It’s taken 25 years to be able to consider myself an Authority on Wedding Photography…
I’ve been a photographer for years. Art was all I ever wanted to do at school. I remember my first Art class at ‘Big School’ like it was yesterday. I’d waited and anticipated all kinds of exotic whole lessons just to do drawing and painting! This wasn’t going to be just something in between learning to write or maths or anything aceademic, so to speak. Not to say that 10 year olds are particularly bogged down in meticulous research and science, but by such an early age I’d already fallen in love with a connection between my eye and my hands, intoxicating and addictive. Our first lesson was to draw the person sitting opposite with oil pastels and by candle light, and in that dark classroom one afternoon in September my eyes and me heart were opened, the candle shone a bright light on a creative path I would then embark on.
Poetic stuff, you might think. Moving. Cheesy? But this is all in hindsight, you see. I couldn’t work any of this stuff out at the time, of course. Too young and no idea about anything. Cocky perhaps, but any confidence or epihany was to come much later.
There isn’t one single event that pushed me to decide to be an artist, but I never had the thought that I’d be anything else even if I didn’t know what ‘being an artist’ actually was. (I’m still not always sure if I know the answer to that, by the way). Rather there were a series of events, and a peppering of chance meetings through my early teens. Infatuations and awakenings that were to be the foundations, good or bad, of my future.
Jason, my good friend and confidant, Scott showed me where the edges were, Jim taught me to see things that weren’t always there, and Wayne showed me never to compromise. All of these people will know what we’ve seen and been together, none of them will know how important they have been to me.
And open as I’m being here, you might notice that I’m keeping the girls out of it. There are really some things that I’m very private about so you’ll have to indulge me the privilege.
I was first going to be a Fine Art Painter. Oil was my thing – I even surprised myself with some paintings – large scale scrapes with often an unnatural effervesscence, colour that seemed to be in two places at once. But we had a choice to specialise in a subject out of a number of choices.
Photography was there. I’d already really enjoyed the process, even if it had up until then seemed a bit technical. I was getting results and I felt completely at home in the dark room. I was a bit torn between Photography and Fine Art, just as any 17 year old would I processed this decision struggling with the assumption that it would spell a dramatic end to my painting career. That was big chips to me back then.
I was fortunate enough to be guided, and photography was to be it. I had no idea how much I was going to have to learn, though. Completely unlike painting, I seemed to struggle for a long time with reconciling a natural talent with the equal need to gain a wider technical understanding. But I loved how photography was deeply philosophical, and how important photographs are on a universal scale. The Family Album became my thesis, and although I’ve captured everything from cupcakes, to empty plastic boxes, to fashion, and back again, the family album is still at the heart of what I do with wedding photography.
I’ve been a photographer for years, but without the help or support of a lot of people I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been able to acheive the level of success I have.
While we’re at it I’ve never really thought of myself as comercially successful anyway. I’ve not known how to measure it. Money? Happiness? I don’t know – sometimes it’s one or both of those things. I’ve found that I’m happiest when I’m working and balancing that with spending time with my family. It’s a tough balance. I don’t stop working, and I think it’s because I was taught that you’re only ever as good as your last shoot. I might look at other photographers I admire and honestly believe that I’ll never be as good as them and that keeps me going, keeps me trying to figure out some new technique or new philosophy that gets me closer. Like a lot of creative people I regularly assuuume that somebody is going to discover that I’m a fraud, and I’m as clueless as the rest of the world.
I’ve talked to other photographers and artists about this and they invariably have their own version of the same story. With experience you learn to live with it and hopefully gain confidence through humility.
With wedding photography especially, it’s easy to get bogged down in the competitive photographer thing. Who’s doing what, at which location, and how much are they charging, and why is everyone booking-them-and-not-me kind of stuff? The phone doesn’t ring for two days and you think it’s all over. I’ve done that, thought that, and it really slowed me down. I started following photographers that I didn’t like just to see if they were getting more of the good stuff than I was. It started effecting my work. I didn’t fall too far, but it did complicate my MOJO I think – just took me off course a way.
As technically advanced as I can become the most important thing I’ve learned is that I don’t want to be a different photographer than the one I am. I don’t want to compromise my development and growth, and there’s no value in emulating what you think is the route to success or acclaim. There is no short-cut and there is no quick fix.
At university I was allowed to develop an eye for my own photography. Taught to build a body of work over time, and to let projects reveal themselves through series and investigation. Editing what you produce equalled by critique and analysis of what you see from your peers. Always looking for something, always something authentic. Understanding that having a photograph published doesn’t automatically make it a ‘good’ picture.
I really love the ‘Body of Work’ ideal. Maybe because it’s ongoing, maybe because it is a way of not finishing! I suppose each wedding is a project that can begin and end. A project that I don’t have to re-invent, and something I can focus on capturing the best way I know how. Technically speaking that’s great for me – Having the experience and the confidence to approach a wedding knowing that I’m going to get the results I’m aiming for also means that I can leave room for surprises, always trying to sidestep the routine, or the identikit approach. There’s magic in the mystery and being in the moment enough to know and trust my instinct is sometimes where I am at my most comfortable and free.
Happy. Rich. Successful.
I’m my own authority on wedding photography now, my foundations and my constructs are now my own DNA. I’ve found myself being the teacher too after overcoming and understanding the fact that I still have so much more to learn and get in to. I know that keeping some of my most treasured accomplishments private and being less boastful is a way of grounding my ambition, and focussing my intentions. It’s good for my soul. I have exciting plans and projects to get stuck into – some will never see the light of day I’m sure, some I could really do with some silly money to get them off the ground! I’ve already re-defined wedding albums in a way that I can now expand and make even more accessible. I’m working on an App that could change the way we approach brainstorming and collaboration – it might even help me trick some of these schemes into reality. A new feature driven website that might particularly help wedding photographers communicate and collaborate with eachother… it’s all loose change really, but some of it will be amazing if I concentrate on some ruthless and honest editing.
Turning a corner on all of this stuff, I’ve realised that I would have absolutely no way of moving forward if all I was ever doing was trying to be as good as another photographer. I have to see these things through even in times when I can’t see the line on the horizon. It’s extremely hard and consuming to trace your steps back to where you veered away from the tracks, and extremely difficult to make that time back.
Today photographers seem to compete more on status and lifestyle than they do on a basic quality of their work. Being a Rockstar Photographer is still big news if you want to be a rockstar photographer. There’s currency in followers, whether it’s on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or any of the rest. But it’s hard to be sure if there’s a tangible value in that. I love the whole vibe of Social media, and I’m up for it, too, but I don’t keep a tally on the numbers. I’ve read a million articles on SEO for Photographers, but I’m probably less than optimised.
For me I’m comfortable slowly producing my body of work. My clients seem to be genuinely over the moon with their pictures and I strive to make sure that they get the best of me with the greatest integrity.
If it’s a slow burn, a candle’s light, it’s a hot flame.