July 17, 2008

From A Photographer’s Heart

I have been a wedding photographer for six years, and if I had to sum up “what does it take to be a wedding photographer” in a short article, this would be it.

We are humans first, photographers second. Humans feel, and by certain standards, it is what defines us separate from animals. And then we shoot what we feel. I think alot of photographers “forget” that they are human, and get consumed by photography. That is the biggest wrong any photographer can do, is to let photography get bigger than, well, humanity.

You walk into an empty church full of flowers and ribbons. It is a beautiful sight and you just have to shoot it, not just because it is beautiful, but also because the bride would certainly like a record of the money she spent. So you stand there for half a minute composing the best shot of the interior.

 Suddenly this really adorable little girl in her cute flower girl white dress comes out of one of the pews and runs towards you with the biggest grin on her face, and you realise it’s because she saw the mother of the bride behind you, her favourite aunt, whom she hadn’t seen for 2 years, and this aunt always buys her lollies (not that you would know this). You have no time to recompose, and you snap the SAME shot that you did seconds ago. Think about the power of such an image, and you didn’t have to do anything different. That is what defines a powerful image. Same place, same settings, same light, same composition, RIGHT TIME. Your “photographer mentality” was to shoot an interior shot, but being human, you know instantly that her joy can’t wait, but the interior can.

Being human is easy, we ARE human. Take heart in the fact that there are little girls everywhere at weddings, but for this particular little girl 20 years later, she will remember this moment with such joy, or if she was too young to remember, she’d be facinated by the story of the image told by her aunt. Imagine, you were that little girl.

There are two things that I feel defines a great photographer. One is dedication. Dedication is a very broad word to include the amount of time and effort needed to train in the craft. Reading articles, asking questions, browsing the net and magazines, seeing/analysing/copying(!) other photographers’ work, shooting, re-shooting, making mistakes, learning from mistakes, editing, re-editing. all these, and many other things in the aim to create better images, and getting more experience. Weddings certainly calls for more than photographic skills, you have to learn to deal with all kinds of people, you have to conduct yourself professionally, but not coldly. You have to be firm with pricing, and contract details, yet be lovable, personable and approachable. You are the person that the couple will see the most of, besides each other, on the wedding day. You are so many things at one time.

After the wedding, you have deadlines to meet, images to edit, albums to complete. You have other jobs to get, close and/or deliver.

In your business as a whole, you have costs to manage, equipment needs and replacements, repairs/servicing, insurance, rent, suppliers, quality control, business development and marketing.

This all requires dedication. all this can be trained, and together with time and experience, will bring such a photographer quite far, but not far enough.

The second thing that makes a brilliant photographer, is talent.

I have yet to figure out if talent can be trained. I am inclined to say no. You have it, or you don’t.

Talent is the reason why two photographers can have an exact same path, but one has so much more powerful images than the other.

Talent is the reason why he is always “lucky” to be able to get those shots. I have at times said for a photographer to learn, memorise, and know the full meaning of the word “serendipity”. Somehow, a talented photographer seems to have serendipity as his twin brother.

I have this simple analogy on how to describe talent. Most of us are used to the phrase “we are good at what we like doing”. I like driving cars, but i don’t think i could be a formula 1 driver. Perhaps, the statement of “we like doing what we are good at” is more apt. In this statement, dedication is akin to what “we like doing” (that’s why we dedicate ourselves to it) and “what we are good at” is akin to… talent! It starts with that.

You might be assuming that I have talent, or I found my talent in photography, and that is why I like doing it, because the more I do it, the better I became at it and it makes me want to do it more (remember, I like doing what I am good at). If so, your assumption is true. As proud as this might sound, I believe I am talented in photography. it is actually, believe it or not, dedication that I sometimes lack! Laziness being my bane. Thankfully, that can be trained!

I want to end with a statement that I have been known to make, either in speech or in writing, and this is perhaps the most convicting statement that keeps my passion alive at present:

The reason for my life, is photography. It has kept me alive, and is the reason why I continue to live happily. (I might change this statement if I ever get married, but as of now, this is it…)

But if it’s all too confusing or melodramatic, there’s only one thing to remember, really;

You are human first, photographer second.