The Aussie Photographer Who Turned Surf Photography Into A Full-Time Career
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You might know of Luke Shadbolt. If you're someone who follows fashion influencers with a fierce passion, you'll be well aware he's the fiancé of Nicole Warne, aka. Gary Pepper Girl. But while Luke does step behind the lens for his social media famous partner on occasion, an Instagram boyfriend he is not. Luke is incredibly talented in his own right, making waves (pun intended) for his breathtaking surf photography.
PTV: HOW INVOLVED ARE YOU IN GARY PEPPER GIRL?
In fact, he's just wrapped his second solo exhibition in London, where Brian May, lead guitarist for Queen and passionate photography fan selected one of his works for his top 20 of Photo London. Big deal. Huge. We chatted to Luke about how he managed to turn a passion for the ocean into a full-blown, lucrative career.
PTV: HOW INVOLVED ARE YOU IN GARY PEPPER GIRL?
LS: When Nicole first started Gary Pepper I was doing the majority of the photography, but these days we try and keep our work as separate as possible. We do actually work really well together. Nicole is very detail-oriented, and I’m more of a broad picture type thinker so we kind of compliment each other in that regard, but we’re also both really stubborn and opinionated so that can come out as well. We’ll still work on projects together if it’s something that we think is complimentary to our skill sets, but we just make sure the roles are well defined.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO SURF PHOTOGRAPHY?
Straight out of uni I worked as a graphic designer and had a lot of clients in the surf industry. I always had a passion for photography though, and interned for Tim Jones, one of the biggest surf photographers in the world. I remember a piece of advice he gave me, which was “don’t even bother. It’ll take you 5 years to get anything published and even then, there’s no money in it”.
The thing is, it made me even more keen to get into it. So I started taking things seriously, and I also started working as the art director for a bodyboarding magazine, which gave me both a base to pay the bills and a platform to shoot for at the same time.
I’ve also grown up with the ocean. Having an understanding of all the factors involved in not only the action side of things, but the natural side, is essential.
HAD YOU ALWAYS BEEN AIMING TO BE AN ARTIST?
I’d like to say yes, but I think I’m too practical a person to actually believe that. I loved painting and drawing as a kid and I actually started a fine arts degree before transferring to Visual Communication (graphic design), which I did because I saw more opportunity to make a career out of it.
I only ever saw art as being about aesthetics, but it’s really evident now that a work of art can have a utility value with the potential to effect change on a much larger scale, which is what excites me the most."
AT WHAT POINT DID IT START TO BECOME MORE OF AN ART EXPERIENCE FOR YOU OVER, SAY, SPORT PHOTOGRAPHY?
When I started shooting for magazines, I was always more interested in editorial content which allowed for more creativity, rather than the advertising style which was largely tight, action based images, so I'd say there was always an artistic element to it. It finally came to the point where I realised that everything I was shooting was for someone else, whether that was a magazine or a commercial client and I think coming from a design background, I was always interpreting what I thought the client wanted rather than being 100% true to my own ideas. Eventually I decided to take some time off and shoot a project purely for myself, which resulted in my first show last year with Michael Reid Gallery titled “Maelstrom”. It was a really enlightening experience shooting for myself, having the seed of an idea, and through the process of creating seeing where it ended up. It was very reflective of what I was experiencing and exposed to at the time.
Eventually I decided to take some time off and shoot a project purely for myself, which resulted in my first show last year with Michael Reid Gallery titled “Maelstrom”.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING PHOTOGRAPHERS?
There are endless entry points to get into photography, but my three main pieces of advice would be these.
Find yourself a mentor that you respect and admire. I've had the privilege of working with Phil Gallagher over the course of my career, who has been an endless source of advice, inspiration and good times and someone I now consider a great friend.
Remember that photography is essentially a medium, the strength is in the idea.
And finally, keep in mind it is a career. The quality of your work is one thing, but you will still need to take care of the business side of things. Networking and making sure people actually like working with you will get you more jobs than your work ever will. No-one wants to work with a dickhead. I do my best not to be one, but hey, at the same time you can’t please everyone.
I would also say that social media is where I get probably 50% of my commercial interest these days, so it is very essential to have one to present your work on. I do hate that Instagram has become almost a paint by numbers platform though, it seems to have lost it’s creativity a bit in recent times.
Have you got a photography side hustle you'd love to focus on? Or any side hustle, for that matter? If you win our current comp c/o Set for Life, you'll win $5k to boost your project, plus a luxe weekender in Sydney and lunch with girl boss Eleanor Pendleton of Gritty Pretty.
Image: Instagram / @lukeshadbolt.