Fearless Award Winning Photographers | International Wedding Photography
Photograph of Erika & Lanny by Abby Photography
Look through any wedding on Erika and Lanny Mann’s website or blog and I guarantee you’ll see a shot that’s either won an award, will win an award or should win an award. What first drew me in to their work was their incredible compositions, clean, bold editing and their creativity in using their surroundings, to create stand out shoot throughs, that amaze and intrigue in equal measure. Earlier this year I was lucky enough to get some time to sit down and chat with both halves of Two Mann Studios over Skype.
I started by asking just how they both started out in wedding photography.
Erika: We were actually originally called Two Mann Tent photography because we used to do landscape and travel and adventure photography. Then we had kids and stopped climbing, paddling, ski touring and mountaineering as much, to the point where we couldn’t really photograph it anymore. Around that time a friend asked us if we could shoot their wedding for them so we did, and hated it. It just snowballed after that, we grew to like it and now we love it! We were just so out of our element the first time, it was crazy.
Lanny: We went from shooting in pretty controlled situations, even though we were dealing with extreme weather and terrain with storms and mountains, but there was less pressure. It was our thing and we could make our images and shoot during the golden hour. So we were very much out of our element in weddings, there were rapidly changing conditions so we were just trying to adapt to all of that to get it right. We’d actually never shot with flash before either. But you know, it was a friend and we were paid accordingly. All of those reasons that we found it challenging to begin with are the same reasons we love it now. I really enjoy that, having to adapt and never stop thinking, it’s always different and you need such a versatile skillset because every situation is so different and rapidly changing. You can’t anticipate anything; you just have to take it as it comes.
With such a varied photographic background it seemed like the obvious follow on to ask if either Erika or Lanny shoot anything other than weddings now.
E – It’s strictly weddings, we’re lucky if we shoot pictures of our kids now! We shoot 15 a year but up until maybe a couple of years ago we were still doing family portraits, corporate, architecture and all sorts. Dabbling in a bit of everything and then we slowly started honing in just on the weddings exclusively. Even our engagement shoots are now only for our couples. We try to always do one if we can, it’s not always possible now that not all of our clients live near us. If we have the opportunity to meet up and hang out before the wedding it’s not so much about the photos, just chilling out together so we don’t seem like just ‘hired help’ on the wedding day.
L -They were pretty instrumental for us in the first few years because the engagement sessions are where we really cut our teeth on all sorts of different kind of ideas and techniques that we were trying to figure out before we applied them on the wedding day. We treated the engagement sessions as a training session for us to experiment and practice, then of course its good practice for the couple as well to learn how we work. We get to figure out what makes them laugh and see who they really are to help us portray that on the wedding day.
So what’s a standard wedding day like for Two Mann Studios?
E -Well there’s lots of bickering in between every section of the day (Under our breath bickering!). We usually start fairly early in the morning, so whenever the bride starts getting ready, the last wedding that was around 8 or 9. I always shadow the bride and Lanny always goes with the groom. We meet up at the ceremony (and have a little fight probably), we shoot the ceremony together then after that we have another disagreement, then onto portraits! We try to get all of the ‘safe’ portraits and family portraits out of the way as quickly as possible so we can get a bunch of time with the bride and groom.
L -Basically when we’re together which is from the ceremony on, usually one of us is playing it safe and the other is taking some kind of a risk. At no part of the day is there a ‘primary’ or ‘secondary’ shooter, we both have equal creative input throughout, it’s just as the ideas come. Erika might have an idea and then she’ll go and do that while I’m scouting something else or we’ll work her idea together and I’ll hold her lights and coach the bride and groom while she’s shooting or vice versa. The vast majority of our shots are team efforts. We usually have to remind ourselves to get the standard shots where they are actually looking at the camera because that’s not what we’re inclined to do. For the speeches one of us will shoot the speaker and one of us will shoot reactions then we’ll switch it up, switch lenses, switch the lights. Sometimes, depending on the situation we’ll just have one shooter and one person holding the light. For the first dance usually one of us is safe one risky. The party dancing is probably our favourite part, you don’t have to force emotion, on the dance floor it’s real, everyone’s rowdy by then. We might be shooting party and dance shots for two to three hours so we’ll play around with different approaches. Sometimes we’ll be back flashing, sometimes we’re shooting right into the DJs lights. It’s definitely the most fun part for us!
