Todd Hunter McGaw – Interview
World’s Best Wedding Photographer Interviews
Interview with Todd Hunter Mcgaw
The problem with interviewing wedding photographers is that they all tend to get busy all at the same time! Funnily enough it’s about the same time things get pretty hectic for us so keeping up with these has been fairly tricky to say the least! We have some fantastic interviews coming up so stay tuned for some more big names. In the meantime allow me to present you with our interview with the ever entertaining and super talented Todd Hunter McGaw. It’s hard not to be blown away by his work, from the epic locations to the way he really seems to connect with a wedding day. Verity and myself have been big fans of a lot of the work coming out of Australia over the last few years and Todd is a great example of the kind of forward thinking, boundary pushing photographer whose work we love to keep up with. Todd and his wife Alyda recently found out they are expecting – and I quote – ‘A girl type baby person’, so we’d like to wish both of the McGaws the very best of luck with everything throughout the pregnancy. I think it’s safe to say that she will be one mega cool kid!
Where do you currently call home?
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
How many weddings do you shoot per year?
30 – 35
Do you shoot anything else professionally?
I shoot about 80% weddings, & the rest is made up of editorial, fashion, musicians/bands, & a few portraits..
How many photos do you take on a normal day and how many would you expect to give to a couple?
I shoot around 1800 – 2500 depending on how long the coverage is, (Alyda or 2nd shooter normally adds 1000-1500).. We give the clients 600 – 800
Can you describe a normal days shooting? (What time do you arrive, when do you leave, what time do you ask for to do group shots or any couples shots etc)
Most of our clients want coverage from boys + girls prep, to the dance floor action.. We’ll stay to the very end if needed but clients pay extra for this.. Most of our weddings are 8-11 hours of coverage.. Depending on the clients’ priorities, locations, & the ceremony/reception times, clients on average give us 1 – 1.5hrs for creative bridal portrait session. We have had 4 hours for the creative shoot, & the next week we might have 20mins..
When was your first wedding that was really yours as opposed to second shooting etc?
I shot my first wedding while studying photography in 2000.. I shot it on film (pre-digital era).. I had never assisted or 2nd shot a wedding – I didn’t even want to be a wedding photographer, I was pushing to become an advertising/commercial shooter.. My clients already knew this but they liked some other event work I’d done for the local City Council..
I told the clients I’d do it as long as they had zero expectations about the photos being good because I’d never photographed a wedding before & all I could do was photograph it as I saw it.. They said “Good to go!”
My photography lecturer lent me a second camera body (Nikon 801s) so I could run colour (fuji Superior 400), and black & white (Illford XP2 – rated at 320) together.. He gave me some tips before the gig – I shot the whole thing on 5 rolls of film (4 colour, 1 B/W).. My coverage was 99% documentary & 1% portrait simply because I naturally leaned to a documentary/observational approach & I figured the bride’s Mother probably wanted a nice photo of her daughter in her wedding dress + some family photos..
Alyda & I were dating at the time & she came along to help carry/guard my bags, help with manual flash meter readings, and I showed her how to reload film.. It was pretty crazy, but I loved it & the clients loved the photos
How long did it take you to feel truly comfortable shooting weddings?
About 100 weddings I guess. For a long time, I’d feel like I was going to vomit while driving to the first chapter of the wedding.. I’d often say to Alyda, “Oh man, I’m going to yak! I don’t want to shoot weddings anymore”. She’d smile & say “yes you do”, & then as soon as I walked in the door & started shooting, all the nerves & weight of the responsibility disappeared & I was ‘in the zone’ I guess. It probably took about 100 ish weddings for me to feel confident enough to produce consistently great results in ALL situations regarding light, weather, people, locations, creativity, diplomacy, customer service, workflow/turn around time.
I really love shooting weddings & I still get nervous now, but not to the point of vomitron. I think it’s healthy to be nervous before shooting someone’s wedding. It’s.their.wedding! It’s a big deal y’know? It’s easy to forget that when you attend & work at so many weddings. My clients trust me with their event I’m honoured to hold that trust. It probably sounds a bit douchy, but I try to shoot every wedding like it’s only one I’ll get to shoot all year, and these photos are the only ones my clients will have of their family & friends like ever! (ooooh dramatic!)
What do you do with your spare time?
I really like cycling & swimming in the ocean… so cycling into the ocean for a swim is the ultimate combo although I don’t get to do it very often 😉
I also really like table tennis, and I like watching movies.
What’s the best thing about being a wedding photographer?
Working for myself, being my own creative/art director, travel, meeting lots of amazing people
And the worst?
It’s sometimes hard to stay in contact with friends & family that aren’t photographers. Our busy seasons are so full on & we’re always working on the weekends and travelling away so often, so It’s difficult to catch up with close friends & family. Travelling a lot for work is great, but I also really miss being at home & doing ‘normal’ things like BBQ’s, mowing the lawn, & talking to your neighbours over the fence about not much.
What do you find the most difficult thing about shooting weddings?
