Aug 8, 2020
How to take dark and moody wedding photos: a complete guide (apparently this is what i’m supposed to write, but more like my high-school exam output, it’s probably more the “enough to get by, hopefully” guide).
Something i’ve always loved to do is find ways of photographing things in a “moody” way no matter what the scenario. Usually though at a wedding, these sort of images end up representing about 10-15% of what the couple receives, because the “dark and moody” stuff in reality only ever represents a small percentage of a wedding day.
Typically it’s areas like moody preparation rooms, or sometimes indoor receptions with natural light, that sort of thing. Regardless, they’re super fun to make, and nice to celebrate.
Weddings are joyous! Full of fun and confetti! Why would we try and imprint some Tarantino, Wes-Anderson-esque painterly vibes into something supposed to be uplifting? WELL.
What qualifies as a moody feel can be just as uplifting as the bright stuff in it’s own way, and it can channel a whole lot of other ways of connecting to the set of images that we deliver. My job is to generate the widest amount of emotional connection with the images as I can. That means tapping not just into the bright stuff, but also providing some images that nudge our brain into another direction, because all of those moments and moods are present somewhere on a wedding day – and we might as well show them for what they are.
If something feels dark and moody, I want to photograph it that way, and edit it in such a way that the qualities of that feeling are brought out in the best way. If someone tosses charcoal-coloured petals in Golems cave lit by a line of candles, then it’ll be moody. But if theres a bright petal-toss with colours and glory, that should also end up looking as it felt.
In this shot above, two single points of natural light in a bathroom made for a beautiful soft vibe, and the real thrill is making that come alive in the image.
I wanted to use a photo shoot with Dan and Dre as a main example, who flew down from their hometown of Canberra to have a play over a couple of days for their couples shoot, in some of my favourite locations in Victoria (see these other favourite Melbourne wedding photo locations) as an example.
Before we crack on, this thread on Reddit is worth a look, as it hilights a common misunderstanding of what dark and moody is, and how it can be interpreted as a trend, which is a bit of a misnomer that we can say about anything, and kinda implies there’s a “right” or authentic way of making an image. If we go deep into the real esoterics of photography, pretty quickly we discover there is no such thing as authentic capture: not only that, but the rich, hazy, beautiful colours of overexposed Fuji film for example, look nothing like reality: just a (really pleasant) interpretation of it.
So everything is a trend, and everything isn’t: the key is to nail the vibe in a really careful way, sympathetic to point #2 below: we want our folks in the image to love themselves in it.
How our eyes interpret light, differs from the person next to us. How theirs interpret light and mood, differs wildly from insects and other animals. photography is an act of interpretation, not a way of “taking something as it is”.
The images in here mostly use chiaroscuro, and open-shade.
This is the MVP (most valuable player) of the dark and moody vibe. Chiaroscuro is, to put it simply, highly contrasted light and shade. This can be found in the most unlikely of situations. Hot tip – anywhere that you have a room with a small window – the smaller the better – you’ve got yourself an instant kit for Chiaroscuro light.
Expose for the hilights, and you’re good to go.
Keep orange out, and flattering tones in. Per the Reddit thread up above, we should probably be more worried about making our couples look like they’ve swallowed a stick of uranium or a bag of carrots than them being too moody necessarily: this means that flattering tones and flattering light are a higher priority than whether the image is too light or dark per-se.
A great way to stay on top of this is to constantly reference where we got colour tones “right”. And for me, that’s any of either cinema, or great classic photo books with anyone shooting on film.
Calibrating our eyes to the skin tones of what we see on Instagram is a bad, bad idea.
Slim Aarons on the other hand? Holy basted badger-balls.
We want to have full, or nearly-full, black and white point in your image to give us the most room to play with in nailing a moody vibe.
This means that our image has a full range of information in it, that translates to a detailed print. Any adjustments we make to the “s” curve in Photoshop or Lightroom immediately throws away information in the image, so it’s a delicate exercise.
There was a bit of a movement towards really flat shadows some years ago, but my experience with Lightroom these days is that it turns an image to mud, really quick.
By keeping the shadows rich, we can selectively dodge them out later while maintaining a solid black-point that will print out beautifully.
Dark and moody wedding images, if they’re shot in lower-light situations, inherently have a lot less hilights in them. That means the highlights that are there, stick out a little louder than they would otherwise, and can quickly dilute the power of an image.
This means that in order to have a beautifully powerful dark and moody image, we need to exercise a high level of care in spotting our image, and dodging and burning it: you can read about both of those in this post about photo editing.
Spotting is the gentle art of removing unnecessary bits of information in the image – this could be a rogue hi-light or a rogue fly sat perfectly in the middle of someones forehead.
The aim is to clear out unnecessary hi-lights. “If it isn’t lifting it up, it’s bringing it down”.
Gain a wide vocabulary in painterly tones, from the source. My two favourite painters are Jeffrey Smart and Zdiszlaw Beksinski – and in a roundabout way they inform my love of moody tones. Dig into some books and find some painters you align with.
Follow my free wedding photography workshop series, or make an enquiry about joining my mentor program.
Jul 17, 2020
Since Covid has put a stop to conferences and workshops, I wanted to give a little back, and so have created a free wedding photography workshop. Using design as the main tool, this contains around 7 years of workshop content, and have separated the best bits into easy to consume, bite-sized chunks, and released them on Instagram as a 100 frame wedding photography workshop. Yours, for free! Boom.
Each of the 100 frames speaks to one of those. The current climate of workshops I found doesn’t appeal to my style of learning personally, and it made me wonder if other folks out there were the same.
I remember thumbing through MAD magazine, comics, and encyclopaedias, and found that a curiosity-driven approach to learning, where you can open a book up at any page and take something away without feeling like we have to complete a full syllabus, the best way to learn for me personally.
So that’s how i’ve crafted this.
Using typography and a particular style of writing, I want this to be useful no matter what page it’s opened up at. Rather than me dictating the learning from front to back (there’s plenty of brilliant other options for that out there), this is something where I hope there’s a nifty surprise useful to wedding photography, and photography in general wherever it’s opened.
The workshop is available from frame 35 onwards on my instagram, and as new ones are uploaded, old ones will be removed, so follow along and catch them (save, screen grab) them while they’re available.
At the end, i’ll be releasing them all, along with a set of bonus annotations totalling 400+ pages. It’s the exact wedding photography workshop resource I would have liked starting out, and has been tailored for both new photographers and working professionals 5+ years in the game.
Some conferences i’ve had the brilliant honour of sharing this at:
Jul 16, 2020
We all go into this strange old gig for different reasons, but never on that list is “to win xx award” (i’m pretty sure my couples don’t really give a shit about that stuff and nor should they). Regardless, it’s nice to be recognised by your peers as international wedding photographer of the year, and winning awards does help for visibility and for sharing of educational content that I enjoy putting a tonne of energy into.
