Firstly I want to thank Scott and Brad for allowing me a space here. I wondered what to write about, but I suppose, in the end, I thought it just made sense to tell the story of why I shoot and how I shoot.
<<<< REWIND >>>>
It's a Monday in June 2009. My wife has just given birth to our first daughter. I get up at 5am. I get on the train at 5:20am. I sit on the train for two hours (same seat, every day. Same newspaper, every day, same people around me, every day). I get to my desk in central London at 8:30am.
Tip, tap, tip, tapâ¦.. I tinker away at the computer keyboard writing code. I have lunch at 1pm, with the same people. Every day (cool people btw). At 5:30pm I leave my desk. At 6pm I get on the train and stand for the next two hours next to same people I stand by every day. I get home at 8:30pm.
Gemma has already put my new daughter to bed. I go and see her. Smile, a little, and then thinkâ¦â¦ it's time.
I go downstairs.
Gemma, looks at me like only a wife who knows you are about to drop something very substantial (but not necessarily in a good way) on her plate.
I've not said a word yet. She looks. I look. She sits down. I sit down. Then I stand up again. Then I get a beer. Change my mind, and grab a Scotch instead.
Gemma looks on.
"I've quit. I'm going to be a wedding photographer," I say.
Boom. There it is. She looks at me as if a second head has popped out of my ear.
"A wedding photographer?" she says - like only a wife who's just had something substantial (but not necessarily in a good way) dropped on her plate.
"But you've never even owned a camera!" And I hadn't. But I knew I'd need one soon.
Gemma went to bed. I finished my Scotch.
<< FAST FORWARD >>
It's Monday 23rd March 2015 and I'm writing this. I'm sat in my studio, in my home town. I've just dropped my kids off at school and here I am, writing something for Scott Kelby's amazing blog. In a few hours I'll pick the kids up, we'll go home.
And hereâ¦ I'm going to be talking about my pictures.
My pictures. Talking about MY PICTURES.
That's me, talking about my pictures, to you, and to Scott, and to well, anyone else who cares to readâ¦â¦ You get the idea.
This is quite something. I wonder how on earth this has happened. My pictures are far from technically perfect, far from it, and I know many people won't like them. But hey - here we are and I wanted to recite that little story as I know there are many people out there who want to make that leap of faith. It can work. Honest.
I shot my first wedding on the 9th August 2009. One day before my 35th birthday. It was hell. The pictures were OK, and the client's lovely, but the experience was hell.
I did everything I thought I should do. I played by the rules and followed all the instructions I'd read about in wedding photography magazines, online forums and social media (as it was then). I shot 41 group shots, I got a lovely close up image of the wedding rings in their boxes, I made lovely portraits of the bride and groom, I got them to walk up and down in a field for thirty minutes while I changed the settings on my new Canon 5D Mark 1. I took photos of them doing a "mock" cutting of the cake in front of an empty room. We went for a walk at dusk and took more portraits while their guests drank champagne and wondered where they were.
Lovely. Lovely pictures. I was happy with them. But then it hit me. I'd given up my career to do this, every Saturday, for the next however long. I didn't enjoy it one bit.
By now Gemma had started talking to me again and I discussed it with her. She said, "Why don't you just shoot it the way you want to?"
Bingo. Epiphany number one.
Since the "epiphany" back in 2009, I've shot near 300 weddings and I've made some of the most amazing friends on that journey. I've been around the world, and I've even written a book.
But mostly, I've completely and utterly changed my life, and that of my family and for the better too.
Although I'd never been a photographer of any kind, I always found myself drawn to story-telling pictures. Pictures of a photojournalistic nature. I was drawn to people such Mel Digiacomo and so, from wedding number two onwards that was the way I was going to shoot.
I pretty much decided, there and then, to shoot "reportage," "documentary," "photojournalism…" Whatever you want to call itâ¦ Really, I decided to shoot in a candid way going forward.
And, with the odd bump here and there, it hasn't changed at all since.
Now, to go completely against the clich©, I actually don't like weddings. I know, right? I'm a wedding photographer who doesn't like weddings. Crazy.
But that's not the end of it. I can turn that clich© around and follow it up with, "But I love people." And I do. I love photographing people, being people.
I love the humanity element of weddings. I don't like the contrived, formulaic elements of it. And I shoot my weddings as a Street Photographer would shoot on the streets of London; searching for moments and looking for the unexpected in a world of expectedness.
I look for light, I look for moments. And I love that.
For me, a wedding is about the interaction, it's about touch, it's about eye contact, it's about humour, it's about emotion, and it's about loveâ¦â¦
I wanted to give my clients the view of their wedding from their guests’ point of view. I wanted to deliver my clients bang, right back at that moment in time. I wanted to see my clients smile, cry with joy, laughâ¦ I wanted to see my clients "remember" their wedding, recite moments that happened and give them the opportunity to witness moments they didn't see on the day.
So, I have to say this, because it's very true; although I shoot in a candid way, this doesn't mean I don't have an appreciation for photographers who shoot more formally. There are many clients who would shriek at my pictures, and for them there are many wonderful wedding photographers out there who will deliver images way above my skill level and ability.
However, what rocks my boat, is the story. And it's the uncontrived story I like to tell, through my pictures.
I originally started shooting using the Canon 5D (Mark 1,2 and 3 in the end). Initially I was shooting using the big 70-200 and a 24-70.
But I knew there was something missing. I couldn't put my finger on it but for the first year I wasn't really satisfied with any of my wedding photographs.
