Cybele Malinowski and Daniel Boud are two of Sydney’s most successful photographers. At first glance they’re a portrait of contrasting forces. She is fair, he is dark. She is ebullient, extroverted. He is reserved, introverted.

But the pair complements each other. She shoots fashion and famous musicians, such as Flume and Gotye. His subjects are from the top Australian performing arts institutions: The Australian Ballet, Belvoir Theatre, Sydney Opera House and The Voice.

Neither would be a photographer, says Malinowski, if they hadn’t met when they did – at the insalubrious Judgement Bar in Sydney in 2004. At the time Boud was a web designer and Malinowski was studying architecture and working at her brother’s photography studio. “Our photography was an act of courtship,” she says. Each would try to impress the other with bigger and better jobs.

Twelve years later they describe each other’s work. Malinowski’s photographs reflect her personality, says Boud. “Colourful, bold, sometimes a bit sexy. There’s a lot of young, lithe bodies in Cybele’s work, and she often seems to get people down to their underwear.”

While Boud is a wallflower, his work veers the other way. “He likes to photograph subjects who are different to him, rock stars and comedians and people who like the limelight,” Malinowski says. “Really physical, present people, whereas Daniel is quite a thinker, and he’s quite quiet. It’s like they’re his alter ego.”

Despite their differing styles, Malinowski says their work is becoming closer aligned as time passes. “We’re sitting next to each other, always helping each other and giving advice, and seeing each other’s work …”

“Stealing each other’s techniques,” Boud chimes in.

“You can quote that from Daniel!” she says laughing. “We’re influencing each other more and more, and as each of us fine-tune or work, and strip it back, which is what you do at a certain point in your trajectory, it’s becoming more and more aligned.”

While they love to travel, the pair has always lived in Sydney. Their past addresses include a studio in Annandale, a warehouse in Chippendale and a Surry Hills terrace, one in a row of five. “We knew everyone in all the terraces and every night there’d be a party in one of them,” she says.

They now live in a sunlit apartment in Woollahra with their daughter Lilya, almost two. Malinowski spent her childhood in the house, an unusual three-residence complex nicknamed the Malinowski Compound. Malinowski’s Polish grandfather built it in 1964, paying for it with smuggled diamonds. Today her mother and father each occupy a wing, leaving the trio the upstairs flat, previously occupied by Malinowski’s “crazy Russian grandmother”. They renovated two years ago when Malinowski was pregnant with Lilya, ripping up carpet, demolishing walls and adding a new kitchen and bathroom. Their downstairs office, a white-tiled space where matching desks and computers sit side by side was once the waiting room to Malinowski’s grandfather’s surgery.

Today it’s a true photographers’ flat, thanks to the diffuse light flowing in from the large lounge-room window. “It’s great for shooting,” says Malinowski, whose framed works – one taken from a moving train in Switzerland, another from an off-season trip to Cape Cod – hang from the walls.

Amid the photographs, the mid-century furniture and an overflowing bookshelf, organised by colour, are baskets of Lilya’s books and toys. She happily poses for the camera in her cute Kenzo jumper.

Life as working parents is busy for the pair. “We put Lilya down at 7pm, and we’re both on our laptops from seven until 10.30pm every single night, and on the weekends during her naptime, from 11 to one, we’re both working again,” says Malinowski.

The only thing they lack is sleep – the case for all parents of small children – though the situation is a little different for Malinowski. While Lilya sleeps 12 hours every night, for the past two years Malinowski has survived on somewhere between three and five. At first her insomnia scared and angered her in turns, but now she is used to it. In fact, Malinowski thinks sleeplessness gives her a creative edge. “I’m pretty peaceful with it now. It’s just part of the process,” she says. “I try to listen to my ideas when I’m not sleeping because you become safer and safer the older you get, and I think with photography and creativity you don’t want to be going down that path.”

The family loves to get away. “I always want a holiday on the horizon, to justify all the crazy hours and long nights,” says Boud, who also runs a “mini-agency” of photographers called Boudist.

The family’s next holiday, a five-week trip to Italy via New York and Vienna, is in August and September. At least for a short time during their time away, the photographers plan to put down their cameras and relax. “I’m hoping the holiday is going to give us time to reflect and work out the next step,” says Malinowski.