Interview by: Dennis M. Kelly
DK: Hello Amy! How are you doing today?
AA: FREEZING!!! Is it summer yet?!
DK: Yeah and now we get all this snow too, where was it BEFORE the holidays, right? lol
DK: Where to begin… where to begin? Your talents are so great and varied and it would seem the best place to start would be all the way back at the beginning, if that would be alright?
DK: Were you born here in the Chicago area?
AA: yup, in Elk Grove Village.
DK: No way…! I have to laugh because in all this time I’ve known you, I never knew that about you, what a small world, eh? And do you have a large or small family?
AA: ohhhh… pretty small, but my extended family is pretty large; all are just amazing people. I’m very blessed.
DK: When did you get started with taking pictures and when did you recognize you had an eye for capturing great photos?
AA: Well, I started at the end of 2006 when I maxed out my credit cards and bought my first round of photo equipment… I didn’t actually recognize any sort of an “eye” in me until recently in truth.
DK: That is surprising, because quite honestly, not only is the quality of your work impeccable, but the way you present yourself is that of a seasoned professional whose been in the industry quite some time. When did you realize that you wanted to make photography your vocation and what steps did you take to make it happen?
AA: When I was a videographer, actually. I saw the photographer at this wedding I was filming having all of the fun, and creating so much out of just one image. I like the idea of one tiny thing saying so much. As far as making it happen, well, I’m STILL trying to do that.
DK: When you started, was it only wedding photography? Or what services did you initially offer?
AA: Yes. It WAS only wedding photography, but the opportunity to photograph musicians quickly came along, and so that was added to the list of things very early on.
DK: What equipment did you start off with, what has worked well and what has not?
AA: Well the D200 was my first camera and I HATED it. I had massive backfocusing issues with it, and the noise factor was unbearable. When Nikon launched the D3 series of cameras, it prevented me from changing over to Canon. Now I’m THRILLED with Nikon. I LOVE their glass. Their speedlights are fantastic when paired off with my pocket wizards. Studio lighting wise, I’m beyond thrilled with the Paul C Buff company’s products. I use the White Lightning line, and couldn’t stress enough how amazing the product or customer service of this company is, especially for the value they offer (and no, they’re not paying me to say this, nor am I sponsored by them).
DK: Oh, I know how it goes though, when you find something that works and you’re loving it, you just can’t talk enough about it.
AA: I also use flashlights, reflectors, candles, worklamps – even headlights from a car can create good lighting. Whatever I can to make things look neat.
DK: When did you become a member of the Professional Photographers of America organization?
AA: Oh… About two years ago.
DK: For those not fully aware of the organization, what does membership mean for a photographer, what are the perks and what does it mean to a potential client?
AA: Oh gosh… they’ve got a mission statement on their site. I haven’t really utilized the membership in truth. I mainly use them for my insurance, as well as other business aspects.
DK: What were some of the initial lessons learned that have sharpened your business skills today?
AA: hahaha honestly, there isn’t any one lesson that sticks out in my mind. It’s a CONSTANT work in progress. The number one thing that sticks out to me as being the most important part of this process is to make sure that you have very organized books. I’m cleaning up my mess in that department right now, actually. It’s NOT fun.
DK: I think you need an assistant then to take over those tasks so you can concentrate on more of the things you do enjoy, but I know, money makes it hard and then too, it is always better to be more hands on with your business as much as you can anyway. And now one of the slightly lesser known aspects to your many great talents is that you play also piano and have studied piano for over 18 years. Please tell me more about this side of you.
AA: You know, it’s not something I do publicly anymore. I just love music, and have been doing musical things since age three. There’s an extension of emotion that I can feel or even emit through music that words or even creating images just can’t fulfill.
DK: Why don’t you take it publically, if I may ask? It would seem if you’ve played as long as you have, that you would have concentrated more on that and had photography more as a side deal (for lack of a better word, sorry).
AA: I have a major case of stage fright. Never used to be that way, and I’m still working on it. Also, I’ve found that my time is best spent on my art for now. Someday, I’ll focus on music more seriously again.
DK: Alexander Djordjevic has been teaching you classical piano now for 7 of those 18 years. How has his teaching expanded your knowledge of the instrument and with music in general?
AA: Alex is just amazing. He really taught me so much about piano history, technique, composers, emotion – I really give him about all the credit for my ability as it is today. He and I parted ways unofficially just about a year ago because of scheduling conflicts. I haven’t been taking formal lessons since then… oh but I miss it terribly, and plan on taking lessons again someday soon.
