by Norman Phillips Published 01/08/2002
Do you remember when wedding photography was two rolls of 120 film and covered just eighteen poses? I remember covering weddings like that and it was a pretty boring exercise. As I recall six of the poses, the larger groups, were to be duplicated in case of blinks etc. I also recall that the studio I was shooting for gave me a third roll as a back up, in case something went wrong. Well with me what went wrong was that I had this additional roll of film burning a hole in my pocket. I was unable to resist the compelling urge to create more images. The first time I shot this extra roll the studio manager almost tore his hair out. Who on earth would want to see these additional photographs? I convinced him that all he had to do was show them and he would soon find out. What he found was they loved them.
You can guess what happened next. We went to weddings with four rolls of film. And you guessed right again, that fourth roll was subject to that same compelling urge and I created forty-eight images and they sold. Within a year or so I literally revolutionised the wedding business in the London market. This was because I did not see wedding photography as a stoic, short and unemotional exercise. But it does not stop there because if we are truly storytellers then we have a responsibility to tell the whole story, not just create a few snippets for the family album. A wedding is a virtual moving target and we should be ready to capture the obvious and the other little things that go into the melting pot of the day. This means learning to see out of the back of our head so as to catch special moments that help create the fabric of the human story.
If we are to beat the so-called competition then we have to be different in our approach to wedding photography. In fact it is probably better to be different than to be better than those we assume are the competition. So let us suppose that our photography is equal but not better to that of colleagues. We could charge less and start a price war - that way we all lose. Or we could aim to be different. The difference is seeing weddings as an emotional story in perpetual motion and capturing all its elements in a relaxed and spontaneous style. That does not mean neglecting the essentials such as the family groups and the traditional bride and groom shots. We just do them differently. We photograph so that the people look who they are and not how the photographer thinks they should look.
Photojournalist style has made inroads into wedding photography and there are those who sneer at it. However, when it is done well, it is refreshing and exciting. The main reason so much of it is bad is because it has no sensitivity or purpose- you must know why you are doing it. Photojournalism is an art form when used at a wedding and needs to be considered as a serious discipline. Each of us can significantly enhance our wedding coverage with a collection of carefully considered photojournalist style images. They will create an added emotional response from our clients that will bring us increased financial rewards.
Someone is going to leap out of their chair and scream at that it "won't sell in their market". My immediate response is to ask has anyone tried it in that market? I warrant that the answer is no because everyone in that market has already made up the minds of all their potential clients. Another riposte is that no one wants to pay for better and more creative photography. My immediate question is to ask who has offered it. I suspect that no one has, because each of us has made up our potential clients' minds for them. It is a typical photographer's response to the notion of change. Too many have been afraid to jump over the fence. Imagine how boring wedding photography would be if it weren't for the likes of Rocky Gunn, Monte Zucker, Bambi Cantrell and Michele Celantano, Dennis Reggie and a host of other innovative wedding photographers.
Brides today are greatly influenced by what they see in magazines. Yes, I agree that there are some awful images that are selected by photo editors (present company excepted I hope! Ed.) but it is the ideas that are important. We can make an even greater impact using these same ideas but with superior photography.
I highly recommend that for those who may have become stuck in a rut, that they shoot their next wedding with a fresh and innovative approach. Take the bull by the horns, shoot the for the moon. Use a few extra rolls of film. Encourage your subjects to let their hair down. Create a relaxed and enjoyable mood and ease the bride and groom to be romantic and, as it is said, "let it all hang out". Shoot sequentially and not pose by pose. In fact drop the word "pose" and step away with a longer lens and let them be themselves. The images you will get will be natural and reflect on who you have in front of your camera.
I have so often been told that my photography has something that so many others don't. That, for some reason or other, viewers get a feeling that they know the people in my pictures, even thought they don't. It is simply because I reject the notion of posing although, of course, everyone naturally strikes a pose. My subjects are encouraged to be themselves and when they are in groups they are encouraged to get close and warm with each other. Break down the tension and get them a little cuddly. You may have a little resistance at first but with the right attitude and relaxed approach you will be amazed at how happy people will be when they realize that they are not posing but being who they are.
Push the envelope. Do something different. Be a different photographer and cash in.
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