A Few Tips for Aspiring Wedding Photographers
Normally my articles are a little broader than the wedding photography industry, but it’s the industry I have the most experience in after all so I figured why not share one or two articles dedicated exclusively to wedding photography. You might be an experienced photographer already, in fact most of our talks have been to professional photographers. You could just be looking for a way to make your hobby pay a few bills, that’s pretty much how most of us start out! Either way here’s a the first in this series dedicated to weddings. Oh, and I’d love to hear from you guys! Is there anything you would like to know about taking the leap into wedding photography? I’d love to hear your questions and answer what I can, maybe even do a blog or two on them!
Be PresentBe Present. That sounds simple enough right? We’re all physically present at weddings, obviously, we’d be in a lot of trouble if we weren’t! But part of being a wedding photographer is adapting to the long days. I’ve read lots of differing figures and statistics on this but it seems to be a fairly well accepted premise that the human mind can only concentrate for so long before things start to go off track. The general consensus seems to be that between 5-8 hours the mind starts to shut off from what we’re working on. Regardless of time, we’ve all felt it, we’ve all started a day full of enthusiasm, worked rooms and experimented with everything we’re doing to get the best possible shots, then felt it fall apart as the day goes on
A quick sideline – worrying about the competition. I think the biggest hurdle most photographers have to get over is the need to always ‘LOOK’ busy. Have you ever heard the old adage about ageing? Supposedly we spend our 20’s and 30’s worrying about what other people think. Then we spend out 40’s and 50’s not worrying about what anyone else thinks. Only to realise in our 60’s and 70’s that nobody was thinking about us in the first place. I love this adage because it applies to so many aspects of life in general. For photography it’s definitely accurate. I remember spending years worrying about what other photographers were doing; were they getting more bookings than us? Were they charging more than us? Soon enough we ended up at the higher end of the pricing spectrum, shooting fancy multi-day weddings that paid better than we could ever have hoped. We pretty quickly realised that everything involved in these kinds of weddings just wasn’t for us. Personally, we’d just rather shoot a few extra weddings and be able to stay local, than spend hours driving, flying and waiting in airports. Essentially our business had gone in that direction because that’s what we felt like we SHOULD be aiming for. We felt like the only way to prove our worth was for our ‘worth’ to be defined by how much we charged and how high end the weddings we shot were. Like I’ve talked about so much before, we had based our decisions on all of the wrong factors. We’d worried about everyone else instead of ourselves.
Oh yeah, Being PresentAnyway, being present? The reason I talked about ‘not worrying about what people think’ is that in our early years we did so many things on wedding days because of how it looked. CONSTANTLY shooting was one of those things. Now I’m not saying that you down camera’s, put your feet up and grab a pint, but I am saying that you don’t need to worry about guests seeing you not taking photos. Here’s the thing, there’s a nice middle ground. On the one hand it’s really important to remember that while you’re at a wedding you’re representing your business. That doesn’t however mean that people expect you to have a camera to your eye ALL the time. We’d recommend taking your time a bit more, finding opportunities within a wedding to take a step back and really look at what’s going on around you. Honestly, there’s so much going on during a wedding that there’s not many people there who are really paying that much attention to WHAT you’re doing! You see being ‘Present’ is really the opposite of non stop shooting. Being present requires you to look at the world through something other than the narrowed view you see through your camera. I find one of the best ways to really be present on a wedding day is to be open to talking to people. I know some people worry about this, again it’s that fear of looking like you’re not doing what you’ve been paid to do. Remember, most people aren’t really paying attention to exactly what you’re doing. They won’t see you talking or not shooting for 30-40 minutes in any given wedding day and assume that that’s ALL you’re doing on the day. While it’s not the best idea to sit down, pull up a chair and chill out with a drink and a wedding guest for hours on end, stopping to have a quick chat to guests is always a fantastic way to integrate yourself within a wedding day. Getting to know people, their connection to the couple and – through talking to them – getting to know the couple themselves a little more. It’s like background research for your documentary! It also helps guests relax a bit when they realise you’re just a normal person!
