Untamed and unbound, there’s an undeniable magic to exchanging vows encircled by nature. Stripped of all man-made inhibitions in a raw and untouched wilderness, the experience itself is both profound and poetic.
For wedding photographer Dawn Thomson, it’s capturing this experience that fuels her love for the art she creates. Based on New Zealand’s South Island just a stone’s throw from picturesque Queenstown, Dawn draws inspiration from her natural surroundings, documenting unguarded moments intimately shared against vast, dramatic landscapes.
Specialising in small weddings and intimate elopements, Dawn seeks to capture her couple’s deepest emotions, using light and shadow to illuminate detail while embracing the mood and energy inextricable from their setting. Inspired by her cinematic frames, we talk to Dawn to discover more…
“A great location is only part of a beautiful image. I like to consider how I can use the landscape, mood, light, colors & composition to evoke a certain emotion, and how to reflect the sense of environment in it’s vastness while also creating a sense of intimacy.”
What is photography to you? What is it about the art form that drives you, inspires you?
Since childhood, I have been drawn to create. My early years were intrepid which taught me quiet introspection. I observed people, places and scenarios and made up stories both true and make-believe. I loved anything that offered a doorway to another time and place. I studied painters and read a lot of books which formed my romantic notion of the world. There is a lot of beauty in ordinary things.
Photography to me is an expression of this observation. A narrative on how I interpret the world. Like a painter, we can use light, color, exposure and composition to create a visual language which evokes a mood and feeling and to tell a story. That a single expression or movement can be ‘captured’ is so beautiful to me.
You’re based in one of the most picturesque regions of New Zealand. How does your location and the natural realm inspire your work?
I might be a little biased but New Zealand is the most beautiful place in the world. It is so wild, and untouched. Living in Queenstown, New Zealand has some major benefits to a photographer, it keeps me engaged and inspired. The region is highly coveted for destination weddings and my aim is to deliver an experience out of the ordinary for each couple. The natural beauty and the diversity of landscapes are all within driving or helicopter distance.
The challenge is to harness the beauty in a photograph while still capturing the spirit of my subjects. As a photographer, I have felt compelled to put people amongst New Zealand’s wild landscapes and capture the result. I am inspired by the open windswept vistas, wild dramatic landscapes and I love to contrast this with quiet, intimate moments.
Your eye for creative composition is incredible – how do you approach composing your frames, particularly when working amongst such sprawling landscapes?
A great location is only part of a beautiful image. I like to consider how I can use the landscape, mood, light, colors and composition to evoke a certain emotion, and how to reflect the sense of environment in its vastness while also creating a sense of intimacy. I like to photograph small details to tell a bigger story and for each frame to feel cinematic like a frame paused in a moving picture. I don’t like to be invasive, so I work more intuitively and through observation. I press the shutter at unexpected moments to capture expressions and movements that feel honest and interesting. There is a harmony of factors that interplay when I photograph my couples; it’s the wildly romantic energy of the day, the movement, blur, light and shadow. I interpret a scene by being sensitive to emotion and observe how all the elements come into play.
What advice would you give to couples looking for their perfect wedding photographer?
Reflect on your personal style, your love story and how you would like this captured and reflected back to you in imagery. Look at a photographer’s work and ask, “how does this make me feel and does this emotion resonate with me?”. There are a lot of amazing photographers but it’s more about how those images make you feel now and how will they make you feel in years to come. Is your style more ethereal, editorial, candid, edgy – find a photographer that suits your style. I am also a big advocate to use a photographer that is local to the area you are getting married. They will have a wonderful insight into the local seasons, light and locations and will be a wealth of knowledge especially if you are organising a destination wedding.
“Elopements are wildly romantic and emotions run high when we focus on what really matters. There is a lot of excitement, laughter and tears, and being a part of such an intimate day allows such a rare and poignant insight into a couples inner sanctuary.”
You love to shoot elopements – what is it about these intimate celebrations that draw you in?
There’s a simple beauty in stripping everything back on a wedding day and focusing on the love, connection and commitment that is marriage. I love how my couples are increasingly seeking a unique experience that is not bound by tradition but more in creating a ritual that speaks to their relationship and values. I love working with couples to discover what deeply resonates with their idea of a wedding day. Mostly it’s simply being together or joined by close family and friends in a quiet ceremony that allows space for true intentions and profound promises.
It is the intimacy and raw, true emotions that draws me to document these small love celebrations. Elopements are wildly romantic and emotions run high when we focus on what really matters. There is a lot of excitement, laughter and tears, and being a part of such an intimate day allows such a rare and poignant insight into a couples inner sanctuary. I feel deeply honoured to witness and reflect this back to them through their images.
Who are the photographers, artists, creatives you look to for inspiration?
Across all disciplines of photography, Deborah Turbiville is my greatest inspiration. She captures the delicate but mysterious facets of a woman so beautifully. Her work is so provocative, unexpected and timeless. The fashion photography of Sarah Moon for the painterly, ethereal and romance. Anais Nin for her poetic musings on life and love. The amazing Philippe Rousselot for ‘Henry + June’ and Emmanuel Lubeszki for cinematography. John William Waterhouse for his pre-raphaelite style and his dreamy, otherworldly depiction of women.
Tell us more about The Lovers Elopement Co…What was the spark behind this new venture?
The couples I work with past and present inspired The Lovers Elopement Co. For many years I have loved helping couples design their dream elopement day. In planning these elopements, I observed that couples desired a process of curation – they not only wished for an experience, but they wanted their elopements to be refined, stylised and creative. Eloping does not mean you have to miss out on the finer details of a wedding day like an amazing gown, the best hair and makeup team, stunning florals, a styled ceremony and killer images. So last year I co-founded The Lovers – Elopement Co. together with my uber-talented friend and florist Gypsy West of The Vase. We carefully curated a collective of artists that shared the same vision and passion, and our ethos is to curate one of a kind elopement experiences for couples who wish to elope in the wild in style.
The Lovers Elopement Co. will plan, style and coordinate all elements of an elopement day. We’ll guide you through the best time of year, scout beautiful locations, and take care of everything from photography, videography, floral design and styling, hair and makeup, celebrant, helicopters, styled picnics, private chefs…literally anything our couple can dream we can make happen.
What’s next for you?
I would love to work with designers and shoot more editorial bridal fashion in the wild landscapes of New Zealand. Also, to work with couples who are unashamedly themselves doing things their way. I want to work with and photograph artists who see the world with wonder. And I imagine I will continue to feel lost and found again… in the beautiful sentiments of Thomas Merton, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”
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