Why did I submit this image? It’s pure serendipity. I do not know how it happened, sometimes the frame just appears in front of you. There is something of the arabesque in the composition. The gaze leads the eye across the frame, starting in the bottom left and flowing to the top right. The man outside the shop looking back to rebound the viewers eye towards the bride. Seriously, what are the odds of that guy appearing right at that moment? Madness! I take a great deal of pride in these sorts of images as they have absolutely no intervention from me. I have had friends ask me if I set it up. This completely underpins the philosophy of what I do and how I do it. It’s pure wedding day magic. No intervention, no staging and no posing. A fleeting moment where everything in the universe aligns, a fraction of a second later, it’s gone. These moments occur, you just have to be in the right place to see them.
Award winning documentary photography
2017 has been a fantastic year for me so far. Incredible weddings, wonderful clients and to top it off I’ve won two new awards. I have never coveted awards as they are subjective. Social media users are more than happy to remind you of that. Only last week did I see an award winning image with the outraged comment beneath it “how did that win!”. Are the judges more enlightened? Possibly. With experience comes a discerning eye, however new awarding bodies appear quite regularly in the photographic sphere and ‘award winning’ is often banded about on photographers website. My love of philosophy has always steered me away from the seeking any kind of notoriety as it is often vacuous and fails to nourish the soul, only serving to inflate the ego.
There was a brilliant documentary on the BBC about aborigines a few years ago which helped put this into perspective. The aborigine was in a cave full of paintings that were roughly a thousand years old. He noticed that the eye on one of the beasts had faded and decided to re-do it. The presenter was startled by this as of course the painting was a genuine artefact. The aborigines response was that we’re all part of the same consciousness and the my hand is my ancestors hand, driven by the same needs, desires and connected to the same land. This is mind altering stuff. In my opinion, It’s a much healthier view of the world. Understanding that we merely occupy a space in time and that time will continue without us. Not placing too much importance on our own single isolated existence and to understand that we are merely a blink in the time-line of existence, only contributing to the whole, never the whole itself.
There is a great story that Simon Sinek uses in his motivational speeches about a former secretary of defence. He arrives at the airport, is chauffeured to the hotel, is checked in by his staff and then chauffeured to the venue to give a speech. The following year he is no longer the secretary of defence, but is invited back to the same conference. No special treatment, no chauffeurs, no assistants, PA’s or staff. The point of the story, is that all of those privileges belong to the Title, not to the person. If you’re the president, the manager or the award winner. Any privilege belongs to that title and not to you on an individual level. You merely occupy that space until the next person comes along. Bill Hicks also believed this. His advice on comedy was ‘always be nice to the new guy’. The new generation will come and replace you, always. Ad infinitum. No matter how good you are, how famous you are, how wealthy you are, the new guy will always come and take your place.
What I’m really getting to is that fact that I need perspective. I often struggle with the need to keep up with blog posting, social media updates. I see photography being reduced to ‘content’. The discussion of whether it can be art rages on, but the speed at which photographs are produced surely dilutes it’s claim to the title? Can mass production be art? Maybe in a Jeff Koons kind of way, but I digress. I feel no need to create ‘content’. I do not wish to see the form of visual communication that I love so much reduced to a fly by scroll and double tap.
The masters of wedding photography award I’m proud to have won because it has integrity as an awarding body. The judging is thorough and standards are incredibly high. It’s wonderful to be in such great company – some of the best wedding photographers in the UK have won a masters award. It is a great honour to have your work, endeavour and photographic skill recognised by your peers. I’m grateful to all those involved with the masters of UK wedding photography for the nod. To read more of my ramblings on self discovery, check out my philosophy meets wedding photography post, if you think you can add some insight into my journey or have a book that I should read just get in touch!
Waddesdon Manor Wedding – The Dairy
Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild bought the Waddesdon Estate in 1874. That’s right. Bought it. Ascott estate, bought that. Champneys? Bought that too. No wonder they are described as the wealthiest family in modern history. It’s impossible to fathom that at one point in history one family owned the majority of Europe. Banking, wine, construction, mining, you name it, they did it. Many of the properties have since been handed over to the national trust which means they are not for profit, but more importantly, you can get married there! The Waddesdon Estate is divided into three venues, the Manor House, The Dairy and the Five Arrows Hotel. This amazing event took place at The Dairy.
