What is ‘Good’ Wedding Photography?
Choose a wedding photographer…
Sounds easy right?
Firstly, what if you don’t know anything about photography? Worse yet, what if i told that every single discipline of photography is different and that Wedding photography is, on balance, one of the hardest, so how do you choose a wedding photographer for your own wedding?
It seems daunting, overwhelming, or even just fucking annoying. So many to choose from, so many packages, so many awards. What makes a wedding photographer…good?
You know you like pictures. You want good, natural pictures of your guests enjoying the day. They should capture the spirit, the atmosphere and the mad ting vibes ya get me?
Do you actually get me though?
Photography is subjective, what you like, someone else might hate. BUT. It’s important to know what you’re looking at. In the same way a french chef is different to an Indian cook, and Gurkha food is different to food from the Punjab, photography comes in different flavours. You have distinctly different groups and genres and then subsets of that group. There are good and bad in each flavour.
(Most if not all of my analogies are food related, food is everything. If you want to get me a gift please post cheese to the following address..)
Where was I.
Here we will take a look at how i construct my images, what I look for, and why I work the way that I do. In doing so, hopefully you will be armed with a bit more knowledge of wedding photography, but also photography in general which will in turn enable you to book me (great idea) knowing more about what I do before we meet. Or, make an informed choice of what else to look out for on your search for the best wedding photographer in London or the rest of the UK.
Good. What is good?
Lets get it right out there. Good is subjective. If you bloody love it, then you love it. That’s it. Sometimes poetry, music, food, literally anything can speak to you on an unconscious level. It speaks to you in a way that you cant even begin to comprehend, it just is what it is, and whatever that happens to be, you happen to love. Its the classic Marmite story, some people love it, some people hate it. To some it tastes great, to others it tastes unbelievably bad. You cant explain your taste buds. It just is.
Sometimes pictures and photographs can work in the same way. The images you parents had in your home, the films you watched as a kid or even the culture in which you were brought up in will radically change your perception of images and what feels right to you.
All I’m saying is, go with your gut.
That being sad, this is how I work, and what I love about wedding photography.
William Klein has long been a hero of mine.
I’m not too keen on the word hero (even though my word cloud suggests I use it alot?) as I have a tendency to change who my influences are on a regular basis in my constant desire to gain knowledge. Klein however, has been a lasting love. His images are direct, unambiguous and confrontational. I love that. But more so than that, I love that his images capture reality. Nothing forced, staged or repeatable, they show moments in their purest form, that’s where magic lives.
I took this image at a wedding in 2018.
The content is fairly self explanatory, the guest reaching for the strawberry is clearly irritated at my presence. Whats the story? Just so you know that I don’t walk around the wedding trying to antagonise guests. It just so happened that every time i was near this guest she happened to be eating. It was very funny. If she was genuinely mad at me though, I probably would have deleted it.
It reminds me of Klein’s most famous picture, and that’s probably why I love it. Its honest, its direct and its confrontational.
Composition. Depth. Multiple narratives.
When I take wedding photographs I want there to be intrigue on multiple levels. Lets do a side by side so you can see what I mean.
Here is a picture of a guest hugging the bride. This is still technically a good photograph. Its in focus, its well exposed and it captures a moment. Their outfit establishes context so the viewer can look at it very quickly and ascertain that the person is at a wedding and is happy about it. Great.
Now lets look at this image.
The same is true as before. Its sharp, in focus and its fairly obvious that we are looking at a wedding.
This time, we have two people, which invites you as the viewer, into the moment to experience it with them.
This time, we have depth, not just the story of one person, we have multiple stories happening within one frame.
This is harder to do.
The moment is unfolding in front of me, but you have to be aware of what’s happening all around you in order to take the best shot.
If we are trying to define what ‘good’ wedding photography is, then in my humble opinion, its shots like this.
The tide is finally starting to turn in favour of wedding photography, for years it was seen as a gateway to other varieties of photography. With the influx of wedding photographers like me who take it more seriously and strive for greatness, the industry has improved no end and is becoming increasingly recognised for its difficulty.
I believe images with multiple narratives are what makes wedding photographs ‘good’. But it’s not possible within every single image you take, sometimes the right way to go is to play it simple and clean. Maybe I should bin this entire post and say instead – if you like the portfolio and you trust the photographer, then you’ll ultimately trust them to make the right call on the day.
What is widely considered to require considerable skill is to weave multiple stories into one image. It allows the eye to move across the image and digest sometimes multiple narratives within a single frame. In all honesty, taking a photograph of a close crop of a single person laughing is really easy, but, if that’s what you like and that’s what you want, then there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t seek that out, it’s your wedding, you do you. It’s important to establish however that that is not how I choose to shoot, I will always look for laughter and odd moments, but I shoot wide, and I will always look to create depth where possible.
Like in any industry there can be a great deal of snobbery around the execution of a practice. Some people love Constables paintings and hang replicas in their home. I find them twee and if I were given an original would sell it immediately. This is the joy of life and ones taste is incredibly important, which is exactly why you have to embrace it and not bend to the will of the market or what is in vogue, we all know that fashions change anyway. In my opinion weddings shouldn’t be seen as something to commodify or be subject to whim and fashions, it of course is, but I like the idea of keeping it about the celebration and not what others are wearing, or what colour palette or dress style is the most popular. You are unique, you do you, I’ll photograph that because that’s real, and real is awesome.
That helps explain the single image, but what about the narrative?
Wedding photographers are really good at coming up with stupid phrases to define their work. Visual storyteller, photo ninja, blah blah blah (I bet if you search enough you’ll find something like that in my archives…moving swiftly on). What is however true is that you won’t be presented with just ten images in the final product, the biggest wedding gallery that I delivered this year had 1564 images in it.
Many factors contribute to the number of images that will be delivered, considering in my package it says 400, that’s a big increase. This is why I divide the presentation up to mix what I want to deliver and what people want in the real world. If it were up to me and my theatrical artistic vision, I would deliver only ten images, but then who would hire me? The reality is, people want to see pictures of their guests, not just ten pictures which meet the photographers ‘vision’. That being said, I present approximately 400 images in a slideshow which balance the artistic side and the narrative and the deliver the entire gallery last. The intention is to give you the highlights of the day to relive whenever you would like, and then the full gallery fills the additional requirements of the photographer and contains all of the group pictures and images of guests that may not meet my highest of standards, but whats the point in me keeping back pictures of your family that you could otherwise have? Pride? Maybe, luckily I don’t suffer from that and have no problem handing over images of a person who would have otherwise have been missed (some guests do hide from me and can be very difficult to capture)
The skill in telling the narrative comes from being able to take the pictures in the first place. This may sound stupid, but honestly taking photographs of strangers is incredibly difficult and took me a long time to get used to doing. Some photographers still aren’t confident in this practice and is the reason why their galleries are only full of pictures of the couple.
So here’s a top tip when looking for a wedding photographer – if the gallery is full of pictures of the couple and not much else, don’t expect many pictures of the guests. The couple portraits will probably be the priority for that photographer.
There we have it. In a nutshell, if you’re hoping to understand what makes an individual image great, you’re looking for depth, multiple stories and lots of emotion.
Like my work? Well darn tootin’ that’s great, we should meet up and drink tea.