Wedding Photography- an overview. Philosophies of and old wedding photographer PART 1 of a series.
Wedding photography is always subject to trends and fads but unlike the trends and fads in fashions, décor, cars and lifestyles the fads and trends hanging in there in the wedding photography industry are there for decades. Traditional photography is oftentimes relegated to the “old school” but still looms in the background, reemerging from time to time.
I can recount the history of the following photographer after WWII to the present and describe the changes as the occurred but that would involve many pages so I will just tell you the about how theses trends and fads work. For many years the formal portrait studio would receive wedding clients at their premises for a formal session made after the church ceremony on their way to the reception. The bride, groom and the wedding party would be in attendance at the studio to be photographed. The wedding party would then go on to celebrate with no further photography and of course there was nothing done at the bride’s residence or the ceremony.
In the post World War II period there was a surge of weddings, what with the troops coming home and starting families and with many photographers who were trained in the armed services out in the market places looking for work. Many of theses photographers became hired and trained by portrait studio photographers and the “candid-men”, “the following photographers” and the “weekend shooters” emerged on the scene; speed graphic and flash bulb unit in hand and a case of film holders on his shoulder. Theses candid photographer would attend at the brides home, the ceremony and reception venues and photograph the “highlights” of the wedding day. That’s how it all started. From that time on, the history would fill at least in pretty decent sized tome. By the way- I didn’t mention “candid woman” only because in back the day, when I started, there were only 2 woman shooting weddings on location in the entire NYC Metropolitan Area. Nowadays there are many great women wedding shooters all over the world.
At first, seeing that the origin of the craft was based in formal and traditional portrait studios theses “candids” mostly were posed or semi-posed portrait-like images with the occasional real grab shot. In some cases and locations the photographer would nearly direct the entire wedding so that he could get all the shots “just right”. Nowadays, this would be considered obtrusive, however, in the day; many so called “society weddings” the “upper crust” or more sophisticated clients would only allow having a few very restricted and limited formal portraits made and all the rest was STRICTLY grab shots, newspaper style! I was trained to do both and mix and match according to the client’s tastes and requirements. At the society weddings having the photographer run the wedding in any way was considered in poor taste, hokey and “not nice for the guests”. The photographer had to be a fly on the wall and the technique was “catch as catch can”. If you were good at that, personable and polite, fast working and well dressed, you could carve out quite a clientele for yourself and charge fairly high rates. Meanwhile in other socioeconomic groups as a photographer, I was expected to help the couple through the day and nearly become their wedding consultant or I would be considered derelict in my duties. There was indeed an art in doing this without being obtrusive and it required a great relationship between the –photographer and his clients. To a small degree I still have a few clients who like things done the old way- I love theses folks!
Theses standard trends hung on for a good 20 years before creativity and new ideas began to happen. In the 1960 along with the British Invasion in the music industry, flower-power and good old Viet Nam and let’s not forget about free love and all of that; came a sudden burst of creativity in wedding photography. Of course just like the “cold war” factions were created in short order and there were the traditionalists and the new trend guys pitted against each other. The new stuff mainly consisted of “misty” images, intentional double exposures, strange border configurations and other goodies, some of which were nicely applied by truly artistic photographers. HERE COMES THE POINT OF MY POST: Once a style or particular kind of imagery hits the streets theses become HACKED by a whole bunch of folks who didn’t know how to use theses new elements artistically, selectively and proportionally to the point where wedding albums took on the look of comic books or catalogs of lab “special effects”! No image escaped unscathed by the deadly claw of “trick photography”! When this happens, again, all of the negative elements of some of the fads actually become trends and hang around for at least a decade.
Well- the cold war has ended (except for the fact that some spy types are still doing naughty deeds and Mr. Putin is busy becoming a dictator) ) but back in the 90s the wedding shooters were having their new war of the traditionalists against the photojournalists and this gave birth to dozens of new online photo-forums where theses battles were to take place. Rudeness and so called “flame wars” were the weapons. No doubt that there was indeed some great photojournalistic wedding photography out there- refreshingly new and spontaneous but again the hackers returned to create sloppy mages and calling those the products of photojournalism. What journalistic meaning does an image of a bride and groom doing a dance movement such as a dip in the middle of a field unless they are both ballroom dancers or ballet students or dancers? How many detail shot of the dress are needed? I have seen a complete wedding album of 60 to 200 images without 1 elegant full length study of the bride. If one was clever, however, he or she could make a reconstructed jigsaw puzzle-like image of the bride by piecing together all the detail shots but only if someone could find her head somewhere. Again, there are “ideas” without the required skill sets to do them properly.
I am certainly not against adopting new ideas, poses, methods, styles and business models and make them your own. I certainly can’t say that everything I do is unique to me and in fact I credit my teachers, mentors and cohorts over the years for many of my skill sets. Perhaps my uniqueness is how I put things together or how I interpret things. I also don’t believe in being intransigent about adhering to all of my old methods leaving no space for revision or new ideas. Oftentimes a new idea will come right in the middle of a sitting or wedding assignment and that’s where the fun is. We must all be inspired by our work and our surroundings when we shoot. Our eyes must be watching out for interesting landscapes, cityscapes, backgrounds and most importantly the emotional aspects of the day when peak expression occur. You need to be a walking mobile portraitist and a new age photographer all rolled up in one and be prepared to maximize the use of light and camera position to perfect each image. A good traditional structure is a good thing so you will have a complete and comprehensive coverage at the end of the day. The real creativity and aesthetics come from development of your own talents and a sensitivity and compassion for the people you are serving on their most important day.
That’s when I see something that says “this is how I shoot…” I am always very interested to read into it because I am always in learning mode and if I just learn 1 new idea it is certainly worth my time. I even still pay money for seminars and other courses because they are usually good investments. By the same token, I always take the attitude that there is not only one way to get the job done and one method will not fill the bill for every circumstance and every client.
With all this talk I have not as yet mentioned the client which is WHO running a service business all is about. There are as many variations in what different folks want as there are photographers who have various styles and approaches. Some of theses differences include socioeconomic issues, ethnicities, religious or culturial traditions or the lack thereof, local attitudes, tastes as to aesthetics and art plus dozens of other aspects of life that are part and parcel of wedding celebrations. These aspects need to be addressed in you marketing plans and you have to decide on whether you want to be an innovator and a leader or a follower in your market area. Some of theses aspects will determine your market or target or may direct you to seek out another market. Not all the folks out there are aficionados of fine photography and their job may go to the lowest bidder or the photographer with the nicest personality. Even if you do possess many talents in lighting, posing, composition and are a fast as lighting grab shooter, nobody in you prospective client base will know all theses things unless you promote theses advantages as clients’ benefits and features of your style.
You must be the final arbiter of how and where you work so you must keep and open mind as to what is out there and where you fit in. I always aspire to better profits but it is unwise to arbitrarily raise you rates unless you have more quality and uniqueness to offer.
I hope this helps.