Wellingtonian’s favourite time of the year is, without a doubt, the Wondorous Wellington Advent Calendar. To not sound as cheesy as Auntie Sue’s special Christmas fondue, it is arguably the most magical time for locals - a sign of Christmas Spirit taking over.
This year, our friends at Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency (WREDA) took a different turn and employed a pair of photographers with something of a twinkle in their lens. I was lucky enough to sit down with Jeff McEwan, who shot much of the calendar alongside Mark ‘Full Moon Silhouettes’ Gee.
An irrational passion
Born in the Hawkes Bay, Jeff realised young he was in love with taking photos. “When I was 7 I picked up my first camera. A tiny point and shoot. I still have it though, and my first photo. That day, I had caught a fish and I remember setting up and doing a time exposure of myself holding the fish. I knew early on it would be more than a hobby for me” he says.
Jeff went to boarding school at St Patricks Silverstream. “I got into the school life there. I loved sports but also knew I liked photography.” Jeff did a four year degree at Victoria University in Bachelor of Design, majoring in photography.
"As a photographer, you need to build up a rapport quickly.”
After school, he teamed up with some friends from a design company called Chrometoaster, then decided to get a journalistic background with The Evening Post and Dominion Post, where he worked for 8 years. “After some travel and overseas photography, I wanted to do my own thing” Jeff explains, “A few companies asked me to come and work for them and I decided I had a year to make it work.” So what was the secret sauce to success? “As a photographer, you built up relationships” Jeff explains. “They are a lot more important than anything else. I always hand deliver my work to see what people’s reactions are and enquire about future projects. As a photographer, you need to build up a rapport quickly.”
Over the years, Jeff and the nature of photography itself has changed. Jeff remembers when people would have to try and get their photos to dry as fast as possible to be published in the newspaper, still damp from the dark room. “People forget many photographers before digital, would spend time arranging the photo because you only had 10 or so frames to work with. It was about talking to the person, arranging pictures and setting it up before pressing the shutter. One reason I left the newspapers to open my own studio was because I wanted to take my time more and perfect my craft.”
“People forget many photographers before digital, would spend time arranging the photo because you only had 10 or so frames to work with"
Despite this preference for taking it slow, time was of the essence for Jeff’s latest project. Jeff was employed to do this year’s 2016 Wondrous Wellington Advent Calendar in just twenty days over October and November 2016. He says he knew that the job would be demanding from the start, working with models, in a short time frame, locations that were challenging, with significant post-production time – but couldn’t resist the opportunity to do such an iconic project, alongside another photographer he highly respected.
How to Make Wellington Wondrous: "Each photo took between 5 - 15 hours"
Making a Wondrous Wellington is no mean feat. Challenges included having to play games with the weather through October and November. He also had to stitch together 33 photos to create the 360 degree view in the calendar. “Each 360 is made from setting up a camera on a tripod and taking photos of 3 levels – top, middle and floor. You get into your editing software and load them in based on number order. The main hazard in Wellington is the wind – clouds move, trees move – and anything with paving, which we seem to have a lot of in Wellington, is a nightmare because you have to line all the edges up.” Each photo took him between 5 – 15 hours. “But it was fun – I was able to control the environment, light the shots, try all kinds of things to get the effect we wanted.”
Jeff’s picks of the Wondrous Wellington Advent Calendar are the beach shots, the waterfront market and getting to see the Royal New Zealand Ballet perform. “Our city is a melting pot. I love working with such a diverse group of companies and brands, from restaurants to startups. Wellington is a special city and I love it.”
“We can take people, put them in the moment either through their phone or their desktop."
The biggest thing for Jeff is connecting Wellingtonians to the city they live in, or if they are overseas, their hometown. “We can take people, put them in the moment either through their phone or their desktop. Apart from smell, it really is like being there. I can make something come alive. Anyone can take one photo of something. But stitching over two dozen together is another thing!” Sounds like for Jeff a Summer break at the beach will be well deserved. One thing is for sure – he’s got plenty of daily deals to keep him going until then.