Sandra Lording, police officer turned photographer, moved to Mansfield two years ago. For the first eighteen months, she was ready to return to Melbourne, but thanks to connections made through work and helpful locals, she settled. She now works for the Mansfield Courier and is growing her photography business. She’s been kind enough to share some of her favourite shots, so keep scrolling for a visual feast.
What was your background before moving to Mansfield?
I worked as a police officer for 20 years in two stints, in part as an operational member and then as an intelligence analyst. In between, I worked at ESTA (Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority) – as a workplace trainer, dispatcher, and call taker for the MFESB/CFA and the police.
Once I left the force, I became a professional photographer and established Frozen Action Photography and Sandra Lee Photography.
What brought you to Mansfield?
John and I were both working from home and wanted a bigger house, but not a bigger mortgage. To help us decide, we applied for the TV series, Love It or List It. We didn’t get on the show, but the application process helped us decide to move to Mansfield.
What were the challenges of this relocation?
First and foremost, I felt invisible. I could walk up and down the main street and no one knew who I was. Apart from John, I had no one to catch up with over coffee. I wasn’t involved in sporting groups and had no regular activities. One day was the same as the next – a blank calendar.
I knew the answer wasn’t to keep making the trip back to Melbourne or to rely on visitors, but to find myself within this community. I found many activities that focused on children and families, and plenty for retirees, but there seemed to be a gap for people around my age.
On top of that, there were and continue to be LOTS of challenges to living on 10 acres. The previous owners were avid gardeners. They established the grounds from scratch including large areas of grass (and no, we don’t have animals to keep it under control, it takes three days to mow using the ride-on mower and tractor), rows of trees leading to the dam, and a structured garden of hedges, hedges and more hedges, and LOTS of roses. Oh, and we have a mini-orchard – citrus trees, olive trees, apples, pears, ornamental grape vines, you name it. Given we’d had a gardener when we were in Melbourne, we certainly weren’t cut out to look after this type of property.
In the first two years, everything around in our house and around the property broke down. So many things went wrong, that I’ve created Exhibit A – Disasters in the first two years. Refer to the end of the interview.
How did you establish Sandra Lee Photography in Mansfield?
Initially, I was unsure whether I’d even continue my photography business, but I quickly decided that I wasn’t one to stay at home to bake or tend the garden, and I didn’t want to give up the profession I’d worked so hard to establish.
I attended a wedding festival and landed some jobs, but weddings are quite seasonal and if my business was to survive I needed additional work.
A lovely little cottage shop in the main street was up for rent and the idea of having my own studio seemed attractive. I created a space that felt like a lounge room for my clients and an area out the back where I could shoot. John and I painted and applied wood panelling to the reception area and more recently removed the carpet and put down a floating timber floor in the studio.
The businesses that surround me are so friendly and welcoming that we’ve become our own little community. On a sunny day, I sit on the deck and have lunch with Belinda next door at Shed 47. Then there’s Amanda and Patrick at the Alpine Patisserie, and out the back are Sheryl and Janina.
It’s taken the best part of 18 months create a sustainable business. I’m now getting enquiries from local referrals. At the start people were a little unsure about who I was and whether I was going to be long-term business.
Can you share some of your all-time favourite photos?
As a photographer, I get dissatisfied with an image very quickly – I might like it initially, but then it’s easy to pick fault. It’s also difficult to compare say a wedding image with a newborn baby image, so I guess I have favourites in each of the genres I photograph.
Its rare that I photograph just for me these days, so earlier this year I went to New Zealand to shoot landscapes on the south island. I was pretty happy with these two images.
This image was taken four years ago, and while not technically perfect, it’s a favourite as it represents five generations of women in my family – Nan, Mum, my sister, my niece and my great niece.
This image of my family inspired me to offer generations of women portraiture. I asked the lady on the left to look at her mum and she just burst into tears and gave her a hug. When I captured this one, I knew it was special.
I love the connection here between Emma and Hercules.
What else helped you to settle in Mansfield?
Dean and Tracey, the real estate agents who sold us our home, engaged me to photographed houses for sale (I still do this as required). Then they invited John and me to the Harcourts Christmas Dinner. I was so excited; this was our first real invitation since being in Mansfield. I’ll always be appreciative of the friendship and support they showed.
One day, I was home sick while John was working away. He couldn’t get me on the phone, so he rang Dean, who sent Tracey over to check that I was ok (I’d just turned my phone off to get some rest). It was reassuring to have people we could turn to if we get stuck. The longer I’m here, the more I see the support within the community – something that is all too often missing in the hustle and bustle of Melbourne.
I also work with VicRoads as a Roadsmart Facilitator – part of a road safety program for Victorian year 10 students – and I volunteer L2P program as a mentor driver for learners. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both roles, spending time with young people to minimise their risk on our roads. And I met Amelia, the L2P program co-ordinator who’s become a wonderful friend.
I revived an AIPP (Australian Institute of Photography) group in North East Victoria. Now six professional photographers meet in Wangaratta monthly. They come from Albury, Beechworth, Corowa, Bright and of course Mansfield. This talented bunch has become my support network in all things photography.
