Talented wedding and portrait photographer Dee Airey opened hew new studio on The Pantiles last month. Here she reveals to Eileen Leahy her passion for unposed photography, why she’s so happy to now be based in Tunbridge Wells and details of a special launch event that’s happening over the weekend of September 17 and 18…
Stepping over the smart threshold and into the pristine Dee Airey Photography studio located on The Pantiles, I immediately ask Dee if I should remove my shoes. The reason? It’s just so gorgeous and luxurious – think plush, wall-to-wall deep pile cream carpeting, sumptuous button-back sofas and bright white walls which are adorned with sprigs of pretty green foliage and lots of Dee’s beautiful images which capture everything from perfect wedding days, excited parents-to-be and giggling young families.
“I just love things to be light and bright – I find it helps to capture people at their best,” smiles Dee who specialises in wedding and portraiture photography.
“I couldn’t believe it when I saw my dream space on The Pantiles was available”
Ushering me through the beautiful reception area towards her equally lovely studio, which is located at the back of her new premises, Dee explains that although her former studio in Crowborough was decorated exactly the same, it’s her Pantiles pad that has something really special about it.
“I honestly couldn’t believe it when I came across it,” she says of the stunning space – which is handily located right next door to The Pantiles Bride boutique.
“I actually came here to do a shoot for the charity Taylor Made Dreams in 2019. I instantly fell in love with it. I remember saying to the videographer at the time ‘Oh wouldn’t it be great to get a space like this?’ But as nobody gets a spot on The Pantiles I never gave it another thought.”
And yet it becomes clear from chatting more to Dee, who lives in Tonbridge, that serendipity had a big part to play for her and her photography business because when she was doing her ‘regular trawl’ of the internet three years later she spotted that her ideal premises was indeed up for grabs.
“I’d done various jobs in Tunbridge Wells and believed that The Pantiles was where my business needed to be but I knew it was still an impossible dream. One day I spoke this out loud to my business coach and then did my usual trawl on the internet and there it was – my shop on The Pantiles! And I just thought ‘Wow!’ So, I sent an email to Targetfollow (who own The Pantiles) and they replied immediately. I thought ‘Oops I’m going to have to do something about this now!’ They told me where it was and I said ‘I don’t need to see it – I really want it.’ That was in March this year and I got the lease through in May.”
From there Dee says it was all hands on deck in terms of getting the studio up and running.
“I hired a big contractor and they had the whole place gutted and decorated within about five weeks. It was absolutely amazing.”
Dee also reveals the reason she wanted a proper bricks and mortar presence.
“In January this year I thought to myself ‘I really want a shop front’. I know it’s not really the done thing anymore but I just wanted people to be able to walk past and have the opportunity to come in when they wanted to. I’m all about happy things: weddings and family so I wanted to showcase all that and also be in a good area. Internet advertising is fine but you don’t get a proper feel for things like photography without seeing it properly.”
Dee goes onto explain that she specialises in natural, un-posed, relaxed images that capture her clients’ true personality. She says that this approach helps her to get the most out of her subjects.
“I’m camera shy myself, so I understand how much of a challenge a lot of people find it to ‘switch on’. My real skill is in putting people at ease and helping them forget the camera is there, so they enjoy their big day or their portrait session. I guess it’s my job to make people feel at ease in front of the camera. For me it’s about creating natural images that capture the essence of people’s relationships and who they are.”
The new portrait studio is where Dee and her team, which now comprises of a couple of additional photographers, will be capturing individual and family portraits for clients to treasure forever. And the reception, she says, is a ‘beautiful, welcoming space for couples to relax in and discuss their big day’.
Dee adds that she is genuinely excited about having opened the only wedding photography ‘shop’ on The Pantiles. And although it officially opened last month she will be hosting a special launch event over the weekend of September 17 and 18 when visitors will have the chance to win free portraits or enjoy an exclusive discount on wedding photography packages.
“The truth is you evolve as a creative until you find out who you are. I’m just glad I found out who I am because it’s really comfortable”
During the course of our chat Dee does admit that she’s also ‘slightly terrified’ about her new venture but given the success she’s achieved in just a decade of being a professional photographer it would seem the business will only go from strength to strength given her lifelong passion for taking pictures.
“I’ve always loved doing photography as a hobby but it was only when my husband bought me a photography course ten years ago that I thought about turning it into a business. I did it and never looked back. That course taught me that I had a skill. If I see a business opportunity I jump in with both feet and make it work. And that’s what I did after completing the course.”
Dee now has clients all over the country and is so passionate about what she does, she also has more than 500 students across the world whom she is now coaching online every week to create successful photography businesses of their own.
“I teach people that it takes a while to figure out who you are as a creative. You look back at your first images and think ‘Oh no!’ But the truth is you evolve as a creative until you find out who you are. When you start out you try to emulate other people but you can’t do that. So I’m just glad I found out who I am because it’s really comfortable.
“My creative style is very natural: there’s no bells and whistles or fancy gimmicks as I don’t like that at all. I tried it in the beginning but it didn’t work for me. All that made me feel uncomfortable because it’s not me. I look at my work and think ‘that looks stunning’ but I haven’t posed people. Some people love all that but I don’t and most people’s testimonials say ‘Dee made me feel very at ease’. So I feel I’m achieving the thing I’m meant to do.
“I feel my thing is grabbing people’s memories so when you look back you think ‘Oh yes of course, do you remember when that happened?’ So, when kids start rolling around on the floor or giggling at a family shoot that’s when I start taking pictures – it’s something to look back at and laugh at and feel something. That’s where the memories are made.”
Dee explains that the family element of her work evolved naturally from shooting people’s weddings.
“I like to keep my wedding couples – forever if possible – so when they get pregnant or their first baby comes along and then the family grows it’s nice to capture those moments. That’s what gave me the idea of having a studio in the first place. I have people who have been with me for years but the thing is you don’t know what you are going into if you’re shooting in someone’s house. The light might be terrible or there’s no natural backdrop. With a studio you know the light will be good, it’s a designated space and families can come to me and flop on the sofa. Oh, and there’s also prosecco in the fridge so people can relax and hang out!” laughs Dee.
“I think photographic memories are definitely more of a thing now than they ever were. We’ve all got phones and we’re all taking pictures on them all the time but we’re not taking memorable photos and you don’t necessarily look back on them. Since the pandemic I think lasting photographic memories have become even more special because the reality is that life can change at any moment. So I think it’s an important investment, especially now. Professional pictures are heirlooms unlike the snaps you take on your phone.”
And it’s the pandemic that gave Dee the idea for the online coaching.
“I’d been doing regular networking meetings but as soon as lockdown happened we moved these to Zooms but they’d often get moved around or cancelled and as I’m pretty military in terms of organising myself I decided to create a group that was specifically aimed at coaching photographers.”
It’s from this private Facebook group where Dee found two key local people who are now helping her to run her business.
“I found two amazing people from Tunbridge Wells and thought ‘I’d like you to start my team’. My goal is that people come into the shop and they are buying ‘Dee Airey’ photography. I’m the principal photographer and now have assistants who shoot in a similar natural, unposed style. I want a fully functional team within two years who I will train up to assist me in expanding the business.
“Having the two people I’ve found and trained up means I can expand without compromising on my brand.”
Dee stresses that while people are benefitting from her particular expertise within the online groups they will also be learning how to create their own photography style too as well as learning how to run a business.
“I’m all about happy things: weddings and family”
“I don’t want to restrict anyone from doing any of that. And if they’re local then they can rent the studio from me if they want to do their own shoots with their own personal style.”
Dee says the hope is for her and her team to continue expanding the other shoots they do for Christmas, Valentine’s and Mother’s Day.
“We’ve actually converted the basement into another fabulous space where I can run photography classes for professionals and those wanting to take their hobby to the next level.”
It would seem that Dee and her team have their sights firmly focused on great success for this new business I say. “I guess I want people to feel really special in front of the camera,” she smiles. “It’s all about being who you are.”
When you put a ring on it why not capture it in pictures?
There are so many reasons to have an engagement shoot. Dee says she can’t think of any reason not to. “The best thing is, they can be a lot of fun and help to get you into the spirit of your wedding photography on your big day. You can dress up or dress down, the choice is yours.” Here are Dee’s top tips:
- Getting to know you
This is the best opportunity to get to know your wedding photographer and start to build a relationship. You might have several conversations over the phone or Zoom, but nothing can beat getting to know your photographer when their eyes are on you, behind the lens.
- Find your comfort zone
The last thing I want for you is to feel uncomfortable on your big day, so an engagement shoot is the best time for you to start getting comfortable. So when the special day arrives, you’ll be used to having me around.
- Natural selection
On your engagement shoot natural movement around each other – or those cute moments together – will just come naturally with your photographer present. This means that by the big day, you’ll be acting absolutely instinctively. When you’re like this in front of the camera it really does show the love between you, and that’s the memory you want to take away with you.
- Telling a love story
Your engagement photos tell part of your love story, and these are useful for your wedding invitations or if you have a wedding website. These photos can get your friends, family and your guests into the spirit and excitement of your upcoming wedding.
- Location, location, location
Having an engagement shoot at your venue is a great time for you and your photographer to explore cute little spots around the venue that great photos can be taken. And you might already have some favourite spots that you can show your photographer. Rather than just planning to have wedding photos in those areas, it’s a good opportunity to have some engagement shots there too.
In focus: Dee Airey’s top tips for getting the best pictures
“Your wedding is a big deal, and you both want to look and feel as awesome as possible. I believe the only way for you to truly feel great on your wedding day, is if you are left to just be yourselves. I’ve literally laughed out loud when I’ve heard a photographer say to a couple “look at each other and pretend you love each other”. Seriously I’ve heard that! The most love you will ever feel for each other will be on your wedding day, so you don’t have to pretend.”
“I don’t like posed shots. For me it’s about creating natural images that capture the essence of people’s relationships and who they are”
“There’s so much that happens on your wedding day, and telling your wedding day love story in photos is best done candidly, without any posing. Grooms getting ready, feeling vulnerable and full of nerves is an amazing memory to capture, and it cannot be staged. Brides and bridesmaids getting ready is often chaotic and fun filled. But once that dress goes on, the bride usually takes on a certain look and glow of elegance, she moves differently and this is what I strive to capture. It’s almost guaranteed that when I hand a bride her flowers, she’ll delicately look down at them – and I hit the shutter!”
Dee Airey on why you should say ‘I do’ to having a wedding album:
- Being Able to Touch and Feel Your Photo Memories
Sometimes just touching your album, or seeing it on your coffee table brings it all back. You don’t even have to open it up, its presence keeps your magical day alive in your hearts forever.
- Your Wedding Album is an Heirloom
Your wedding album is a lifelong memory for your family, and can be kept forever. If you go on to have children or if you already have children, your album will be precious to them, and as time goes by they can treasure your memory as their own…..forever!
- Your Love Story
Your wedding album tells the story of your love on your big day, and you’ll feel it every time you flick through. I always design your album to follow the special order of beautiful events of your day and couples are amazed at how powerfully their albums tell their story.
- The Perfect Gift
You can give albums as gifts to parents, grandparents and loved ones. My own parents are elderly and they flick through the gift album I had made for them all the time……10 years on! Not only is the couple’s memory kept alive, but also the memory of your loved ones as they flick through their beautiful gift.
- Preservation of Memories
It’s possible to lose your images on your phone or other device. Your wedding album is a physical preservation of your memories and your love story. Yes, great quality albums are expensive, but your wedding memories are priceless.
Anyone dropping into Dee Airey Photography over the official launch weekend on September 17 & 18 will be able to book a free mini shoot throughout September and have the chance to win a free full portrait session, worth £400, or one of ten studio credits, worth £100 each.
Engaged couples who visit during the launch weekend who book a wedding photography package before the end of September will benefit from a special launch discount of up to 15%.
For wedding enquiries visit www.deeaireyphotography.co.uk
For studio enquiries visit www.deeaireyphotography.com
Tel: 01892 341367
Selection of images by Jennifer West, David Bartholomew & Dee Airey