It’s the Shot that countsWe’ve all done it before, found a shot and just overworked the shit out of it. Basically we’ve overthought things. One thing I try and remind myself of more and more is that ultimately content is king. If you look at any year’s most prestigious press photography you’ll see images that will live in history not so much because of how they were taken, but because of what’s in them. That’s not for one second meant to detract from those photographer’s abilities, it’s more that the photographers themselves fully acknowledge that a good portion of their job is about more than just how they frame or expose a shot. It’s about the situations they put themselves in, the people and connections they make, and the historically significant moments in time they find themselves photographing. Photojournalism in weddings has become so popular because there’s so much crossover with traditional photojournalism. We’re covering an event where what’s happening within a photo usually matters more than the compositional elements of the photograph it’s-self. The reason I wanted to talk about this idea of the content being as important as the shot is that so often people shy away from shots because they won’t look exactly how you want them to. When we’re in a room and we stick to the well lit area’s because the shots are going to look nicer?
The VIPsThe funny thing is there’s always a lot of really ‘important’ people who prefer to find somewhere to hide away from the action. Just look at elderly people for instance, ok, occasionally you’ll see some super active grandma on the dancefloor throwing shapes. But most of the time elderly guests tend to find themselves a nice quiet spot as the day wears on. Just thinking back to our own wedding around 5 and ½ years ago it’s amazing how much my attitude towards photography has changed. Personally I never took a photograph of my grandfather, and my only remaining grandparent hates to have her photo taken. At my sisters wedding a few years ago I finally managed to get a few photos of my nan. They aren’t great, the light isn’t awesome, the composition is average at best and I couldn’t give one single shit. It’s still my nan. I wouldn’t care if I’d taken it on my iPhone, it’s still my nan. So the next time you’re in a situation where you’re considering moving to a better angle, or changing lenses knowing you’ll miss some crucial moments to get it, just remember that ultimately content trumps execution every single day of the week.
The Importance of What We doWhy is content king? Because we’re commercial photographers. I know we’ve said that in articles before, but it’s something I think all wedding photographers really need to start understanding! As commercial photographers we’re being paid more to capture events than we are to create wall art. It can be pretty, it can be beautiful, it can be art, but most of all it needs to capture the events, the people and encapsulate the day that we are being paid to photograph. Sometimes we think we know what’s going to be important to couples, sometimes we just can’t tell. Sometimes couples tell us what’s important to them, and sometimes they don’t. We can work hard to break down client/photographer barriers but we can’t force people to share everything with us and no matter how hard we work, we’re always going to be caught off guard by what our clients are most drawn to when they look through their wedding photos. Years ago we shot a wedding for a couple who became good friends of ours, only to find out later that before the wedding the bride’s mum had received a terminal diagnosis. Fortunately for everyone she defied all odds and is still doing great even years later. But I’ve often wondered if we would have shot things differently had we known the full story. It’s hard to imagine that we WOULDN’T have done things differently but then again I’m not even sure if it would have made the photos any better? Would we instead just have missed everything else going on around us and made the collection really lop sided.
Ultimately at every wedding we shoot we’re taking photographs of people that will one day be a part of the collection of images and memories that their life is remembered by. It’s not the happiest thought in the world, but it’s true, our images will hold incredible value to a select number of people in decades to come. Our friends mum is in great health, given that we’ve shot over 100 weddings just between their wedding and now it’s pretty reasonable to assume that other guests, family and friends at those other weddings may have passed away in the meantime. I’m not saying that to be morbid, or to put a downer on what we do, I’m also not trying to pile on the pressure of weddings. I’m just trying to point out that the emotional significance of what we do MASSIVELY outweighs the artistic side of it all. It’s great to know photographers like your work, and to have the recognition and sense of validation that comes with recognition. But the truth is that side of the industry moves fast, this years rock stars of wedding photography are replaceable. To the couples we all work for, and who’s memories we are charged with preserving, WE are all the rock stars!