Hydro Photographics

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Hydro Photographics has become a Port Macquarie institution. With over 60 years’ combined experience, thousands of weddings and jobs ranging from family portraits to aerial photography … we catch up with the team behind the lens: Paul Dawson, Annemaree Roach and Michelle Morrison.

Paul, you’ve been a professional photographer since 1988. You must have seen a lot of changes in the industry during that time?

Computers and software are the main things. When I started out, it was just shoot the film, get it developed, and get the prints to the clients. For commercial jobs we had to shoot transparencies (slides), and the exposure had to be spot on.

Then ®Photoshop came out, and you could scan the film or slide and manipulate the image on the computer. It was WOW!

I remember coming back from the American Trade Show, and the first photographic digital printer came out. I got some prints made, and I was WOW again! So I borrowed over $300,000 to purchase the latest digital photo printer.

Then canvas prints were being made, and you could print onto all sorts of things; photo books have also become popular.

Now with the latest software and digital cameras, the quality potential has improved out of sight. We have just purchased a complete new set of cameras and lenses, and the quality is incredible. New and improved software is constantly being introduced, including that which benefits our school photography division. The database matching software for schools is quite complicated, and when we photograph schools we can now do barcodes on ID cards. In the future there will be swipe cards with your photo and info on it; which doubles up as a debit card for purchases within the school.

What have been some of the highlights?

One of the highlights was photographing John Howard when he was Prime Minister. I have had many highlights with staff; I love it when the staff can produce an amazing result. There are so many highlights in this job. A great thing that happened last year with the business was when we moved from 200 sqm at 10 Jindalee Rd into 450 sqm at 51 Jindalee Rd.

What is the single most important photo you’ve ever taken in your career?

I was sent to photograph the Kempsey bus crash in 1989 by News Limited, and I had to get a ‘scene’ shot. I climbed up onto a house that overlooked the scene and got the shot that became the most used photo for the worst road accident in Australia. I was only 21 at the time, and it enabled me to establish contacts in all the major newspapers.

This year you were awarded the Photo Marketing Association National 2011 ‘Distinguished Service Award’, after many years of service to the photography industry. How have you been involved?

For over 10 years I have travelled to the USA for the world photo trade show. Many people helped me on the way with business ideas and tips, and a few years ago I started to realise that with my experience in the photographic industry, people were starting to ask me for help.

So, 3 years ago I stepped up to become the National Vice Chairperson for the Professional School Photography Association and last year became the National Chairperson. I organise the Annual National Convention, and last year I rewrote the Bylaws & Code of Ethics for our members, who photograph nearly 2.5 million children in Australia and New Zealand.

It’s really great to be associated with the Photo Marketing Association, and it was also a great achievement for one of our staff, Rachel, who  received the National Future Leadership Award. I am proud of what we have achieved by helping the industry.

We hear Hydro has been a big supporter of the community over the years?

In the last couple of years, Hydro has been directly involved in fundraising over $60,000 for schools, sporting teams and other fundraisers. We are also involved with teaching photography to school kids at the St Peter’s Primary School Arts Immersion Day and with ‘Bago Magic’, showing people with disabilities how to use their cameras.

Annemaree, you have taken photos of tens of thousands of children over the years, and personally photographed over 350 weddings. How do you keep up? 

What an honour to be part of so many people’s lives. When some shoots get a little difficult or I’m under pressure, I take a deep breath and remember these clients are relying on me to capture a very important moment in their lives. It really isn’t that hard when you enjoy what you do.

I believe having children of my own has helped big time when photographing children. I remember when I first starting working with Paul (before I had children), watching him pretend to be a plane, act like a Teletubbie and basically be an absolute goose to get the kids to smile. I thought to myself, “What an idiot!”

But the kids smiled, and the parents really appreciated it. Yes, it does work and two children later, I am now the goose having the best time ever. But how rewarding is it to walk down the street and one of the children from a school remembers you and yells out, “Mum, there is the lady with the funny chicken that made me laugh!” Priceless.

I have the pleasure of not only seeing my wedding couples on their special day, but also with their new babies, then seeing their babies become toddlers and taking their photos at preschools and (OMG, how old am I getting) seeing them at their formals. The rate I am going, I will be then taking their children’s wedding photos.

I also have the great support of my family. There are times when I may not have been there for a birthday or special milestone, but they understand I love what I do and am dedicated to Hydro Photographics. It is my second family. The children have grown up seeing someone with a great work ethic, who is passionate about what they do.

If they can carry on the same way, that is more then any parent could ask for. Without the support of Paul Dawson and Hydro Photographics, my photography wouldn’t even exist. Paul gave me the chance 15 years ago, and I really appreciate the support, training, encouragement and mentoring he has given me along the way. He is a great friend and wonderful boss.

What was the single most important photo you’ve ever taken in your career? 

That is a toughie … Beside all the weddings and families, my personal all-important shot was of Dr Karl Kruszelnicki for The Australian newspaper. Not only was it an honour to meet the man, but also I had to get a shot that showed him promoting his ‘Stop, Revive, Survive’ campaign.

Michelle, how did you get into photography?

Photography was a passion of mine for many years. Before starting with Paul, I had my own photography business for 6 years prior that really kick started my career. In 2002 I joined Hydro Photographics, and that’s where a lot of my career highlights have occurred. I went on to study Graphic Design and learned the ins and outs of the likes of ®Photoshop. It has been amazing to see the new technology and software that has been released over the years and how far the industry has come.

I love seeing and creating the final product – especially weddings and family portraits. A photo can mean so much to many people, and to be able to give that emotion to a family is incredible. It’s why we do what we do.

You’ve personally shot over 300 weddings. How do you cope with the pressure on ‘the big day’?

I think you still get the butterflies for the couple and hope that everything falls into place after months of planning, but I don’t feel pressured on the day. The beauty of it is we get to meet our couples before the day and work with them to decide what they want. It’s another opportunity to be behind the camera and share someone’s special day with them. After the wedding, I personally colour enhance our wedding photos and put the special touches on the images. I especially love applying the special effects to the photos.

Paul, what sets Hydro apart – and what does the future hold?

The main thing is that we have an office with production facilities where we do everything onsite; this helps with our turnaround times, which are among the quickest in the business. We have booked more school photography, and next year will be our biggest. Annemaree and Michelle are so popular with brides, that part of the business is still strong.

Our family portrait Sundays are becoming incredibly popular – our package prices for a family portrait are amazingly affordable. These fundraisers should also raise nearly $5,000 for local schools, and it’s usually the only time a family gets a photo with all their family members in it. We print photos for over 100 newspapers, and we also print wholesale for quite a number of Camera Clubs around Australia. Throw in photo restoration, scanning and passport photos – all the staff are quite busy.


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