Charlotte Kiri Photography
Hi we are Charlotte Kiri Photography an award winning wedding photography and film company based in Wanaka, New Zealand. We are a husband and wife team who mostly shoot epic mountain weddings.
Bruno and I met at the skate park when we were 21 (I fell in love with his epic skate moves and cute French-Canadian accent). I am a former professional snowboarder with background in journalism, I’m also a qualified photographer.
Bruno’s dad was a pro-photographer so guess you could say photography is in his blood!
We still snowboard every chance we can get in winter and have a daughter Audrey who is 7 years old. The business is under my name, because initially it was never supposed to be Bruno and I working together. A second shooter pulled out of a wedding I had booked last minute and so Bruno got roped into going with me as the bag/water boy. Now I can’t imagine doing the business without him. He shoots all our wedding films and all our clients love him.
What inspired you to start your photography business?
I was a Journalist and really started enjoying photographing the stories more than writing them, but I didn’t know how to pursue my love of photography.
Once I had our daughter and was at home with her on maternity leave I started photographing Audrey all the time and started a mum blog and Instagram (which is now closed down) which became quite popular.
Lots of mums kept writing to me to photograph their families so I started doing a few family shoots for friends – I didn’t really see I had any talent at this stage it was just a hobby.
I then started a photography qualification to learn my craft. During this time, I met the owner of Wild Hearts (a NZ wedding fair) and she invited me to photograph the catwalk at one of their events. I fell in love with weddings instantly from there, the business moved quickly from photographing families to being a full time wedding photography business.
Our first year in business we shot nearly 40 weddings and still managed to pass my photography Diploma with an A+ in Advanced Photoshop and kept our child alive – it was pretty stressful though ha-ha.
Tell us about your photography business?
We have been in business 4 years and are based in Wanaka, New Zealand. We offer wedding photography and films in the epic mountains of our area.
I am the lead shooter (wannabe comedian) and I handle all the enquiries, editing, lead shooting and day-to-day business side and my husband Bruno does the accounts, wedding films and is my second shooter too.
We mostly shoot in Wanaka and Queenstown, New Zealand and we capture around 20-25 weddings a year. Our first two years we photographed 40-50 weddings, but then realised this was way too much having our daughter Audrey and any social life. We have won a few awards over the past few years in business, which is exciting:
*Best Wedding Vendor in NZ Wild Hearts 2019
*Capture Magazine Top 10 Emerging Wedding Photographer in NZ and Australia 2020
*SLR lounge top 100 Best Wedding Photographers NZ and Australia 2020
*Looks Like Film Best Wedding Photographers 2020
What inspires you artistically when you shoot weddings or couples?
I’m inspired by capturing the candid laughs and tears which make-up a wedding day. I love to capture how it feels to be there not just how it looks. The mountains and the scenery here are my biggest inspiration I love to create a shot which people are like HOLY SHIT is that real??
Tell us about your studio or home office setup?
We have an office at our home where I meet clients and work from. I have all the albums laid out on a coffee table and love to make cute coffees and snacks when they come – it is Scandinavian style as I love neutral décor and light wood. Most of our clients live out of the country, or out of Wanaka in other parts of New Zealand so mostly I meet people via zoom.
What does a typical non wedding workday for you look like?
I’m not a morning person, but being a mum I’m always up early with our daughter (between 6-6.30am), Bruno usually takes her off to school then I like to be working by 9am in the office until 3pm when she comes home from school.
Early in my business I worked all hours of the day until late at night, but had no work life balance so now I set strict office hours. Usually I answer emails first, have a check on social media then shut them off for the day, so I can focus on my editing otherwise I find you can waste so much time getting distracted and work doesn’t get done. I love to listen to podcasts, or Netflix when I’m editing.
What is a typical wedding day for you?
A typical wedding day we usually spend 1 hour with the boys getting ready. I love for them to do something a bit different instead of just getting in the suit. We have had boys wear speedos and jump in the lake, cricket, golf, wear manikini’s.
We are always up for something different as long as the boys are having fun – most kiwi guys aren’t that pumped for photos so my goal is always to make it fun for them.
We usually then spend 2 hours with girls’ prep (I always shoot all the details first ring shots, invitations, dress etc.) then move onto capturing hair and makeup and getting ready.
We always try to get family shots in the morning too with immediate family members as this is important to me to include family.
For the ceremony we are very documentary style and try to be as unobtrusive as possible. After that it’s usually capturing family pics (although we do find this part the hardest of the day it’s so necessary and glad we do it as my husband’s mum passed away recently and we treasure our family photos from our own wedding).
We usually ask for 1.5 hours for couple’s pics and bridal party pics following the ceremony but don’t always get it. 30 mins bridal party pics and 1-hour couple’s pics. I always take the couple away from the bridal party as have found this is the best way for the guys to relax without their friends taking the mickey out of them. Bruno stays back and captures the guests which I think our clients love as they get to see what happened when they weren’t at the canapes.
Usually we do heli pics, so it’s up to the mountains and then back for the reception we are once again super documentary for this portion of the day and I just roll with the catering timeline. I always steal the couple away for 15 mins of sunset pics when the light is good as sunset in Wanaka in summer is 9pm so we often end up having to shoot the ceremony in pretty harsh light with no shade so sunset pics are important to me to get those soft images.