Anyone who has spent time looking through Erika and Lanny’s portfolio will know that their work often features some incredible flash techniques. Every photographer I talk to has a different approach to working with flash and while there are plenty of photographers, myself included, who don’t focus on artificial lighting at all it’s hard not to be blown away by the stunning lit portraits on the blog and website. I asked what it was that drew the pair to working with flash.
L -I think when we transitioned from shooting in the mountains and extreme situations to shooting weddings we went from capturing images that were just inherently extraordinary just by virtue of what it is. Then the new challenge was trying to give our wedding images that same impact. For me it was images that had dramatic light, whether it’s natural or manufactured lighting. The ones that had dramatic light were the ones that drew me in.
E – Another thing we’ve always tried to do is to “shoot how it feels” which you can do with couples that express their emotion really well, but if they don’t, you have to use all of these different tricks that sort of give the image that feeling. So we started experimenting with all of these different kinds of flash to give an image a feeling instead of just capturing how it looks.
If you just capture how something looks at a lot of weddings that can be quite ordinary as an outsider looking in. But our clients don’t see it that way, they feel it. So by finding ways to use the light or interesting perspectives and compositions or shoot throughs, the goal is to find a way to capture that feeling. So in a way flash can achieve this.
L – We were scared shitless of it to begin with! I remember because we saw Dave and Quin from DQ Studios who were really good with off camera flash and we just started experimenting. We really had no idea but we’d just put the flash somewhere to see what it would look like. It was all accidental success; we’d just see what looked nice! There was no science behind it for us. When I talk to other photographers and they are like ‘yeah I’ve got my flash set up over there at f5.6…’ that makes no sense to me whatsoever! Still we have no idea, we don’t use a light meter or anything like that. We just look at the camera and say oh it needs a little more or a little less, maybe we’ll need to move it. There’s no science behind our flash work whatsoever.
E – It’s kind of like you taste the soup and if it needs more salt, more flash or less flash. Our approach with the photojournalism is to simplify everything as much as possible. So with the flash it’s not technical bullshit it’s just more light or less light.
So it always has to be asked, what’s in the kit bags?
L – So we have four 5d MK III’s, two each. We each have a 35, we share an 85, 24 and a macro as well as a 135 prime that we use occasionally. We do still use the 70-200 once in a while and we have a 16-35 that we use on the dance floor and which Erika uses for the bride getting ready. Then we have a fisheye which we were actually using on the dance floor the other weekend which was something new and different. People have to be very drunk to get that close! So that’s lenses and we now have four EX600 Speedlite’s with two transmitters, so we have one each and two flashes that we can be linked to either simultaneously or on separate channels. Then we have Magmods for each of the flashes. Basically like a little snoot to funnel the light. I’d say maybe 90% of our flash work has a modifier on it to shape the light. We’ve learned with flash that it’s not so much where the light is that really makes it sing, it’s where the light isn’t. So controlling it to only illuminate what we want has been key to our work. That and gelling the flashes as well. 90% of the time it’s just a subtle warming gel but occasionally if the light’s really warm inside we’ll contrast it with a blue gel or something. Most of the time we are balancing light to some degree but creatively we’ll push it to the extremes, maybe use an extremely warm gel on one flash and an extremely cool gel on another for opposing primary colours or something dramatic. We also take a tripod to use occasionally, and a gun light, we don’t actually use that for shooting, more to help us focus. It’s a very expensive piece of equipment to achieve focus! It’s not why we bought it but we ended up using it for that. We use it for rim lights sometimes in really dark situations.
