Changing tastes in wedding photography
by Michael Sewell
Are wedding photography trends changing?
First of all, this is a personal observation, so I'm asking the question: “Does anyone else relate to this?”
I have found over the years that my enquiries for wedding photography have brought specific preferences about style. During the initial meeting, where we will discuss the bride and groom's expectations, the word “different” tends to be used repeatedly. When I've asked if is there anything they don't particularly want, the stock answer is often, “I don't want it like my friend's album.”
Now, I sometimes know who shot their friend's album. I’ve occasionally seen the images on social media, and to be perfectly honest, they're good images. It's not the standard of photography where my clients want something different; what they actually mean is the style. They often refer to the ‘standard smiling bride and groom in the sun’ as the epitome of everything they want to avoid. What they are after seems to be something unique to them and their venue.
Occasionally, they build a Pinterest board with beautiful images of brides and grooms lit dramatically in unusual surroundings. Sometimes they have very specific ideas of their own and have images on their boards that reflect this.
Flexibility is key to creative photography!
I had a couple some years ago getting married on the last weekend of March, where almost every email conversation would include a reference to how they wanted a portrait in the snow. You can imagine how they felt when we didn't have a cloud in the sky on the wedding day. But they were upbeat; they mentioned a few times how they hoped it would still snow before we left. And would you believe it, it did snow as the evening guests arrived, and the image above is the result. It was a very quick change of direction from what we were doing and necessitated a change of flash lighting equipment. It had to be done quickly. I'll come back to this later.
Do other photographers get asked for images relevant to their style, or are you being asked for imagery in a style that doesn't come naturally to you? Are brides and grooms becoming more savvy about what we are capable of, or are they simply choosing a style because they like it?
In the world of commercial photography, we still get enquiries across the board. From ‘I want it on a white background’ to complex lighting situations out on location because the client wants something that will grab the attention of the internet. But that seems to have stayed fairly consistent. Even back in the film days, some clients wanted the basics and those who would quite happily invest in eye-catching imagery that would take time to craft.
A notable shift in client tastes?
Bridal portraiture, on the other hand, has definitely shifted. At least in my personal experience. The flash lit images during the bridal portrait session part of the wedding day tend to be the first topic talked about. How many images? How long will the photo shoot take? Can we put forward ideas? I've not had anyone yet who hasn't wanted the bridal portrait session, and because of the images on my website, I have always assumed I'm attracting brides and grooms with particular tastes that include some bride-only portraiture.
Social media's influence on wedding photography
More recently, and I mean over the past eighteen months or so, I've noticed another shift in focus with the questions I'm being asked: ‘Do you shoot black and white?’ is a common one and ‘Can you post-process like this?’ where I'm shown a matt or vintage style of image. I do find it interesting that nearly all processing questions tend to have an analogue look about them.
I don't doubt these requests are driven by a broader awareness caused by Instagram and its filters. After all, we often see the waving of phones throughout the day at a wedding, with pictures immediately delivered to those who aren't able to attend or posted online. But the ability to shoot and publish a vintage or black-and-white image to friends within seconds must affect perception and therefore desires.
For me, it means I now offer several editing styles, which allow my client to choose exactly what they want, with examples on my site to show what they can expect. Since adding the images and option to my website, I no longer get the questions about post-processing, but then I rarely have a request for a ‘standard’ edit.
Portable lighting can give you an edge
Recently, I had a bride referred to me by another photographer because he couldn't cater for her requests regarding lit portraits. This referral prompted me to ask:
'Are tastes in wedding photography changing, and what am I doing to cater for it?'
As I mentioned with editing styles, I offer several choices, which is an easy solution and will broaden appeal. But what happens if you're caught off guard on the wedding day, and they want a particular image or style? Sometimes it can be the bride and groom making the request, but it can also be the venue or venue staff.
A well-prepared kit bag ensures I'm ready for anything!
I've found that the best resource in situations that change very quickly is knowledge of your equipment; what can be set up quickest but still give you what you want?
Whilst my go-to location lights are the Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL, sometimes I have to switch to something else. Where speed of setup is essential, or for when working in small spaces, I always make sure to keep a speedlight or two in my kit bag. The below image is lit entirely with one speedlight, and was a last-minute request by the bride. I stuffed a speedlight in the umbrella rods and fitted it with an Elinchrom Skyport Plus Receiver to trigger wirelessly. There are a load of radio trigger options on the market; I use the Elinchrom Skyport system, so it can be integrated with my Elinchrom lights if need be.
I also tend to have a folding softbox in the outer pocket of my camera bag because it's surprising how often you go to a shoot that doesn't require lighting but then get a last-minute request on the day.
A range of modifiers to suit all bridal photoshoot ideas
My usual light modifiers for weddings are strip softboxes such as the Phottix Raja 30x140cm. They're good, reliable modifiers, with very predictable results. Occasionally, the venue will throw you a curve ball. Tight spaces and dark wood walls are a couple of the main culprits. I have a collection of oddball light modifiers, through to very compact, but capable Elinchrom Q-Mount modifiers that can fit my ELB 500 TTL heads directly.
Managing to meet your client's needs, be it somewhat fluid on the day, means good feedback and reviews, and, ultimately, more clients.