a director, a reporter, a stylist, a retoucher, an editor;
When you are not working on assignments, you are -
a business manager, a salesperson, a bookkeeper, a financial controller, a customer relationship manager, a publicist, a marketing manager, a negotiator, a purchaser, a credit collector, an event organiser, an employer, an employee, an entertainer, a blogger, a tweeter, a writer, a presenter, a computer technician, a courier, a driver, a designer, a printer operator, a framer, a webmaster;
You will not get that assignment if you are not -
a scuba diver, a mountaineer, a skier, a hiker, a rock climber, an animal lover, an environmentalist, a scientist, a surfer, a party goer, a fashion lover, a singer, a music lover, a dancer, an actor, a talker, a joker;
If you are really into your job, you are -
a listener, an investigator, a social worker, a mentor, a teacher, a student;
Above all, you are also -
a father, a mother, a husband, a wife, a lover, a son, a daughter, a soul searcher, a friend, an enemy, a neighbour, a citizen, a carer, a handyman, a cook, a cleaner, a repairer, a housekeeper;
To me, photography is a process of self discovery. If there is a skill involved, that is the skill of how to reveal our inner self, accept it and then present that through the use of the medium, which in our case are those images that we create. The hardest thing I found is how to maintain a truthful awareness and be honest to ourselves. There is always a continuous battle between who we are and what other people want us to be. The biggest enemy here is the expectation. It makes us fear, vulnerable and feeling distrust, ultimately it destroys creativity.
Unfortunately no one is immune from this. We are living in an era that it rates prosperity above humanity there are way too many people out there trying their best to tell us what we don’t have instead of reminding us what we already possess and make useful of them. Taking advantage of people’s vulnerability has become the most effective selling tool – not surprisingly, wedding industry excel at this. A symbolic celebration of two loving people making their commitment to each other has often being promoted into a glamorous event where the importance of material overrides the truth meaning of the occasion. All of sudden everyone want to become a celebrity of some kinds. For those who do not want to follow, there seems to be no other choices but surrender.
This saddens me.
So I decided I want to get in touch with the real people, and make a truthful record of the celebration of humanity. This has become the driving force behind my approach towards wedding photography. I considered every assignment as an individual documentary project so each of them begins with a research process. When I meet up with the couple we often sit together for hours, we talk about life, work, relationship, food, arts, and politics, anything but photography.
It is through this process of sharing I managed to gain their trust and get invited into their world – and I don’t see there is another way to get so close both physically and emotionally to my subject and that is essentially what attracts me into wedding photography. It is an express train ticket for me to get to the intimate territories of the others where I can witness and investigate the subtle human behavior and their relationship in a very celebrated occasion.
Sometimes just to hear people telling their personal stories can be a very humbling experience.
I once met with a lovely Vietnamese couple. Early on from our conversation we both realise my service will not be suitable for them but we kept on talking and talking for hours simply because I was being drawn into her experience of leaving her home country and coming to Australia being a refugee some 20 years ago.
Also I remember there was a bride to be told me that she was not sure about their relationship and she was hoping the wedding would help them to strengthen it. The wedding was almost being called off but they pressed on. I could still vividly remember the sadness carried on her face at her wedding as if she was questioning the whole reason of the proceeding but it was too late. Almost immediate after the wedding she left the country as she tried to hide from everyone including herself.
There was another couple told me that his parents did not approve of their relationship and they have been so struggled throughout their time being together. As we spoke she even burst into tear right in front of me
I hope you don’t get me wrong here. I do not set out to make people cry or feeling sad, but it is essential for me to have that level of emotional connection with my subject in order to allow me to look beyond the usual wedding glamour and be able touch people’s heart by making a real record of their life.
Nowadays with the help of the advance technology, everyone have a camera in their hand can be a photographer, but not every photographer can be an artist. It takes certain personalities for being one, here to name a few: stubborn, naive, rebellion, arrogant, sensitive, temperamental, idealistic.. etc. No wonder there is an age-old view of there being a fine line between creativity and mental illness. If you think you are one of the unlucky one to have inherited such characters, I want to congratulate you. Because you also have the ability to embrace life with a different dimension in which to create something unique and beautiful for your own and nourish others.
I want to finish off with a quote from Paul Strand:
“If you can find out something about the laws of your own growth and vision as well as those of photography you may be able to relate the two, create an object that has a life of its own, which transcends craftsmanship.
That is a long road, and because it must be your own road nobody can teach it to you or find it for you.
There are no shortcuts, no rules.
Good luck with your journey.
The above text were originally created for a photography seminar held at the University of Sydney in 2009 (Blowfish Diary, NSWAIPP). It was then re-presented at a few other occasions, including one in Chinese at Canon Hong Kong for the fellow wedding photographers (WPHK).