So at the risk of compromising my desire to be a recluse artiste gnawing on my own fermenting dreadlocks (it turns out that celebrating the wins and actually talking about them is a necessary part of the capitalist empire we all find ourselves in), I thought i’d share some images judged at the International wedding photographer of the year (IWPOTY) competition last year, the same competition that i’m also totally rapt to be judging this year. It’s a ripper competition and has been doing tonnes to rebrand an industry that thanks to being associated with cheese and all that jazz, is generally the first thing folks think of when they muse “I wonder where all photographers go to die”.
For me it’s meant the most stupidly wild quests all over the planet, making stuff that matters for real humans.
Winning the analogue category is particularly special to me as i’ve got a huge love for shooting film, and as far as IWPOTY, have a tonne of respect for their judging panel and founder Luke, so it means a lot to be selected.
With this win I thought i’d share a selection of my entries across all the other categories, and I was fortunate to place as a finalist in nearly all categories.
Grandstand, grandstand, look at me me me, here we go.
Actually though, a special shoutout to all my bloody awesome couples who make this happen and (pre covid 19 anyhow) make me well aware i’ve stumbled onto one of the most bloody wonderful jobs on the planet.
I also love that I can look at all of these images and say they were made for them, and not for me, and that’s where it all starts and ends.
Thanks again to all the judges, and the IWPOTY founder Luke Simon who puts so much time and personal energy into making this happen, and sifting through the thousands of entries submitted from over 50 countries around the world.
Jul 13, 2020
Here’s a rundown of some of my favourite Melbourne wedding photo locations, organised by the mood they give, to show you what brilliant variety we have in our own inner city for weddings: from gritty industrial, all the way over to the most incredible nature within a stones throw of the Melbourne CBD. Included in all locations are Google Maps pins.
These are my top 15 Melbourne wedding photo locations (I have plenty more hidden gems, but you’ll just have to head out on foot and go exploring yourself to find them).
Be sure to tune in for the very last one – some of my favourite little slices of Melbourne alleys. If you’re getting hitched in the city or inner city or eloping in Melbourne, I know these like the back of my hand as well as a whole bunch of wonderful other little known spots.
These are somewhat more popular locations, but when looking at where to take photos in Melbourne i’ve found they’re ripe for putting a unique spin on each and every time, especially if you’re planning a Melbourne elopement.
The Melbourne Treasury building is the go-to spot for registry weddings in Melbourne. With its incredible historic design and layout, it’s one of the best places to take photos in Melbourne. What people often miss though, is that the immediate surrounds of the building have the most brilliant portrait locations, perfect for rain-shielded photo sessions, sunset sessions, all of it. If you look closely, you can see some of these at this Fortyfive Downstairs wedding.
I take so many couples around here, and it can’t be overstated how beautifully soft and moody the light is around the structures themselves. Head down Treasury place and explore, it’s all an easy and quick whip around, especially if you’re then heading south to somewhere like The Deck at Circa.
Just west of the Melbourne Treasury building, is the Treasury gardens. While the gardens themselves are beautiful and lush, what I personally prefer is to use them as context against the treasury buildings behind it.
Walk about halfway up Treasury Place, head down the paths inserting themselves into the gardens, turn around, and you’ve got beautiful lush greenery depending on the time of year, with the incredible heritage buildings right behind you as the backdrop.
The Collingwood and Fitzroy back streets contain some of our earliest historic houses, since they were the first suburbs inhabited when Melbourne did, well, what we did back then, clear everything and everyone in sight and build lots of stuff.
As a result some of the architecture in the surrounding streets is particularly cute and interesting in equal measure, and make for some of the best Melbourne wedding photo locations. As a general area, this is a personal favourite and one of the best places to take photos in Melbourne and a go-to for all the best wedding photographers doing their thing.
Something more of a sleeper location (ie: more classic, and not immediately striking), Carlton has some understated alleys that are beautiful soft backdrops without fighting the rest of the frame.
Enormous stonework, subtle signage and fittings, the laneways here are worth exploring and just a small dash out of the Melbourne CBD.
One of my favourite little lanes. Find it on Google Maps here.
One of my favourite general areas in Melbourne. Further north we hit Thornbury, which has an endless amount of textures, historic structures, and all sorts of weird and wonderful signage and exteriors – oh, and Kenny Lover.
30 minutes here will be spent pretty quickly heading up, down and around High St, with art-deco design left right and centre.
See more of Sam and Pauls wedding on Instagram.
Northcote Town Hall is a must visit for simple Melbourne heritage vibes, beautiful columns and light. If Fitzroy Town Hall isn’t accessible, then this isn’t a compromise, and it provides the same kind of feel, shelter from rain, and beautiful soft light, with no chance of being disturbed, and super close proximity to bars, cafes, and all of the standard Northcote glory.
There’s also plenty of beautiful textures and walls to find on Eastment st and Westbourne Grove, down the side of the town hall.
This one gets a header all of it’s own. The incredible artwork on the side of the Fonda building is a joy to walk past and pop off some frames in front of. Punchy, colourful, geometrically satisfying, this is located just off Smith st, with spades of bars and other historic streets right near it.
A great little stopover if you’re getting hitched at Panama Dining Room or Rupert on Rupert.
I’ve had so many couples stay at the QT Hotel on Russel St, and turning just around to the right of it’s entrance, down Portland Lane, is a no-brainer for some quick portraits when exiting the building to head to the ceremony.
The wall of the Portland Hotel is painted a rich black, and feeds down into deep bluestones below, creating something of an impossible infinity-wall, where it feels like the bluestone is a shelf at the edge of the universe.
And we’re about to lean into the ether, into Gandalf’s embrace, etc.
Until fairly recently, sweeping sections of South Melbourne have somehow managed to mostly avoid being exploited by our general lack of regulation around architectural design for a suburb so close to the city, and so unlike other heritage suburbs, still has plenty of great things to explore without yet looking like a second-year students first foray into geometric design elements.
As a result, as well as easily feeling like it’s a jaunt into the old world, the entire area around the Town Hall, Clarendon St, and industrial back areas have plenty of textures to explore.
Abbotsford may just be our closest answer to anything resembling the back streets of New York or Brooklyn (see these Melbourne wedding venues). Abbotsford has it all: incredibly close proximity to Yarra Bend Park (which doesn’t seem like it should or could sit so close to the city), old heritage streets, imposing industrial buildings, and everything in between.
A 30 minute session in Abbotsford can get chewed up very quickly, and that’s without stopping off at any of the beautiful little cafes littered around the place. One of the best places to take photos in Melbourne, at just a short jump outside of the Melbourne CBD itself.
Looking at the map, Fitzroy Gardens almost sounds ripped out of a Tolkien book. The Faeries tree, Tudor Village, Temple of the Winds. These are all great, but the best parts of these gardens aren’t etched on the map.
Enter from the midwestern paths along Lansdowne St, and some of the more incredible tree-tunnels are visible, then head further in to a couple of “secret” little jungle areas with tight greenery, stone stairs and more.
Carlton Gardens join the Royal Exhibition building. Carlton Gardens are more known for the aisle of trees leading up to said building (and a water foutain) but the best parts of these gardens are actually around the northwestern edge of the exhibition building.
