Am I a reportage (photojournalism) photographer, classic wedding photographer or a creative, editorial style photographer?
I hate to say “all three” because that makes it sound like I’m a jack of all trades, and we all know what a jack of all trades is master of, and that’s none. Invariably, every wedding is made up of 90% photojournalism style photography. Unobtrusive, minimal to no intervention (especially in church where it’s best to as invisible as physically possible), in which all concentration and skills are focused on capturing wonderful moments that not even you or even your guests notice at the time. This is the essence of modern wedding photography, and it takes great skill, experience, concentration, and energy to do well for an entire 10-12 hour wedding day.
What I love to do and show off, although it causes me the most stress and anxiety on the day given extreme time constraints and pressure to perform, are fashion-style portraits and unposed-posed, structured yet natural looking couple shots. This is when the wedding photographer needs to pull out all the stops, and possibly bulky lighting equipment, pose the couple so they look gorgeous yet spontaneous, natural and unposed, and come up with editorial, magazine style images in around 15 minutes. I always ask for an hour but, realistically speaking, and depending on factors like light, unravelling schedules, stressed-out wedding planners and chefs impatient to serve pasta before it goes soft and they lose their Michelin star, this has in the past been reduced to 3 or 4 minutes in which to get frame-worthy images. Take the example below. The ceremony had taken place in Switzerland, then I and the wedding party drove three hours to Lake Garda in Italy for the reception. By the time we arrived, the light was vanishing, the couple were tired and wanted to freshen up before the guests arrived, golfers were driving between us in their golf carts as we shot, and my flash’s batteries were dying. So I went for a silhouette instead. In the bag and back to the reception.
If I can, I’ll try to arrange a separate bride and groom photo session on a different day. This is such a luxury. We can take all the time we like, the couple are relaxed as they don’t have to worry about their guests; we can experiment and try things and laugh and mess about, and have a fine old time of it. The picture below is from a “next day” shoot – or was it the next-next day? – with a very sweet and beautiful bride who was delighted to get her dress back on. She wanted to try a stylised, black and white “vogue” look for this particular shot.
I love faces, and like to get nice and close with a 200m lens and a shallow depth of field, which a very flattering focal lens for portraits.
During a “trash the dress” shot, which is a shoot after the wedding where we take the bride and groom to somewhere they can get dirty and do something a little bit different, it was a dark, gloomy day and thick with fog. We went into the forest behind my house and I really went with the theme when it came to post producing the file. I added some birds from a different photograph, and she became “The Snow White Bride”:
I started my career as a wedding photographer not doing group photographs at all, but with time, I’ve come to realise that while of little interest to me personally and creatively, these group pictures can have immense value to either the couple and/or their families. In particular, one couple I worked with had, months before the wedding, lost a brother and his fiancé in a car accident, so stressed to me that family group photos were of huge importance to them. This meant sacrificing time doing arty couple shots with which I like to adorn my portfolio in favour of doing group shots. And if I’m going to do something, I like to do it well… so I brought studio lighting equipment with me to the wedding, enabling me to do these time-consuming family groups (if you imagine 5 minutes per group, to get everyone together and smiling, put their drinks down, straighten their clothes, organise heights, make sure no-one is blinking, give the flash time to recharge between shots etc, then times that by the number of group shots… just 20 group pictures will take well over an hour and a half. And I’m being conservative with that figure.
So the studio lights remained set up throughout the afternoon and evening, and the family got some beautifully lit group family and friends pictures well past dusk, with the last groups being posed around midnight.
At another wedding, the family groups were of utmost importance as the families of the bride and groom lived thousands of miles apart. So, unfashionable though they may be, the group shots had to be done, and in 40 degree heat! Again, the studio lighting played an essential part as the family wanted Lake Garda visible in the background, having travelling so far to be here. Without professional lighting equipment, the blinding midday sun would have made this impossible.
Having said that, no wedding is complete without a party. And a party needs party shots. One of the many reasons I love shooting non Italian weddings is the fact that less emphasis is paid to the food and more emphasis and time placed on drinking and partying! British and Irish weddings especially are just fantastic fun to photograph once the dancing starts. Whoever said we Brits are reserved has no idea. So that’s when my flashes come out, placed in various corners of the dance floor, so I can get crisp but atmospheric dance shots.
After writing all of the above, I’ve realised I am in fact a jack of all trades. To be a wedding photographer you have to be, and that is what makes it so challenging, so exciting, so expensive (top range gear and lighting is essential), so exhausting and so exhilarating. The day after a wedding I’m not just physically exhausted, I’m mentally drained too, after concentrating so hard, with eyes in the back of my head, watching for an expression from a flower girl, an eye roll from a bridesmaid, a tear from a father, a wink from a groom to his bride. But when I get those moments, there is nothing like it. All the sweat, aching brain, sore arms and repetitive strain injury disappears as that rare beast known as “job satisfaction” takes over.
So if you see me sneak a glance at the back of my camera and a fleeting beam of triumph cross my face, or I start jumping up and down during the couple shoot, you’ll know why.
And the short answer to the original question is: 90% photojournalistic, 10% stylish couple shots. And if you want family group photos, they’ll be the best damn family group shots you’ve ever seen.