We had the pleasure of working with Samantha Totty, an immensely talented photographer hailing from New Zealand, now based in Sydney. Our day of shooting with Sam was such a fun day, filled with creative energy and a shared passion for capturing beautiful moments.

We sat down with Sam to delve into her passion for photography, what led her to transform this passion into a fulfilling career and some of her unique qualities. 

Photo credit: Keenen Lee

Tell me a little about yourself, where are you from, where have you been and where do you live now? 

I grew up in Hawkes Bay, alongside my three younger siblings. My parents still live in the same house today, it’s an old Bungalow up on Bluff Hill, overlooking the port of Napier. It’s a really relaxing spot and I feel grateful that we had an outdoorsy upbringing - close to nature and the sea. From here, I studied Graphic Design at AUT. After graduating, I worked in magazines as an editorial designer before moving to London for five years. It was during this time, and the experiences that I had overseas, that sort of nudged me more towards the photography path. I eventually made my way back home, where I am now working as a freelance photographer in Tāmaki Makaurau.

Tell me about your passion for photography.

Photography is something I’ve always been drawn to, even from a young age. I picked up my first camera at 15, and I would take portraits of my younger sister and her friends in the garden for fun. My grandma, who was an avid collector, had this impressive library inside her home - filled to the brim with all sorts of books. She had one bookcase solely dedicated to photography, and I would always have a rummage through when I visited. I liked her fashion and photojournalism books the most.

Despite always having a love for this medium, it’s only been the last three years - since moving back to Aotearoa, where I’ve made the leap into pursuing it more professionally. I was feeling stagnant in my design career and not fulfilled creatively so I decided to just go for it. I’m still very much learning and growing in this industry but it’s so fun! It’s been a very natural transition and it’s the one creative outlet that has actually stuck with me over the years.

What drew you to what you do? 

I think I have London to thank. My flatmate at the time, was a photographer and she had this amazing medium-format film camera that she bought in Japan. I was like - wow this thing is so cool. I decided to buy the same camera and taught myself how to use it by watching loads of YouTube tutorials. I also did some editorial design for Conde Nasté, and I would work alongside the picture editor. We would often commission photographers for the magazines and they would come in to present their portfolios. I would always leave the office with this urge to go out and take photos and I think that’s when I knew I should trust my instincts and give this photography thing a crack. 

Some of Sam's beautiful work shot for Moin

What part of the industry are you most passionate about?

It would be the collaborative part, working with individuals who share a similar ‘eye’ and creative vision. I’m an introvert by nature, so I love that photography forces me out of my shell a bit. I get to connect with people that I wouldn’t otherwise meet.

What are your plans for the future?

Travel, lots of adventure, building up my photography and learning a new skill. I would like to try my hand at pottery or something more tactile like that. I also like the idea of moving to a sleepy seaside town, maybe with a veggie garden and some kind of outdoor studio where my partner and I can make things and do shoots. The quiet life gets more appealing as I get older.

Tell me about your passions outside of work.

Does digging through vintage stores and auction houses count? I’ve always appreciated old things, particularly when it comes to home decor - like furniture, rugs, textiles, lamps etc with lots of character. I would love to open up a shop one day where I can house all the treasures I find.

What’s the last overseas place you travelled to, and what was the highlight of that trip?

Sydney with my mum. Highlight would have been the Do Ho Suh exhibition at the MCA. He is a South Korean artist who makes these life-size interior installations out of fabric. They were so intricate and beautiful.

What do you like about fashion?

The playfulness! It’s almost like a personal jigsaw puzzle. You can combine and layer colours, shapes, textures - until all the pieces fit together in a way that feels aligned with your style and personality.

How do you think your style has been shaped over the years? 

I would say that my style has remained fairly consistent over the years. I sort of know what I like and don’t stray too far from that. I’ve always preferred more casual low-key pieces that can be dressed up or down. I’m a big collector of jackets and pants, or more workwear style clothing that feels comfortable and easy to move in. I also rarely buy new things, most of my wardrobe is secondhand actually - I’m a huge op-shopper.

What’s your favourite way to spend a lazy weekend?

Coffee, a walk up the road to the Farmers Market where I can buy a Pasteis de Nata (a Portuguese Custard Tart) and probably some flowers for the room! If there is an art exhibition on, I will try and see that.

What’s your go-to coffee spot in Auckland, and favourite breakfast spot?

I would say Neighbour cafe for coffee. There is an area outside covered by trees that is great for people watching and dog patting. Breakfast would be Orphans Kitchen for the spinach on toast with smoked macadamia cream.
July 16, 2023 — Lisa Niemann