KELLY TUNNEY IS A HISTORY-MAKING WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER, INDUSTRY MENTOR AND PUBLIC SPEAKER.
It took hiding behind a camera to get Kelly Tunney to expose her true self. Encouraged by her friends to take the photos for their school’s yearbook, the normally reserved Canberran believes it was a genuine interest in people and desire to tell their stories through her images that initially afforded her the confidence to first pick up a camera.
“I remember feeling an intense rush of excitement when I first captured, developed and printed my own work. To see your ideas come to reality through this process is just unreal. Even though I was a fairly shy kid, I found photography helped give me confidence I didn’t have without a camera in my hand,” she says.
Having played the clarinet for 13 years by then, Kelly says she briefly contemplated becoming a musician but decided against it after struggling with the theory and exam components. But encouraged by her peers to consider turning her raw talent for framing a shot into a career, Kelly’s lightbulb moment came after she undertook work experience with a local studio manned by staff who were veterans among the region’s close knit creative community.
So impressed were they by the teenager they immediately offered her a part-time job as a retoucher. Obtaining a degree in Arts and Photography forced her to take her work to the next level and proved an important step on the ladder to commercial success for Kelly.
She opened up her eponymous photography business in 2015 and today owns and runs two photography studios of her own. The first is run out of her home in Canberra’s Belconnen while the second is a wedding collective she calls All Grown Up Weddings which she runs with former rival now business partner Dan O’Day. The collective operates out of a studio based in the city’s inner north suburb of Braddon and features a staff of 10 experienced photographers each of whom specialised in weddings but each of whom has their own “unique flavour and twist”.
They, like her, are fascinated by families and human interactions, she says and shooting weddings allows for a closer insight into their lives. “It’s quite a gift and a real privilege to get that invitation,” Kelly says.
The reigning 2017 ACT AIPP Wedding Photographer of the Year just two years earlier, Kelly gained national and international attention after being named the first female in the awards’ 40-plus year history ever to win the big one – the AIPP Australian Wedding Photographer of the Year.
To this day Kelly feels privileged to be recognised for something she feels so passionately about but considers changing history an important milestone.
“The submission I put forward was my most diverse range of images to date. The images quite simply captured my favourite work. The most memorable image was my ‘shoe shoot’ whereby I showcased 78 pairs of wedding party shoes. It involved all the guests and it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had shooting a wedding.” The shoes in the picture include the bride and groom’s, Grandpa’s shoes pictured with a cane, some animal print loafers and even pink thongs.
The accolades have continued to pour in ever since. “My [awards] have opened doors and provided me with countless opportunities in the industry. My aim is always to out-do myself each year I enter an award. I respond well to healthy competition. It helps my work to grow, gives me confidence and pushes my creativity. Clients like it, they’re generally always on board with new ideas and are never afraid of pushing new creative boundaries.”
While she feels she still has much to achieve, Kelly believes much of her early success as a wedding specialist has come about owing to her willingness to constantly challenge herself creatively. Everyone who has attended a wedding recognises that there are traditions that must be adhered to and routines that cannot be altered. While these moments are sometimes wonderful, such as the first kiss, others are bland and predictable, she says.
“There’s so much that’s expected of me as a photographer, people have their own ideas about what I should be like, a lot is assumed, but that’s not really me. I don’t really do predictable or what people expect. Instead, I set out to capture a story. My photographs show how I relate to the world – I like to think they’re candid, honest, fearless and warm; and they always manage to find the amazing in everyone.
“I relish in the agony and ecstasy of imagining and creating contrasts to play with in my images. I secretly enjoy the rush that comes with the fear of pushing boundaries as far as they can be moved. Ultimately trust is everything. [When shooting couples on their important day you] just want them to be themselves around you. I want them to trust me and have the confidence that I’ll look after them for the entire day.”
Eager to share her experiences with those new to the industry, Kelly regularly conducts mentoring sessions with less-experienced snappers and also volunteers her time to help judge an assortment of national and international photographic competitions.
While teaching, she is also learning and for this reason her own work continues to evolve, she says. Having a family of her own has softened her while additional challenges, such as starting the wedding collective business, have also forced her to stay on top of her game, she says.
“The wedding collective business felt like starting over again and managing a big team has been tough. I’ve had to adapt, learn new skills and train myself to be better at all aspects of business. Constantly reinventing yourself to stay relevant is always a work in process. As long as you still have the drive and passion, you do get there. You just have to continue to work bloody hard.”
[Words: Tracey Porter]
What’s in Kelly’s bag?
- “I have shot with Nikon’s flagship cameras since the early model Nikon D2. I would have to say I could never live without those robust bodies. They are tanks and really built to last, especially in a wedding environment – I’ve loved them all.
- My favourite lens since it was released, is the NIKKOR AF-S 58mm f/1.4G lens. I can shoot an entire wedding on just that one lens. It’s fast, accurate and just a dream for portraits.
- These days I only shoot with prime lens and very minimal flash.
- I have in my kit bag five different camera bodies – two Nikon D5‘s, a Nikon D4, a Nikon D3S and a Nikon D3.
- In terms of lenses I have the following: a NIKKOR AF-S 24mm f/1.4G ED, NIKKOR AF-S 50mm f/1.4G, a NIKKOR AF-S 58mm f/1.4G, a NIKKOR AF-S 35mm f/1.4G, a NIKKOR AF-S 85mm f/1.4G and a NIKKOR AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR. I also own two SB-910 speedlights.