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Behind the Lens: Elsa and Gemma Dillon

By Skye Cross

While looking through a magazine, you cannot help but to stop and stare at some of the breathtakingly beautiful photographs that capture models with the perfect outfits, effortlessly posing for a flawless photo. What we don’t see in the magazine is all of the work that goes into behind the scenes, such as the work of the photographer, stylist, and all the other hands on deck that make a shoot go smoothly.

Elsa Dillon is an accomplished Australian photographer who is based in Byron Bay. Elsa started photographing using film with her first SLR camera when she was only 13 years old. By the age of 18, she had opened her own studio. Elsa has worked with publications such as Bazaar, Elle, and Marie Claire, and has done countless other editorial work since the start of her career. One of the most fascinating aspects of Elsa’s work is that she works closely with her family throughout the photoshoot process. Elsa works with her husband, Richard, as well as their children Gemma, Jack, GiGi, Geri, Gidjet, Genie, Ginger, and Jet. Her children do everything from modeling and makeup to styling and jewelry design. In this issue, Seraphina gained an opportunity to talk with Elsa and her daughter, Gemma, who is an experienced stylist and jewelry designer. We talked about personal life, what it is like to work with family, and where they each see their careers going in future years.

Elsa and her husband involved their children from a young age because of how well it allowed them to incorporate both family time and work. Each child brings a unique dynamic to the mix. Elsa says, “We are always together as a family. Our children have always been in all our jobs and we are able to incorporate nature and family by having a great day outdoors while working. They [the kids] surf, snorkel, spearfish, horse ride, quad bike, motorbike, cook, bake and play in the sand while we shoot. It just naturally evolved for them to have interest in crew shoot roles. Gem with styling and jewelry design (@gemgemstyling), Jack as drone pilot (@jack.dillon1), GiGi with modelling and makeup (@gigi.dillon), Ginger in sewing and clothes design (@gingerdillon1), the little girls modelling (@geri.dillon, @gidjetdillon, @geniedillon1), and Jet catches our dinner for us while we shoot (@jet_dillon_fishing ).”

Although there are many perks of getting to work with the entire family, it makes for lots of

preparation on Elsa and Richard’s part, to make sure everyone is organized and staying focused throughout the duration of a shoot. Elsa says that despite her busy schedule, she still sets time aside daily to make sure she still has “me” time. “Hmmmm me time…What’s that? Time for meditation and yoga, and waking at 3 AM for quiet time with Richard.”

When it comes to Elsa’s editorial work, she has had experience with everything from unique landscapes, working with animals, and even doing hair and makeup for the models when there is no other team available. Years ago, Elsa used her Tumblr to showcase some of her editorial pieces. When scrolling through her photos, many of them included outdoor landscapes with horses incorporated into the photoshoot. She says the best part about getting to work with animals are the moments “animals make eye contact with [her] through the lens.” Even though she ends up with beautiful results, there are some challenges that Elsa is sometimes faced with when getting the animals and the models to cooperate for the perfect picture. “Yes, definitely tricky as some models don’t speak the same language, some models are barefoot around horses or wearing couture, and some have never been near a horse or even modelled before... Incorporating horses with models can be quite challenging as it requires many hours of horse grooming but gives very rewarding results. The horses always love the interaction and all the horse treats at the end of a photoshoot day.”

When we asked Elsa to reflect on some of her favorite editorial projects, Elsa could not pinpoint just one because of how they have all had a different impact on her career. “Over [the] past 30 years, I have fallen in love with all our shoots. They are special moments of new faces captured in different settings. It’s history in the making, so [I am] happy to be able to create.”

Having collected such a diverse portfolio of work, Elsa has gotten to see the world from behind her lens. “I have shot at some incredible locations around the world, from presidents' homes, ancient tribal ritual sites, haunted castles, exclusive tropical resorts, palaces, 600 year old Swiss chalets and many more. However, some of the most uninspiring or unpleasant places have captured the most incredible visuals. Seeing beauty in everything is very exciting all the time.”

Elsa has had experience with almost everything when it comes to behind-the-scenes camera work. She says her experience from doing models’ hair often comes from the lack of professionals available the day of the shoot. “I have been privileged to work with some of the industry’s most creative and talented hair and makeup artists, and I have picked up on some of their techniques. So, when I am unable to book my favourite crew, I just apply what I have learned.”

Another aspect of photography that Elsa has explored throughout her career is the amount of creativity she can exert through a photoshoot. Despite some brands and companies laying out what they would like to see in photographs, many let Elsa take the wheel around the creativeness of a project. “Usually I get a rough brief for a magazine, publisher or brand, but clients allow me to do my thing as they know that the best results are achieved if I go into my creative zone.”

Gemma Dillon is one of Elsa’s daughters, who has worked as a stylist, started her own jewelry brand, and still attends school just like any other teenager her age. Gemma’s interest in jewelry design started when she was in tenth grade, where her school introduced her to the idea. “The interest started in Year 10, as I had a metal work class as one of my main topics. We learnt the basics of silversmith work.”

With already having this experience with silversmith work throughout her education, Gemma started her own jewelry brand, Salty Gems. “I've already started Salty Gems (@salty_gems). I envision my brand to be unique and affordable jewelry with good quality metals. I wish for my business to be sustainable.” How many teenagers are there that include environmental sustainability into their business plan?

Gemma pulls inspiration from anywhere, including Pinterest and the world around her. “There is definitely a process for making the jewelry. Designs just come to me, then I prepare how they will work with the different elements.” With so much time left to decide where her business goes from here, we asked Gemma if there were any dreams she had for her business. In the future, her main goal is to continue to grow her business and create new pieces, to see where her business endeavors will take her in the future.

Aside from her business and work as a jewelry creator, Gemma has had years of experience working alongside Elsa, as a stylist for photoshoots. When pulling inspiration as she styles different models, she uses a variety of tools to open new ideas to her. She gets “inspiration from magazines, Pinterest, and Instagram influencers for upcoming shoots. Elsa also puts together a mood board” which helps too.

Gemma is focused solely on making sure the model’s outfits are perfect and match the predetermined theme of the shoot. Gemma says she is not afraid to ask her mom for help when it comes to direction with styling during a shoot. “My mum has had way more experience than me so she does help direct me when I need to, but besides that, I usually get the creative control after the photographer has chosen the theme for the shoot. My mum is a true Gemini, and I have to have multiple different themes ready to go, which means heaps of extra clothes per shoot, as she can easily change her mind on the direction of a shoot.”

When asked what it is like to work so closely with family on a daily basis, Elsa and Gemma say that it is the only way they can picture their work environment. Ever since Gemma and her siblings were babies, they were on the set of photoshoots with their parents. Gemma values all the experience she has gained through working with her mother and the rest of her family. Gemma states, “I’m extremely grateful I've been able to work with my mum and dad as they both have had so much experience from high end fashion, and they have enabled me to start up my own business and jewelry workshop. We as a family are already really close, so working with my family has just become a normal everyday thing.”

Together, Elsa and Gemma make an iconic mother-daughter duo that can produce incredible editorial work. The Dillon family serves as an example to us all as how family can work together to create an amazing team.

Skye Cross is an Editorial and Marketing Intern who specializes in writing pieces related to beauty, current trends in media, and social equality.

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