Architecturally there’s a bunch of textural options around there, but what I like most is the setting sun against some of the smaller characterful pieces of garden around there.
Prahran isn’t necessarily the first place you’d think of when looking for the best Melbourne wedding photo locations, but when I lived there, I made a point of taking any couples eloping here from overseas there, for two reasons.
Firstly there’s more than it’s fair share of architecturally stunning historical charm, and secondly, while there’s the allure of taking portraits in the CBD, in my opinion Prahran punches above it’s weight, and saves all of the regular hassles associated with parking in the city itself, while allowing folks spending a little bit of time here to explore a neighbourhood they might have otherwise missed.
First stop from the Melbourne CBD as we head west, Footscray is a gritty gem, and enormously misunderstood suburb (especially from our dear friends of the east).
Footscray has buckets of charm in it’s back streets, and as you head over to Seddon (i’d never heard of it either until I moved there), you’re hit with some of the most incredible cottage-style residences you’ll see in Melbourne.
The pièce de résistance. Melbourne has bucketloads of beautiful alleys, and the main choices become things like how much heritage do you want, vs graffiti, vs tourists, vs calm.
All of the major alleys have their own character, and at any quarter of the CBD there’s a good handful within walking distance, and are usually crowned as the best Melbourne wedding photo locations.
These aren’t necessarily the “main events” here (sorry), i’m instead sharing some of my favourite Melbourne wedding photo locations containing simple light, and simple texture. For more of my secret ones, keep an eye on my melbourne wedding photography workshops.
Jul 10, 2020
Jul 6, 2020
An image of genius photographer Lucy, in front of a genius-designed mirror, stolen mid-application of lipstick midway through Lil and Jakes reception.
This image shot on Kodak film, and found amongst incredible company over here at IWPOTY.
Shot on Kodak Tri-X film.
Jul 4, 2020
I’m super pleased to be releasing my own Pic Time Art Galleries as an online print shop, through a new platform recently released by the brilliant mob over at Pic Time.
I’ve wanted to have a place to share and sell prints for going on 8 years, but the task always seemed to arduous and riddled with pain-in-the-ass complexities that stopped me from leaning right in.
Selling prints is a great way to give your bodies of work the respect they deserve! I guess a secondary stream of revenue doesn’t also hurt, but what I think is most important is that this is a way to let someone else create future-nostalgia out of something else you have made.
Additionally, selling your prints makes you lean into your own work more, and think more critically about who you want to be from an artistic point of view. There’s nothing quite as challenging or humbling as trying to reduce tens of thousands of your images into a concentrated body of work that might just contain ten.
For the last few months, Pic Time invited me to be a tester of their new gallery functionality.
This functionality is a part of their existing platform – so if you’re already using Pic Time as proofing software for your clients (as I am), this simply bolts on top via a separate subscription fee, and from there you can enjoy all of the additional functionality that an art gallery requires.
David Foster Wallace #1 will be available on my print store.
Find out more about Pic Time art galleries here
Find out more about my print lab here.
Jul 3, 2020
After a chat with IWPOTY on a livestream yesterday, I wanted to write up a post on the topic of editing, how I edit, and as a judge of the International wedding photographer of the year 2020, what little bits of TLC our judging panel will be looking at as we go over your submissions.
As our beautiful craft has become democratised and we can all be photographers, the by-product of that is a temptation to lean away from the craft-centered approach that held up all the photography that defined how the 20th century was recorded: one of careful capture, and attention to detail and the creation of the finished image, and that’s the reason those images stand the test of time.
This isn’t just a post about editing, as much as it is about the idea of “truth” in an image, because the whole industry seems to be in a little state of confusion at the moment, and left right and centre we’re hearing “authenticity” and “truth” screamed from the mountain as objective poles at the top of a single summit.
Actually, it’s been in this state of confusion for the better part of 5 years to my eyes, or as long as I’ve been invited to talk about the identity crisis of the whole “authenticity” thing with my big fat mouth.
We’re not in the business of “truth” or “authenticity”, we’re in the business of nostalgia: whatever truth we think is in an image is going to be interpreted differently by the person looking at the image, or the person that’s in the image, and that itself is going to change in 5, 10, 20 years as details get forgotten or change shape.
So our job is to be there and give to what’s in front of us, and give ourselves the best chance to make the most amount of future nostalgia for the couples.
Just look at any Magnum gallery, which is (rightly) considered the yardstick of photojournalism, or for a more prescriptive example, the Steven McCurry photoshop scandal, which gave a bad name to editing, while then distracting from the fact that it’s a very necessary part of what we do and what he does, and that the slamming was mostly unwarranted.
(But… maybe he could’ve just cleaned it up a little more).
So from an editing point of view, the things I’m looking for as a judge are the level of care made in bringing that nostalgia to the highest standard it can be on a case-by-case basis, and how that level of care is restrained enough so that it still stands out as a photograph, and not a piece of computer art.
What it comes down to is this: Are we gonna let a hunk of pixel-making plastic do the seeing, or our eyes and intuition?
Everyones got a DSLR, everyone can be a photographer. Nearly every photographer I meet is friendly, is invested in a great client experiences and uses down-to-earth in their marketing as a point of difference. So if everyone is creating good work and is equally good company, where does that leave us as more folks jump into the trade, and what are the parallels to making work that will stand apart in a competition?
There’s a whole bunch of answers that I’ll look into over time, but one thing that can’t be faked, is investing love and care into the craft of the finished images, and looking back to what it means to take a craft-based approach to the creation of the work itself.
First up, let’s delve a little more into why I’m interested in this, and why this is important as craft-centred photographers: this classic James Dean image.
Taken shortly before his iconic star blew up, some of the words that come to mind mind from this Dennis Stock photograph are “simple”, “romantic”, and that feeling, on the tip of our tongue, that there was a little bit extra fantasy back in the day.
All of this rings true, but it does so because of how simple and digestible the image is – in it’s purest, most concentrated self – thanks to an experienced darkroom operator, Pablo Inirio, knowing where to take it.
Specifically – removing the deep-shadows from everywhere in the image except for James and the leading-lines of the curved fence.
How a camera views a scene, is one thing. How we feel a scene, is another. And thanks to camera manufacturers (understandably) indulging in a race to the top for perfection, we’ve given away a few traits that we now associate with analogue photography: ambiguity, imperfection, and anything just a little bit “off”, that we can’t put a finger on.
And the goal with any great image, should be to bridge the gap, between how a scene feels, and how the final image looks. It’s not popular to talk about this gritty technical stuff. It’s especially unpopular amongst professional storytellers, who might have us believe that gear and editing don’t matter, but they do, and have an enormous partnering impact on our voice and point of difference as photographers.
That big header image draped across your website. Spotted it? If not, it might not be as strong as it could be, because while the person looking at it is trying to inhale the story and vibe you’ve created, their subconscious is distracted by all those little specks. I see it all the time, even on successful photographers portfolios, and it’s so quick to correct.
Not spotting our images is like being an opera singer and cramming sand in the audiences ears. Clean that stuff out: not only is that a very strange thing to do, but now no-one can hear what you’re saying.