DK: From your school years on, can you bring us up to speed on your career and experiences that have shaped you into the gifted woman you are?
AA: oh wow. To be honest with you, I don’t feel I’m any more talented than any other person out there. I just don’t stop when I find others stop to truly enjoy life; it’s something that I’m trying to make sure I take time to do more these days so that the good things don’t pass me by.
As far as my work though, I can say that more of this stuff has to do with the relationships you create and build. It’s all about people. I take care of my friends and family as I would a precious gem – they’re the most valuable thing in the world to me, and have been the reason for all that I have and am.
DK: Chicago Music Guide became aware of you and your talents in 2007 and since then, you’ve taken some great live photos for us, to which we are forever grateful. What do you enjoy most about live music photography?
AA: Oh it’s just a thrill to be mixing two of the things that I love most in life – music and photography. It’s truly spoiled the heck out of me having a closer than front row view of these things. Because of Chicago Music Guide and this opportunity, I have made some of my best friends in the world. I’m forever grateful for that more than anything.
DK: The feeling is mutual, my friend! You just did an awesome job recently doing a photo shoot with local band, Honey & the 45’s, interviewing them AND taking live photos of them to boot! How was that experience for you? I know already the band loved your work, but did you get to accomplish all your goals with that shoot?
AA: Oh it was a blast! We got to shoot in a historic building in Chicago, laughed a lot, froze outside on the roof. And YES! We definitely accomplished what we set out to do.
DK: Photography itself is all about capturing the moment, but great photographers like yourself manage to capture the mood of that moment as well. To what do you attribute that ability?
AA: Lighting. It’s ALL about lighting!
DK: Lol… yes, certainly to some extent, but you’ve definitely got more going on there than just lighting, don’t sell yourself short. Weren’t you published in a magazine a year or so ago too?
AA: Yeah, a few. I’m still working on that aspect very much. People still don’t exactly know I’m alive.
DK: From your perspective, do you feel the photo industry is highly competitive?
AA: Beyond highly competitive. It’s ridiculous. Not only do we photographers have each other to contend with, but now we have what seems to be everyone picking up a dSLR, charging less than minimum wage to take photos just for fun. Most people don’t know any better; they see cheap, they say, “GREAT!” The economic nonsense going on out there is ruining everything beautiful.
DK: What do you feel sets you apart and how do you maximize it?
AA: Lighting and creativity. Of course I still try to keep up with what’s popular. You have to do things that sell. Eventually what happens though is people start to seek out the unique stuff that you do more and more until that’s all you do. It’s happening slowly but surely for me.
DK: Yes, and that is what I was getting at before, you offer so much more to people than just great pictures and yes, a lot of people are now recognizing it, how great! How did you get involved with flying for the local news channels, ABC, NBC and WGN?
AA: Oh… that’s a long story of good karma combined with a degree in broadcast journalism. I have my best friend, Helen Walsh, and her father to thank entirely for this opportunity; for my life being what it is today. I cannot imagine where I’d be or what I’d be doing right now without either of them.
DK: Flying over our great city every morning has to feel exhilarating, to see the beauty of our city almost every day? Sounds like a dream job!
AA: (Smiles and nods) I have a very unique and rare perspective and opportunity with what I do. It certainly is a thrill and so beautiful to see such beauty so often. The hours are kind of a killer though.
DK: I bet, and I understand you’re sometimes on call too given the moment too, right?
AA: Oyyy… yes. Definitely a downside to the gig.
DK: When exactly did you start with your self-portrait photography?
AA: I started just under two years ago taking self portraits, and about a year ago with the highly artistic stuff.
DK: How have the responses been to your artistic branching out, as it were (as compared to your other photo work)?
AA: At first, I didn’t really get much of a response at all. I’m not so sure I wanted a response at first. I really started to learn new techniques, and to use all of the creative ideas that my clients didn’t feel were “them”. Since taking a workshop with Brooke Shaden last year, so much has changed in the artistic area of my work. I’m so thrilled with the results, and the fact that people tell me my work brings them joy; something to look forward to. Those that know me best know that I struggle with the humanistic part of life (namely loneliness). Reaching so many people and bringing a positive factor to the lives of others helps me more than I can describe.
DK: How have you applied some of Brooke’s teachings to your craft? What techniques did you learn that made the most difference for you?
AA: Well, the composite and photoshop techniques that she utilizes were a huge influence on how I put things together in post production. I’ve used them in combination with techniques I’ve learned along the way, and sort of created my own process. I’m still working on finding my “look,” if you will.
