Laugh Out Loud Photography – Sonya Chindamo

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Episode 7 – Transcript

Turbo: Tell us a bit about your background. Where did it all start for you in this industry?

Sonya Chindamo: Many years ago. Do you want the short version or the long version?

Turbo: Give me the long one. I want detail.

Sonya Chindamo: I’ll give you the long version. All right.

Sonya Chindamo: I think it all starts back to my grandfather. People go, “What, your grandfather?”

Sonya Chindamo: I’m like, “Yeah, when he was younger and I was a little tacker he used to sneak out on weekends and go and shoot weddings, and tell Nanna he was going fishing.”

Turbo: What? Usually it’s the other way round.

Sonya Chindamo: I know. And I used to sneak out with him.

Turbo: Wow. So why was there all this sneakiness?

Sonya Chindamo: Well my Nanna was a very, very strong German woman, and if she knew that he was going out making extra money to support his model train addiction I don’t think he would have been allowed. So, yeah, I used to sneak out. He used to say, “Are you coming fishing?” And I’m like, “Yeah.”

Sonya Chindamo: So it sort of started when I was little, and then progressed to when I was about 13, I remember as a young girl getting pocket money I’d go to the Sunday market in the country, and they’d have all the stalls set up, and all the pictures, and I remember being drawn to this one photo. It’s the infamous Robert Doisneau, The Kiss photo.

Sonya Chindamo: And as a 13 year old girl I remember that’s what I had my heart set on. It really drew me in, and saved up all my pocket money and I bought that image, and I had a little Box Brownie camera, and I used to go around and shoot stuff down the street, and try and capture people without getting caught.

Sonya Chindamo: And fast forward to 1998, when I got married, myself. I was telling my wedding photographer about this, and he said, “Do you want to come and work with me and learn the ropes?” And yeah, so I went and worked with him, and he set me some challenging assignments, and he sent me to the zoo, and he said to me, “I want you to document the story of the zoo, and what goes on, but you’re not to take any photos of the animals,” so …

Turbo: So everything else, other than the animals, at the zoo.

Sonya Chindamo: … but the animals. So I had to set a story, and it’s funny how it goes full circle, because only recently, I got to shoot with you, at the zoo, with the animals. So you could possibly say 1998 was my official baptism into wedding photography, and now we are what? Oh yeah, 20 years already.

Turbo: I know, time flies now, doesn’t it?

Sonya Chindamo: Yep. 20 years. So I’m the elder stateswoman. The geriatric dinosaur of the industry.

Turbo: So you’ve been there for quite some time, but let’s just go back to that photo that you purchased when you were a youngster, The Kiss.

Sonya Chindamo: The Kiss, from Robert Doisneau, yeah.

Turbo: The famous Kiss, yeah. So what was it about that photo that drew you into it?

Sonya Chindamo: I think it was raging hormones. 13 year old girl, and starting to discover boys. I think it was a combination of that, and also I’ve always had a massive love of street-style photography, and going with my grandfather, and it was that image that was really powerful, and that was the one.

Turbo: What was your first job in the photography field?

Sonya Chindamo: Darkroom assistant. So my job, before I was allowed to go and do anything — shoot — was to mask up … back in the days, I think digital had just broken through, so we were still using negatives … so my job was to get all of the negatives after a wedding, mask them up, send them off to Nulab, back in the day, and basically get them back and do all the cuts for the album, so it was matted albums, and I had to basically do that for about 12 months, and carry bags, and basically do all the plug jobs first, before I was allowed to do anything.

Turbo: Do all the hard yards.

Sonya Chindamo: Did the … oh yeah. They were hard yards, all right.

Turbo: It’s such a different process now, isn’t it? And you think about how technology has changed from 20 years ago to what it is today, and even next week, what it’s going to be, because it’s just progressing so quickly.

Sonya Chindamo: It is changed … it’s almost like it’s changed overnight. It’s crazy. Being a little bit older, too, I’ve had to reinvent myself more times than a Kardashian sister, just … not based on fashion, like of style of photography, but of technology, to keep up with what’s on trend, what technology is available. Understanding social media. Yeah. The days of just going to a wedding expo and that was it, it’s gone. Now it’s so much, so much more.

Turbo: So what’s been the biggest challenge in that transition period, that you’ve come across?