Then I decided to ditch the zooms and use a two lens system only. From then on, I shot 100% with an 85mm f/1.2 and a 35mm f/1.4 lens. They were heavenly. I adored those Canon systems and I adored those lenses.
I genuinely believe that shooting with a couple of prime lenses adds a uniformity to your images. Across the board editing, workflow, and look and feel of my images were brought into line. The 85mm f/1.2 especially was a lens that brought me some very memorable images.
I was shooting 95% available light too, with the odd flash brought out for the first dance when the ambient light wasn't good enough.
The Canons were great, and I loved them, and would never knock them but…
I then had another epiphany at Photokina in 2010. I saw a picture of this little retro-looking camera in a little glass box. It kind of looked at me, as I looked at it. I was intrigued and at the time I was going through another crisis of confidence. Once again I couldn't put my finger on it but my pictures weren't quite delivering for me what I wanted. Clients were loving them, but for me, there was something I wasn't quite connecting with.
I didn't know it at the time, but when I gazed at what was the Fuji X100 in its little glass box I wondered if what I was lacking in my images was a rawer connection with my subjects. Something I could perhaps only get by getting closer. Getting more intimate, but at the same time remaining as discreet as possible and ensuring the integrity of the moment.
I pointed my stubby little finger at that camera and said, "…that's it. That's what I need."
About five months later I received one of the first Fuji X100's that came into the UK. I took it to a wedding, I shot all my normal stuff with the Canons, and then I shot an hour or so with the X100.
I took the X100 home. I looked it squarely in the eye again. It looked back at me. And I said to itâ¦"Now mister - I like you; you are small, you are discreet, you are deadly silent and you are good to my back. But, if we are to get on, you are going to have to work faster, more reliably and make me swear a lot less often."
At the time, the Fuji X100 was really my only option at getting on board with the [affordable for me] mirrorless technologies. Of course, there is also now Sony, Olympus etc who each have amazingly good systems. For me, though, at that point I'd pinned my flag to the embryonic Fuji X-Series tree and whilst in the beginning I saw "potential," I now, four years later, see how moving to the X-Series has dramatically changed the way I shoot weddings.
I now shoot 100% with my X-Series of cameras. The current set up is an X100T and an X-T1 with the 56mm f/1.2 lens attached. It's no coincidence that that setup, in full frame equivalent, is approximately 35mm and 85mm - just like my preferred shooting lengths with my Canon system.
Here's the thing about these cameras for me; they allow me to get closer still. They bring an intimacy to the imagery that I simply wasn't able to get with the Canon system (the images were fine of course, it was a mindset of shooting more than anything).
I'm now just a guest at the wedding. In fact, many guests have larger and more expensive equipment than me. Has any client ever said to me "we expected you to be using large SLRs?" No. Never. Has any client ever said "Wow, really, we just hardly noticed you all day." Yes. Many.
So, going back to what I wanted to shoot and with regard to shooting "people being people" - the Fuji cameras have really exploited that ambition for me and allow to fulfill that for myself and for my clients.
It's imperative to me that my pictures reflect the honesty of the wedding. There are many "wedding photojournalists" who work in the same way. There are equally as many who call themselves wedding photojournalists yet stage and contrive the images. For me that's not the same. Shooting candidly is not necessarily the same as making documentary pictures and so I prefer to use the adjective â˜candid' (which the dictionary defines as "truthful and straightforward") when describing my style of photography.
For me it's all about the integrity of the moment. I often say to my clients that I'm simply the curator of memories. You, and your guests, make those memories - I simply record them. I don't want to have any influence on anything at the wedding itself. It is my responsibility to understand the given lighting conditions, take note and understand the characters at the wedding, be responsible and sensitive to every situation and use all my senses help me to record, in pictures, the story of their day.
This incredible, short journey, has given me some great privileges, but I think the most humbling experience in my career came last year when another photographer who had been at one of my workshops approached her to document the Caesarean birth of her daughter.
At first I was very reticent to take this on, but I wanted to do something at that stage of my career that was out of my comfort zone and this was the perfect canvas.
In a nutshell, that's the story of my story so to speak. How I went from corporate misery to shooting social documentary photography. I made it sound so easy right?
Well, it was kind of easy, because I unshackled myself from the "rules" of the industry. I believed in the way I wanted to shoot, picked up the ball and ran with it.
But let me tell you, running with that ball hasn't been all plain sailing. I could write just as much about how often I've wanted to give it all up.
How my wife has saved me from doing so on several occasions.
I could tell you about the anonymous hate email I received stating "your photographs are snapshots. Why don't you leave it to the professionals?"
I could tell you about how I've sat and watched my images ripped apart by judges at international competitions and dismissed as "snapshotography" (and by the way, they had a point).
I could tell you about the time that a simple sentence from Zack Arias whilst having a beer in a Japanese bar saved my career.
I could tell you all of that stuff too.
â¦but instead, I'd like you to press play on the video below. Turn the sound up and at the endâ¦.smile. Life is good!
For me, the key here is the human story. I use the clock to anchor the segments together but the little looks, the eye contact, the touch, the first sights of Majaâ¦.
So bringing it all back together - I enjoy story telling pictures. I enjoy stories that have a start, a middle and an end. I enjoy creating picture essays that curate these memories for my clients.
It's different to the "norm." There is no formula. It's 100% candid and I guess I simply enjoy taking pictures of people, being people.
I hope you've enjoyed my ramble, and even if you don't enjoy the pictures, I hope it helps people teetering on the edge to make a decision. One way or another. Life changing decisions usually work out for the best!
I'm happy to answer any questions you may have, just leave them in the comments.
Thanks so much for reading!