Wedding photographer Gabriela Colebrook talks to us about the trials and tribulations, and the magic and joy of pursuing her passion – from burning out to starting up Gabriela Ana Weddings on her own.
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Tell us a bit about yourself…
I grew up in the beautiful Blue Mountains with the national park as my backyard, literally because we didn’t have a fence behind our property. As kids, me and my twin brother and a bunch of the neighbourhood kids would always go exploring – it was such a great place to grow up!
Growing up, I was always the creative type. My parents were jewellery designers so I think I always had that creative streak in me. I remember how I used to make these clay sculptures made out of hard clay rocks that I smashed up into fine dust before adding water to turn it into a paste. I loved doing that kind of stuff and just really liked to get my hands dirty.
I studied Photography for 3 years before I landed a job at a wedding studio in the city. That’s kind of where my love for weddings began.
What was that experience like?
At that time, the industry was in transition from film to digital. I was part of the first batch of students that were taught digital and that’s how I got the role! I was initially hired as a Production Assistant but quickly got promoted when the Production Manager left – I ended up becoming both the Production Manager and a Photographer. The business grew very quickly from there and after a while, the owner had a production office built separate to the studio we were all working in. Because there was such an influx of work, he ended up hiring more photographers and all of this happened in just over two years.
How did you go from there to starting your own business?
I was doing very long hours at the time. Not only was I in the production office editing all week, I was also photographing on weekends. I hardly saw my friends and family because I was always working – early starts, late nights and working weekends. I sort of became a hermit and I was also trying to juggle any free time I had to spend time with my partner. Eventually it all just caught up with me and I got extremely burnt out. I developed a few health problems and started to get anxiety and just borderline depressed.
That sounds really intense!
It was! I wasn’t a happy person and it really showed. I stopped enjoying what I was doing and I wasn’t very nice to be around. When I quit, and I started doing the things I used to love, people were like “Hey! We have the old Gabi back!” That was a huge eye-opener for me. It made me realise how important work-life balance really is, so now I make sure to always take care of myself.
So what made you decide to finally leave? Was that hard for you?
We had a family dinner with my partner’s parents one weekend. We were all just casually chatting when his dad asked me if I should still be working this way at the studio. It was at that exact moment that I decided I had to quit. Talking to his dad made me realise that it just wasn’t what I wanted. That night I wrote a resignation letter and handed it in on Monday. At that point, I didn’t know what I wanted to do exactly, but I knew it just needed to be done. And it felt really good.
“You run into dads who are tough-as-nuts, but end up bawling their eyes out. And of course there’s the groom who can’t stop crying as soon as he sees his bride.”
That’s awesome! So what happened next?
Luckily I had some savings in the bank and I was able to afford to take some time off and study design. I needed the break from the wedding scene. But around that time, a good friend had asked me if I could photograph her wedding. I really didn’t know if I still wanted to do it because I really thought I was over the whole thing – weddings and all of that! But I ended up doing it anyway and it was while I was there on the day, in that moment, I realised how much I actually really enjoyed it. I fell in love with it all over again and I felt as though I had finally found what I wanted to do.
What was it that made you come to that realisation? What is it about weddings?
I think I just really love working with people. I’ve always known that. It’s actually really not about the wedding itself, but more about the couple and the people there. All the couples I’ve worked with are just honest-to-God awesome and I can really say that with confidence. Awesome couples know awesome people and on that one special day, they’re surrounded by so many people that really, truly love them. You just feel it. You run into dads who are tough-as-nuts, but end up bawling their eyes out. And of course there’s always the groom who can’t stop crying as soon as he sees his bride walk down the aisle for the first time. It’s such an emotional and beautiful day. And such an incredible thing to be a part of.
Honestly, when I finished my design course, I didn’t know what was in store for me. I never imagined myself being in business for myself, but because both my parents had their own businesses, maybe it’s something I’ve always been exposed to. But even in high school, I always imagined myself wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase to work. It’s funny cause nothing could be further from how it’s all turned out!
How has it compared to working for the studio?
It’s very different. Everyone says it, but running your own business is hard. Working for the studio was a good, solid experience for me and I learnt a lot. But being in business for yourself kinda throws you into the deep end. You learn a lot and you have to do a lot of things yourself. But that also means that you get to make your own decisions – like choosing to only work with the people you really enjoy working with. I’ve had so many clients that I still keep in touch with on Facebook! Just recently a couple I photographed last year just had a baby and it’s so nice to see all of that happening.
What’s been your biggest or most unexpected challenge you’ve faced so far?
The hardest part for me was realising that it’s okay that not all clients want your services. The first few times you get rejected, you take it quite badly. But I’ve since learnt not to take it personally. And that’s actually a good thing. I’d rather a couple find and hire the photographer they absolutely love than hire someone that they’re just okay with. It’s important that you get along really well with your clients and vice versa, because that makes a big difference to how the photos look and how you feel on the day.
I’ve really grown with my business, and it’s really become a reflection of who I am as well. There have been many ups and downs, and it’s never always going to be smooth sailing. One day you might have a bit of a win but then you might have a crappy day next and you question what the hell you’re doing. There’s definitely been some challenges but even still, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
I’m in my element when I get to create art that is truly unique – unique like each of the couples I work with. I once photographed for a waterfall engagement session and we had to hike for about an hour to get there. Now those are my type of sessions! I’m always open to what my clients want to achieve and I’m always up for a challenge. It can take a bit of time before couples warm up and start being themselves in front of the camera. But when they do, that’s when the magic happens. I just can’t get enough of it – it’s exhilarating and I always finish a job feeling amazing.
Describe the ultimate Gabriela Ana Weddings client?
They’re the kind of couple that likes to explore and go on an adventure. They love nature and the outdoors but like to enjoy a glass of red wine or two. They enjoy life to the fullest and always try to take time out for themselves.
Their wedding would be on a rural property, somewhere where guests could spend the weekend. Maybe with a marquee set up for the reception, or have you seen those cool glamping tents? Something like that. They would have a super fun and chillaxed day, enjoying the company of family and friends, dancing long into the night, maybe with a bonfire in the background and somewhere nice and cozy for guests to laze around in. Their style is very much low key luxe with beautiful flower garlands and lots of warm ambient light.
What advice would you give to couples looking for a Photographer?
Make sure that not only do you like their work, but that you really like their personality too because you’ll be spending a huge part of your day with them! I would also recommend having an engagement shoot with your photographer beforehand. It’s a great way to see how you work together and a chance for you to start to get used to being in front of the camera. It can actually be quite daunting for some!
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
Find other people who are doing it too. I used to get cabin fever when I first started out. Working alone can make you go crazy! So now I try to get out of the house every day. I make a point to socialise and talk to people every day. You’re challenges are going to be unique – most people who work nine to five may not understand what you’re going through. So get out there and find another soul who’s going through what you’re going through. Talk to each other regularly and give each other the moral support you’ll both need.
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Visit www.gabrielaweddings.com for more magic and adventure.
To enquire about Gabriela’s wedding photography packages, send her a message at www.weplanr.com