This month I interview Jonas Peterson. An awesome artist and photographer from Sweden now living in Brisbane, Australia. Jonas is a natural when it comes to capturing the beauty and emotion of a wedding. I love his work , his view on life and beyond. I now call Jonas a friend and I look forward to shooting a wedding with him one day when I visit Australia. Enjoy the interview and if you dig it as much as me please leave a comment.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Sweden where I lived until 2004 when I decided to take a job offer in Sydney, Australia. I had been working as a copywriter in advertising for 6 years in Sweden and needed to try my wings elsewhere. Sydney sounded like an interesting option. I sold everything I owned, packed a suitcase with clothes and jumped on a plane. Two years later I won a Cannes Grand Prix for an ad I had written with my art director and I was on top of the world. Yet I had a lingering feeling I wanted to do something else, needed to do something else. By almost pure coincidence I brought my camera to a friend’s wedding. I had been a keen hobbyist for years, but had no urge whatsoever to take it further. I had my career in advertising and was doing extremely well. Photography was a hobby and a passion, but that was about it. But I loved shooting candids at that wedding. I put a slideshow together and presented it to my friends. They loved the photos even more. Fast forward a year or so and the lingering doubt in my mind about my career path had grown and suddenly I felt ready to focus on my photography. I shot my first real wedding in December 2008, posted in on my blog and things sort of exploded in my face. People started calling me about shooting more weddings, blogs contacted me and soon after the magazines followed suit. I understood nothing. Who died and made me president? I shot about 30 weddings my first year in business. I have now been in business about 18 months and this year I’m shooting 54 weddings in 13 countries. 2/3 of the weddings I do are interstate or international. I still find my new journey absolutely absurd, but I love what I do, the places I get to see and the people who let me in to their lives. It truly is an amazing job.
Where is home?
I am currently based in Brisbane, Australia, but I’m shooting internationally three months this year.
Why did you become a photographer?
It started out as an escape. I was working primarily as a writer and since I have a visual streak in me, I felt the need to express that somehow. I have always, always loved photography and started shooting to capture the world the way I saw it. It took me years to be able to take the images I saw in my head though. I did everything from street photography to landscapes, but my passion, even though I didn’t shoot much of it myself, was documentary photography in all forms. My father was a journalist and on my mother’s side people are painters. I guess photojournalism is the meeting of two things I love – photography and journalism. I couple of years back one of my images was published in National Geographic and that made me realize I was onto something. Maybe there was a photographer in me somewhere. People had told me for years to focus on my photography instead of killing my soul in advertising, but I am very competitive and extremely stubborn, so I refused to listen. That first wedding I shot changed my perspective over night.
Your camera and lens set up at weddings:
I shoot all primes and I love it. I am currently a Canon shooter because of my prime lens love, but I’m no Nikon hater. I find the whole Nikon vs Canon war extremely silly. Photography is about vision, not the tools we use. I currently use 2 5D Mark II with prime lenses ranging from 24mm to 200mm. I also use a 45mm tilt shift lens quite a bit.
If you had to choose one lens, which one would it be and why?
Canon 35mm f/1.4L – quite possibly the best lens in the world. Novels and love songs should be written in its honour. Maybe even a sonnet or two. It’s amazing in every way.
Can you describe how and when you use flash, video light, reflectors and natural light during a wedding/portrait shoot.
By choice I mainly use available light. I bring speedlights and I use them for the party end of the night, almost always on camera and more often than not I drag the shutter. I find that off camera flash slows me down too much. I am perfectly comfortable with using my pocket wizards, but I prefer to leave them in the bag. And now my use of flash has become part of my look, so I think I’ll stick with it for a while. I never use flash for portraits or getting ready shots.
Have you had anything go wrong at weddings and if so, how did you handle it.
Honestly, no. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but so far I haven’t had any major mishaps. Touch wood.
Apart from sheer hard work, what would you say has been the main key to the success of your business.
