I was doing a little photographic research today and looking through my back catalogue of images when I happened across this one! I still mentally dance a little inside when I find photographs such as this, the type that a guest may not creatively see to photograph or indeed with a compact certainly be quick enough to capture; the very reason behind my purpose for being commissioned as ‘the professional.’
It’s a true ‘unseen’ wedding photography moment from this wedding at Horwood House in Buckinghamshire, though I suspect the bride has clocked something may be happening. There’s a trademark grit to the post processing too which draws attention to the boy’s plight; to get that present back to his table at all costs! He made it by the way, albeit as a comically strangely poised walk.
Many of the more observationally impactful shots captured in church and covered by this series are photographed from angles that are in general not directly behind bride and groom during the wedding service. The side swipe glances couples often share, emotionally charged tear shedding captures, facially expressive shallow depth of field pictures which depict a proud father’s reaction ‘through the gap’ as his daughter exchanges vows with her husband.
These are all photographs that could not be captured from behind the key cast members’ shoulders. I’ve not done the maths, but I’m guessing more often than not during the year, I’ll be permitted in church to find a subtle place to cover these angles. There are some churches though where space, logistics, nervousness about photography or wedding photographers in general, will necessitate shallow photographic angles or capture from the back of a building.
This angle presents opportunity of a different nature. I’m yet to experience a minister that doesn’t in some way face the couple inwards to exchange vows, so the idea you won’t capture anything expressive because you feel demoted to the back shouldn’t become an issue. You may not enjoy the intimacy you seek in terms of close ups, but you can still capture the atmosphere and landscape of the occasion. Often brides and grooms will exchange jokes or comments with the congregation and at these times, being at the rear of the church as you can see, is the perfect position.
There have been but a handful of times in my life where I have felt moved to reward a fellow man’s invention or endeavour with a seal of approval by way of a hearty well intentioned fish lips smacker. The first was at the birth of our second son, when a touch and go moment turned fortunately for the better. I believe it was an unsuspecting anaesthetist called David that was the recipient on that occasion.
On the occasion above though, it’s a disc jockey called Ben who understands how dramatic a powerful single light source aimed somewhat unconventionally through the subject can actually be.
The resultant picture is reasonably potent as a descriptive documentary capture from a wedding; it embraces romance, subtle movement and a little drama. For just one song, I seemed to be in possession of a follow spot technician. Pucker up…
I’m not sure who feels the most contentment here. I think it’s a close run campaign between the bride’s best friends front row, the bride herself, and, well, me. Ask me what makes a wedding such a unique and satisfying creative experience in photographic terms, and it’s an image such as this that I’ll seek from the catalogue. My contentment in what I do, comes from photographs such as this.
I’m fast coming round to the idea that there’s a strong social documentary facet to what I choose to photograph. These are living images, legacy pictures. As I say on the “180 Seconds” film, wedding photographs announce a subject’s place in their modest yet important Universe. I look back at my late mother and father’s wedding photographs and there aren’t any informal real moments such as this. To me, their album is pretty much perfect as it’s them, and that means the World. It would be absolutely perfect if I could sense a palpable exchange of impromptu undirected personality.
Writing this in the frosty midst of February it seems a while since I last felt the warmth of sunshine on my lens in quite the same fashion as this photograph promotes. A few years back I would have fought to balance this exposure with an unhealthy return of strobe, but times have changed.
It’s often suggested by well meaning conversational guests at a wedding that digital has in some way replaced the necessity to either understand the technical mechanics of photography and exposure in particular, or even the very requirement for a professional photographer to be gainfully employed for my kind of vocation. Of course most guests wouldn’t think to phrase it that way, but this is in essence what they mean.
It’s difficult to explain composition, exposure, angles and shooting style to somebody who believes that their mate with digtal SLR, kit lens and licence to machine gun the shutter button until the battery has run flat has got all the skills required to shoot these never to be repeated events. Let’s take light; one, just one element of the photographic medium that seems irrelevant when a guest photographer flicks the auto button. Over exposing a capture but retaining a rich characterful sky whilst using the strong directional light to fill this bride’s veil, linked with a camera angle that promotes urgency, is not exactly high on the agenda for a guest to cover off and consider.
Photography does involve forethought and skilled understanding, still. Post processing (like printing) is a skill too, but get it right in camera, and your shots will be equally, if not more potent. I’m quick to point out to a guest that photography is still a vocational skill. There are many things I can do, but I’d not be so quick to set my stall out as an expert. “I can cook an omelet,” I say to such well meaning guests; “But I’m no Marco Pierre White or Jamie Oliver. I can drive a car, but Alonso, I am not.”
I can’t remember who I’m quoting here, but I do remember the words. Owning a camera does not make you a photographer, it makes you a camera owner.