A remarkable location for multiple reasons. Firstly, the flexibility makes it a truly unique wedding venue in Buckinghamshire. Love a traditional wedding? No problem, St. Michael and All Angels church is a three minute walk. Fancy keeping it all in one place? The Dairy is licensed for civil wedding ceremonies and partnerships in the Inner Courtyard, West Hall, Winter Garden, Lakeside Pavilions and the Secret Garden. Get married inside or out, the choice is yours. Check out the Hitched website for more photographs of ceremony options. Spoilt for choice, I felt like a Baron just being there.
I adore this wedding. It reminds me of the importance of family. The connection between everyone is so tangible, bridesmaids, flower girls, long lost friends, the love is real. Everyone wearing their emotions on their sleeves and riding the emotional roller coaster that is a wedding day, fully embracing every pang of sadness, every bout of laughter. It was a joy to witness. My current philosophical reflections on life have led me to Guy Debord, a French theorist. I read a passage of his just yesterday that struck my very core. The modern world is moving from ‘being’ to ‘having’. In many ways this is true, however weddings like this give me such fulfillment because they absolutely oppose this idea. I didn’t see a single mobile phone all day, everyone was in the moment, truly ‘being’. Fully immersing themselves in the day. No adverts, no Whats-app or Facebook. A group of people experiencing the extreme emotions that life can deliver, it was beautiful to be a part of.
I want to know why I love photographing weddings.
I’ve recently come across the writings of Guy Debord, a French Marxist theorist. Debord wrote extensively on The Spectacle.
The spectacle is inescapable.
Whilst we are at work, we are workers, whilst we are at home, we are consumers. Those are the roles ascribed to us and any narrative we form sits within this construct. This then prevents us from having a genuine experience of reality and of ourselves. This fascinates me for many reasons, but in particular the role that weddings play in suspending this apparent construct.
Whilst scrolling through Facebook a few days ago, I stopped to read the headline of a post from Al Jazeera reporting on war in the Middle East. Alongside it, an advert for a coffee machine I had considered buying on Amazon. I found myself perplexed. Is this The Spectacle in action? A deliberate act to dissipate any thoughts I have, to keep me as a consumer, arrested by the thought of delicious crema? Unable to think or feel anything anything other than the compulsion to buy!?
I then switched back to Lightroom and continued editing…
It is impossible not to smile whilst editing wedding photographs, as one becomes completely consumed by the emotions displayed within them. It became apparent that for all my frustrations with the commercialised reality which I experience, weddings can offer something to two people that very few other events in life can. An absolute escape and, in Debord’s terms, a genuine experience of reality.
Whilst sitting on a hay bail discussing marriage with the videographers at a recent wedding, the conversation naturally transitioned to cost. The usual arguments against elaborate weddings were put forth, ‘you could buy a house’, ‘it’s only one day’ and so on. How much is the experience of the full spectrum of reality really worth? No phones, no workers, no consumers, no established constructs, just purity in lived experience. I have never been so happy as I was on my wedding day, was it because of the suspension of The Spectacle that allowed me to experience something on a higher plane?
If weddings do offer a suspension of this reality, and allow access to higher emotional experiences, then surely the continued suspension is the key to happiness? Ergo, adverts/commercialism are the cause of unhappiness?
I think I’ve got some more reading to do…
Can we escape The Spectacle? I do not know. But I do know that weddings create something truly amazing, something that I witness most weekends. It’s an event that is directly lived, not lived by proxy. An occasion where two people can experience life at it’s most joyous and intense, the extremes of the emotional spectrum, together, and I think that’s pretty cool.
This is part of a series exploring why I love weddings, check out more in this article aptly titled, why i love weddings
I’m a London based wedding photographer, shooting all over the UK and into other galaxies (probably).
I’m a wedding photographer, and I love it.