Hearing just how much Lanny and Erika like to modify their flash made me question some of the assumptions I’d made before speaking to them. I already knew from following their work online that Photoshop plays a big part in their approach but it quickly became apparent that many of the bold bright colours in their photographs come from gels as well as natural lighting and editing. I asked if they could talk me through their process and how heavily they rely on the edit.
E – If we come home from a wedding with 10,000 images it gets culled down to about 10% for the clients, not because we’re trying for that, that’s just what it naturally comes down to. So then I do the editing on all of those thousand on Lightroom and Motibodo. Lanny does all the edits on all the images that the world sees.
– Since this interview Erika and Lanny have actually switched to the fantastic ‘Image Salon’ for this part of their editing and they are incredibly happy with the results thus far. Lanny still works on the blog images as detailed below.
Then we pick our favourites and those are the ones that Lanny works on in Photoshop and Adobe Camera Raw and those are the ones that we show the world. The before and afters are very different but we’re not manipulating pixels, we enhance what’s there already.
L – Our approach to the post production is in many ways no different from our approach to composition, lighting, posing and trying to get emotion. When we shoot we’re going for maximum impact with the way we light and compose, the unexpected perspectives that we try to get. Then the post production is no different from any other tool of photography. Just like our cameras and our lenses, editing is a tool of photography. We’ve embraced that and we’re going for maximum visual impact when we process as well. Often when we shoot we have a vision for the final piece of art, how it will look after the edit, so we shoot accordingly. We try to get it as close in camera as we can but ultimately what we’re trying to capture in the file is all of the pixel information to bring it to where it needs to be. Basically it’s then just pushing the files as much as we can, I find the most time consuming part is figuring out ways to push the files as much as we want to, to have the visual impact we want to achieve without looking over processed.
With that epic culling process in mind (something we’re all familiar with right?) one of the things I was most curious about is just how Lanny and Erika go about choosing the incredible shots we see posted online.
E – That’s a big part of our process, picking the images. Lanny came up with this metaphor for a talk we did at a seminar in April and he likened how we pick our blog images, to choosing the songs that go on an album. One bad image can taint the whole blog post just like one bad song can make the whole album bomb. Less is more. But if you look back to our blog posts from two or three years ago we were including way more images but we’re getting better at trying to tell the story with less and realising it’s a stronger story when we tell it with less. The blog posts we do are for us, we do a slideshow that we give to the clients and they get all 1000 (s) images from their wedding but when it comes to the blog post it’s for us and for our marketing. That means we don’t have to have a first kiss shot in there, if all of the bridesmaids are coming down the aisle we can just have one. Just because it happened and we photographed it, that doesn’t mean we have to show it. If you don’t have a photo of the first kiss people aren’t going to assume you didn’t get it. Like they’ll see it and think ‘ah you totally blew it! You missed the first kiss!’ But for years we really thought that. We always went through and said ah we’ve got to have the bride putting on the dress, the laces, we have to have the processional. But then we realised we were doing all of that for the client yet it’s the one part of the process where we can show off and use it for our marketing. We take tonnes of standard shots on a wedding day but we’re not going to show that to the world. The client can if they want to do that but we try to hone in on the best of the best.
L – And that’s what defines our style, that half a percent that you show the world. I think it’s one of the most common mistakes that we see photographers making, showing too much. So we only show the best, still trying to tell the story but the images that catch our eye are the ones that are somewhat extreme or unexpected. One of the things that helps us achieve those really standout images is not being afraid to fail and to take really terrible images. Because we do, we take hundreds and thousands of really terrible photos at every wedding we shoot. But it helps us to embrace failure, if you’re swinging for the fences you’re going to have some misses right? Embracing failure is what’s helped us get all of those standout images, going out and saying ok, sometimes this might really suck, but it might be really cool! Some of our blog post images have taken 40 or 50 fails to get that one shot. There’s one on our blog where I shot the whole dance from outside. Erika was inside getting the dance but I was shooting outside for the whole dance and then they did that dip right at the end. I could easily have gone inside halfway through and said ok, this isn’t working, but I knew Erika was getting what she needed inside and I knew that there was a chance I might get something really killer. Thankfully they dipped and held it for more than a second, thankfully we had an assistant holding my flash and tracking the couple inside, and it all worked.