And I don’t mean skin blemishes, or stars: spotting means removing spots of (usually) hard-light that show up in an image caused by random sun reflections, or micro-textures that can subconsciously dominate a frame.
Spotting isn’t about distorting reality or removing things that should be part of the image: it’s about making an image easier for the viewer to consume, and easier to understand the heart of the image (we’ll deconstruct that esoteric clap-trap in just a minute).
It’s hard to understand the benefits of spotting, until we see an image that has had a simple 10-15 seconds of spotting work, against one that hasn’t. And this is the part where we get to decide whether this even matters. One can argue it doesn’t – this is for folks who like myself can justify going the extra mile.
We feel the extra simplicity and strength of a correctly spotted image, because there are less small little pieces of distraction that dilute the main message of the image. Spotting needs to be done because when we’re looking at a real-life scene through our eyeballs, our brain is able to filter out the little hard spots of light, as the scene moves naturally in front of us: but when we take an photo, those little imperfections are frozen, burned into the sensor, and take the centre stage in the final image, which to me is less real than proactively spotting them out, and having the purest version of the image.
Spotting your images is the quickest way to tidy things up and have a great, print-ready image.
A correctly spotted image of a Newport Substation Wedding – all of those hi lights aren’t adding to the story of the image, aren’t clear what they’re attached to, and are taking away from the power of the image as representing a gathering in a majestic room. So, off with their heads.
Lean back from the image, let your eyes haze, and let your hand wander with the stamp-tool – it’s remarkable how quick you’ll autonomously clear little specks from one corner of the image to the other.
There are many reasons to dodge and burn an image, but start with the following as a foundation, and it’ll pretty much inform how and when you use this technique:
I used “a truth” rather than “the truth”, as there’s no such thing as objective truth in an image: every image we make is influenced by our vision, what we include, and what we leave out, but we rabbited on about that already.
By having conviction in our own vision, we can make each image align with our own version of the truth in that image – this is something I also wrote about last year.
Whatever that truth turns into once we’ve given it over is then out of our hands.
Back to our dear friend, James Dean: the reward for investing a little elbow grease, is the reward of a classic image. How a negative and a camera-sensor interprets both light and the key elements of an image is nearly always at odds with how we interpret it as a human: the goal of thoughtful dodging and burning is to bridge this gap.
Bring up skin that needs to sing, burn out hi lights that are taking over the airwaves, and gently make it so that the most intense points of contrast are happening at the main “story” areas of the image.
And more importantly, ensure this is just augmenting and reducing the natural light play that is already happening within the image.
This isn’t about creating unreality, or an unreasonable expectation of beauty: this is about showing up for our couples and putting in that little bit of extra elbow grease, knowing they’ll appreciate that little bit of extra work.
Here’s the other reason we clear blemishes and other kinks (within reason): the only reason we can see them, is because light is creating the shadow on them. And the biggest reason that’s happening, is because the light we’re placing someone in for a portrait usually favours the part of the portrait we connect with most (the eyes for example), and so everything else takes second place.
If you don’t believe me, put a beauty-dish, soft-box or some other highly diffused light directly in front of someone, and watch most of them disappear, as no shadows are created. Further, if someone is in the middle of an action that causes veins or other things to be augmented beyond how they regularly would, there’s no real reason for those to be taking centre-stage, so we should be happy to reduce them to simplify the image to the things that we want to be connecting with.
This can be done at the same time as the regular spotting pass.
For spotting and blemish removal, I find the Lightroom healing tool too slow and clunky. So what I do is, after I have my final exports out of Lightroom, I open up the library of finished JPG’s in Photomechanic. From there, it’s a pretty quick exercise of tapping through the collection, and hitting “CMD+E”, which immediately opens the image in photoshop. Tap the “J” key for the spot healing tool, hit “CMD+S” to save, then “CMD-Q” to close the image, then “Alt+Tab” to go back to Photomechanic. Practice the routine, and you’ll have the most efficient way to go over that final pass at your fingertips.
If composing in the moment to make the most of the situation wasn’t possible, then correcting course in the edit is nothing to be ashamed of.
This is just a general note to keep in mind whenever looking at an image, and in most cases by just asking the question of “how did this feel when I was there”, the small, gentle tweaks required to tell the best possible story of that image become self evident pretty quickly.
Now, if we’re delivering 1000 images for a wedding, it’s an insane proposition to spend 10 minutes on every single image, and not viable, unless we like the idea of not paying our rent and delivering our images to our clients 3 years after their day.
Some of these principles (spotting, etc) can be applied to nearly all the coverage. But these are mostly for the images where there’s a little something else in them that begs to be brought out. You always know it when there is, and it’s always worth spending that little bit of extra time: for you and for your couple.
We get to decide whether we’re going to be hands-off in our editing process, let the camera do the seeing, and let some arbitrary idea of “truth” be the driver. And maybe that’s ok.
Or, we get to impart a little bit of the original magic of photography, recognise the value of truth-bending and white-lies as a way to creating something that ironically creates a better and more relevant truth, and how through that, we give the people receiving our images a little bit of magic that comes closer to how it felt.
To see occasional image-edit time lapses, follow my instagram.
Jul 2, 2020
In all the flurry of things happening fast movement not stopping click click go go get it all don’t miss a moment…
It’s nice to hold back, strip it all away, and wait,
for just, one.
Jenelle and Parker, one frame each, one click each, on film that expired over half a century ago, and processed at Atkins lab.
Whatever happens along the way, I reckon it’s nice if everyone can come outta this little plane of existence with just one image like this.
And in case you were wondering, the rest of their day was as inversely colourful and upbeat as these were moody and sedate.
This post here goes into detail about why I shoot film at weddings.
Jun 28, 2020
Every once in a while at a wedding, you’re graced with a little moment where the thing happening in front of you, the environment itself, the weather, and the gear you’re using all come together in perfect harmony.
You can read more about being a film wedding photographer here.
Jun 27, 2020
How to spray a champagne bottle at your wedding: everyone’s seen it, everyone’s had a crack at it, and everyones experience ends with one of “nailed it”, “nearly took my head off”, or “fizzled out to a flaccid wisp like Creeds record contract” (I bought a few of their albums back in the day so this is all fair game, and I guess that makes me fair game).
Also file this under – things you can practice at home in a pandemic. Great for your serotonin levels, not so great for your lounge room walls, so maybe one to take to the streets.
How to do a champagne spray (condensed version):
There’s a gentle art to the champagne spray, and it’s both easier than you might think in the moment, while at the same time requiring of a bit of careful strategy and forward-thinking so that the proceeds don’t resemble the unfortunate scene of a garden hose with no pressure at a kids water-fight birthday-party in the middle of summer.
Because if we’re gonna have a day of beautiful debauchery and anarchy, contributing to the carbon(ated beverage) atmospheric trust-fund – and surrounding garments – is one of the cheaper thrills we can have on the day, with a mighty power-to-weight ratio as far as thrills gained, and dollars spent on cheap wine.
