When I met Sharyn Cairns for the first time earlier this year I must say I was a little star struck… and a little surprised. Here was one of the most respected and well known photographers in Australia, a name I have seen on the pages of the most beautiful magazine spreads for years, and yet – she was young, easy-going and totally unaffected, and she had long blonde hair! I am not sure why the hair was such a surprise, but it is seriously great hair, and I guess I just assumed Sharyn would be, like, 55 or something. Another little known fact about Sharyn is that she is a runner and competes in mini marathons! I am serious. There should be a rule again such over-achievement. I mean, it’s just not fair on the rest of us :)
ANYWAY I am sure you’re far more interested in Sharyn’s incredible body of work than you are in her hair or her fitness regime – but you know, The Design Files is all about the important details! Sharyn has been at the forefront of commercial photography in Australia for a long time – she is always in demand, and is regularly published by all the great magazines in the land, you know, the Inside Outs, the Vogue Livings, the Gourmet Travellers and all the rest. She really is the best of the best.
Sharyn is Melbourne-based, and regularly collaborates with some of Melbourne’s most talented stylists, including superstar Glen Proebstel, and also recent interviewee, food stylist Deb Kaloper! I am so grateful to Sharyn for her time (she has a very busy schedule and travels often!), and for sharing so many examples of her beautiful work! Please pop over to her website for more!
Tell me a little about your background – what path led you to what you’re doing now?
I wasn’t one of those people that grew up with a camera in my hand. I was initially interested in architecture and interior design. It wasn’t until I was exposed to photography at the end of my schooling that I thought this could be the way to go. I studied at RMIT and then assisted some great photographers before going out on my own...
What have been some favourite shoots / clients / publications in recent years?
I’ve been lucky enough to work for some great publications such as Gourmet Traveller, Inside Out & Vogue Living, to mention a few. Every assignment I look forward to the possibility of what can be created. Shooting travel stories both here and overseas is always a huge highlight and while the itineraries are pretty intense there’s no better way to experience the buzz of a city.
Another of my great loves is shooting cookbooks. I think it’s the joy of creating a large body of work and collaborating with really talented people.
It can be so hard to for emerging photographers to get noticed these days… was there a ‘big break’ which helped you early on in your career? What advice would you give to young photographers today?
I don’t remember there being a really big break. I think my first shoot for a magazine was a small function for Belle… which was huge at the time!
I always had a goal to shoot for beautiful magazines and kept working towards becoming a better photographer. I think if you love what you do and you have a passion for it, it’s hard not to get totally absorbed in it. I think persistence and striving for what you want to achieve are the keys.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
I’m not sure I ever have a typical day, each day can be so different, especially since I shoot a variety of subjects. Some days I’m in the studio shooting food, others interiors/still lifes on location or travel stories on the other side of the world. But there is always the mundane paperwork and file handling that can’t be escaped!
How is your business structured..? Do you employ an assistant or other collaborators? Who takes care of the boring paperwork, bookings etc – the ‘business side’ of things?
Thankfully I have an amazing team of people to help me. I have a great assistant who makes my day to day life so much easier. From packing the car, to assisting on a shoot, to overseeing images and always knowing where my phone and keys are… essential!
I have recently got an agent who not only looks after some of my work but inspires me and is passionate about my creative ideas.
I love having Glen Proebstel style where possible. We have the same vision, aesthetic, passion and work ethic. All these coincide to make working together a dream.
And finally I have bookkeeper and an accountant who keep the finances in check.
Where do you find creative inspiration – travel, any specific local or international publications, or the web etc?
Travel is a huge source of inspiration for me, you can take so much from the environment, the textures that surround you, the people, the way they live and the food they eat.
I love beautiful movies, with all the different lighting styles, moods and emotions.
American Gourmet was the magazine I couldn’t get enough of, sadly it folded last year. But when I have time I love looking at blogs.
Which other creative people do you admire?
There are so many creative people that I admire but they don’t necessarily all have to be established and at the top of their game. One beautiful image from a student’s folio, an emotive scene out of a movie, a designers mood board, I admire people that have a real passion for what they do.
What would be your dream creative project?
I think I’ve been lucky enough to have a few of these but I’d never say no to shooting in countries I’ve never been to, and shooting a cookbook there would icing on the cake!
What are you looking forward to?
It’s always the next brief, and the chance to make something amazing.
Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
Prahran. I live there, my studio is there, everything is so accessible and I love being right in the middle of all the madness.
Best bookshop in Melbourne for reference books / publications?
The Avenue Bookstore in Albert Park
What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?
Gigibaba. I’ve been there several times now and with the ever changing menu there’s always so many highlights.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
I hit the gym early for a personal training session, followed by a Prahran market stock up.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
I’m not sure it’s a secret but i Carusi has the best pizza in Melbourne.