DK: Have there been common themes that you’ve wanted to try out, or work on a larger scale with?
AA: Oh definitely. With those, it’s going to take a lot of hard work, and quite a bit of funding. I’m thinking about putting together a kickstarter campaign to help with that, but we’ll see… people have a hard enough time putting gas in their cars or food on the table, let alone supporting some kooky artist chick.
DK: LOL… Ah, but you’re forgetting, people want to be inspired and given hope though too. People need that in their lives, what is that saying, “Earth without ART is just EH”. LOL. Let’s take a closer look at one of your pieces shall we, it is called, “Portal”, correct?
DK: What is going on in the photo? What did it take to set this up and how long did it take to pull this great piece off from preparation to post-production?
AA: Well, This image was just a concept I put together instantly using materials at hand at my top secret farm location. The idea is this – the mailbox represents a message being sent, and the door represents the means to retrieve this message. I chose to be reaching for the door, yet not actually reaching it to represent a message desperately desired to be heard, yet one that is not attainable. Think of it like unanswered prayer, if you will.
I had one of my best friends assist me on this shoot by holding the door up. Shooting only took about 10-15 minutes. Post production took about 7 or 8 hours.
DK: Have you done collaborative work with your self-portrait work?
AA: No not yet, but I have my first collaboration set for next Monday with Chad Cherry of The Last Vegas! We’re so excited!
DK: What’s the shoot going to be?
AA: You’ll see!
DK: What are some of your favorite locations to shoot within Chicago or the suburbs?
AA: Well… I like to keep those a bit of a secret. Obviously those that are from those areas can figure out what’s what, but part of what sets me apart are the locations that I find and how I use them.
DK: Do you go off on “official” scouting missions for locations (as movie makers do) or do you just happen across them in your daily travels?
AA: A little bit of both. When I find something really cool, I’ll take a reference photo with my iphone, and note the location. Other times, I let the costumes dictate the location.
DK: Now, I understand you’ve got a whole new expanded section on your website at www.amyphotochicago.com for weddings, tell me more on that. How has that changed?
AA: Yes! I really wanted a completely separate site dedicated to JUST weddings and engagements, and my latest fine art sessions just for married couples called the Fidelity Sessions. I found it was so easy to have such a huge part of what I do get lost on my main site, and I really wanted to show off this special part of my craft.
DK: What do you have in store for this fine year of 2013?
AA: Oh my gosh, so much! So much. I’m doing a complete overhaul of my business model at the moment, which is taking a lot of my time and energy (and sleep), but I’m aiming to make this my most photographed year yet!
DK: Do you offer any seasonal specials for your different services that people might be able to look forward to?
AA: No. I do offer referral gifts and customer loyalty perks however.
DK: What goals do you have for the next three months, 6 months and the rest of the year?
AA: Well, I’d like to book as many weddings and family sessions as possible, and really grow my client base. On an even bigger level though, I want to be published, and get on a proverbial map in the photography world. By the end of the year, I hope to have my very first gallery event with my fine art work. This is really only a small portion of all I hope to do, but they’re the most important of everything.
DK: Well Amy, it has been so much a pleasure chatting with you today and helping to share your great talents with our readers. Thank you very much for your time and I hope this year proves to be the best one for you yet!
AA: Thank you! I’m so excited to see what happens!
Amy Aiello Biography:
I’m a photographer here in Chicago with a focus on people… I photograph weddings, families, models, musicians, concerts, and create self portrait fine art. I love to travel, and I love creating all kinds of other types of photographs. I studied broadcast journalism and documentary production at Northern Illinois University, but am a self taught photographer. My work is heavily influenced with my background in theatre, dance, music, as well as by the works of artists and photographers whose work I adore.
In addition taking photographs, I am flying in a helicopter and filming video for Chicago news. Since 2007, I have flown for ABC, NBC, Fox and WGN news, and have filmed so many pieces of history around Chicagoland. My favorite part of the job, though, is getting to see the beautiful sunrises in the morning. It’s a really neat thing to be able to say my office is in the air.
I am a member of the Professional Photographers of America – www.ppa.com
Finally – Music is VERY important to me. I’m quite involved in the music community, and love working with musicians with my photography. I’ve also been playing and studying piano for over 18 years now, and spent about 7 years studying classical piano performance under Alexander Djordjevic. He is an immensely talented pianist and extraordinary teacher. I hope to study with him again someday when my schedule allows. Please take some time to listen to him performing – http://www.alexanderdjordjevic.com
Or by phone: (773) 234-2691