From time to time we come across a lot of advices. Some we listen, some we reject; some we remember and some we forget. Those remained with us will fermented with our own life experiences to become something really useful, await for the opportunity to come so we can pass them around. Here is the transcript of my 10 minutes presentation at last week 'Decathlon' organised by the NSW division of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP). My topic was wedding photography but I feel these 10 points have a broader scope than just that. Someone will find these sensible while others may see them irrelevant. I hope these serve as the beginning of many conversations, so feel free to join in as you wish.
. . . . . . . . .
Because you love it
Be genuinely passionate and love what you do. I have heard too many people go into wedding photography only because it seems easy to be tapped into and they believe there are money to be made from the bride and groom. But the reality is if you don’t enjoy what you do, you will find photographing wedding can burn you out a lot quicker than you think. Very long working hours, heavy equipments, fierce competitions, not to mention cheesy poses at the same locations again and again, demanding brides, unmotivated grooms, drunken guests and the pink limousine (laugh!). However, if you are the person who has genuine interest in people and their relationships you may be able to see beyond these façade and experience the humanity in these wonderful occasions. For some, being a wedding photographer can be a very rewarding job, but for the others, it can be as tedious as being an accountant.
Be a good listener
When the couple come to our home for a visit we often sit down for a good few hours while I ask a lot of questions – it is the first, the most important and interesting part of my work. I want to know about their brought up, what they do for a living and why. I want to know how they see each other and how they see friends and families. I also ask why are they getting marry and what the wedding means to them. It is through this conversations I get to know the people, as well as letting them to know about me. Once I have heard a lovely comment about my work from another photographer and she said 'these images are like taken by the uncle of the wedding couples and he just happen to be an artist'. May be not an uncle, but I like to think that I am a dear friend of the couple and their families, so they welcomed my existence and comfortably let me point my camera to their faces during those personal and intimate time. Documentary photography can go deeper than just stealing the moment; if you spend the time and effort, with the aid of a bit of luck, you, and your subject will be rewarded with a series of images revealing who they are and the inner relationship between them.
Be a good matchmaker
Good clients lead to good projects. A photographer finding the right client is equally important as the client finding the right photographer. So in your portfolio, only show those works that best represent your vision so you won’t attract the wrong buyer. Treat every assignment as your portfolio showcase because they will be – every work that comes from you will have your name attached to, whether you like it or not. While do not be afraid of stepping out of your comfort zone but also be prepared to say no if you feel their photography vision does not match yours and you won’t be able to deliver. After all, wedding photography is much more than a just commercial transaction.
Many great photographs have a strong philosophy behind them, and that philosophy comes from the beliefs of the creator. It is a result of many years of collective experience throughout your life journey. So be aware of what you see and hear because every bit of these will have an influence on who you are as a person. Remember, anything that money can buy, for examples like equipments, Photoshop actions or presets, do not belong to you. Instead, invest in yourself and develop a way of seeing as this will become your own style that no one can take away from you.
Material stuffs can be sources of distraction. Therefore keep your equipments to a minimum so they will become less of a burden. Most of my assignments were shot with 2 lenses on 2 bodies so I can pay attention to the scene without wasting time and energy to think about them. Also this minimal setup allows me to travel light and move around relatively easy which is essential for my way of working. Obviously, another advantage is less equipments mean less maintenance cost.
Give them the tangibles
May be I am a bit old school but I certainly feel there is something magical of actually holding a print or a book in your hands. Therefore I always insist to include hard copies as deliveries. Not only in this way I can control how my works are being displayed, but also I believe it is the right thing to do. Who knows what is going to happen with the digital files in 10, 20, or 50 years time?
Keep your word
Keep reminding yourself, having the trust of being invited into other people’s life is a huge privilege. So try your best to take good care of it and never abuse it. Be careful of what you promise, and make sure you keep them. Be respectful and people will do the same in return.
I have seen too many wedding photographer at work dressed like a sports shooter. Ask about their dress code if you are not sure and dress accordingly. You will be much appreciated. Also, don’t forget a pair of comfortable shoes.
Live a discipline life
Wedding photography can be very demanding on your body and your mind. A typical wedding day involves at least 8 hours continues walking and concentration. So keep yourself fit and healthy. Go to sleep early before the day, and never drink alcohol on assignments. Healthy body healthy mind, and it will show on the images.
Never try to imitate anyone. It is not good for the industry – because a healthy market needs great variety, it is not good for the customer – because our world will be terribly boring if everyone becoming the same. It is not good for you – because you will end up in nowhere. So be honest to yourself and learn how to listen to your own voice. Find your own way to get to whatever you want to be. Enter competitions for the thrill of excitement and the fun of conversation, but also look beyond them for inspiration. I believe we all have unique personality hence being yourself is the best way to differentiate from the others. Don’t worry too much about the market trends. Don’t worry if you don’t have the latest equipments. Don’t get jealous of others seemingly success. Live your own life, you will be a lot happier.