Couples hire wedding photojournalists for their narrative approach to photography, but they’re also expected to get the more formal shots; portraits of the wedding party, family and friends. Balancing those competing expectations— pleasing our clients while producing unique and timeless images— is an ongoing challenge and a somewhat tricky proposition that not only permeates the wedding day, but also spills over to your web site design and public portfolio.
How do you present your images in a way that pleases portrait-centric clients while staying true to your esthetics and attracting new business? Some of our award-winning members share their strategies.
What present and future clients expect from you, and how they react to your style, can be greatly influenced by some informative communication on your part.
If you can impress potential clients with your style before any initial contact, that’s a great start. This is why web sites are so important to a mutually successful wedding day assignment.
“From what you present on your web site via the portfolio and FAQ page to how you present yourself during the interview, it's important to sell yourself and your style,” notes Iowa-based WPJA photographer Mark Kegans. “If you're professional and, even better, successful, then they'll trust you to document their wedding in your style rather than feeling the need to dictate or script your work.”
Chris Moseley, a WPJA photographer who works out of Texas, also uses his web site to assure good matches. “I want my web site to convey my goal of photographing weddings in a documentary and artistic style,” he says. “I love sharing a collection of photographs from weddings that tell the whole story of the day or of the wedding weekend.” He has recently added a blog feature to his site, found through the WPJA directory, which gives him the ability to “publish more new work quickly, featuring my favorite images.”
During a wedding you may find it necessary to gently remind your clients why they chose you, a wedding photojournalist, over a traditional wedding photographer. Separating your photos into public and private galleries on your web site can give you a lot of leverage in making your case. Remind them of the images they’ve seen on your web site, which motivated them to choose your style over other options. This can help you avoid any prima donna antics that would spoil the mood during the wedding, and still get your message across.
Tracy Turpen, a wedding photographer from South Carolina, explains that if a couple develops portrait fever, “I will take the photos they want and remind the couple that the time spent on portraits will take away from the time that could be spent creating images like they see on my web site. While working down a shot list I make suggestions so that the final product has a flavor of my own.” After the day, she continues, “I present the work from that wedding which reflects the vision we talked about prior to the wedding day.”
Moseley tackles the portrait issue by providing specialized areas on his site for clients. To keep the focus on wedding photojournalism, he prefers to “provide our guests a slideshow of our favorites and a link to the rest of the photographs, including group portraits.”
Turpen also offers her clients private galleries on her site to ensure that its overall focus remains on the photojournalism style she works in. “All of the galleries are password protected,” she says, while “the featured weddings on my web site show work that reflects my style. This shows potential clients a more accurate sense of my work,” while still providing her past clients access to the full array of photos taken, portraits included.
Her close-up photograph of an older woman in the midst of preparation for her daughter’s wedding is an impressive example of how to visually present your photojournalistic chops while capturing portrait-style images. “I was only hired for a couple hours to photograph the ceremony and a few formals afterwards,” she notes. “When I arrived, the women were in a small room getting ready for the ceremony. As I stood outside the door I could sense that there was a lot of emotional energy in the room. The woman in the image was at the center of that energy so I focused on her.”
Turpen reacted to the golden opportunity and came away with an image that received first place in a WPJA contest. “I was standing next to a table and her daughter was helping her get ready. They were having a conversation and a moment together. I went on instinct and got the image. The moment was there and then it was gone, it happened so quickly I was able to capture just the one image!”
Kegans also waited for a moment free of his clients’ expectations for his award-winning WPJA photo, of a couple kissing in a vintage car with the church and wedding party in the background. “The couple was sitting in the car waiting to drive to the reception and I knew there was an opportunity for a nice image with the great vintage cars and church on the hill. As it usually happens, at first the couple noticed me so I waited for them to turn their attention back to each other.”
His patience paid off, and even gave him time to plan the shot. “While waiting I thought through how to light the inside of the car and balance the exposure outside. Then, as young couples are wont to do, they started making out. I tucked my flash inside the open window, made a couple of quick frames and retreated.” The result is a shot that pleases the couple and makes a great addition to his web site.
Your web site is not just an advertisement for any couple looking for wedding photography— it obviously should reflect your style first and foremost, and it can serve as an important tool for individualizing your portrait sessions.
“On my site, I only present the type of portraits that I truly enjoy and want to sell couples on,” Kegans says. “The only traditional, formal portraits I might present are what might be called the ‘bloopers’ or ‘outtakes,’ where the ring bearer is picking his nose or the group is laughing.”
For Kegans, his site is about more than simple advertisement. “I try to nurture the idea that photography should be fun, not just in my galleries but on my contact and FAQ pages as well as my blog. After a couple has combed through dozens of web sites and portfolios and albums, I feel like personality is frequently the deciding factor.”
Turpen agrees that your web site should reflect your take on wedding photojournalism. “I feel like every photographer's web site should reflect what is unique about their work. Usually, this is the images themselves. I like my site to be clean so that the focus is on the images and not on the web site.”
Remember, the presentation of the day is as much the choice of the photographer as of the clients— which is why you work together. As Chris Moseley says, “Even on a big portrait day, the portraits are such a small portion of the day's photographs that we still end up coming with dozens of documentary moments that the clients will love.”
For example, he shot a photo of a bride and groom, beaming and waving from the inside of a car. “Having jumped in the old Rolls Royce, I made a bunch of photographs that were more posed, more how the bride felt she and the groom should look. Since I was turned around backwards, I could see the bus with the wedding party behind our car [before the couple could]. If I had directed by saying, ‘Look, there's your wedding party...’ the clients would have become more camera aware.”
Instead, he waited for them to react naturally, resulting in a photo full of spontaneity and more joy than most traditional portraits can possibly convey. Moseley combines this patience with some web site savvy— his site features individual shots like the one above as well as “wedding stories” which take future clients through past clients’ day. In this way, a wedding photojournalist with a strong focus and a watchful eye will find the spontaneous moment, capture it, and present the image with preference on his or her site to better attract future clients.
In other words, take advantage of your web site and don’t let the portraits get in your way!
—by Heather Bowlan for the Wedding Photojournalist Association