I love the permanence and historical importance of photography. Capturing what it's like at a certain place on a certain day, so that future generations have some idea of what came before.
Sure, I love great light, and making beautiful compositions, not to mention split second timing. But those are just the mechanics of photography. They're only important in that they contribute to creating that record, at that time.
I remember looking through my in-laws wedding album on their 50th anniversary. They got married in Bolton Town Hall, and their album contained a dozen or so black and white prints. There were well composed group shots and portraits on the stone stairs. I could see what people looked like and what they were wearing. The style was classic, and could have been taken at any time in the last 70 years or so.
But it was the last photo in the album that had the most meaning to me. It was as the newly weds walked out of the Town Hall and onto the street. There were 1960's cars in the road, passers-by were all wearing hats and walking dogs. There were no road markings or signs. And right in the middle were my wife's parents, surrounded by smiling family and friends. I had some sense of what it felt like to be there on their wedding day.
What is the hardest part of being a photographer?
There's so many aspects of running a photography business that don't involve photography. From bookkeeping, to branding, keeping your website fresh, album design and client communication. Each one is a separate discipline and needs constant attention.
Most self employed photographers often work alone for most of their working time. It's important to build a network with other photographers and wedding related businesses to keep in touch with trends and to have some banter with. The internet is awash with groups, but by finding, or creating a good one, you'll have plenty of backup and ideas about how to deal with all these aspects of being a photographer.
How would you describe your style and how did you find it?
I photograph weddings in a documentary way. Sometimes called photojournalism or reportage, it's more than candid photography of people not looking at the camera.
My photography on the wedding day is unposed and not set up, apart from the family groups and a few portraits. During the wedding day, I'm trying to add context to the photography. To do that I need to be interested in the couple and know a little about them and their family. My background as a newspaper photojournalist helps here. I've covered many different stories across the globe, and sometimes only had a short period of time to understand and illustrate a story with photography.
What would you recommend to someone just starting their career?
I'd recommend continued practice. One of Henri Cartier-Bresson's many quotes is
"Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”
Said at a time when most photographers would shoot a handful of rolls of film a week, this meant months and months of practice. He wasn't speaking about the technical aspects - knowing exposures and the operation of your equipment is taken for granted. He was talking about seeing how light works, observing human interactions and timing the prefect shot. Once you're doing this every single day, you start to see the world in a different way. When you're working, you start seeing possibilities and pictures in situations that would have previously gone unnoticed.
Carry a camera with you as often as you can, and take pictures all the time. Study the photographers you love, find new ones, and look at work outside your chosen field.
What has been the best piece of advice you have ever received in regards to photography or business and from whom?
I can't remember where I first heard this, it's mentioned a lot on the internet.
"Only show what you want to shoot."
As a wedding photographer, it's easy to get sucked into shooting for other people. Either what you think the clients want, or for competitions. Or even what you think the clients think they want!
What they want is what you show in your portfolio and all your branding. If you don't like shooting posed and well lit outdoor portraits, don't show them. They may have the best traction in social networks. But by shooting and showing them, you will only attract clients who want and expect that.
To keep your creativity and love for photography, you need to be making pictures that you enjoy. Build a strong brand around what you love doing, and find the clients who appreciate and want that. It may not generate as many bookings initially, but it's the most sustainable way to run your business without burning out or getting disillusioned with what you're doing.