Sonya Chindamo: Learning. Learning all the new … how to use software. Obviously your Lightrooms, your Photoshops, album design software … then you’ve got the social media aspect. Being proactive on social media. How to Instagram, how to do Insta stories, the biggest challenge was SEO, and websites, so I was-

Turbo: Do you think SEO is playing much of a part in getting new customers, these days?

Sonya Chindamo: It’s a small part, but it’s a very integral part. I find when I send … when I have an inquiry, on my inquiry sheet it says, “How did you hear about us?” And it’s funny how many still come back and say, “Google.” Look, I think it’s important. It’s very important, it’s like having all of your ducks in a row. Social media is so important, and that’s where people find you. The majority. Well it seems to be the new thing.

Turbo: It’s the easy way to share your images.

Sonya Chindamo: It is, but you’ve got to have a presence with your search engine optimization, and your website, because when people are … even that though your Instagram and YouTube, it’s a part of it. So it’s not as probably integral as what it was seven years ago, or even five years ago, but it’s still really, really important for a really good … and it’s also your brand, as well. You’ve got to be consistent across the board with your brand.

Turbo: How are you finding the bookings coming in now? Are you finding that it’s slowing down with the influx of new technology and people coming into the industry?

Sonya Chindamo: Yes, it has slowed down, but in saying that, we’re in winter at the moment, and I always find that through the winter months it’s bit of a lull, and then, as soon as football season is over, the floodgates open. Yeah, it is a lull, but in saying that, we went through a season where, between myself and my partner, we had some 60-plus weddings booked, and we just looked at each other and thought, “What are we doing?”

Sonya Chindamo: So, for me, I think I relish it being a little bit more quieter, and that’s just the sort of direction that I want to head in my business.

Turbo: Was that a decision that you made? Did you put the prices up to slow down the bookings or anything like that at the time?

Sonya Chindamo: A little bit, but even before we got to that stage with our conversation, I think we looked up on our whiteboard and our Studio Ninja, and we just said, “Oh my goodness.” And I think we were at about July or August, and we were just looking through all the months ahead and thought, “How are we even going to do this?”

Sonya Chindamo: So we didn’t actively push social media, and we never actively pushed on Facebook. We cut back our expos. We cut back the areas that we wanted to be present in for that reason.

Turbo: Yep. Now you mentioned, was it 60 weddings?

Sonya Chindamo: 69 between us. We looked, at one point.

Turbo: So when you say, “Between us,” your partner, Joey, actually runs a video production business, so he’s still in the same field of weddings, but he does video; you do photo.

Sonya Chindamo: That’s it. We’ve got separate business, but together. When we get a wedding together it’s awesome. We vibe off each other, and he’s a crazy as I am. When we’ve got to share the office it’s not as pleasant, because one can’t talk, and someone’s got the headphones on, yeah, look, it’s good, and you know, I’ve worked with you, and it’s … when you’ve got someone that you really gel with it makes your job a bit easier.

Turbo: Yep. Do you ever have moments when you are working on a wedding together, and you kind of step on each other’s toes a little bit?

Sonya Chindamo: Oh hell yeah. I tell him to get out of the beeping way.

Turbo: How do your clients react to that, when you’ve got that little bit of tension going on?

Sonya Chindamo: Well we sort of mask it with a bit of fun, so they laugh, and they’re like, “Oh my god, this is married life.” We’re like, “Yep. This is what 20 years of marriage looks like.”

Sonya Chindamo: But I think it’s a bit of an ice-breaker for them, because we’ll do it in a fun way, so it’s never, ever heated. It’s just very jovial. And they love it, because it says, “Well, look. These guys are married,” and they’re like, “Oh my god. You’re married and you work together! Are you crazy?” We’re like, “Yes.”

Turbo: Now you’ve got a son.

Sonya Chindamo: Yes, we do.

Turbo: How old is he?

Sonya Chindamo: He’s nine and a half.

Turbo: How was that? You’ve been in the industry for a long time, 20 years, you say, but when the little one came along, how did that all change for you in the business?

Sonya Chindamo: I was actually running — before I was pregnant — I had a really successful real estate photography business, and I had about 30 agencies that were my clients, and I was working six days a week, probably 14 hour days. And then, once he come along, we just decided that we were going to wind it back, so I sold the business, and fell back in to weddings.

Sonya Chindamo: And then, with the wedding stuff, it’s just ramped up within the space of two to three years, and that was another one of the reasons, too, that myself and Joey have decided to cut back. Because they get to this age, and on the weekends we’ve got sport commitments, and we’ve only got the one, and so the first nine years have gone, and don’t want to wake up in nine years and go, “Oh my goodness, we’ve got an 18 year old,” so he was the major factor, too, on winding back how many we take.