One of the things I loved most about chatting to Erika and Lanny was learning about how they work as a couple. From first-hand experience I know that working with your wife is incredibly fulfilling, but it can also be tough working out who’s going to go after that standout shot. I asked how this dynamic works for Two Mann Studios.
L – Sometimes Erika has to assert herself because I’ll get wrapped up in trying to get the shot, or I’ll get my next idea so Erika has to step in and say no, it’s my turn. But for the most part my mentality going into every wedding is ok, Two Mann Studios is going to work here, we’re going to create the best body of work we can at this wedding and capture the day as best as possible as a team. However that might happen doesn’t really come into play, it’s more a case of let’s just get these images into our cameras and see what happens. It just kind of works out that it’s 50/50 I think we rely heavily on each other because we have different strengths and weaknesses. For example I rely heavily on Erika for formal portraits because she’s better at coordinating the groups into poses and whatnot.
E – Spending the mornings apart, where he does his thing and I do mine, is nice because I get that time to be the sole photographer. I do need to feel like I’m not just a team, that I’m a good solo photographer as well, I don’t know why, it just helps my confidence. So I love having that time on my own for upwards of 2-3 hours with the bride is where I can get my own shots, I can fool around with the flash and get to know the bride. Just doing my own thing.
It seems obvious enough that Lanny and Erika must have progressed tremendously to go from hating their first wedding to shooting some of the most jaw dropping images in the world. I asked the pair if there was a particular turning point for them where they felt their work really move up a level.
L – There were a number of game changers along the way. One of the first ones, and this was only about three years ago, was when we started shooting in manual. Before that we were always in aperture priority so that was one of the first big ones for us. Also, setting ourselves up for success is key to our performance, being in the right place at the right time, knowing what to expect.
E – I thought for the first 20 weddings or so that we were just faking our way through it, to a certain extend I sometimes think we’re still just really good fakers. We’re just getting lucky. And then we realised about 6 months ago that we’re actually really good at getting lucky. There’s an art to it. It’s not just good photography, because we’re really not that great, we’re just really good at capitalising on luck.
L – The foundation workshop was big for me last year as a photographer and for my confidence. As Erika said it’s easy to attribute our success to other things like luck or editing or just showing the best. That workshop helped me appreciate that it’s more than that. I’m actually good with my camera as well so it’s just having that confidence. I think another big turning point for both of us was the Canada photo convention. That really came at the right point for us, hearing things from the right people at the right time. DQ studios, Ben and Erin [Chrisman], Davina and Daniel all spoke there and at the time those were all wedding photographers who were really inspiring us so hearing what they had to say was a really big turning point for us. It really pointed us in the right direction.
Worlds Best Wedding Photographer Interviews. Destination Wedding Photographer.
Interview with Davina + Daniel, Destination Wedding Photographer
Having a long list of accolades is a fantastic achievement for any photographer, but for a husband and wife team to both be internationally acclaimed is pretty incredible and certainly something the two of us would love to one day emulate. Davina and Daniel Kudish have both garnered some incredible press over the years, they were named in Rangefinder Magazine’s ‘Top 10 Most Sought After Wedding Photographers’ in 2012, Davina has won ISPWP’s photographer of the quarter and Daniel was Fearless Photographer’s ‘Photographer of the Year’ in 2012 (Although both continue to win awards pretty much every time!)
Today I’m pleased to share their interview with you. As with many of the photographer’s we interview their schedule is pretty jam packed (Especially with their recent arrival) so for this one I sent them a few questions to answer. I loved reading through the responses and I hope you can all take something from it!
