Even during a casual chat over coffee, everything about Haley Shandro exudes one thing: drive. Beaming with a passion that overflows her five foot, two inch frame, Haley shared snippets of the Shandro Photo journey, a sneak peek into their Canada Photo Convention content, and her best advice for other photographers.
Like so many whose photography career has become an indispensable part of who they are, the beginning of what is now Shandro Photo started with a unplanned foray into the craft.
“It’s a very random story,” Haley says. “Michael and I had a friend who was starting a photography company and he was on his first summer shooting weddings. I had always been interested in photography – I went to New Zealand and took 20 rolls of film with me and used every single one… I loved it. Anyways, this friend was looking for assistants to help with his company, and somehow we heard about it and ended up shooting a couple weddings with him. I shot a couple, and Michael shot a couple, and we both found that we really liked it and people responded really well to us. It was an interesting experience working with someone else, because it gave us a bit of perspective on if we did start a business, where we would want it to go. So, after that, we put up a website and….boom!”
Between Haley and Michael’s work, subjects range from commercial photography to newborns and families, but Haley says that wedding photography is by far her main focus and passion.
“I hear a lot of photographers say, ‘Well, I shoot weddings because they’re the bread and butter; they bring in the most money,’ which is definitely accurate, and for a lot of photographers that is good motivation if you want to do this full-time. Of course that can definitely help because you have to make money to live. But for me, it’s the variety. Our clients are very diverse. Last year I shot a wedding with four people in it, I’ve shot Indian weddings with 700-800 people… we’ve done everything from a Jewish-Nigerian fusion wedding to Sikh, Muslim, Hindu, Chinese, Vietnamese, same-sex weddings, big, small – everything! I think I like it because you really do get to see a huge variety in people, what their passions are, their occupations, and why they do certain things. You get to learn about the couples, like where they’ve travelled and all that kind of stuff… so I guess that’s something that I really like about it. You get to be a part of this huge party.
“And – strangely enough – I love the stress. You can’t do it again; you have one shot to do the best job. It is really stressful, things can go wrong and you have to be prepared… and I thrive on that chaos a little bit.”
Those familiar with Shandro Photo’s work will undoubtedly have noticed a strong style interwoven through all of their images, regardless of the subject – striking colours, rich textures and a flair for capturing moments of natural joy. However, when asked about the evolution of this style, Haley expressed that it was a truly natural progression.
“It’s funny – I went to a workshop a couple years ago, and we were all supposed to talk about what our style was, and I couldn’t answer the question. The guy who was teaching the workshop looked through our website and said ‘Your style is diversity,’ and I thought – Oh! That does make sense.
“I’ve learned what my style is from what my clients say. I have people coming in for consultations saying, ‘I love your photos because of…’ What I hear most is ‘bright vibrant colours’, ‘lots of emotion’, ‘it seems like people are having fun,’ and (to some extent) ‘classic’. We don’t do a lot of keeping up with crazy trends, we try to keep a certain style that has longevity.
“It wasn’t really something we set out to do. I’ve actually been inspired by other photographers and absolutely loved their work, but there’s no way that I can shoot like that. For instance, Lanny and Erika from Two Mann Studios. I love them to pieces, they’re amazing photographers, they’re kicking ass and winning awards all over the place, and even though they have really bright colors and contrast, it’s still a different look – and I could never shoot like that because I don’t see things that way. Or, somebody like Kat Gill from Katch Studios – very soft, airy, and beautiful – I just don’t shoot like that. I love it, but I can only see things the way I see them. I’ve tried different things, been to plenty of workshops, and looked at other peoples’ work… I can pull inspiration from all kinds of places, but there’s just something about how I see things that’s specific to me.”
With Haley’s craving for the fast-pace, high-pressure environment of a wedding day, and Shandro Photo’s aptitude for capturing diversity in vibrant images that teem with emotion, it becomes obvious that they are well-placed to thrive during multi-day weddings – the topic of their seminar at the Toronto Canada Photo Convention: Indian Weddings 101.
‘Obviously, every wedding is different. But I would say that for a caucasian wedding there’s a fairly similar type of flow, and even if people bring in different things like sand ceremonies or the shoe game, they are similar types of traditions. But the multi-day weddings just tend to take on a mind of their own, and I would not say that I’ve shot two Sikh weddings that are even remotely alike. Schedules are different, people involved are different, they bring in traditions from back home, they bring in elders from their community that have an influence on how things are going to go, and each one is a whole different event. As a result of that, we approach the management and pricing of those functions much differently than we do the other weddings.’
Their CPC seminar will give other photographers insight into this niche market with information on how to begin shooting multi-day weddings, “how to do it, and how to do it properly“. Michael and Haley will talk about cultural differences, and how to acknowledge and manage those differences in a positive and proactive way.
Even though Indian weddings now comprise about thirty percent of Shandro Photo’s clientele, getting into that market was overwhelming.
“We were very lucky that the first Indian couple that decided to work with us – it was in our first year, and there weren’t a lot of caucasian or ‘modern’ photographers shooting Indian weddings at the time – they were looking for something different. They were high school sweethearts, and really interested in having a nice, modern celebration. They hired us to do their engagement party first, and they were kind of taking a chance on us because we were newer photographers in general, let alone at Indian functions. They contacted us and they just said ‘Let’s do it!”. They sat down and went through everything with us, they said ‘This is what this means, this is where we’re going to be, this is what we want you to photograph,’ and even on the day, we had family helping us… it was one of the most inclusive functions we’ve ever gone to. The family was awesome – we still keep in touch with them. And that’s how we got started in it – just that one function. They liked what we did, and they liked our approach to everything, and then they referred us to everyone. They helped us – definitely.’
Through years of learning, communicating and what she refers to as ‘growing a backbone,’ Haley has developed an inspiring single-mindedness where absolutely nothing will get in the way of the shot that she has in mind – and there’s no doubt that this passion has been a huge element in building Shandro Photo’s deluge of award winning images and accolades. While assertiveness may come easier to Haley than it does others, she says that her best advice for other photographers is to ‘be strong’ and to speak up.
“You have to speak up… you have to speak up. I will tell people where I want them to stand, I will tell people what I want them to do. If something is not going how I think it should be, I will speak up and say that because I know the shots I need to get… at the end of the day I owe something to my clients and that’s what’s most important. So, if I have to ask people to move aside and it annoys them, I feel really bad doing it, but I have to do it and I’m not going to apologize for it.”
Attendees of both the Vancouver or Toronto conventions will have the opportunity to learn more about shooting Indian weddings from Haley and Michael – and it’s a safe bet that you’ll walk away inspired to develop the same single-minded pursuit of the perfect shot.
To see more work from Shandro Photo, check out their website here.
Article by Stacey Knopp.