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Families captured from the heart

Emma Macdonald

This is the story of Heartstory.

When professional photographer Katie Kolenberg met professional photographer Jeremy Byrnes on a dancefloor late one night in 2012, it was pretty much love at first sight. But there was one over-riding concern that each creative had with each other—what if they didn’t like the other’s photos?

“It would have been pretty awkward,” Katie recalls with a laugh.

Instead, when the event was over, and they each had a moment to stalk each other’s body of work, the verdict was overwhelmingly positive.

“I loved his style, actually it was pretty similar to mine, but I could see he had more experience,” Katie recalls.

Cut to the present day and Katie and Jeremy are not only decidedly in love, partners in life, and parents to 15-week-old August and Katie’s firstborn, 11-year-old Toby, but they run one of Canberra’s most awarded photography businesses together—Heartstory.

“We both have a really similar aesthetic and while we didn’t want to rush into anything (it took two years for Jeremy to relocate to Canberra and officially start working in Katie’s already-established business) it has worked out perfectly,” Katie says.

The couple shares one overriding desire when it comes to creating family portraiture—and that is to capture emotion.

Or as Katie philosophised recently, “Photography is so much more than a way to capture memories. It can be a gift for the senses and the heart for your future self.”

The Heartstory style is distinctive compared to other family photographers around the city. Jeremy articulates it as “strong, bright and featuring the landscape, sometimes in a really epic way.”

“We really seek an honesty in our work and constantly challenge ourselves to push the boundaries creatively,” says Jeremy.

One only needs to scroll through their website to see how varied and distinctive each family’s story can be.

There is the family of seven by the river. It is more than beautiful curly-haired girls surrounding a younger brother. It is a story of a family cherishing a son with a serious illness and the joy his sisters have in protectively looking over him and seeing him smile.

There is the family of four leaving Sydney and committing their house, their memories and their beloved beach to a photo shoot before saying goodbye.

There is the single mum and son in a park with their dog. Jackie said she had always pushed the thought of a professional photo shoot to the back of her mind—too time-consuming, too expensive. Until she booked in on a whim. The photos of her and her son on the cusp of manhood are joyous and will always remind her of the glorious spring day they kicked a ball around and forgot the pressures of life.

Beautiful photos are one thing, but Heartstory has won a swag of industry accolades which make them hard to beat in terms of professional recognition. Katie has won the most prestigious award for family portraiture in Australia in 2017 and 2015 – the AIPP Australian Family Photographer of the Year. She was also a finalist in 2016 and Jeremy was a finalist in 2015. Jeremy has recently won 2018 ACT Professional Photographer of the Year. And between them, they have won 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018 AIPP ACT Family Photographer of the Year.

The couple share a philosophy on good photography —which should not be about fashion, hair, makeup or making children “behave” in front of the camera.

“Nine-tenths of good photography is what you feel. And it is vital that families connect with each other. We want them to remember the day itself as well as the images that come out of it,” says Jeremy.

They liken their jobs to being part-creative and part-psychologist.

“There is absolutely a skill to taking a family through a shoot process and making everyone feel happy and relaxed and able to relate to each other without feeling self-conscious about being in front of one of us with a camera,” says Katie.

While Heartstory accepts a limited number of wedding commissions, both Katie and Jeremy relish telling stories of family – from pregnancy shoots, through to newborns, children, adults, couples, extended family and everything in between. Many clients had been coming back for years, capturing each stage along the way.

“There is a lot of love to show in family shoots, and ultimately that is why people come to us—because they want to remember these moments with children, and parents, and brothers and sisters (and quite often beloved fur babies),” says Katie.

Heartstory differentiates itself from other family photographers by being a full-service studio – that is, working with families to create printed photographic art for their homes, rather than selling USB stick with images.

With the rise of Instagram and Facebook, most parent were already conscious of chronicling the lives of their children, but Katie noted that no family could capture itself on smartphones.

“Even we can’t get our own family portraits!” she said.

“We also find that mothers so often miss out on being present in family photos. While women can generally be a bit hard on themselves in terms of wanting to look good for a shoot and feeling self-conscious when we start, we usually find by the end of it they are joyous and relaxed in being with their kids.

“And when these kids have grown up—because we all know it happens so quickly—these photos are cherished by parents. And when parents are gone, these are the photos that their children will hold on to. We are capturing childhoods and legacies.”

Heartstory is offering HerCanberra readers a 50 per cent reduction in sitting fees and 10 per cent off prints and framed wall art for the first 20 bookings.

the essentials 

What: Heartstory Photography
Where: The Loop Earth Building at the Belconnen Fresh Food Markets, Unit 104, Level 1, 17 Market St, Belconnen

This is a sponsored editorial. For more information on sponsored editorial, click here.


Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author