Create your own visual style...
let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others.
- Orson Wells, actor, director, producer, writer
Consider this odd scenario, which could have come out of the classic Bill Murray film Groundhog Day: Two brides are best friends. One gets married on a Saturday and the other gets married the following Saturday. At the same church. With many of the same people in attendance. In fact, nearly every aspect of the weddings is identical. And you have been hired by both women to be their wedding photojournalist.
“The church was ugly, to boot,” laughs wedding photographer Kelly Moore Clark of Ruston, La., USA who faced this situation last spring. Although she was nervous that she might visually repeat herself, Clark focused on the new at each wedding. “Even if it’s the same venue, I try to see every wedding with new eyes. I challenge myself every time to see things in a new light. It’s hard, and it takes more energy to do it that way. ”
But it’s paid off. This approach has helped define Clark’s style and differentiates her from other photographers in her market. Clark’s style is a virtual fishing net, capturing 95 percent of her wedding clients. Once they see the way she shoots, they’re sold.
Defining style can be difficult because it lies at the nebulous intersection of intelligence, heart and instinct. Personality also has a lot to do with it, and after talking with Clark for just a few moments, you see where her style comes from. She’s effervescent, passionate, grounded but imaginative and, she admits, a little funky.
“I’ve always shot differently than people in my area,” says Clark, who was a freelancer until opening her own studio in spring 2005. Clark’s restive creativity keeps her camera moving. “My style is eclectic. I incorporate many different aspects of the moment. ” Which sometimes makes for funky images. So Clark issues a fair warning: “If a traditional bride calls, I tell her I might not be the photographer for her.”
Clark’s style has a sophisticated magazine sensibility, and some of her images look like TV or movie stills. That’s because Clark loves media and studies it continually. “If I’m watching TV, I pay attention to colors, textures and angles. I look at ads in magazines to see what’s out there and what colors people are using.”
That helps keep her style fresh and fluid. And it surely helped her get through last May when she had 11 weddings. But even with weeks of back-to-back events, she never stops challenging herself to see the new in everything. “I hope I never finish refining my style.”
Style is primarily a matter of instinct.
- Bill Blass, fashion designer
In school and on the job photojournalists are encouraged to be themselves, says Dallas wedding photographer Huy Nguyen, who worked as a staff photographer for the Dallas Morning News until he went freelance in 2004. That sets them apart from traditional wedding photographers, he says. “Photojournalists are trained to get results, but the results need to be different from what you see in other newspapers.”
That’s where style comes into play, Nguyen says, and it evolves over time. Nguyen developed his style by photographing “what I want to shoot, what I see, what I gravitate toward. I don’t do it at the expense of missing shots, but my instincts drive what I shoot.”
Scores of bridal couples have faith in his instincts. His documentary-style wedding photography business has grown rapidly in the nearly four years he’s been shooting weddings. It’s the immediacy of his images that attracts clients, the you-are-there quality of his work. He achieves it, he says, by using a wide-angle lens to move in close and focus attention on selected action, while de-emphasizing, but not excluding, people and elements in the background and on the periphery. This technique crystallizes the moment by keeping it in context.
Looking at his images, it’s clear Nguyen has a knack for visual storytelling, but it’s also evident that he has a feline-sharp eye for detail. He isolates the minute to illuminate, often elevating the ordinary to the exquisite.
You’ll also see his quirky sense of humor. Not many photographers would photograph a dress in such a way that it looks as if a stuffed and wall-mounted African kudu is wearing it. Nor would many place a bride in full regalia shooting hoops on a basketball court. Nguyen’s humor is the cornerstone of his approach to weddings. “I like things that are funny, juxtaposed and quirky,” he says. “I approach weddings lightheartedly because it’s a fun day.”
To convey a variety of moods, Nguyen uses lots of angles. Some of his pictures are simple, others complex, with many elements happening simultaneously — just like life. Nguyen’s style makes advertising practically unnecessary; brides find him. “Once a photographer develops his own style, clients will find him. You don’t have to cater to a particular group. The group will come to you.”
Style is the mind skating circles around itself as it moves forward.
- Robert Frost, poet
For Kevin Weinstein, working for newspapers as a photojournalist stifled his creativity. The Chicago-based photographer and WPJA award-winner bounced from paper to paper — the San Francisco Chronicle, Albuquerque Tribune, The Sun in Chicago among them — looking for an employer who wouldn’t say to him, “We love your style, now change.”
He found what he was looking for when two random and fateful acts converged: he was laid off from The Sun and a friend of a friend wanted a photojournalist to shoot her wedding. “I was 10 times more nervous than the bride,” Weinstein chuckles. Done in black and white, mostly with available light, the wedding challenged him and unleashed his creativity. His style and wedding photojournalism jived. Word spread and wedding work snowballed into a new career.
“It took me a while to shake my formal training and do what felt right,” says Weinstein, who has a master's degree in photojournalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism. But once he let himself go creatively, his style blossomed. “I treat each wedding like a scavenger hunt,” he says, “always looking for what makes it unique.”
Clutter makes him nervous, so his pictures are classically clean, or the extraneous is present but blurred. “I’m a very meticulous person, borderline obsessive, without being obnoxious,” Weinstein confides. “I shoot in layers and at the widest aperture, which allows me to select what’s in focus and what isn’t. It creates a dreamlike sense of place.” Clients love it.
Keen detailing is also a hallmark of his style: the micro close-ups of intricate beading on a gown, an isolated curve of a face, a graceful hand carrying white satin pumps. “I like moments,” he says, “quick, fleeting moments. And I like intimacy.”
Perhaps intimacy is what he excels most at capturing. Said one judge in a WPJA photo competition about Weinstein’s image of a tearful bride and groom, “This is a moving, emotional photo that really expresses a lot of warmth and love between the couple.”
— by Lorna Gentry for The Wedding Photojournalist Association