Interview with Photographer Elizabeth Toher
Based in the picturesque village of Cong, in the West of Ireland, Elizabeth Toher (@elizabeth_toher) is a multidimensional photographer and owner of Elizabeth Toher Photography. She’s also the resident photographer for the prestigious Ashford Castle in Ireland, a Red Carnation hotel.
She sits down to talk about the intervention of fate, the bravery to follow one’s passion and the opportunities that have arisen amid the pandemic.
Q: Elizabeth, photography hasn’t always been your career, what inspired you to change course? What inspired you to make the leap to turn your hobby into your career?
Everywhere I look I see pictures, the magic of a moment, pockets in time to be captured but it was fate that led me to take up photography as a career. A fateful encounter in a shop would transform my hobby into my career. After my third child was born I decided to take a step away from my job as legal secretary to spend time with my children. I found myself diving into photography full time, spending my days capturing my little ones, capturing their essence, smiles and mischievous endeavors. I found myself learning and exploring how emotion and photography intertwine and how for me one can not happen without the other.
Everywhere I look I see pictures, the magic of a moment
Had it not been for a simple tap on the shoulder in a shop I don’t know that I ever would have made the leap to make my hobby my career. But the persistence of a friend of a friend led to my first paying job as a photographer. I haven’t looked back since that first photography session in the woods, and I have grabbed every opportunity that has arisen with both hands. What started as a hobby has led me to an amazing career that has given me the opportunity to document the Premier of China, members of the Royal Family, to meet people from all over the world and become the resident photographer for the prestigious Ashford Castle and its Estate.
Q: Becoming the resident photographer of Ashford is a huge achievement. What challenges have you faced to get to where you are today? Have there been any difficult decisions you have had to make?
While I am truly blessed and totally and utterly in love with what I do it has not come without sacrifices and challenges. I did not learn my craft within the walls of art school. My classroom has been the world around me. While I have not had to make any difficult decisions regarding my career, I have sacrificed time, hours and hours, to teach myself. Many hours have been spent teaching myself the intricacies of Photoshop and Lightroom. I have spent countless hours learning to use light even in the most challenging of situations and to use it to my advantage. There is not always the luxury of waiting for the light to be ideal to capture that memory or perfect moment.
In working for yourself, I have learned that you have to be your biggest advocate. All aspects of my business are reliant upon myself. There is no one else to go out and secure my next session for me. I must rely on my own abilities to book the next job. The experience and finished product that I provide to my clients gives me the opportunity for future bookings. Learning the strength and power of social media to share work with the world has also been a tool that I have had to learn to harness. I have also had to come to the difficult realization that not everyone values photography as much as I do. Not everyone values the magic of a moment and how once it has passed it can never be retrieved.
I have learned that you have to be your biggest advocate
The biggest challenge that I have had to overcome is how to shake my self-doubt. Every time I pick up my camera I want to get the best photo that I can whether it be capturing a couples first kiss as as a married couple or capturing the way the light is filtering through the treetops of the woods. The goal for me is not to simply capture the way a moment looks but rather how it feels, the emotion behind it that moment. One of the challenges I face is overthinking all possible scenarios that I may face during a photoshoot. But once I feel the weight of the camera in my hand and feel the give of the shutter release everything melts into the background and I am lost in the heavenly space of the moment in front of me.
Q: Have there been any mistakes in your career that you have learned from? Have there been times where you have wanted to quit but continued?
I am blessed to do what I love for a for a living and have never had the desire to quit. There are difficult days but my passion for what I do drives me. For me there have been no mistakes but rather learning opportunities. I still learn daily. No two sessions are the same, no two weddings are the same and each come with their own unique set of challenges. The most important thing, I feel is to focus on your client, talk to them. When a client books me whether it be for a family session or a wedding they are booking me. I am the experience and to simply be me is enough. Perhaps when I first started, when I felt I had something to prove, I may have tried too hard to tease out an emotion or response. I have found over the years that you can not force emotions or a moment. I now know that stillness and a quiet kindness illicit all I need from my clients.
The most important thing is to focus on your client
Q: The pandemic affected so many industries. How was your business affected and were there any opportunities that arose for you?
Like so many, the pandemic was devastating to my business. Lockdowns and restrictions brought things to a screeching halt. As weddings were cancelled and imposed travel restrictions limited my ability to explore and shoot landscapes, fate once again intervened. I decided to use this time to pursue a dream and publish a coffee table book, documenting the beautiful village of Cong, that I am so blessed to call home. Through my lens I have the honour of sharing Cong’s beauty, its magic, its rich history tucked in every corner, its mystical ties and the stories that bring it to life. I am delighted to be able to share this magical place I have always called home with the world in the next couple of months. It will be available to purchase through my new website and online gallery, which also came about during the pandemic.
Q: You have such passion for what it is you do. How has becoming a photographer made you into the person you are today?
While it sounds cliché I was born to be a photographer, to capture and store memories. With every fibre of my being I believe it to be so. Every day I am surrounded by pictures begging to be captured. My camera has brought me into peoples home and lives to document their precious newborn or that special life milestone. With my camera in my hand I have stood in cathedrals while two become one. I have had the privilege of documenting some of the most poignant moments in people’s lives. Photography has led me to moments where I find myself in awe of the world, at what I see before me. I was born with a need to take pictures every day. This need to chronicle the world around me is how my love of landscapes evolved. For me a perfect day off is to go off with my camera chasing the light before me, just her and I watching the world.
I have had the privilege of documenting some of the most poignant moments in people’s lives