Learning to limit the amount of weddings I shoot was really difficult. Once you find your groove with shooting & marketing, and start getting more enquiries, the natural response is to shoot them all. It’s easy enough to maintain a crazy workload for a year or two, but inevitably you’ll run yourself into the ground & your business (and potentially your family), will start falling apart, and you’ll also realise you don’t spend any time with the people you love the most. Everyone thinks, “well that won’t happen to me – I’m in control.”, until it happens to them & they’re totally not in control.
What’s in your kit bag?
Nikon 24+35+85mm f1.4G lenses
Nikon 55mm f2.8 AI-s manual focus macro
Nikon SB900 speedlight
Incase ‘Ari Marcopoulos’ camera bag
Colorspace UDMA2 hyperdrive
If you had to shoot a whole day with just one camera and one lens what would that be?
Nikon D4s + 35mm 1.4G (that’s not overly exciting is it?)
Do you have a favourite camera and lens? (Doesn’t need to be for shooting weddings)
I think my favourite right now is my Hasselblad 503cx with 80mm 2.8 Zeiss Planar T*. I love everything about it – the shutter/mech “ka-chunk” sound is amazing. I also love my Mamiya C330 TLR with 80mm 2.8 it was my first medium format camera & I still use it. I also love my Fujifilm X100 for travel & walking around/street stuff.
If you could shoot anything else other than weddings what would it be?
How heavily do you edit your images?
Not very heavily for weddings. I generally like my images to feel bright & clean – that’s about it. I’m more concerned with the content of my images rather than how ‘filmy’ they look.
Can you describe your workflow after a shoot? (How long do you spend narrowing down the photos, editing and the fine tuning etc)
On average, I’d say around 2 hours to select the keepers, 3-4 hours to edit the wedding.. If there’s any retouching required Alyda does that and she also builds slideshows etc, so maybe 1-2 hours for that. We deliver the images to our clients within 4 weeks.
Any big mistakes you’ve made in your career in terms of business decisions?
Nothing that I would call a BIG mistake. I’ve never made a mistake, but I’ve made about 1692 small (what I call) “learning curve” decisions that come from lack of experience mostly, I try really hard to only make those decisions once.
What are the best things you’ve done for the success of your business?
There are things you do because that’s who you are, and there are things you do specifically (and strategically), for the success of your business. I think the ‘success’ of my business has a lot to do with the fact that only about 7% of what I do is for “the success of my business”.
(Less philosophical answer I actively & truthfully love what I do, I nurture & build good relationships, and I regularly participate in my industry.)
I love your website, anyone that’s not seen it definitely needs to go and take a look, where did that come from? Did you get a designer in or see to it all yourself?
Thanks man . I’m a photographer, not a web designer so we worked with an identity consultant/web designing company on that project. It was a great creative collaboration actually – after braining out some concepts together, I literally sketched out the logo with the robots & my name as a “something along these lines” kind of sketch, and our designers just tweaked the graphical content a little & then literally developed a A-Z font based on my hand-writing to use throughout the site. The colour palette was brained up by Alyda. The design work was developed by both us and them, but the site structure & navigation concept & coding was totally their genius..
Over the last couple of months you’ve had an awesome Engagement shoot turned surprise wedding, a Festival themed wedding and some awesome beach weddings just this year. What kind of brides do you feel like you attract and is this intentional?
Every single little piece of our marketing material is angled towards & locked on to attracting the kind of people we want to work with. The perfect client is different for everyone, but I guess we want to work with people that we can imagine ourselves spending time with generally in our day-to-day. Similar interests, outlook on life, values, music tastes, etc.. but most of all, they really value photography and art. We often photograph weddings of photographers, graphic designers, and architects.
You’ve won some awesome awards and are recognised throughout the world, can you pinpoint a turning point in your career where you started to really get noticed?
I think around 2009/2010 my work really started to get noticed by clients and other photographers. My highest priority is always to record the event as well as I can for my clients from a documentary, social, & historical standpoint, but I started looking for, & finding room during the day to explore creative concepts for my clients and myself as well.. That’s when other people started saying to me, “That’s such a ‘Todd’ shot!”, & that’s when I realise I had a ‘style’ I guess, and it was different to what a lot of other people were doing at the time. It’s like other people identified & pointed out my style before I did – it was a bit weird actually. So I just kept exploring, & I think the developmental boom across the internet, blogs, forums etc, at the time just gave me more exposure.
What has been the most successful advertising for you?
Active participation in the online industry/community.
And the least successful?
Online directories that don’t participate in the industry.
What are your goals for the future?
Move to the beach. Also, Alyda’s pregnant with our first baby person so I just really want to be a good Dad.
Where in the world would you most like to shoot a wedding?
I think shooting a wedding at the Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert USA, would be interesting.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring photographers what would it be?
Hard work + respect + artistic integrity + playing well with others = getting paid well to do what you love.
If you would like to see more of Todd’s work then visit his awesome website ! http://www.toddhuntermcgaw.com.au/