Fun for everyone – even me as my gear gets gloriously soaked in the stuff (tips for photographers: if you want to get the best champagne shots, sorry – but you need to be right in front of it – and if you don’t come out needing a dry-clean, you haven’t shot it right).
In order to get a wild spray going that lasts as long as the winners ones do on an F1 podium, we need to consult our dusty “armchair teenage physicist” manual, and brush up on the “why” before we get to the “how”.
This means we need to press our thumb against the hole, as soon as the cork is removed. This in turn keeps extra pressure inside the bottle, which means it’s going to try and force it’s way through the available gap. If the champagne has pressure that is mostly kept in by your thumb, that means that in order to release that pressure, it’s going to have to push it’s way through that gap – and fast.
And when you maintain that while continuing to shake it – that’s where it all starts going bananas.
Luckily for us, we have everyones favourite rainbow anarchist (well, the other favourite to this wonderful mob) Dee Brinsmead, wedding celebrant and co-owner of The Altar Electric, to help run us through how it’s done.
Bring yourself into a state of maniacal glee. This should be fun, you should have your crew around you (if they’re part of it), and you should be prepared to make a mess, take an eye out, blow a hole in the photographers expensive lens, all the good stuff.
Here, a friendly neighbourhood cat takes part.
Acquire champagne, twist and remove the wire cap, so just the cork remains.
With your thumb over the cork, pre-shake it enthusiastically.
Begin to undo the cork until it’s nearly off. Brace your thumb against the base of the cork, and flick it into the heavens above, or at your photographers head.
Tip: if the cork is tough to remove, grip it with #intention very tightly, and carefully rotate it and “unscrew it” out with your hand.
At this point, you should immediately cover the hole with your thumb: in fact, trying to completely block it – and shake the bottle like a maniac. I promise you the champagne will begin to escape, no matter how robust you think your thumb-bottle sealant game is. This is where a champagne-spray often fails, and this is the step to nail correctly.
Every second of champagne-exit where the hole isn’t blocked, is precious pressure lost.
From here, just gently remove pressure very slightly, in the direction you want to spray, being conscious of where it’s coming out as you pivot your thumb. Continue to shake with maniacal glee.
Tip: As the contents and pressure in the bottle deplete, you can squeeze as much out if it as possible by increasing the pressure you’re creating, and pressing your thumb against it more firmly and closing the gap. The little pressure that’s left in the bottle will be amplified by having the gap made even tighter.
Voila! You’ve successfully emptied the contents of a bottle in the manner in
which was truly intended by the manufacturer, but can’t be claimed as such on fancy champagne labels.
Just know that you’re doing your winemaker countrymen proud.
Jun 25, 2020
2017, overlooking the Cathedral of Porto: running a small portrait session for photographers at the Bodaf conference. Great time to pull out some gear well past it’s useby date in one of the most beautiful little cities I’ve been to.
This frame taken on a beautiful piece of 1960’s engineering (Yashica 635 twin lens reflex) on Kodak film.
If you like this, check out more black and white wedding photos.
Jun 23, 2020
Something I teach when lecturing about the strange bastard art of photography, is about segmenting our brains and our time when there’s a “thing” happening, so we can gracefully and intentfully photograph the “thing” from more than one angle, and in the process, gift that “thing” with more variety in how we see it.
Got it? No? Perfect.
A “thing”, is defined as a block of time where there is no deviation in the fundamental arc of the event by other contrasting events or alternative measures of some-such otherwise.
Canapes hour? That’s a thing.
First speech block? That’s a thing.
Portraits hour? That’s a thing.
Righto – glad we got that cleared up.
Case in point: the “thing” here, was about a 2 hour block, where Jenelle and Parker and all their guests were partying together on some ten houseboats that were tied together, off the eastern coast off the edge of Canada.
2 hours is a lot of time where there’s just partying, diving, and BBQ’ing going on. This means a lot of opportunity to intent-fully divide the time up, and try and extract some more wondrous things out of it that test both us and the narrative that’s there.
I’ll spend, for example, 25 minutes moving around doing photojournalism on digital cameras, and then, i’ll gift myself a calm lap, on a camera half a century old, to try and see this scenario (previously referred to as “thing”), in a different way.
In this lap, i’m extra slow, watchful, and, deliberately, not particularly worried about missing moments en-masse, but rather, more concerned with getting “a couple of good ones”.
Staying in a state of “fomo” and shooting like a maniac on digital is good for content creation and capturing opportunity in a sometimes thin way, but then the tradeoff is you’re watching less intentfully at what’s happening – and maybe missing the opportunity to show an event in a better light.
I walked along the edge of one of the houseboats, turned a corner, saw a bit of commotion, held this 1960s bucket of bolts to my eye, and breathed in.
One of my favourite images ever, let alone wedding ones.
Shot on Kodak Tri-X film, and developed by Atkins Pro Lab.
See their full wedding day featured on the USA’s largest wedding blog: Jenelle and Parker’s rustic week-long wedding featured on Wedding Chicks.
Jun 20, 2020
Atlas Singles is a little peek into some of my favourite images, along with some lyrical wax from the last bits left in the jar.
Here’s one from wayback.
A little cabin on a lake in the Blue Mountains.
A clunky, 50 year old camera, that just a few days later, i’d have to jam a stick into it’s front to trigger it.
Barely nailed focus.
Said god-knows-what to them which generated a reaction, took a wild guess as to when the right moment to click was (you only get one chance when you’re using a camera you have to wind-up).
Missed the “moment”, and got some ephemeral in-between.
For me, more perfect than perfect.
Shot on a Yashica 635G Twin Lens Reflex on Kodak Tri-X for Zoe and Adam, before they did the wedding thing out at the Hydro Majestic Hotel in the Blue Mountains, NSW.
If you like this, check out more black and white wedding photos.
Jun 19, 2020
The perfect wedding setting for thoughtful, contemporary couples who know how to appreciate a great piece of art, Heide Museum of Modern Art allows for both a stunning ceremony and an inspiring reception. The Museum boasts spectacular photography opportunities throughout the grounds and the Gallery. Let’s take a sneak peek at this amazing, artistic space and check out some photos from a recent Heide Museum of Modern Art wedding I was fortunate enough to capture.
Heide Museum of Modern Art brings an air of sophisticated creativity to Banksia Park in Bulleen, a north-eastern suburb of Melbourne. It’s not too far at all from the CBD – only around a 20-minute drive. It practically oozes convenience.
The Yarra River flows, snake-like, through Banksia Park, just a short walk from Heide Gallery. Bulleen Art Gallery and Garden is also within the vicinty. Another interesting point, Bulleen Hungry Jacks is only a short way down the road. Post-wedding burgs? Count me the hell in.
You’ve got a golf club nearby if there’s time to fit in a quick game with the lads (or ladies) the day before the wedding. And, as mentioned, Melbourne CBD is a short Uber ride away. You can get up to all kinds of mischief, eat some amazing pre-wedding noms and pick up any last minute bits and pieces for the wedding that may have slipped your mind.
