Wedding Photography – The Final Frontier?

The Wedding Photographer

One of my work colleagues asked me about my photography recently – what I do, how long I’ve been doing it, what subjects I like (or don’t like) and so on. The answers run something like this: mostly I photograph people, I’ve been doing it for almost 30 years and I love it all. Except wedding photography.

Actually, that’s a lie. I am fascinated, intrigued and almost obsessed by the subject. So, why in 30 years have I photographed precisely zero weddings? Because even the mere thought of it terrifies me, that’s why. I have been asked to do it a number of times and have always run a mile. Originally the issue was a mixture of my lack of confidence with ordering groups of strangers about, combined with the fear of processing the film to find I didn’t have the shots.

But these days I am older and have had to take control of many people in front of my camera and surely digital has completely removed the question of not getting the shot? I know I can take good portraits of people on a one-to-one basis – I’m paid to do it on a regular basis. What makes the wedding scenario different? Well, for one thing, with the obvious exception of the bride, the photographer may just be the most closely watched person attending. For another, the wedding day is unrepeatable; screw up and there is no second chance.

Mainly, I think my issue is with expectation. When I’m shooting portraits I’m trying to capture the subject the way they (or the person paying the bill) sees themselves. With a wedding the expectation is much higher. The bride doesn’t want photos where she looks the way her friends and family sees her, she wants to look like she has never looked before. You are capturing the fairy tale and failure is inconceivable.

Does this mean I have doubts about my abilities? Maybe I do.

Perhaps it is time to face the demons and take up this final challenge. Or maybe I need therapy to deal with my issues!

Inspiration – Can It Be Self-Induced?

Uninspired: Copyright Georgios M. W. Denmark

I sat down at my PC last night to write the next article for The Decisive Moment. Nothing happened. I stared at the monitor for a while, looked through my notes, made coffee, picked up a book, browsed my image folders; nothing.

So today I am having to play catch-up and not only do I not feel inspired, but now I feel pressure to feel inspired. I find myself wondering what is inspiration and where does it come from? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, inspiration is “a supposed creative force or influence on poets, artists, musicians, etc., stimulating the production of works of art”. Okay, well it’s definitely inspiration I lack today (although calling these articles “works of art” might be pushing it a bit!).

The same thing happens with my photography, too. I know what it feels like to find yourself inspired and it is wonderful when inspiration occurs while you have the time and opportunity to take advantage. Sometimes you just look at something, pick your camera up and you are off. What I want to know is how to induce inspiration when I’m not feeling it. Is there a technique I can learn?

I’d really like to know what other people do. Where do they look for inspiration? Does it just come to them?

Perhaps we can get some feedback and suggestions and come back to this topic another day? Inspiration permitting, obviously.

When Is It No Longer Photography?

Progression of Photography

When digital photography first came along there was a raging debate about whether or not we should even consider it to be photography. I’m talking about a time before the digital camera – digital photography was about scanning your negatives or transparencies into one of those new Mac things and manipulating the image with Photoshop (or similar).

Initially, I have to admit that I considered the use of computers and software to be seriously cheating. How could it be real photography when you were clicking a few buttons and making complex changes in seconds that would have taken me all weekend in the darkroom? For a while I actually got quite angry about it. After all, I had spent years (not to mention a small fortune on materials) experimenting and documenting and practising to get the standard of negative and print I was achieving.

Then one day I settled down to read the latest edition of the Royal Photographic Society Journal, which had been documenting the course of the digital argument for some time. They had an article by a highly respected professor who was going to clear the matter up for once and for all. Fantastic!

I had assumed he would be firmly in the “digital is for talentless people” camp, but I was wrong. He kept it all very simple and very clear. Follow the history of photography and every innovation is effectively cheating on the technology previously in use. The camera obscura allowed painters to cheat. Plates and film allowed the artist to put down the pencils and brushes altogether. Later we had TTL exposure meters and auto-focus. It’s all cheating. Isn’t it?

The professor’s closing statement was so true: the tools are not what makes a photograph – it is the ability of the photographer to create a picture out of whatever tools he chooses to use. At the end of the process there is a good picture or a bad picture.

And there it is – good pictures and bad pictures. Simple.

So, is there a point where it stops being photography, or just a point where it stops being good photography?

I only wish I could remember the professor’s name.

Online Photo Libraries – Am I Their Cheap Whore?