I sometimes play at the fact I came out of nowhere, but the truth is that I have a great understanding of personal branding and how to use social media and networking to your advantage. My website gets about 100-120,000 hits per month and my google rank is very high and this of course helps a lot when it comes to SEO. My blog is an integral part in my success. Taking a great photo is of course the most important thing, but I know many amazing photographers who book almost no weddings. This year alone I’ve had to turn down 146 wedding inquiries. I couldn’t shoot more weddings even if I wanted.
What advice do you have for amateurs wanting to become professional?
I think it’s important to find your own voice and that’s something that takes time. Vision is also something that evolves over time. Learn your craft and become as good as you can before you start shooting professionally. Especially if you want to become a wedding photographer. Screwing up someone’s wedding because you’re still learning your craft is not acceptable. I also believe in the 10,000 hour rule - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outliers_(book)
How important is an awesome website for your business.
For MY business my blog is extremely important because I’ve made it important. I know other photographers who book more weddings than I do without having any web presence at all. It’s all about your business model. But if you’re thinking of launching a new photography business without a kickass website or blog, I think you’re making a huge mistake.
What do you think of the wedding industry at the moment and where do you see it in 5 years from now.
I honestly think people worry too much about the state if the industry and not enough about the state of their own business. But with that said, I think these are interesting times. Old school meets new school, photography meets videography and the boundaries are stretched. I’m curious by nature and I love seeing change around me.
The last workshop or seminar you attended and why.
I haven’t done any workshops or attended any seminars yet. I’m going to WPPI next year, hopefully I will see my share of awesomeness there.
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about photographing weddings:
The pace of the day. It’s also what makes it so interesting. You think you are going to realize all these cool ideas you have, but once the day starts, you just hold on for dear life and hope your experience will get you through. At least that’s how it is for me.
If someone said “How can I be the next Jonas Peterson?” What would you say.
I’d say “Don’t bother”. We all walk different paths and what worked for me won’t necessarily work for someone else. Focus on being as good as you can be and treat people with love and respect and things will come to you.
What would you like to be doing in 5 years time from now.
Pretty much the same thing as now, but hopefully with more time to spend on personal projects. I have a couple of book ideas and with my current schedule I have no time for anything else than weddings.
Something you’re still learning?
The day I stop learning, I’m done.
Is there something you would have done differently during your photographic career?
Not really, I’m pretty happy about my progress so far.
We know that each of us has someone or something, which inspires our life and work. Can you tell us the true basis of your inspiration.
Life. It’s that simple. I have travelled the world, held many strange jobs in odd places and life never seizes to amaze me. I look at the people around me and feel like I’m living the dream. Sure, Iook at popular culture and art, but never for immediate inspiration. For that I go to the supermarket or jump on a train to the city. Reality is my drug. People.
The first photographer that comes to mind and why.
I have to pick more than one, sorry. They all are extremely important in various ways.
James Nachtwey (Everything)
Anders Petersen (especially his Café Lehmitz series)
Sally Mann (Immediate Family)
What is your most treasured possession?
My mind. No one can take my view of the world away from me. It sounds all hippie and kumbaya, but even though I’m a total gearhead, possessions don’t matter at all when push comes to shove.
What is your idea of perfect happiness.
I’m pretty much living the dream. I work from home with my family around me, I make enough money to live a very comfortable life and I’m control of my future. What more do you need?
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I don’t really think like that and can’t pick anyone I identify with.
Best piece of advice you have been given.
Maybe you should start thinking about a career in photography, Jonas.
What are you scared of.
The usual stuff, things happening to my family.
The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it. If I want to do something I will. And then some.
Music. I have a massive library of music and let that be the soundtrack of my life.
Do you own any art?
I have a nasty habit of buying art at charity auctions when I’m drunk. So yes, I have some very interesting art at my house. Some of it in my garage.
If you build it, they will come.
Jonas Peterson | Photographer | Brisbane | Australia | International www.jonaspeterson.com