Turbo: Well with a surname like Chindamo, the great Italian family traditions … do they support much around helping you when you do have those busy periods?

Sonya Chindamo: They do. Yes. We’ve got Nonna and Nonno that help out a lot, and Nixon love that, because he gets fed all his favorite food, so yeah, nah it’s good having support, not just from your peers in the industry, but family members, because it’s not just turn up on a wedding day, do the job, and go home. It’s a long day, and if you’re like us, and … well you are, Jim … yeah, you get to travel all over the world, and all over Australia, and we’re always on a road trip, so it’s good to have that little bit extra help.

Turbo: When you do those regional and international weddings does Nixon come along?

Sonya Chindamo: He does to some. We’ve had the pleasure of taking him to … he’s come to Thailand for a wedding, Fiji for a wedding, and the regional ones, depending if it’s where we grew up he’ll go to my parents or if it’s towards the north he’ll stay with our friends, and he’ll want to come up and they want to have him, so yeah, sometimes he does. Yeah. Other times he’s just home hanging out with Nonna and Nonno and his school friends.

Turbo: Making salami.

Sonya Chindamo: Making salami.

Turbo: The traditional way.

Sonya Chindamo: That’s it.

Turbo: You mentioned the regional weddings, and traveling quite a bit. I see that you are constantly in the regional areas. You’re not really getting so many in the city these days. They’re more regional and country weddings.

Sonya Chindamo: That’s correct. When we sat down and we sort of … I sort of used to do city, country … and then with Joey, sat down and said, “Listen, you know, what’s our brand? What’s the sort of client that we want to attract? What sort of weddings that we want to capture. Do those clients get our vibe?” So we sort of really had a good hard think about it, and we’ve done city, we’ve done Yarra Valley, and we really decided that the laid back … we’re country kids ourselves, so for us, even though we travel, that type of wedding and that type of client is what we want to do. We don’t want to do city weddings. We don’t want to do the big, traditional church weddings, and even some of the winery weddings, we’ve even decided it’s not really our thing as well.

Sonya Chindamo: So some we will do, but a lot of it’s more, you know, barefoot, country, laid-back, chilled out; have a good time with your mates.

Turbo: I find you’ve got better locations to shoot out in the countryside anyway.

Sonya Chindamo: Yes.

Turbo: There’s only so many places you can shoot in the city, and then you’ve got to worry about parking, and you’ve got to worry about meeting the time constraints of traffic.

Sonya Chindamo: It’s crazy. Last wedding I did … and it’s funny, because when we go back to my love of street-style, on a wedding day? Great. In the office? Not so much. Capture street-style.

Sonya Chindamo: For weddings, I want to do the country, and a lot of that’s for that reasons, as well. I remember doing a wedding and my second shooter … I had to jump out of the car and run three blocks with my rollie bag because there was something going on in the city and we couldn’t get parking, and she drove my car and I ran three blocks, and this is why I hate doing Melbourne weddings. I don’t hate them altogether. I love doing elopements and all that sort of stuff, but-

Turbo: It’s just tricky. It just adds a whole new element of stress, when you have to rush around like that.

Sonya Chindamo: Totally, totally. And we joke to our country clients that the time that it takes us to drive to some country locations, it’s taken us longer to drive in Melbourne.

Turbo: Yeah.

Sonya Chindamo: Yep. So yeah, country all the way. Country kids. We’re country kids, and we want to shoot country kids.

Turbo: You talk about second shooters just then. How important to you is it, in your business model, to have second shooter on board?

Sonya Chindamo: Being that I’m a geriatric … look, for me, really important. Not just … my second shooters, sometimes they’ll come and shoot quite a bit. Other times they’re there just to help me with my gear. And I like it for company, but I also like it for a backup plan as well, so in the event that something happens, someone’s got my back, and, as I said, getting older, the back hurts, the foot hurts, and I run around like a crazy idiot, so yeah, it’s integral for my business, so … and I’m really excited about Shootzu, as you know.

Turbo: Yeah, no Shootzu is all about finding those second shooters, and finding quality crew matched with quality jobs.