As a wedding venue, Heide Gallery is the gift that keeps on giving. From the picturesque, natural grounds to the vibing Gallery and sculptures, this place is a photographers dream. Seriously. There are almost too many spots that are perfectly suited to capturing stunning images.
The Heide grounds and gardens span majestically across the 15 acres this Gallery calls home. The heritage gardens contain sprawling lawns, gorgeous flower beds and huge trees with trailing limbs that form cosy hidey-holes.
A river glade with towering trees and shrubs provides a shady spot for an intimate ceremony, or a wonderful photography or videography location.
The views from various sites throughout the grounds sweep across the surrounding park and provide a truly awe-inspiring atmosphere.
Upon gazing around the venue, your view will be obstructed slightly – for good reason – by contemporary sculptures and architectural wonders that are dotted throughout the grounds.
All your wedding catering needs will be taken care of by the Heide Cafe, the exclusive catering service for Heide Gallery weddings. Both the wedding ceremony and the reception are able to be covered. The cafe has an amazing range of seasonal produce with a huge variety of menu options to choose from.
The Cafe is also a great place to swing by for a pre-wedding brunch with the bridal party or a post-wedding coffee if you’re feeling a little worse for wear (horrifically hungover) after the previous night’s celebrations.
The Museum itself is an awesome place to spend any spare time and fight off any pre-wedding jitters. A range of indoor exhibitions including the Main Gallery and the Modernist House are home to some amazing collections of contemporary art. Wander the grounds to experience Rick Amor’s Running Man, Neil Taylor’s Theoretical Matter, and the rest of the outdoor exhibitions and sculptures that add an artistic, modern flair to the sweeping, naturalistic elements of the grounds.
It’s safe to say that this Melbourne wedding venue is the perfect place to celebrate love, serenity and an appreciation for delightful modern art.
Have you visited to the Heide Museum of Modern Art? What was your favourite installation? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
Jun 17, 2020
This is one of my favourite images from Lil and Jakes wedding. Up close and personal with my characteristically well-dressed friend John at The Diggers Store (nestled just over an hour outside of Melbourne) who probably thought he was the feature of the frame, who looked aside with furrowed brow, while I actually focused on old mate to the left, deep in a state of existential ponderment.
It was such a treat photographing this wedding on old, banged-up film cameras. This was the wedding of a couple of dear friends, and I somehow managed to high-tail it back to Australia the day after delivering a talk in Vancouver, landing the morning of their wedding, and catching a few hours sleep in my hire car.
And then at midnight, I hit the road again, to deliver another talk in Rome.
Small wonder none of the Italians could understand my blubbering, jetlagged Australiana, but it made the translators of Way Up North earn their fee.
I love this image, and it’s still strangeness takes me right back to that very odd few-day whirlwind.
Shot on god-knows-what camera, on Kodak Tri-X film.
Visit this post to see why you should shoot film.
Jun 15, 2020
For those with “can’t-let-go-of-the-past” syndrome, or beautiful pieces of engineering cut short before their prime? This is a little how and why I drag around gear that passed it’s use-by date half a century ago and why I consider myself a film wedding photographer.
For a brief moment there in the late 00’s, opportunistic young-things were meeting the cries of the old-guard lamenting “film is dead!” with “yes, i’ll take all that dead processing gear off your hands for free, thankyou very much”. All of the beautiful analogue film processing gear that had seen so much love, had been decommissioned and retired, before being snapped up by enthusiasts for a song.
As a result, more film-labs began to open than they did close, and now there has never been a better time to shoot analog at weddings.
Film has been a key part of my look and approach since I became a melbourne wedding photographer, and an ongoing reason why creative folks and even other wedding photographers book me – even if in some cases I just channel the look of film photos in my digital images.
In 2019, I was awarded the analogue international wedding photographer of the year award, and in this post I want to discuss why I shoot film, what it’s benefits are, and why you might consider the use of analogue film as part of your wedding coverage.
It slows you down, and costs you money. In a generation of excess, our freewheeling brains need to be reined in. Historical patterns show that the more Tik-Toks and short-form content (ie – catering to short attention spans) there is entering the arena, the more room is then created for long-form content, and things warranting pause and stillness, as we collectively look for a space to make us feel something again.
When something forces you to respond slowly and consider the cost, the by-product of that is that you give yourself to the medium more. Where there’s tonnes of advantages in firing off thousands of frames on digital, there’s just as many advantages to having the costly walls of constraint around us (constraint being the only true useful tool in creativity that continues to stand the test of time).
People throw the whole timeless thing around in association with analogue film, but I think that only really holds true for black and white (Tri-X) film.
Most colour stocks actually have their own distinct look and feel that, when processed by a modern lab, aren’t what I’d necessarily call timeless. I don’t say that in a bad way – but the timeless colour we’re perhaps used to, is more the Kodachrome, stuff from the 60’s-80’s that our eyes more closely align with timelessness.
The rich, punchy colours of beautifully over-exposed Portra film aren’t any more timeless than digital, and are actually very distinct in their own right.
The sheer variety of looks in analog film stocks, lenses, and camera bodies is staggering, and each link in the chain imparts it’s own little flavour on the end look of the image.
So for me, shooting analog film is less about timelessness, and more about variety.
In my own tests, shooting analogue film is an objectively better experience for the person in front of the camera – if for nothing else, because we’re slipping into a loss of generational memory of those old cameras: and so these crazy old things bring on a strange sense of removed nostalgia and wonder, simply because it’s assumed that they’re just mantlepiece decorations, rather than fully capable image-making machines.
Having someone use an archaic piece of engineering with all the romance of a past-craft makes them feel valued in a totally different way. Even if the whole shoot isn’t being done on film, having some gear in the bag to switch things up can completely change the tone of the shoot.
David Rees is a good point of reference for the question “can the intrinsic value of a thing be increased or amplified by wrapping some old-world artisan air of craftsmanship around it”.
Typically, there are two main approaches that a photographer will take when choosing to use film as well as digital during a shoot, and they are either hybrid shooting, or separatist shooting (I made that second label up, but I can’t think of another way to title it).
Hybrid film photography is when the photographer shoots analog film, but aims to have the feel and tonality of the images completely in tune with the digital coverage. Often the aim of the preset applied to the digital images is to have them look as close as possible to the film ones. In this way, hybrid shooting is a process-based approach to film photography, rather than an output based approach: which is to say that it’s used mainly to provide variety to the photographer, rather than to the couple. This is not how I shoot film.
Separatist shooting is when the differences in the two mediums are celebrated, and no effort is made to create consistency between the digital images and the analogue images, meaning that the photographer gets to enjoy the process of shooting with different cameras, as well as providing something unique to the couple, and extra variety in the images they receive. This is how I choose to shoot film.
Separatist shooting is my preferred approach, and this is why: over the last 100 years, we’ve had hundreds of beautiful, differing formats used to create images. Different analogue film-stocks, and different lenses that all interpret light and render a scene, differently. I think those differences should be celebrated. It also keeps me more entertained pushing to find the deeper uniqueness of a particular format, rather than agonising over getting a perfect match between analog and digital, which for me, defeats the purpose of enjoying analog film as a medium.
