At Wild Hearts, we are so fortunate to work alongside some of New Zealand’s top wedding photographers and industry creatives. They work so hard to help to create their client’s dream day and they are an endless source of inspiration for us. With so much talent behind these brands, we are spotlighting some of our favourites and sharing their insights.
Capturing the deep connections and organic moments of a wedding or engagement is Samantha Donaldson’s raison d’être. Known for putting her couples at ease and illuminating their personalities, Sam’s detailing and visual narrative of these intimate events is natural, organic and instinctive.
Sam’s artful, modern documentary of stories and events reveals moments coloured by candour, grace and emotion and allows couples to re-live the details of their day and time spent with each other and their guests.
Sam shares her insights into capturing the honest and raw moments below.
Do you ‘Love what you do?’ Tell us why?
Yes absolutely! I don’t think I could do this as a job otherwise. There is so much I love about it, where do I start. I love that I get to combine the documentation of those real, raw moments during a wedding day with the ability for me to use my creativity and produce work I love and am proud of. Delivering a full gallery to a couple and hearing how much they love the images and the experience they had with me, how they cried watching their slideshow and how the images made the whole memory of the day come rushing back – that for me is pure satisfaction and makes me feel so warm and happy inside. I also love that I get to spend a whole day surrounded by love and happiness – I always get a sore face from smiling so much.
How did you get into the industry? Tell us about how your business was born.
It started out as a hobby really, while I was living overseas and travelling a lot. That morphed into photographing my friends kids and I started to dream that maybe I could turn something that I enjoyed so much into a career. I never thought I would be a wedding photographer though! But then I planned my own wedding and fell in love with that whole world. Greta from Together Journal photographed my wedding and she offered me a lot of advice and guidance and after a few courses and workshops I started second shooting weddings in 2012 and shot my first wedding under my own brand in 2013, in Fiji for friends. That wedding got featured in a couple of places which really helped get my name out there and book more weddings.
How would you describe your style of photography?
Instinctive. Im alllll about the natural moments and capturing the true essence and emotions of a couple and their wedding day. I’m mostly documenting the day to be honest but doing it in an unobtrusive way whilst still being the eyes and ears of everything that is happening in order to capture beautiful candid interactions. Of course, I love to produce some beautiful portrait art pieces for couples to hang on their walls, but I shoot in a way that allows the couple to connect with each other organically and most importantly have fun. My aim is to have that connection and love show through in their portraits which will hopefully take them right back to how they were feeling in that moment.
Tell us about the experience you offer to your clients?
I’m a big believer in a tactile experience and also in making my clients wedding journey as stress free and fun as possible. So when a client books me for their wedding they receive a welcome pack with my planning guide and a little gift. I am always available to help put timelines together and to answer any questions. I like to meet my couples twice – once for booking and again before the wedding. Aside from being on the same page from a logistics point of view, I feel that meeting and getting to know each other helps immensely when it comes to being photographed which can be quite a vulnerable experience. I want and need my clients to feel comfortable and happy in my presence rather than feeling like they have a stranger capturing their wedding day! So building that connection is super important, as is having fun with them on the day. I’ve also been told many times that I have a calming, warm and easy going vibe which I think helps balance out the high intensity of a wedding day and puts couples at ease.
What’s your favourite moment during a photoshoot? Which moments are you looking for on a wedding day?
Just seeing couples open up and show real connection when I am photographing them. I get excited when I can see they are just being them, fooling around, having a laugh, cuddling, having a dance or whatever unprompted. That’s where real magic happens in photos. What moments am I looking for? Genuine connection. There are certain moments on a wedding day that to me are quite raw and one of a kind, for example Dad seeing his little girl in her wedding dress for the first time and the enormity of the life occasion hitting him like a tonne of emotional bricks or seeing tears well up in guests eyes during a ceremony. We as photographers carry quite a responsibility in portraying these moments for the couple who cant possibly soak them all in or in some cases aren’t even aware of them happening.
What are a few pieces of advice you like to offer couples to get the most from the photography on their wedding day?
Talk to your photographer about light and how to structure your day around it if you want to get the best out of your photos and always slot in time for a few photos at sunset, it will be worth it!
Choose a photographer you feel comfortable with and trust as they will be spending the whole day with you and you need to be able to be yourselves and not afraid to show affection.
Have a list with names for family photos and nominate 1-2 people to help with rounding people up leaving your photographer to take the photos. This will help this part of the day to run efficiently and stress free. I suggest setting aside 30min for these photos – each photo takes 3-4 minutes so aim for 8-10 group combinations.
Remember that it’s not likely everything will go to plan but that whatever happens don’t forget what the day is about – celebrating your love for each other and getting married. Nothing else matters at the end of the day so don’t let any mishaps stress you out.
Is there an aspect of wedding photography that you find consistently challenging?
Not really the photographing per se but running a business on your own can be very challenging. There are so many facets to running a business and they don’t all come naturally so I’m forever learning and finding my way and trying to keep on top of everything.
Do you travel for weddings?
100% yes! Travel is in my genes and something I really enjoy so I love being able to combine travel with weddings. I love exploring and photographing different locations and landscapes -keeps things fun and interesting. There are so many hidden and unique locations in NZ for weddings too, we are very lucky down here!
What really gets to you at weddings? Makes you emotional? Makes you laugh?
The getting ready part I find can be quite emotional. Like when the bride puts her dress on and bridesmaids get all teary, then Dad sees his daughter for the first time. The enormity of the day kind of presents itself in those moments. Its all very emotional! Obviously couples seeing each other for the first time whether it’s a private moment or walking down the aisle is always very emotional. And speeches. They always get me! Lots of laughing and often an eye welling moment too for me ha ha.