Hi Guys, thank you both so much for taking the time to do this. With worldwide demand for your work time must be short as it is not to mention the recent arrival of your new baby boy. Congratulations by the way!
For photographers who travel throughout the world starting a family must have been a big decision, will it change the way your business works going forward?
We knew we wanted a family years ago, so we structured our business in a way that would make sense for us once we became parents. A big part of our business today is running Grey Sparrow, our sister studio in Montreal. We launched it back in 2010 and it’s now running at full speed: we have 13 photographers working for us, shooting 85 weddings this summer. This second business has given us a lot of flexibility, and it allows Davina and I to only take on about a dozen weddings a year, all of which are destination weddings. Our baby is coming along with us and we have a family member traveling with us as well to take care of him while we shoot.
One of the challenges as a couple has to be putting the business ahead of individual aspirations, do you guys ever feel a touch of friendly competition given the fact that you are two of the world’s best photographers in your own rights?
There’s definitely some friendly competition, but it’s as friendly as it gets. Giving our clients what they’ve come to expect from us (and some surprises!) always comes first. In the end, the competition only serves our clients, since we are striving to make great images, both as a team and individually!
We always like the fact that in having two photographers we get to cover both the bride, and the groom’s side of the day. Could you talk us through how you guys work on a normal wedding day? More specifically I’d love to know how you guys work together, after the ceremony?
Our teamwork is all about shooting safe vs taking risks. When one of us wants to try something, we’ll communicate it to the other person, and that person will make sure everything is covered while the other one experiments. A couple will never know if we missed a creative, abstract shot, but they will certainly notice we missed a significant moment. Keeping our bases covered, so-to-speak, is key to making the teamwork efficient.
What’s in each of your kit bags?
We each have two Nikon D4, with 35mm F2 and 85 F1.8 lenses. We also share a Nikkor 60mm macro lens, as well as a Sigma 150mm macro lens. We have SB-900 flashes for receptions, and use the Switronix Torch LED video light for off-camera lighting.
What are each of your favourite camera’s and lenses? (Not just for weddings!)
We recently got the Fuji XT-1 (with 23mm & 56mm lenses), and we are absolutely in love with that camera. We shoot everything except weddings with it. It has a feel that is very nostalgic.
Both of you are consistently recognized by all of the major awards, what do you feel makes you unique, as individuals and as a team?
I think we know how to recognize our 1%, that is, our very best images from a wedding day. These are the only images that the general public sees. The rest of our coverage is straight up documentation (though of course we still work hard on lighting & composing well), as well as some classic portraits and details (we are, after all, still wedding photographers!), but when a good opportunity presents itself, we’re all over it. Those are generally the shots that make it onto our blog and/or contests. Editing our photos to give them more depth also playing an important role in the final look of the images.
As individuals, our strengths still shine most when we are working on something together. For example, Davina may come up with an idea, together we’ll discuss how to execute it, Daniel will shoot it, Davina will make adjustments, and later Daniel will edit the image.
What’s a normal day like when you’re not shooting weddings? (Do you take time out for hobbies? Do you give yourself set working hours etc)
Well… we just recently had our baby boy Max, so everyday is a surprise around here! Business is such a big part of our lives, so there’s always some form of work each day, whether it is editing, responding to emails, or booking travel. We do regular critiques with our Grey Sparrow photographers to help them continue to grow as photographers, and even Max comes along for those! We live by the water, outside of Montreal, and we try to enjoy our backyard as much as possible.
How do you share your workload in terms of editing, SEO, Social Media, Marketing and consultations?
Daniel handles most of the day-to-day stuff. Our SEO, social media, and marketing are all minimal (since we only do 12 weddings a year), and all our consultations are over Skype (those meetings we both attend). As for editing, Daniel does the slideshow/blog images in Photoshop, and Davina edits all of the others in Lightroom using the Motibodo keyboard (a real time saver!).
If you weren’t working together as wedding photographers do you think you’d still be doing it individually or would you have pursued something else entirely?
Daniel: I would definitely still be a photographer, and most likely still do weddings.
