Photography by Paul Cincotta

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The Working Pro - issue 233

The Working Pro Magazine Master of Photography interview discussing the WPPI Grand Award with Grand Master Peter Eastway

Paul Cincotta AIPP Master of Photography

Master of Photography Paul Cincotta lives on beautiful Hamilton Island in the far north of Queensland. He has recently been internationally acclaimed for a most unusual wedding photograph.

WPPI Grand Award

Great photographs seem to just happen, but this overlooks one very important fact: photographers have to be aware of what’s happening around them to capture them.

Paul Cincotta was photographing a ‘pinterest’ bride who had previsualised many of the photographs she wanted for her wedding. She was adamant about what she was after. She planned her album through other people’s photographs that she’d found on social media and in bridal magazines. I don’t have a problem with this because it clearly conveys to me what my clients like and, importantly, what they don’t like. This is really valuable because it gets the bride, and often her groom, involved in the photography and this in turn makes them easier to photograph. They have a vested interest in how the shoot turns out.

I had researched all the photos and angles this bride wanted and I had even shown her a few images on the back of the camera, so we were off to a good start.

I stepped out of the room so she and her bridesmaids could get her dressed, but while waiting in the hallway, I could see her reflection in the doors of a high-gloss cupboard.

At the time, the bridesmaids were standing in the way, but I could see a photo in the making.

There was a bag in the foreground, so I moved this out of the way, but I still had to deal with the staircase in the foreground.

Paul had a Canon 24-70mm f2.8 zoom on his camera. His standard outfit includes this midrange zoom, plus a 16-35mm wide-angle zoom and a 70-200mm tele zoom, all constant-aperture f2.8 models.

He also takes a 50mm f1.8 and a macro lens if there are specific shots he needs, but most of the time it’s just the three zooms.

Initially when I saw the photo, I just wanted the reflection and thought that the staircase was in the way. I looked at various options of getting around the staircase, but it seemed that I would have to include it. Then suddenly it occurred to me: it was a stairway to heaven and so I looked at how I could include the staircase in the composition.

When the bride came out and said, ‘Ready?’, and I said, ‘No, no, please go back into the room’

It’s interesting what other thoughts go through your mind. The previous year, I had earned a Silver with Distinction award for a photo of a bride looking through a diffused door, but one of the judges had penalised me for only having one arm visible.

So this time, when asking the bride to pose, I made sure I could see both her arms in the reflection.

As soon as I took the photo, I was thinking ‘Yes, I have something here’. When the bride came out and asked if I got it, she could see that I was really excited and from that moment on, I had her confidence. I really was so happy I did a little song and dance! 

However, the diffused aluminium railing definitely didn’t work in colour, so I switched it to black and white.

Paul entered the photograph into the 2015 WPPI awards held in Las Vegas annually where it won first prize in a wedding category and the Grand Award for weddings overall.

When I worked as an assistant for Lynnette Smith, she had an AIPP awards book which we would look through, discussing the images and comparing them with our own.

The AIPP has always been an association to which I aspired to belong and in the early days, becoming a member was an achievement in itself, but what I really wanted to do was winsome awards and see my own photographs in an awards book.

After Melbourne, I was working in Far North Queensland. It’s quite isolated up here, especially out on Hamilton Island, so it’s difficult to compare notes with other photographers. The awards system became my yardstick.

In my first year, I earned a Silver and was very chuffed about it. However, my assistant at the time had worked as a print handler on the state awards and told me there were a couple of things I had done wrong – such as not matting the image!

His simple suggestions helped me win four Silvers the following year and earn my Associateship.

Of course, the real value in entering the awards is the process of going through your work from the last twelve months and whittling it down to your four best images. It sounds simple, but it’s incredibly difficult – and it can be heartbreaking too if you don’t get awards.

My approach is to treat the Canon APPAs and the Epson State Print Awards as clients. They have special requirements and a certain style, so I set out to achieve these things, just as I would for a wedding client.

Throughout the year, I put aside images that I think could be potential entries. I’d tag them in Lightroom and then in winter, when we’re quiet with work, I’d sort through the images and work out which were the best.

I also invested in matting and framing equipment. Given I enter up to 12 images in the Queensland awards and four images in the nationals, I can spend a lot of money each year getting my work printed and framed.

Buying my own equipment made economic sense, plus it also let me check my work before sending it off. If I had my photos printed and framed on the mainland, I usually didn’t get a chance to check them before they were entered.

When you begin, getting a Silver award is really important, but after a few years, I realised that a lot of my images were just scraping in with low 80s. Felicity, my wife, would wonder why I was disappointed with four silvers, but I wanted more.

 I realised I had to dig deeper and push myself to create something that was different. It’s a real challenge to excite a panel of judges who have seen everything before. The trick is to aim much higher.

Lightning Landscapes

Landscape photography is Paul Cincotta’s therapy. He is addicted to lightning photography because when it happens, he has to drop everything because these opportunities don’t hang around.

Shooting storms gives you some time out, so even if there’s a pressing deadline, I leave the studio behind.

However, the technique for shooting lightning is a little like fishing. You lay the bait and hopefully you’ll catch something.

Basically I use a long time exposure and hope the lightning occurs within the frame. Interestingly, although people say lightning never strikes in the same place twice, it’s not quite correct. Depending on the weather and how fast the storm is moving, I find lightning often stays in much the same spot.

Sheet lightning can light up the sky, but it’s not as spectacular as fork lightning. However, for fork lightning, you need to stop down to ensure the exposure is right - I’m often shooting at f16 and sometimes with neutral density filters. I’ve also tried lightning triggers, but they seem to fire after the event, so I just keep the shutter open as much as I can.”