Online Libraries - Am I Selling Myself

We were discussing online photo libraries and the impact they have had on photography and photographers. Back when I were a lad, stock photography meant supplying thousands of transparencies to a library who would produce and distribute expensive catalogues to design studios and the like, at enormous expense.

The commission for each picture sold was quite respectable though.

The online library makes it all much simpler, of course. Simpler to get accepted into a library, simpler to get your pictures seen, simpler to buy images and simpler to calculate your wedge. However, the online library has also lead to a dilution of the quality of images for sale. Worst of all, it has lead to paltry, pathetic commissions for the photographer and I think it is a great pity that we have allowed this to happen. Unfortunately the same system which has made it possible for anyone to sell their beautiful images to a global audience has also made it possible for anyone to sell their crap images and the standard is continuing to drop!

I realize it is unfair to blame the libraries entirely – they are (kind of) the victims here, too. They have been forced to drive the prices down to compete with other libraries who are forced to drive their prices down and so on. Selling your art for a few pence and relying on thousands of people wanting to use the same image seems a bit lacking in self-respect to me. And yet I too have signed up with a number of online libraries.

What we need is some innovation. Someone needs to think of a way to sell images online at a sensible price with a fair commission. Then they need to find the balls to actually go out there and do it!

Maybe we should do it? Then I can be the Madam of a high class establishment instead of a cheap whore.

Where’s the Silver Lining in the Cloudy, Stagnant Pool?

The Cascade, Virginia Water, Windsor Great Park

For the last few weeks I have been promising to take my eldest son (George, aged five) to Virginia Water on the edge of Windsor Great Park to photograph the waterfall. We were planning to arrive there in time for the sunrise so, as you might expect, the evening before was spent making sure batteries for both our cameras were fully charged and that all kit was laid out ready to go.

The getting up and getting there went off without a hitch. However, as we prepared to take the initial test shots, George reported battery failure. “No problem, I brought plenty of spares” I reassured him. I took the freshly charged batteries from my bag and replaced the duds in his camera. He switched on and… nothing. Three more sets of freshly charged cells later and… still nothing. (I’ll be ranting about this another time.)

Okay, so the sun is creeping up over the trees and we don’t have time to go to buy some more, so we agree to share my camera. One memory card each, taking it in turns to compose the shot, George operating the shutter release.

The “silver lining”? George gets to use Daddy’s “big camera” and the experience was a little more shared than it might have been.

We move down to the edge of the stream and perch carefully on a large flat boulder to get some low shots. We are a bit too close to get everything in, so we need a lens change. This is the point where it turns out the batteries in my brain are also going flat! I flip the camera onto its back and undo the lens. Then, as I reach down to pick up the replacement lens, I catch the tripod and catapult the lens out of the mount. I watch it falling (in slow motion, of course) towards the boulder we are stood on, anticipating the smash as lens and rock make contact. But it doesn’t break. No, it bounces and continues its slow-mo trajectory towards the stream!

As I jump into the stream (anyone who knows me will realize this is a shameful exaggeration!) I expect to struggle to locate the lens, assuming it would have sunk immediately. Instead, it was bobbing on the surface, making its way towards the faster flowing section. I was quite surprised that it floated, although this was short lived. A rapid series of bubbles escaped from the lens and it sank like a stone.

I have dried the lens out, but I have no doubt it is ruined. There are water stains on the internal glass surfaces, there are bits of mud visible between lens groups and I can’t begin to describe the sound when I turn the focussing ring!

The “silver lining”? It was a cheap lens (about £75) purchased as a fill-in while I save up the £900 for the one I really want. Throwing away £75 still hurts, but imagine doing that with a £900 lens you spent a year saving up for! Also, we did have a great time and we will always be able to look back and laugh about that time Dad threw his lens in the river and dived in after it (I’m sure I’ll be embellishing it even more over time!).

If you try hard enough, you can always find a positive among the negatives.

Our “Decisive Moment”

image of some stones gathering some moss

This is one of those “just do it” moments. We (that’s me and my buddy, Charlie) have been talking about doing this for many months but one day last week we decided to get on with it and so here we are.

What we wanted was a place to talk about photography like we do when we get together. We have those conversations where you get all fired up because it really matters to you. I don’t think you really get that from traditional magazines and we really hope that we might find a few other photographers out there who know what we mean and feel the same way.

If you are still seeing this post on the first page then I guess you have probably stumbled upon us by accident or we have pushed this in front of you (or maybe Charlie knows more about SEO than I give him credit for!).

If you are passionate about photography, stick with us, because so are we.