Catching Up with Sue Bryce
by Jacqueline Tobin
May 01, 2012 —
If you’ve attended WPPI or WPPI University in the last three years, chances are you know exactly who Sue Bryce is and what she does. The award-winning, Australian portrait photographer has lectured to many a WPPI audience on how she built a portrait business—out of her home garage—from zero to $20,000 per week as a single woman. She’s been in the industry for over 22 years, and is always happy and willing to share her tips and techniques on posing, secrets for hair and makeup, and the powerful “direct to women” marketing techniques she’s used to build her business. When I caught up recently with Sue, she was fresh off a sweep of awards at WPPI 2012 in Las Vegas—Grand and 1st place winner in Premier; 1st place in Portrait - Children; 2nd and 3rd place in Portrait - Glamour/Boudoir; and 2nd place in Videography. Here, she talks about entering the competition at WPPI this year for the first time.
Rangefinder: I was surprised to discover that 2012 was your first time entering WPPI’s print and album competitions. You’ve spoken at WPPI before; you were named the Australian Portrait Photographer of 2011; you had a HUGE response to your recent Creative Live workshop. Why print comp now?
Sue Bryce: Quite honestly, I don’t know why. It was my third year attending WPPI as a guest, and my second year as a speaker. I didn’t enter my work the first year but watched a few of my friends win, and in the second year I started speaking for at the conference and got so busy with preparing my talk that I didn’t think to put any images in. When I came back from WPPI last year, I was so absolutely inspired by that I created a folio specifically for competition. The first one I entered was in Australia, which I won [Australian Portrait Photographer of the Year], and then I put that same folio into the New Zealand National, where I won Overseas Photographer of the Year. I then entered the same folio into WPPI and won there as well. You’re allowed to use the same folio for a year. This one worked well for me.
RF: Why do you think that is? The images you won for at WPPI were not your typical ones, right?
SB: When I shoot a portrait, I just shoot a portrait of a girl, but when I shoot an awards portrait, I want to shoot a beautiful portrait that also tells a story. Every one of the images entered in all of these competitions tells a story about either the journey of my subject or something personal about her background. And when you do something for competition like the one at WPPI, you want the judges to look even further, and deeper, than just seeing it as being a good capture. You want them to ask the question, “Does this tell me a story about this person?” so that’s what I did. I wanted to make the judges stop and talk about these images.
RF: During or after the print competition process, do you receive comments from the judges?
SB: They are judging hundreds of prints, so you have to have something that really stands out in order for them to say to you afterwards, “I remember that print.” My Premier print scored 98, which is considered very high, and when you score that high, people tend to remember it because it’s had a lot of conversation around it. The more conversation you can get from the judges, the higher your print is going to be judged. I saw one of my prints go through and just score 85 with no conversation…and I knew then that it was going to score lower because there was nothing to talk about. It’s always really exciting when you are in the room and you’ve got the polarizing judging—a judge at 95 and a judge at 75—so one of them is saying this is the best capture I’ve seen all day, and one of them saying this is below professional standards; and then they are all going to battle it out. That’s why there’s a panel of different photographers there—usually five or six—who are each putting in their own opinions about the capture, and it’s
so interesting to watch that unfold.
RF: The woman in “Mother,” which you won the Grand Award for in Premier, who is she, a model?
SB: No, she was my client. She’s 4 ’11 and stunning. Sometimes images take a life of their own. Her religious upbringing is very strong and I wanted to represent that. As I styled her she started to represent a sort of religious icon, so I called the photo “Mother,” because it had that connotation. That wasn’t my intention at first; it just sort of comes forward. It was a very magical portrait to work on, and it had real effect on people the minute it popped up in room. That one scored 98. Again, I want to try and create a story in my images that speak to the viewer, and they are not always going to speak to everybody—some people will like it, some won’t. I want to try to convey as much emotion as I can…and as much substance as I can put in a portrait of somebody looking back at me.
RF: Why is entering competitions important for photographers?
SB: Because they make you a better photographer and a better artist. That said, I don’t believe awards get you clients. What it does do is get you to push yourself every year to be better than last year. Every year, I pushed harder to achieve a skill set a little above what I did the year before. These contests help me grow exponentially, but I don’t believe they are really something that my clients are that impressed with… I don’t believe it gives me more work…and yet I encourage both the growth process and the camaraderie and the education you get from entering. You get to watch your work be judged by masters, these incredible photographers who have this wealth of knowledge; it’s an amazing thing to go through. It’ also a very hard thing to do…somehow entering awards feels like you are standing up on stage naked and everyone looking at you…even though your name is not on the print!
RF: You placed 2nd for a video. Had you ever made one before?
SB: Never! It was a fusion video [stills and motion], and it’s about a man [Trevor Foon] who makes an 8 x 10 camera with wood that has been in his family for 100 years. When the camera is complete, he takes a picture of his father with it. The story is incredibly beautiful because his father was just going into hospital to have cancer treatment and [Trevor] wanted to photograph his father with the camera that they built together before the father lost his dignity. It was my first ever attempt to do video on my own, and I did the whole thing by myself; I even learned how to edit. I felt so proud, like I had just shot a mini movie. I challenge photographers to try this medium; it pushes you past a photographic eye, and it’s very challenging to see a vertical story with a horizontal frame, and to create something more cinematic and story telling.
RF: Is there anything you don’t do?
SB: I don’t cook!
Jacqueline Tobin is the executive editor of Rangefinder magazine. Previously, she was an editor at PDN for 26 years. She is the author of Wedding Photography Unveiled: Inspiration and Insight From 20 Top Photographers (Amphoto Books, 2009), and The Luminous Portrait (Amphoto Books, 2012). E-mail her at Jacqueline.Tobin@nielsen.com
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