I don’t shoot anything else and I really don’t want to either.
In all my career as a freelancer I have shot everything from boxing matches to restaurant interiors. Nothing has ever been as challenging as photographing a wedding.
There does seem to be a general consensus among the public that weddings are where photographers start on their journey to becoming the next Annie Leibowitz. However, I’m proud to be a part of a generation that is very slowly starting to change that misconception.
When I studied Photography at University I was (and still am) fascinated by the notion that photographs can trigger and even replace memories.
This fascination led me to a two year investigation into the importance of the photograph. I found case studies where individuals had forgotten lived experience and replaced it with the memory of a photograph. This startled me, but became obvious when I attempted to piece together my own childhood. Certain events I have no recollection of, yet I can recall the photograph.
The importance of the photograph was taken to new heights when I proposed to my now wife. In that moment nerves completely overtook me. I can remember the intense emotional experience, yet oddly I have no visual recollection of the event. Because of these instances (and my fascination with the connection between the photograph and memory) I hold photography in general and especially wedding photography in the highest esteem and take my work incredibly seriously.
The highest level of trust is placed in a photographer. I approach it is as if someone has entrusted me to capture their memories for them. For this reason, I consider it an honor.
The Technical Challenge
To be an exceptional wedding photographer you need to have mastered very nearly all photographic disciplines and be able to execute each skill consistently. It tests everything you know about your camera, lighting, and people’s behavior and will always throw something unexpected into the mix.
A wedding is often so tiring that shooting two in a row will exhaust you for the rest of the week, such is the level of concentration required.
Light is constantly changing throughout the day. In any one moment an event can occur in your peripheral vision, one must stay sharp and know the camera inside out to compensate for changes in exposure. I relish the challenge that comes with being quick on your feet being able to work at pace. Dark churches, people standing in doorways, even walking from shade to sunlight can produce huge jumps in exposure.
The above image is an accurate representation of the lighting on this day: overcast, some rain, fairly dark…so what do you do?
When the rain is intermittent, the pressure is on to work quickly and maintain quality. I’m constantly taking pictures of my hand throughout the day. Guests often look at me like I’m mad but it’s a great trick for achieving accurate exposure in changing conditions.
The solution? Place the couple under the boughs of a tree. This places them in shadow, but more importantly, creates a difference in exposure between them and the background. Would you believe it’s raining?
A wedding photographer must know how to manipulate daylight as well as flash. Be competent shooting inside as well as out (thanks to the British weather) and equally as important, know how to work with people. The biggest test for the modern photographer, however, is the ability to capture the in-between moments. Modern SLRs and lenses can cope with nearly all lighting conditions, and this has opened the door to photographing weddings in a reportage style.
To this extent all photographers must have an element of documentary in their work, even if their speciality leans towards fine art. Even if one is shooting 35mm film, film speed and fast aperture lenses means no longer capturing these moments is inexcusable.
This is one of the primary reasons why I love shooting weddings: the unexpected.
People go through a variety of emotions on the day: laughter, tears, and pure joy, all within the space of ten hours. It is truly magical. Because of this you have to be mindful of everything going on around you, not just the key moments of ring exchanges or first kiss. Guests may be crying, flower girls may be yawning, anything could happen and that’s why they’re so exciting.
Wedding Photographers need to be prepared for anything
Each wedding is a brand new challenge and guarantees to keep you creatively engaged. Even if you shoot the same venue three weddings in a row, the light will change, the weather will change, and the people will change. Each of these factors will dramatically alter the final story. No two weddings are the same, so they should never be approached in the same way either.
The evolution of the day also keeps you sharp, and I love to be tested.
Often photographers will cite the pressure as being a reason why they dislike weddings. The burden being too much to deal with. For me, each phase of the wedding offers a chance to take the best photograph you have ever taken. The moments are there, and if you wait for them they will come to you.
There is a certain fluidity of shooting that comes when you fully embrace this idea and think less and shoot more. There is no sorcery involved, be in the mix and the moments come to you.