Early on, I joined Mansfield Facebook groups – anything from Mansfield mums to the local photography group and community pages. What a great source of information and support. Just this week, I needed a plumber urgently on a Sunday (for yet another problem at the house) and achieved success through a Facebook post.
I took a job listed as a sports photographer with the Mansfield Courier approximately seven months ago. This has been fantastic as I meet new people every week. I enjoy the variety of work.
Like me, there are lots of newbie’s to Mansfield who have/are having difficulty adjusting to life in the country. I really think it’s about putting yourself out there and getting involved in what the community has to offer.
What does your work with The Courier involve?
I’ve moved from sports coverage to pretty much anything they have for me. I walk into the office and feel like a part of the team – something I’ve missed since leaving Vic Pol. Each week, we discuss which events I should attend. I’ve covered everything from festivals to Remembrance Day, an SES educational program and sports events.
How did you become a photographer?
I began photography when my two boys started playing sport. When I wasn’t coaching/scoring/umpiring, I always had a camera in my hand. I became frustrated with the quality of my images, so I purchased professional sports camera equipment (quite an extravagance for an amateur) and my images improved dramatically. But having a great camera won’t get you great photos. Sports photography is all about anticipating the moment, understanding the emotion and anticipating where the action will take place. You must be able to use our equipment to achieve the image you are after.
Anyway, I photographed my children and the other players in their team and eventually parents asked to pay for my photos. This led to an opportunity to photograph a junior baseball tournament and I established Frozen Action Photography. Under this banner I’ve photographed all sort of sports – football, baseball, netball, car racing, soccer, rugby, kayaking, cricket to name a few. I’ve always loved sports, athletes and competition – yep I’m just a bit competitive.
To pursue photography full time, I needed a better understanding of lighting and posing. I enrolled in a two-year professional photography course doing night classes and assignments between my policing shifts. I discovered there was a whole lot more to photography that I’d thought. As I gained more and more experience, I likened the camera and its settings to how I used a glove when playing baseball. With time, it becomes like a part of your hand, you don’t think about where the glove is in relation to the ball, you just instinctively make adjustments as required.
The name Frozen Action Photography didn’t really gel outside the sports arena, so I developed Sandra Lee Photography (Lee being my middle name). The bulk of my business after leaving the force was at childcare centres and kindergartens. I love working with children, but it was exhausting and very time consuming, so I gradually expanded my range of genres.
How did you get into wedding photography?
During my course, I said, “The only sort of photography I don’t want to do is wedding photography.” This reluctance was all about not being confident enough and worrying about missing important moments or disappointing a couple – after all, you can’t do over a wedding!
Then I was asked to photograph a friend of a friend’s wedding. I approached it as I do many things – with detailed preparation. I write lists, draw on images for inspiration, visit all the locations, prepare for any lighting situation etc. By the end of the day, I was nervous and exhausted, but loved every second of it. The images of that first wedding still stand the test of time.
Since then, I’ve gained extensive experience and I now love the challenge each wedding brings. They require a wide range of skills – photographing details (rings, dress), to portraits (bride, groom, parents, family members, bridal party), to photojournalistic photography (ceremony), to event photography (reception).
Here’s a recent favorite.
What’s next for you?
I’ll continue to grow my photography business in a range of genres. I’m working on the Mansfield Farm Project, which is a story in itself. Stay tuned and hopefully, I’ll be back with more. In the meantime, I leave you with …
Exhibit A – Disasters in the first two years
As promised, here the list:
- Three air conditioning units broke down. Two were repaired but the third was unsalvageable as there were no parts to replace it.
- The septic system produced an odour so we had that cleaned out (I’m still not ok with the idea that our waste is going to underground tanks on our property, lol).
- One of the toilets emitted an odour and the plumber had to reseal it.
- We had an infestation of mice (nothing more disconcerting than sitting in front of the TV of an evening and seeing a mouse run out from the fireplace and across the floor).
- Bambi (the wild deer) came into the property one night and ate up to head height all of the fruit trees and lots of plants in the garden bed.
- I felt like I was on the set of Jumanji during our first spring when the grape vines took over the house and the grass needed cutting every other week.
- Our electricity bill was out of control – seriously $2k plus every bill – so we installed a solar system. This improved the situation, but to get it to a reasonable figure, we changed electricity companies and replaced the hot water system.
- John didn’t realise that the tractor had a roll bar and took out the garage door (insurance claim within the first two months).
- Flies – OMG where were they coming from? Turns out they were flying down the chimney.
- We had a major storm in the December of our first year that washed away our driveway. We eventually replaced it only to have it washed away again weeks later.
- One evening we had guests staying and a major storm put the power out, which meant the water pumps also went out. Got through the night but discovered a lightening bolt had hit a transformer at the top of the street which took out our pool pump. We have since purchased a generator that has come in handy no less than three times.
- The retaining wall at the back of the house needed replacing but the contractors hit the main water from the tanks to the house and took out some wire for the irrigation system that leads from the bore.
- Speaking of bore, this also had to be replaced during the first year and then with the drought, we thought it was on the blink again, but apparently the water table was so low that we couldn’t access the water.
You can follow Sandra on:
Website: http://www.sandraleephotography.com.au http://www.frozenactionphotography.com.au
Next time: Sue Arndt Hare on Community Spirit