Sonya Chindamo: That’s the hardest thing, is finding someone that shoots your style, gets who you are as a person, gets your client. I’m really lucky, I’ve had an amazing second shooter that I’ve worked with now, Alex, for about eight years, and he’s my go-to, but there’s times that Alex can’t work with me, and I’ve got a couple of other people that I can sort of call on, but even as they’re getting busier it’s getting hard, and especially with regional weddings, we’ve done some weddings in some really remote locations, and I couldn’t get a second shooter because … I’ve had to resort to Facebook to find somebody, so yeah, definitely. It’s integral for me, and I think Shootzu will definitely be great for my business.

Turbo: You mentioned Alex has been your go-to guy for eight years. That’s pretty good for a second shooter.

Sonya Chindamo: He’s amazing.

Turbo: Because usually second shooters are more inclined to be the ones that are starting to build their business and build their own portfolio, so to still have a second shooter eight years later, who you can trust, is an amazing feat.

Sonya Chindamo: Yep. I’ve told him … he’s contemplating moving next year, and I’ve told him he’s not allowed to. Yeah, no he’s amazing. He does his own work, but he loves it because we have such a good time together. He’s like a brother, so it’s good to have someone, and a lot of the feedback from our clients is, “You guys are amazing together,” and, “We’ve had so much fun with the both of you,” and, “You made us feel so comfortable,” and yeah.

Turbo: You touched on international weddings a bit earlier, about going to Thailand and Fiji. You frequented Fiji quite a few times, I see.

Sonya Chindamo: Four times.

Turbo: Yeah? How do you get those jobs over there?

Sonya Chindamo: Fluke.

Sonya Chindamo: Recommendation, actually. Yeah, so we’ve been recommended by clients to go, so we’ve sent off what we’ve done — some samples of our work — and clients loved it, and yeah, so it’s been pretty good. The last one we went, I didn’t shoot photos. I actually went with Joey as his second shooter, because I’m free. Don’t need to pay the wife, and when the client contacted us, she actually contacted us about photography and video, and I bit my tongue professionally, and I said to her, “I could do the job, but I know somebody who is amazing, and I think you need him to capture your wedding photographically, and if you book him, I’ll come and second-shoot video with Joey.” And she booked him, and he’s amazing.

Turbo: Was he local to Fiji, or did they fly him in?

Sonya Chindamo: No, he’s from Queensland, so … and it was great working with him, because before I worked with him, apart from cutting back, I was almost close to giving it up. I’m like, “I’m so tired. 60 weddings. I don’t want to do this any more,” and just to spend a couple of days with him and … Van Middleton is his name, he’s amazing … and just having a chat with him and seeing what he does, and he made me fall in love with it all over again. And how I need to do what’s right for my clients and my business, and 60 weddings a year’s not for me.

Sonya Chindamo: I’m very personal with my clients, and I want to give them the experience, so yeah.

Sonya Chindamo: Yep. Usually I’ll get to about April and I’m like, “I need a holiday,” and I can guarantee you as soon as wedding season finishes I get sick. And then I get to the point, I’m like, “Oh, I don’t want to do this any more,” and that was … I got to the end of wedding season, and then the start of wedding season rolled around, and I used to be really, really excited. “Yay, wedding season’s back! My first wedding,” and I had one season there where I just was going through the motions, and I’m like, “I can’t. This is not fair. I’m not an 80-wedding a year shooter.”

Sonya Chindamo: I’m a small amount, now, and I can give it 110%, and I’ve got the fire back in the belly again.

Turbo: When you’re doing that amount of weddings it’s quite lonely. It’s a very lonely business, this whole photography thing.

Sonya Chindamo: It is. It’s very lonely. My friendship group, they all complain, like, “We never see you,” and you can’t go to parties or other people’s weddings because you’re busy doing it yourself. It’s very isolating. My friends, during the week … I’ve got friends that work part time, full time … and my friends that don’t work during the week go, “Hey, do you want to catch up and go and have a coffee?”

Sonya Chindamo: I’m like, “I can’t, I’ve got to get this done. I’ve got to get this done,” and I was editing all my own work, and then I started out-sourcing, and then now I’ve cut back, and I’m passionate again, I’m actually editing my own work, because I’m excited again.

Turbo: You’re excited to see the results.

Sonya Chindamo: Exactly.

Turbo: Bit of creativity on your part, but I see, in a lot of your photos, you clients are really getting in to those smoke canisters.

Sonya Chindamo: Oh, the smoke bombs.

Turbo: The smoke bombs.