Inspiration Can Come From Anywhere
I love that I can shoot almost every sub set of photography. Weddings give you portraits, close ups, macro, still life, photojournalism, action, and more. Fleeting glances, posed portraits, or close ups of the tables and cake—everything is covered. For this reason, plenty of arrows can be added to your photographic quivery and constantly improved upon.
Articles on food and cook books offer amazing insight into the world of food and lifestyle photography. Fashion magazines, paintings, and art blogs are always giving me inspiration on how to pose people. YouTube documentaries on Joel Meyerowitz and Garry Winogrand offer insight into the wonders of street photography.
Each of these avenues can inspire a method or approach which can ultimately be applied to improving your wedding photography.
The Emotional Connection With Clients
Weddings bring out something in people that you never encounter in everyday life: a level of openness and vulnerability. Our relationships with our partners are kept to ourselves, only on this one day will you declare how you feel publicly. To allow yourself to be vulnerable is one of the bravest things I can imagine. Being so emotionally charged that you can’t help the way you behave and the way you feel.
There is a purity of emotion that is inaccessible at any other point in one’s life. This purity is what I love to capture.
Shooting products and still life will always be overseen by a shoot director. Their job is to maintain brand identity and communicate brand values through imagery. With weddings you’re able to sculpt your own identity and shoot exactly how you believe the day should be captured. Ultimately, you deliver a product to a commercial client. To a wedding client, you deliver so much more.
You make an emotional connection with wedding clients, to the extent where you feel like you’ve known them your whole life.
I’m a big old softy at heart and adore my wife; I find it easy to emotionally invest in other couples when I see the love they have for each other, because I recognize it. The love felt on the day isn’t just between the couple, but family and friends too.
The single most rewarding thing about photographing a wedding is when a client tells you they can relive the day through the images. If my photographs re-enforce what they felt and mirror everything they experienced on the day, then I know I have done my job.
In no other field of photography will you receive such personal feedback. A commercial client will never tell you they shed tears of joy when they watched the slideshow. Weddings offer any photographer the ability to make a tangible connection with other human beings and this is why I don’t want to photograph anything else.
The Group Shots
Ask any wedding photographer what their most disliked part of the day is, and ninety nine times out of one hundred they will reply, “group photographs.”
Why is it difficult? It requires moving large numbers of people (who would often rather be drinking) into position. Guests don’t want to stand still and the couple don’t want to waste time. The way I see it, the couple has asked you for them, it’s your job to deliver. I’ve only ever photographed one wedding where no group pictures were required. With this in mind you should definitely switch your mind set and learn to enjoy them.
It is yet another challenge, something new to master. You need a big voice; if you struggle to summon your inner Pavarotti then employ an usher to shout for you. (Side note: I’d love to know if anyone has ever used a megaphone!) Organization is key. An extensive list which starts with big groups and whittles down to smaller groups of immediate family.
Why do I love group pictures? First of all, they have great potential for candid shots—groups of friends in a row will often make each other laugh. Secondly, and most importantly, where others fail I can flourish. We all know guests hate group photographs. At every wedding I have shot everyone compliments me on how quick and efficient I was at organizing. Not only that but they will then often recount a tale; “the last wedding I went to the photographer took two hours!”
This means the next time a friend of their gets married, I am more likely to be at the top of the referral list.
Both of the above images were taken right after the ‘formal’ group shots. Keep shooting through a moment and you’ll capture much more genuine emotions and images the client will cherish.
Believe It Or Not, You Can Shoot It How You Want
If a client books you based upon what is in your portfolio, then they buy into your vision of a wedding. One of the best stories I ever heard about a photographer at a wedding involved the legendary William Egglestone. He delivered an album full of pictures of the sky. Truly unique.
You don’t hire William Egglestone to take pictures of your dress hanging up in a tree, back lit and shot at f/2 on a Contax 645. You hire him because you believe in his vision. Would I hire him to shoot my wedding? No way, he could just as easily deliver photos of ash trays. The point remains: if you show what you want to shoot in your portfolio and people hire you based on that, then you don’t need to compromise.
I wrote this article for Contrastly and was also published here