Our typical couples are adventurous, up for heli rides and photos on mountain tops, we do get a lot of couples who also love beautiful décor and details as well as the above, but most of our couples are very fun genuine people who love their families. We usually do 9-hours coverage which is from getting ready all the way through to the dancing.
How do you go about getting couples to relax in front of the camera?
I’ve always been very intuitive of people’s emotions since I was a small kid -very empathetic to people. I think this really helps for me to capture the images I do it also helps me to make people feel comfortable. I’m also a really big goof ball and very bubbly and love banter at weddings to get natural laughs. Making people feel comfortable is key to getting good photos, if your clients can let down their walls to you, you’re more likely to capture those really natural images. I always am the lead so direct people and Bruno usually is the more creative quiet one out of the two of us, as a second he has more time to sit back and think out his shot.
What is your favorite part of a wedding day?
I don’t think I could pick one part of the day I love more…I love telling the whole story of the day from start to finish – when I see it all laid out on a blog like a story that makes my heart so happy. I love shooting details (florals, rings, flat lays etc). The couples’ photography is very special especially if we are at a really epic location and the ceremony. I love capturing mums and dads crying too.
Can you list the camera gear you bring to a wedding?
We shoot Canon 5D Mark iv (2 bodies each on holsters)
We mostly use prime lens’ all Canon mostly L series. I mostly use the 35 1.4 ii & 85 1.4 is
Macro l series 100mm – for ring shots
24-70 2.8 – I sometimes use this in the reception when I can’t move around easily and need a zoom.
135mm 2.0 – Bruno uses this lens a lot in the ceremony especially being my second.
Drone shots we use a Mavic Pro 2. I love to add in drone photos for a different perspective unfortunately with Queenstown we can’t use it as much as we would like as it’s a ‘no fly zone’ so we only use it in Wanaka.
I love prime lenses and how they make me move around to get my shot. I really have to think about my composition instead of zooming in. My most used lens is the 35mm I could probably shoot an entire wedding on this one lens.
What is your process for culling and editing your images?
I hand edit all our photos. I take a lot of time on editing as I like everything to be really polished. I use photo-mechanic for culling and then edit in Lightroom if I do any retouching it’s in Photoshop- I prefer PS to fine tune my editing as it’s more precise.
How do most of your couples find you? What marketing do you do for your business?
Most of our clients find us on social media (mostly Instagram, vendor referrals and through google.
What has been your best business purchase in recent years?
(Camera gear, equipment, software, website, online gallery etc). I love my 35 1.4mm I couldn’t do life without that lens. I love studio ninja for organisation and my new canon flash I now have the Canon 600ex ii RT and I don’t know why I didn’t have a better flash earlier it makes the reception portion of the day enjoyable. I also got an unlimited drop box with a few photography buddies and that has changed life.
Comparing your business from when you started to now, what has been the main thing that allowed you to succeed?
From the day I started our business I didn’t see any other option, but to succeed (I’d lost my job when the business I worked for went under and had nothing to go back too) – if I do something I want to do it at a top level. I think that is something most athletes can relate to is that drive to be the best. I just moved that passion from snowboarding to photography. Our daughter is our main motivation to be successful in our business. We want her to have a mum and dad who she is proud of. We also have been lucky to have some really good photography friends, who have also helped us along the road and they have all helped us to get to this point.
What do you consider the main differences between those people who have been successful in the industry and those who have failed?
Hard work, discipline and good hustle. A lot of people want success, but don’t put the hard work and time into their business.
I know many talented photographers who don’t get many weddings as their work ethic/business/promotional side is lacking.
I also know a lot of really hard work people who aren’t the best photographers, who shoot a lot of weddings.
You need a good balance of both and of course natural talent and a good natural eye for a photo helps.
Success is relative though…our idea of success is having a good work life balance. We want to shoot weddings which make us stoked and spend time with our daughter, go snowboarding and be good parents also. Quality of life makes us better at our business and photography/film- if we shot 60 weddings we would be burnt out and that to us isn’t success and wouldn’t serve our clients well.
What’s the best piece of photography business advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t compare yourself to other photographers – be yourself. Build a business which is are uniquely you so clients can’t get what you do anywhere else. Start trends, don’t copy them.
What’s the most common rookie mistake when it comes to starting a photography business? What advice would you give them?
Not setting up a professional website with good SEO. People set up their own websites as there is a lot of platforms to do it themselves and think they look great, but if you have no SEO no one will find you on google.
You have had your wedding photography business for many years now. What have been the biggest challenges for you in keeping your business running profitably year after year?
Covid has been the biggest challenge. Before Covid the majority of our clients were from overseas, so when the borders shut that hit us hard. We pivoted early into the pandemic to focusing on NZ clients, but the lockdowns even lately in NZ have affected events so that is an ongoing challenge. I’m proud though we have managed to keep going and still shooting during this pandemic and are grateful to the clients who have continued to support us.
What are your top 3 wedding venues or destinations that you have photographed?
Mine are outdoor locations.
I love Coromandel Peak, Earnslaw Burn (it’s like flying into Jurassic Park) and Rees Valley Station are probably my highlights.
Do you have any bucket list locations you want to shoot?
Japan is a bucket list location. I love the people and culture. I worked at a Japanese restaurant for a year when I was younger and had the best time…although most of that reason is that I’d love to go and snowboard some powder there as they have some of the best snow in the world at the same time 😛
Best places online to view more of your work?
(website and socials. And feel free to promote any courses or education that you are doing)
I also offer mentoring sessions both in-person and online: