An Interview with Sharon Hickey: Photographer and Educator

"We’re not in it just to get somebody to come to a workshop. We’re there because we want people to actually have an experience that they will remember and carry on."

Creativity 6 min read Sep 25, 2019

Sharon Hickey is an instructor and co-founder at The Aperture Club, where they teach creative skills through exciting photographic experiences, workshops and tours. Sharon is one of the best-known photographers in Sydney, and her career spans over twenty years covering many styles of photography, including corporate, media, event, editorial and travel. Today, we have the opportunity to chat with Sharon where she speaks in depth about her life, her career, her advice for new photographers and much more! PLUS! Get 25% off all classes til end of June! Details at the end of the post.

Could you tell us a little a bit about your personal life?

As you know I’m a professional photographer. I suppose my whole life I’ve always been in the creative industry. I started off in film and television, also worked for Channel 7 in Sydney. I edited live programs to air, such as the news, and big events like Chinese New Year and New Year’s Eve. I did that for many years. I’ve always had a visual love of the arts. I’ve always been behind the camera.

My first experience with photography was when my father gave me a camera when I was about 10. It was just a hobby then. I didn’t actually get into loving photography until I came to work for a woman who found locations for film and television. She took me on, and I had to interpret ‘visually’ somebody else’s imagination. I had to learn how to use my camera and how to translate life and mood to make the shots interesting so that when they saw the photographs, they’d say, “Oh, that’s exactly what I want.” I was probably about 25 at the time.

I spent a lot of years travelling overseas and after I came back from Europe, I fell into television. I was in the scheduling department and that’s where I got into vision mixing. It was a high-pressure job, because if you make a mistake the world sees it. But yeah, creativity became my life and my love. I hadn’t wanted to do anything else.

I was pretty fortunate I think, that all of life’s crossroads pointed me in this direction. Because it’s true, a lot of people don’t know what they want to do or don’t know what their passion is. Every day I wake up and I’m excited to go to work.

How did the transition happen from working in television to starting The Aperture Club?

The Aperture Club came a lot later. After years of working for television, I decided I wanted to go out on my own. I became a freelancer. I knew a woman who ran a bushwalking club and she invited me because people wanted to do a photography session. So, we went and did a session for the day, which was terrific. The end result of that: people loved it so much that I had the same people for the next five years doing classes every month! I took those people to understand and learn about photography and find their own creativity, and then we started having exhibitions. Having exhibitions is great because it teaches you about the process of moving towards something. You have a goal. There’s an end result and people can actually see it.

The thing is, I’ve always had this idea of wanting to cultivate in people a love for photography and so four years ago, my colleague and good friend Shane Rozaro and I started The Aperture Club. We’ve been working hard ever since to create a business where we actually have a lot of fun and impart the information we’ve learnt over the years to others. It’s wonderful, it’s growing, it just keeps getting better and better and we’re getting terrifically good at it. The reason we called it The Aperture Club is because we wanted to have a place where people could come and feel like they could meet with other photographers and people who have the same interest. They could ask questions. They could feel like they belong.

We’ve got a great family of tutors that we employ and every tutor that works for us is really dedicated, really helps people and loves teaching. That’s the culture that we’re trying to promote because that’s how we are. That’s how Shane and I feel about The Aperture Club. That anyone who comes and associates with us is because we attract that kind of like-mindedness.

How is The Aperture Club different from other photography schools?

We’ve got a client at the moment, he’s one of the first people who joined us four years ago in one of our courses. He is now involved in producing high quality exhibitions, but we still mentor him. And this is because learning doesn’t stop. There’s always something new to learn in photography and self-expression. And that’s what we find really enjoyable – there’s so much to teach to everyone. Being an artist or a creative person doesn’t stop because there’s always new things to learn all through your life.

And so, in this way, we’d like to be different because we’re not in it just to get somebody to come to a workshop. We’re there because we want people to actually have an experience that they will remember and carry on. It’s nurturing people on where they want to go in life.

Where there any particular challenges you’ve encountered in starting up The Aperture Club?

I suppose that would be when we had to really train ourselves into being more focused. Because people can be totally excited in going into a business and you could flood yourself with too many good ideas. At some point, you have to step back and you have to redefine where you’re going. Always relate back to what your goals are and where you want to see yourself going. You don’t want to go in the wrong direction.

Our first class - we put on a 10-hour workshop. We probably just blasted out everything we knew and it was wrong! So, we worked on it, we spent a lot of time refining and we now get really good feedback all the time. Now we’ve got a good balance of what people can absorb when they come along to a course. And that’s really important because that’s the optimum goal. You don’t want people to go around feeling like their head is too full of information. You want people to go away and understand the information and implement it. We’ve actually developed of a really good way of imparting information in a way that we do everything on location. Everything we teach, we break up into components and we practice. We learn that, we practice. We learn that, we practice. We recap. By the end of it, people are like, “Oh, wow!”. There’s a lot of a-ha moments. We love those!

What’s your dream at this point (personally and professionally)?

My work and my non-work… there’s not a lot of division. If I’m tired, I’ll go out and take my camera, take shots as my relaxation. My dream is that The Aperture Club continues to grow, continue to attract people that love photography and get something out of it for themselves. I can’t see how it wouldn’t at the moment. We’re making great headway. We’re offering really good value for money and experiences that wouldn’t normally be had. I’ve been working with tall ships of Sydney recently, planning a really great adventure into the ocean. We’re also introducing travel options so people who love to travel can all go away to interesting places or weekends away or overseas and just do concentrated photography. It’s a plan that we’ve instigated already. We’re going to Tasmania and Cuba next year.

As for other dreams, that the world’s safe enough for exploring out-of-the-way places!

What’s a place you’d like to explore but haven’t?

I’d like to go up to the Arctic, north of Norway. It’s great to get up there. I love out-of-the-way places.

Do you have any tips for the photographer picking up the camera for the first time?

Don’t get scared of it. Everyone looks at it and goes, “Oh where do I start?” I would say don’t try and learn every aspect of the camera all at once. It’s very easy for people to put it on Auto. It’s sort of become a fail-safe for them. It’s getting you off that and it’s learning to control the camera, and not the camera controlling you. When you learn to control your camera, that’s when you become creative and start to have ideas. Anything technical, you have to actually understand, how to get it to work the way you want.

What’s your favourite style of photography?

I love fine art photography and macro photography, because it takes me into a different dimension. Macro photography doesn’t have to be realistic, it can be abstract as well. I love that. The colours and the lights. My personal art is about abstraction and producing works that could convey more emotions, rather than focusing on form like classic landscape photography. My professional expertise though is people. I do large projects. I’ve done all the big events in Sydney, from Chinese New Year festivals to New Year’s Eve. Everything I produce in my professional work goes to media and promotions. But where I express my inner self, it’s in the art side of photography.

What are your favourite subjects?

Water! I love water when it’s in nature. I love black and white too. One of my most famous pieces was when I captured a fountain in Melbourne. It had been raining and the way I took the photo was in extremely high-shutter speed, I froze it so it became like a tree landscape in the country. No one could work it out except they all loved it!

Is knowing how to edit images just as important as knowing how to photograph?

Yes, to a degree. We try and encourage people to do as little post-production editing as possible. And that’s what it comes down to. Look at what you’re taking a photo of, work out how you’re going to take the photo, look at your exposures, and make sure you are able to produce the best photo that you can. Post production is a normal occurrence for any photographer, whether it’s to put metadata on or to put a little bit of a kick. It’s no different from how photos were edited back then when we used to use film for photography.

Sharon, it’s been great learning more about you. Do you have anything else to share to our readers?

For people who are really interested in buying a camera or using a camera – come to an essentials course and start yourself off on the right track. And look out for our iPhone photography course which we are launching in the not so distant future, that’s going to be a lot of fun!

Get 25% off all photography classes til end of June. Use code photofun25 in checkout.

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