Mixing things up is probably the number one reason why I shoot analogue film at weddings.
I don’t necessarily think consistency is overrated, but I do think surprise and intrigue is underrated. And as a film wedding photographer, there’s no greater joy than delivering a set of images where couples get the chance to swoon over that sprinkle of images that seem to just have something… else, to them.
Sure, I could go into the all the impractical bits of it, but for me, they’re joys. The only prolonged implications of shooting this stuff, is that it costs. It’s easy enough to throw in a roll here and there, but with analogue film and developing costs, we’re looking at about $70 for a couple of rolls – or about $3 per shot.
That’s fine when it’s a small part of the shoot, but a full-day analog wedding shooting only film can run past $1500 in film and developing costs alone very quickly, and that’s where it has to be considered as an add-on, rather than something that can be thrown in.
If you’re considering having your wedding photographed on analog film, I can recommend a bunch of ways in which it can be approached: whether having your entire wedding photographed on film such as Lil and Jake here, or doing what I do much of the time, when I detect that the idea sparks joy: bringing along some weird, wonderful gadgets, and making some images on them over the course of the day.
If you like, you can see some of what’s in my camera bag over at Shotkit, although it’s in need of an update (i’m pretty sure all the kit there hasn’t survived my anarchist hands for half a decade).
The poor-mans Rolleiflex, this little beauty is quiet, a marvel of engineering, dream to look at, and a pleasure to carry around.
This is my “good afternoon, i’m making some serious work” camera. A little heavier, a lot louder, but due to having an enormous mirror inside it, what you see through the ground-glass is what you get: whereas with a Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) camera, there might be a very slight difference in what you end up with.
The grand-daddy of common press-cameras in the 1950’s. Extremely portable, lightweight, invites curiosity, and the looks of it alone are good enough reason to be a film wedding photographer.
If I had to take one to a desert island, it would be the Yashica. If I got to take a tripod too, it would be the Hasselblad. My favourite film stocks are Kodak Portra 400 and Kodak Tri-X, although these days i’m taking a leaning towards the rich colours of Ektar.
If you’d like me to shoot some analogue film at your wedding, you can connect with me here or on instagram, and maybe for a doubke-whammy of awesome, let’s get our analogue on at one of the best alternative wedding venues in Melbourne.
For more of my film-only work, you can follow my personal account here.
If you like this, check out more black and white wedding photos.
Jun 11, 2020
One of the constant themes in my enquiry inbox is a reference to Wes Anderson styled wedding photography.
Ok. So. There’s something a little (wildly) gratuitous about drawing any connection between a prolific director (for the kids playing at home, that’s Wes Anderson) and the owner of a humble wedding photography business in suburban Melbourne (that’s me).
Wildly, of the level of wildness entertained by 18 year olds who put racing stripes on their Toyota Corollas back in the 90’s thinking it boosted their engines horsepower (I wasn’t one of those, but I *might* have lowered and tinted a 20 year old family sedan). But since I’ve started photographing humans around the world at their weddings, folks keep drawing a connection between the two, without my prompting.
Which is really humbling, as he has a massive body of work, and excellent hair.
So because of that bring raised, I wanted to open up a post about cinematic shooting, symmetry, and how I “find the feel” in seemingly simple situations, show a few images, and cut through to breaking that down: what DO people mean when they say “yeah, that’s got a real Wes Anderson vibe to it”?
In a nutshell, it’s overwhelmingly about, simply, symmetry.
What Sony’s Walkman did to the CD-player back in the 90’s and what Apple’s iPod did to the “portable music player”, Wes Anderson has done with this one enormously broad, fundamental design element.
It’s usually, (nearly) as simple as that, and it’s what I look for at every wedding. In fact it exists, whether we like it or not – we might just have to crank our neck a little.
If we extend it all a little further though, for me, the elements that give something a “Wes Anderson Vibe” in a broader sense, are:
And that’s without even touching on the intricate ways he weaves a story or creates a particular sense of theatre out of the characters. We could talk all day about the level of formula that his imagination uses, but we’ll just stay in the symmetry & composition saddle for the moment.
For me, I want to bring in a little bit of unique cinema into my Briars Atlas images, without getting too complex. Just a dash of… “I can’t put a finger on it, but when I look at this image, I feel like i’m peering inside a movie”/.
That means having an eye towards what it means to photograph with symmetry and finding calm in the chaos, so that within the set of images I deliver, there can me moments of calm and beauty in seemingly mundane situations.
Here’s a small selections, of my favourite “Wes Anderson” style wedding photos.
Feb 1, 2020
I’m honestly at a loss for words trying to introduce this Blue Mountains wedding venue. The Hydro Majestic Hotel lives up to it’s name and is a turn-key wedding venue that really does offer everything you need to pull off the most extraordinary wedding. The hotel itself presents some phenomenal photo opportunities, with a refined art-deco style. The real magic though is in the view. It really does have to be seen to be believed. Luckily for you, I managed to snap a few wedding shots at this larger-than-life Blue Mountains wedding venue a little while ago and I’m more than happy to share. Enjoy!
Ok, this is the part where I blab on and on about how incredible this venue is. It is definitely for good reason though, there really isn’t a single downside. So, if you’re not thinking of booking The Hydro for your upcoming nuptials, maybe turn away if you don’t want to know what you’re missing out on.
This wedding venue is an absolute BEAST. It is a towering ode to the dreams of businessman Mark Foy and his drive to install Australia’s very first Health Retreat. That’s what The Hydro is, first and foremost – a retreat. And a mighty enormous one at that.
In 1903, Mark oversaw the construction of the Hydro, pulling out all the stops. A generator imported from Germany, artworks from all across the globe, a dome shaped roof that was built in Chicago and shipped all the way to Australia, and a Swiss health professional to run the joint. He even renamed the township The Hydro was situated in to “Medlow Bath” to make it suit the overall vibe of the hotel. If that isn’t a baller move, I don’t know what is.
The venue has hosted a plethora of famous guests over the years including: Dame Nellie Melba the magnificent Aussie Opera singer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Australia’s first Prime Minister Sir Edmund Barton who actually died in the hotel in 1920. Sure, it’s a morbid claim to fame, but it’s a claim to fame nonetheless.
If the grandiose of this venue isn’t apparent in its history, then allow the photos below to show you just how remarkable this place truly is.
If you’ve been pining after a wedding ceremony with a view, there’s no better way to do it than right here in the Blue Mountains. The Hydro Majestic boasts a breathtaking lookout with a viewing platform that’s perfectly suited to hosting a wedding ceremony in the natural surrounds of the serene Australian bush.
Honestly, whilst capturing photos for this wedding I was constantly picking my jaw up off the floor. I couldn’t believe just how ridiculously gorgeous the entire place was.
The ceremony was backed by a tremendous valley that held an expanse of native bush lands. The Blue Mountains really is one of the most naturally beautiful places in Australia – it’s no wonder this spot was selected to host the grandeur of The Hydro Hotel.
