In a creative life I find that there is a constant battle between inspiration and imitation. How easy is it to be yourself when our virtual social lives revolve so much around this idea of coming together as an industry; of supporting each other? I’ve limited the pages that I follow on Facebook and contained my regular blog reading to predominately Pinterest-esque tumblrs or ideological writers and still I worry that even that will inform my view in a way perhaps that doesn’t suit what my style could be.
I follow around four wedding photographers. Only. And it’s very obvious to me that the way in which they shoot is also not inspired by other wedding photography. The most important thing for me has been to discern what I like about their work. Is it something specific? Is that something that I can apply appropriately to the way in which I work without this need to recreate the same images that we all seem to fall – as a trap – into? I’ll break this down into a couple of examples:
Sean Flanigan (http://seanflanigan.net)
There is an effortlessness here. How can you set up a composition so simply and yet still allow it to breathe and to say so much. Especially early on in our photographic careers I believe that we look for fireworks and for it to be made easy for us. Jumping jacks and false dancing and lets-pose-this-to-be-natural that never works. Okay, so the jumping jacks were perhaps an over statement but I’m sure you understand where I’m coming from. I feel that Flanigan captures what is. The light – the most important thing – is always spot on. The composition is simple. A lot of his work seems to have the subject(s) centre framed. The couple are often just holding hands and looking into the camera. There’s a tranquility to it. What I have learnt from this, rather than trying to imitate these exact photographs, is just to be present. To work with the couple as they are. Something that I never wanted to admit is that it is absolutely a collaboration. I love the idea that the result is created solely by my skill with a camera and yet when you have a couple so at ease with each other that no direction is required it just opens up this space that I can move into and get those more daring shots that I always endeavor to produce. I work on being present, on taking a step back and remembering to breathe.
Oli Sansom (http://www.olisansom.com)
My initial reaction to seeing Oli’s work was a) I love this and b) these images are very dark and gritty. It’s almost habit now that my brain instantly begins to try and figure it out. Is he underexposing? How deep are his blacks? What we must remember to do is stop. Have another look. Take your brain out of the equation. What do I really see? With Oli’s work I feel that it is that the exposure is always correct to the scene. The way in which he sees is totally informed by the way in which he sees light and that is sublime. This makes me question how much of our images are we faking, in a way, because what we expect from wedding photography is something light and airy. I’ve done it myself on more than one occasion where perhaps the light or the tone of a composition isn’t great and I’ve overexposed it to be more consistent with the narrative of the day and yet part of me knows that I’m taking from that image. I adore those photographs where just a part of the subject is shown; when you expose for the highlights of a scene. I feel that there’s a mystery and an elegance to it and an emotion that shows just how strongly the light can affect our reaction. Oli wrote a post explaining this much more articulately than I ever could over on The Define School recently. You can read that here. (http://blog.thedefineschool.com/2013/05/what-i-have-to-say-oli-sansom/)
Gary and I have begun to run workshops for other photographers where we discuss this topic in greater length. It’s become something so difficult to articulate as truly approaching our work without method and consistently taking inspiration from within ourselves is uncomfortable. There is no safety net. And for me what I have seen in the last two years of my being a photographer full time is that asking those questions of yourself is only what pushes you forward into new terrains. You can shoot as many high ranking venues, as many quirky bride and grooms, be featured on the top wedding blogs and have as much confidence as the next person but become lazy with it – think that you know how to do it – and you run the risk of your photography becoming stale.