mauro: I think it’s one of the most important things to do, to support the new and upcoming photographers. My advice to all the new and upcoming photographers is to associate yourself with an association, for instance, like the Australian Institute of Professional Photographers, where they are able to learn the skills of photography quicker than doing it by themselves or learning the hard way, like I did. If we can do that and improve the level of photography quicker, I think we’d have a lot better industry.
James: We’re almost there. We’re down to a speed round now, so I’m going to ask you some rapid fire questions.
Mauro: Okay, go for it.
James: What are two words that describe your style?
Mauro: Avant garde.
James: That’s two words.
Mauro: There you go.
James: What is the perfect client for you?
Mauro: Someone who appreciates creative work.
James: What’s the next big trend for the industry?
Mauro: That’s a good question, that is a very good question. I’d have to think about that, can we come back to that one?
James: We’ll come back, we’ll give you one more chance for that one. All right, next one. How do you cut through all of the social media noise and distracted customers?
Mauro: Create beautiful images.
James: What’s the hardest part about doing business?
Mauro: Trying to turn over a profit.
James: Where is the best place in the entire world that you’ve shot?
Mauro: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
James: Have you done any, you mention in your little bio that you sent through your exotic locations, one other exotic location, other than Melbourne that you really enjoyed shooting?
Mauro: Well, I must say I’ve photographed a lot of different countries around the world. I do love photographing overseas in Europe and Italy is probably, Rome is probably one of the most beautiful breath-taking cities in the world. I still stick to Melbourne, love Melbourne.
James: You’re just tied to that Melbourne audience, aren’t you. Where do you see your business in five years?
Mauro: I see the business diversifying. I also see the business also taking it to the next level in style. I think the studio has held on to the Avant Garde feel for a long time, I guess I don’t want to say too much, but there is another style coming very soon.
James: Back to the question, what’s the next trend for the industry.
Mauro: That’s a loaded question.
James: I’m not gonna let you go until you answer it.
Mauro: I must say I think natural is on its way out. This is what I can say is the same way as vintage was in four years ago and the same way as natural was in a few more years earlier than that, it’s a three to four year trend and it’s just like the stock market, something new is coming and get ready for it guys.
James: All right, it was an absolute pleasure to talk to you today, thank you so much for your time.
Mauro: It’s a pleasure to be here, thank you very much.