When you book your wedding venue through The Hydro Majestic, you’re basically covered for everything. And I mean, everything.
The list goes on, my friends. I truly cannot recommend this venue enough, not only for weddings but for other events, photography shoots, high teas – anything that requires a spacious site that oozes class and style.
I’m going to leave you with a few more photos from this gorgeous Blue Mountains wedding venue. Once you’re done browsing through them why not check out this post on the awesome I Do Drive Through?
For more beautiful rural New South Wales weddings, check out this Kangaroo Valley wedding,
Mar 30, 2019
When Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning portrayal of the Joker broke ground as one of the most radical performances in recent memory, you’d probably be forgiven for not believing that one of The Dark Knight writers, Jonathan Nolan, was, like the production studio and most of the population, in vocal opposition to the casting choice.
Originally published in pulp for the Rangefinder NYC February edition. Available also online.
Ledger defied critics in the loudest way, broke any subtle typecasts he had and built himself into a Joker that dismantled what it meant to revive an established character. This is what’s revealed when you test the edges of who you think you are, or are told you are, and lean away from one of the most popular pieces of recycled advice: “Just be yourself.”
We’re in a narrative-driven culture competing for ideology air-time, and we’ve never been bombarded with so many different ones at such frequency and so forcefully. It’s “be yourself” one minute and “always step outside of your comfort zone” the next, with a scarcity of roadmaps available to navigate how and when to switch on each of those oppositional states. A convincing counter can be found for just about any mantra out there at the moment, and mentally sifting through competing narratives is nearly a full-time job in itself.
One of the most charged narratives out there right now for creative professionals and freelancers is around the intersection of our identity and our craft. Identity, and therefore artistic voice, is often presented as that fixed construct and something that should be reflected in all parts of our work. But aligning ourselves with this narrative does two things that can potentially cause us grief: It makes the assumption that we’ve taken proper stock of ourselves and know “who we are,” and it can create unnecessary tension around the idea of being truthful to that identity in our work and telling truth in our images.
And now, this construct is supported by every digital touch-point in our lives. Without sounding like an apocalyptic defeatist, online social platforms are exactly engineered to create more confirmation bias and solidify your already-presented identity. Through a system of carefully engineered notifications and filtering, they bind us to this presented identity with a high rate of frequency. This has a profound subconscious effect on how we go about living in the small-business world and producing the work that we do.
The candid photography and authenticity movement that is driving the story heavily on social media currently is less an objectively good way of going about doing things and more of a response to our perception of photography in the ‘90s. Whether we like it or not, we all leave our own, new mark on the historical proof we’re creating somehow, and it’s near impossible to get an idea of how that will hold up in 30 years. This is an ambiguously freeing thing, and while we should celebrate that as makers, we should also do it with the context that this isn’t better. It’s just different.
Before, during and for a long time after the Industrial Revolution, we didn’t really consider concepts of our work and self being too intertwined. We got the damn work done because we had no other choice. We had to support our family. Thankfully, the general employment climate and standard of living is better, which affords us more choice, but an abundance of that choice has presented its own set of challenges. In this case, it’s the challenge of excess and that identity magnifying glass we’re placing on ourselves because we now have the time and space to do so.
In a world where you can do anything and be anything, we’re now told to be authentic, to wind things back to what’s real and truthful. And this is particularly potent in photography, where we’re tasked with keeping historical record of real things happening in front of us.
However, authenticity and truth don’t exist—not in the way they’re sold to us, anyway—and perhaps the pursuit of those things isn’t the most useful way of finding our curiosity. When the broader online think-tank promotes a thin, arbitrary idea of authenticity, it all starts bearing a striking level of similarity. We see this most obviously in how that authenticity is manifested into branding design, but that’s a conversation for another day.
So when engaging with the precious task of bringing out our voice into our work and brand, and being true to ourselves or our clients, in an industry heavily steeped in the idea that we have to “be” our work and live out binary authenticity through it, where does this leave us?
Various studies report that 70 to 80 percent of people lament not having their dream job, and a problem lies in the idea that we’re putting that dream job a yardstick ahead of a greater goal: exploration. Fundamentally, we are liquid, not stone—we just forget that as we go through school and the workplace, and find ourselves having to set a fixed identity relationship with everything around us, cemented with our job title stamped on paper.
You don’t have to “be” your work. Treat your business more like a pet piglet by your side. Walk it, feed it, let it roam. Give it a hot bath occasionally. Feed it a strawberry (no, seriously, Google “piglets eating strawberries”). Most importantly, be open to the idea that it can have an identity of its own. You can treat it like a game while still serving people in a beautiful way. That does not have to be a state of conflict for you.
I never hide the fact that I wouldn’t book myself, or anyone like me, for my wedding. This isn’t to say I don’t believe in the work that I do; I’m deeply engaged with my way of producing images and finding couples who like it. I’m surrounded by lush imagery, intimacy and end-to-end storytelling. But me? I don’t want that for myself.
I’d hire a gritty, jaded ‘90s photojournalist to photograph my wedding day on grainy film and a super wide lens. No prep, no portraits, no “storytelling.” I’m very present to the fact that our powerful imagination can fill in the gaps; I don’t need prescriptive images of every last micro-event doing the heavy lifting for me. There’s amplified value in scarcity, and that’s where my values lie for what I’d hire (subject to my wife’s input, of course).
Does that make me inauthentic in the product I choose to sell?
There’s a lot of power locked up in words, and even though we’ve passed the madness of the loud hipster application of authenticity (I’ve waited patiently for six years for the fad to pass so that I could grow this damn man bun currently sitting post-pretentiously atop my middle-class noggin), we’re still in the middle of an ideological gold rush to show our B-side instead of our A-side, to move against heavy curation and to be “real” with what we post. But curated A-sides were never disinteresting or damaging—they just got hijacked by #influencers and advertisers. There’s nothing wrong with someone’s work or personal identity being shrouded in curated mystery, with all the rest left private, for them, like it used to be.
The next movement will be a middle ground and our ability to induce magic in the people that view our work by turning how we live and how we craft into a character. Perhaps not the Joker or any other folks also sporting a Glasgow smile (your bookings might suffer), but something more in line with human anthropology and ritual in all of its forms—the real, the fake, the tacky, the authentic, the staged, the awkward. This is the wonderful human circus, and we owe more to it than gratuitously pretending we can capture its whole, objective truth.
Show me any wonderful, iconic body of documentary work, and i’ll show you a body of work by an individual, with a vision.
And never forget that there’s an enormously wide range of ways in which to reach the hearts of people through our identity and craft, beyond moose-antler logos and slideshows accompanied by the indie acoustics of José González.
Mar 20, 2018
I know this is all about weddings, about love, community and all that. But it’s not every day you find yourself shipped to the very bottom of the planet, on the Antarctic peninsula, sharing a month with 80 of the most brilliant minds in science, tech, education, medicine and maths. This was for Homeward Bound voyage #2.
The places this gig takes me. A huge thanks to Kodak for sponsoring me, and loading me up with what must have been the largest ever case of camera film hauled to Antarctica. More on this later.