Smoky dancefloor, impromptu conga, splash of video light, turn of the subject’s head to promote movement, click. I experienced my first Turkish wedding at the end of last year; loved it. I was told it was somewhat unusual to be commissioned as an English lad with roots no more exotic than Watford General to photograph a traditional Turkish wedding, so I went with a fresh, some may say creatively naive mindset, as much an attitude to invite education as anything else.
Immediately there is a difference of scale to what I regularly find in terms of the wedding work I am more familiarly commissioned to photograph. 1,300 guests greeted the bride and groom as they arrived for their evening reception at a venue in North London. I was introduced later in the evening to a prospective bride who enquired about my untraditional reportage approach. Size matters in terms of the guest list quite clearly, as the bride-to-be grabbed my arm to excitedly exclaim that her wedding would have at least 1,500 guests. There’s certainly an energy to a Turkish wedding.
Oh, a chance to quote. Mahatma Gandhi once said; ” I believe in equality for everyone, except reporters and photographers.” I don’t think I ever expected to be quoting the preeminent leader of Indian nationalism within this blog, but it seems a good way to begin this journal piece. I’m primarily a documentary photographer at weddings, so my goal, my task, is to capture record shots where you need to professionally pry a little. Usually that of course is a balancing act; a mix of subtlety and trained ardor, but however you do it, sooner or later, and usually in the name of humour – somebody gets caught off guard.
Generally guests expect to be photographed at weddings, although the wedding photographer will inevitably be the one person you try to avoid when your mouth is full of volovant, or you’re nabbing your third G&T within half an hour. And actually usually volovant munching guests are not on my hitlist of ‘must have shots.’ I am yet to capture my award winning shot of; ‘Man eating chicken.’ But sometimes, the devil inside me seems to know which characters you can expect to react with charitable humour. These aren’t award winners per sae, but they do underline that a little photographic prodding can produce some humorous pictorial exchanges.
Here’s a wedding photograph captured at Wasing Park last year, a somewhat warmer day than of late. It’s a simple family composition featuring a bride with her mother and father. I spend a reasonable amount of time at weddings insisting that the waves do not part for the photographer. Most guests have this innate fear of blocking a photographer’s viewpoint.
During the documentary part of a day, I position myself purposely behind people, particularly in a scene such as this. The guest photographers are as much a part of the day as the main subjects themselves, they’re a part of the day. I’d expect one of the guests at some stage to apologise and gesture me through, though I’ll refuse and proffer that they’re actually framing the shot beautifully. Usually I’ll get a bemused look and then I’m forgotten. Perfect. Click.
A piece of advice that was handed to me a while back that I now in baton like fashion briskly pass to new reportage wedding photographers, is to give the odd shot or two away. Gift a shot, now and then. Strictly speaking of course a true photojournalist does not alter the day or set formal compositions for capture in any way. I can’t truly remember whether the pose above was set by me, though I suspect looking at the composition, there was a chance; I naturally shape bodies in towards the middle of a group, set best foot forward and so on. Then I may retreat back through the ‘crowd’ of photographers I happily invite to stand alongside me. This is the result. A documentary moment from an otherwise formal opportunity.
This wedding photograph, captured at Wasing Park in Berkshire works for me on so many levels; it’s a worthy inclusion in this year’s catalogue series. I scan across the picture and it seems that the term documentary wedding photograph is perfect for this kind of capture.
Yes, our groom is indeed emotionally floored by the arrival of his bride, but it’s equally the background cast members that breathe spirit into this capture; I can count four direct emotional connections being made by guests behind the couple. There’s a busy nature to this picture and it’s one of those photographs that for me, invites you to take a closer look.
I think this may be the first catalogue photograph within my annual features not collated from a day shooting an actual wedding event. It’s number 33 in this year’s series and it features the team on the print floor at GF Smith Photomount, the ones responsible for the story book style wedding albums I present to clients. There’s a back office team too, of that I’m very aware, but this group shot (see I do shoot group portraits) demonstrates something I think is very important to realise. Wedding albums don’t go in a machine at one end as computer files, emerging at the other end as a boxed product ready to be shipped within 15 minutes.
I’ve spent two days filming in Hull this week at the impressive plant owned and operated by GF Smith, a paper company that has been established for over a century. I like that heritage. It’s positively British, I like that too. I’ve been working on a short film that’ll be released soon on this site about how an album is produced. It’ll be condensed into a 120 seconds piece and it’ll show how integral the human eye and creative input is when working on a hand made album.
From print to crop and guillotine, score, crease, compile, bake (yes bake), binding and cover application, it’s a process that undoubtedly makes this a truly hand crafted piece. I’m an advocate of albums, even though sometimes the digital files are all a client really requests or desires. I say in my promotional film “180 Seconds” that of all the things I now own that were once the property of my late mother and father, their wedding album is the most precious. Albums are a legacy purchase. I doubt my mum and dad would ever have realised just how important their album would be to their son, but it most certainly is.
So, look hard at the team above. They create the legacy. I may capture the photographs, but that’s just the start of this creative journey.