Sonya Chindamo: Yeah, they’re a bit yesterday now. All right, moving right along. Yeah, we started doing the smoke bomb stuff about a year ago when it first come out, and everyone was like … it just seemed to be the trendy thing. And it snowballed, and now it’s every time we get a wedding, “Can you bring smoke bombs?”

Turbo: Well it is kind of your style now.

Sonya Chindamo: It is.

Turbo: You do see that, and I associate it with you guys, because you don’t see that many photography companies doing it, and it does look quite spectacular when you’re out in those country fields, and you’ve got those big vibrant colors coming up.

Sonya Chindamo: Yes. And it helps when you’re married to a pyromaniac.

Turbo: He just wants to light one up every time, huh?

Sonya Chindamo: Oh my goodness. Yes. Actually I’ve got a funny story to tell. A certain venue in the Yarra Valley … I don’t think I’ll ever be allowed back there again. I went with — not Joey — another videography company, and he’s like, “I’ve got smoke bombs!” I’m like, “Yes!” And it wasn’t total fire ban, but it was a fairly warm, windy day, and we got a little bucket, and we’re out in the field, and it’s the middle of the night and we’re lighting up smoke bombs, and there’s smoke going everywhere, and we’re getting the most amazing video footage and photos, and the venue manager comes out and she’s like, “What are you doing? This is not allowed! Blah, blah, blah,” and we’re like, “Oh, it’s just out of can,” yeah. I don’t think we’ll be allowed back.

Sonya Chindamo: Yeah, but look, it’s good fun. Some of the funny stories. One of the weddings we did … it’s a real ice-breaker with the bridal party, because they’re like, “We don’t want to stand around and do dumb things,” and we’re like, “We’re not going to make you do silly poses, but we’ll have a bit of fun.” So we gave them the smoke bombs. One of the groomsmen thought they’d be smart and try and smoke it, and they’re throwing them in the air and running through them, but yeah, and the couples love it.

Sonya Chindamo: It’s good fun.

Turbo: Is it something that you carry in your everyday kit to a job, or is it something that has to be specially requested by the couple?

Sonya Chindamo: We don’t usually carry them all the time unless a couple mention it. They’re quite pricey to buy, actually, when you buy a set of them, and it also depends on the style of the wedding. If we’ve got a really cool couple, and they’re like, “We’re getting married here, and we’ve got this, and we’ve got plenty of time, and blah, blah, blah, blah,” we’re like, “Oh yeah, this needs a smoke bomb,” but I think, now, our bag of tricks is becoming pedestrian, so it’s time to find something else to play with, other than smoke bombs. I do like a confetti cannon, as well.

Turbo: But they’re just so messy.

Sonya Chindamo: I know.

Turbo: So you’ get kicked out of more venues doing that.

Sonya Chindamo: Oh. True, that. Yeah, I know. I’m like I need to invent something cool.

Turbo: Please do that in some churches, and just take video footage of the priest’s reaction.

Sonya Chindamo: Yes. That’d be … yeah, I know a few churches in Melbourne that’d appreciate that… not.

Turbo: We’re going to go in to a bit of a speed round, now.

Sonya Chindamo: Okay.

Turbo: Going to fire some questions at you. You need to answer them as quickly and precisely as you can.

Sonya Chindamo: Okay, cool.

Turbo: Two words that describe your style?

Sonya Chindamo: Fun. Random.

Turbo: What’s the hardest part about doing business?

Sonya Chindamo: Time.

Turbo: Your favorite camera body?

Sonya Chindamo: Nikon.

Turbo: Model?

Sonya Chindamo: The new one coming out.

Turbo: You haven’t got that one yet.

Sonya Chindamo: No.

Turbo: I hope it’s good.

Sonya Chindamo: I’ve got a D850. I’m waiting for full-frame mirrorless.

Turbo: Favorite lens?

Sonya Chindamo: Can I just … can I have two?

Turbo: Sure.

Sonya Chindamo: 35 and 50.

Turbo: Okay. 35. 50. That’s not bad. Do you always shoot on primes?

Sonya Chindamo: Sometimes. Majority.

Turbo: Okay.

Sonya Chindamo: Majority.

Turbo: And at a candle-lit wedding reception have you ever set fire to your hair?

Sonya Chindamo: Not yet.

Turbo: Knock on wood.

Sonya Chindamo: Yet. Yet.

Turbo: Yet. I know a few people who have, and it’s pretty amusing to hear their stories.

Sonya Chindamo: That’s gold.

Turbo: Thank you very much for your time on Shootzu.

Sonya Chindamo: Thank you for having me.