in safe hands
From heavy industry to the wedding industry, Monika Zaldo is one of Spain’s most exciting photographers
It was a happy twist of fate that lead Monika Zaldo to make the switch to wedding photography. “It wasn’t really a conscious decision,” she admits. “I was into industrial photography. In the Basque Country there is a lot of heavy industry, so it was easy for me to access it. I could take spectacular images from incandescent castings and freeze-dried parts... but I missed the human factor in my photos.”
Monika started out as a graphic designer – and it was while working as one full time that the opportunity arose that would ultimately lead to another career path.
“My boss at the company I was working for at the time saw some of my photographic work and the next day he gave me some equipment and sent me to a foundry,” she says. “I still remember leaving the office during working hours, with the camera in my bag, as I walked to the car. I felt completely free – it was like opening the cage to a bird. And that is how my professional career as a photographer started. After that I couldn’t go back to doing office work full-time again.”
Then, as Monika’s friends started to get married, a few of them asked her to be their photographer and she surprised herself with how much she liked it. Once Monika had started down the wedding photography path, it only took her around two to three years to establish herself as a photographer in that field, as her name started to grow in her home city of Bilbao. Her background in graphic and web design stood her in good stead as she could create her own website and blog to properly illustrate her services. The result? Lots of newly engaged couples eager to use her book her for their big day.
Monika’s work has taken her all over Spain – and not just to photograph newly married couples who live there. When I ask her which countries her clients have come from, her list includes China, Australia, England, France, Canada, the USA, Norway, South Africa, Iran and India. She’s also photographed weddings in England, Portugal, France and Morocco. However, Monika is strict with the number of wedding she takes on over the course of a year. She admits that it’s “never more than 21 weddings. I have given myself that limit so that I have a balance between work and family and my social life”.
But like all wedding photographers, the last year has been challenging at times for Monika. When I ask her how many weddings she photographed in 2020, she says: “Unfortunately not many, almost all of the weddings that I had in my diary were rescheduled for this year and next. In Spain, the restrictions meant you couldn’t have more than 100 guests, which is the norm here. Also, there were no destination weddings, so my schedule suffered a lot. But I’m hopeful that the pandemic will continue to stabilise and disappear little by little.”
Along with major issues such as the pandemic, what other problems has she found she’s come up against? For Monika it’s about keeping in mind the ebbs and flows that can result from wedding photography being focused on particular times of the year: “Weddings, at least in Spain, are seasonal, from spring to autumn, and then you have to put up with the winter – and I can’t sit still! It can be an obstacle race, so if someone is thinking of dedicating themselves to this field of work, they need to remember that it won’t always be easy or stable.”
Monika became a Nikon local influencer in 2018, something that came about with the launch of the Z 7. “One day they sent me an email asking for an interview and that’s when everything started – at first I thought it was a joke!” she smiles. “I couldn’t believe Nikon was knocking on my door. In the end, I was in charge of taking the first wedding photographs for the launch campaign of the Z 6 and Z 7.”
She is enthusiastic about the difference mirrorless cameras make to her work. “The volume and weight of
the equipment is half of that of other Nikon cameras. But I especially love the viewfinder with mirrorless cameras: you can see the image completely and there is an absolute sharpness, up to the edges. Because wedding photography is so fast, sometimes there isn’t enough time to even think about what shutter speed, iso or aperture is best. I already know in my head what settings are best for the type of light and action I have at that moment but, of course, I’m not infallible. With the Z 7 and Z 6, in the matter of seconds that it takes me to decide which settings are right and adjust them on the camera, I can immediately see it in the viewfinder. So, if I have made a mistake I see it straightaway. At weddings you can lose unrepeatable moments in a few seconds, so it’s invaluable.”
Monika has won many awards throughout her career, including one of the 100 Best Wedding Photos of the Decade for ‘The impeccable portrait 2020’, which she won for her super-striking and fun image of the bride in the unicorn head holding hands with her chicken-headed groom: “The couple threw a big party for their guests, which included lots of costumes. As soon as I saw the chicken and unicorn heads, I knew that they would make a great photograph. The photo shoot only lasted 20 minutes – and luckily I managed to take the perfect picture!”
So, it’s perhaps unsurprising to learn that Monika’s become friends with some of the couples she’s photographed for their big day. “There are a handful of couples that I have kept in touch with. I have photographed their pregnancies, their children and sometimes a friendship has formed from that. Although I did once photograph the second wedding of the same couple after they remarried in Paris to celebrate their anniversary!” Evidence, if any was needed, of plenty of satisfied customers.
Nikon cameras have never let me down. I feel confident and at ease with the technical side, meaning
that I only have to worry about the creative aspect. Power, quality and reliability all in the same camera.
The Z 7, 2 850s, a 750; NIKKOR AF-S 14-24mm. My lenses are: AF-S NIKKOR 50mm 1.1.4G; Af-S NIKKOR 35mm 1.4G; nikkor 85mm 1.8G; NIKKOR Z 24mm f/1.8. I also have a FTZ adapter and two Nikon speed lights sb-900s.
I would love it to be the NIKKOR Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct.
Nikkor Z 24mm f/1.8
AF-S NIKKOR 50mm
“Some photographers don’t believe this was taken at a real wedding!” says Monika
D850, Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G, ISO 1250, 1/800 sec @ f/2.2
Another candid shot: the bride rests her weary feet
D850, Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G, ISO 320, 1/640 sec @ f/2.5
Monika uses coloured smoke bombs in her wedding photography to fantastic effect
D850, Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G, ISO 1000, 1/250 sec @ f/1.4
Monika’s Z 7 captures the contrasting colour and detail at this wedding in Bilbao.
Z 7, Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4S, ISO 100, 1/5000 sec @ f/4