Davina: I’ve asked myself this question a few times! I would definitely be a photographer, but I don’t think I’d want to do weddings without Daniel.
What do you think the best decision has been for your business?
Starting our studio Grey Sparrow (http://greysparrow.ca). It has been a lot of hard work getting the studio to where it is now, but it has all been worth it. We can now take more risks with our own D+D side of the business, and have time for other ventures.
Any big mistakes along the way?
Yes, definitely! Back in 2008-2009, we tried doing the big studio thing, and took on A LOT of weddings. We didn’t know any better, so Davina and I did all of the culling & editing, for all the photographers. It completely burned us out. At the end of 2009, we decided to become Davina + Daniel and work on being better artists. When we felt ready again, we started the associates business again, but this time we have a studio manager, as well as an editing team in place.
How important is social media to you guys and is there one platform in particular that you use more than the others?
Our Facebook page seems to be the most successful platform. We still can’t quite figure out the best way to use, as they always seem to make changes on the backend! Social media can be beneficial, but it’s not the most important marketing tool. Creating images that stand out is what will get your work around the fastest!
You have won more awards than I can count, are there any accolades that really stand out to you?
Daniel: Winning the Fearless Photographer of the Year in 2012
Davina: When I won ISPWP’s Photographer of the Quarter, because I got that one before Daniel did 🙂
Do you feel there is there one particular organization whose awards hold more weight in the industry than the others? Maybe just the one that you guys like the most!
Fearless Photographers has done an incredible job almost revolutionizing the industry, kind of like WPJA did it several years ago. The selection of images, collection after collection, is simply outstanding, and has pushed so many of our colleagues to create incredible work.
What do you feel like the turning point was for you in terms of going from being good local photographers to really competing with the world’s best?
These are all really flattering questions 🙂
At some point, I think we realized how important the internal dialogue is. We know our light, and we know our compositions, but a wedding day can only go great if you talk to yourself in a way that will lead you to good photos. For us, that means waiting for good moments, not bouncing around like crazy people, and communicating with the other person.
Do you have any big goals for the future?
At this point, consistency over the years is a goal we have set for ourselves. We also want to see our studio grow further, to do 125+ weddings per year. We also have a new business venture coming this fall, which will still be in the wedding photography industry…
Did you attend any workshops while you were starting out?
Not when starting out, but more recently, Daniel attended the David Alan Harvey workshop in Oaxaca. You can read more about his experience here: http://davinaplusdaniel.com/blog/2013/11/day-dead/
Where does your inspiration come from now that you’re so established? (Other photographers, different industries etc)
We look a lot at photojournalists such as Steve McCurry, David Alan Harvey, Elliott Erwitt, Jonas Bendiksen, and other Magnum photographers. We also see a lot of correlations between wedding photographers and chefs or musicians. Artists are so similar in so many ways! We are really inspired by any artist who is passionate about their craft.
Do you spend much time looking at other work that’s out there?
We love photography, so we do spend a lot of time looking at what others do, but mostly outside the wedding industry.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring photographers what would it be?
Shoot a lot. Shoot everything. Get to know your camera, your light, your compositions. Shoot. Shoot. Shoot. We try to take pictures everyday, and see a huge difference in our understanding of the visual world around us when we do that.
If you would like to learn more about Daniel + Davina please have a look at their site – http://davinaplusdaniel.com/
Their incredible editing techniques are one of the things we both love about their work and their secrets are available at http://davinaplusdaniel.com/workshops/webshop/
Chris Sansom is co owner of Sansom Photography, internationally acclaimed husband and wife team working across the UK and abroad on request. In this series Chris interviews some of the Worlds Best Destination Wedding Photographers to share their wisdom, tips and advice.
Interviews with the Worlds Best Wedding Photographers
Sansom Photography Interview with Todd Laffler
I’ve always loved the idea of America, the place where everything’s bigger and there’s just so much to take in. I say I’ve always loved the idea of it because I’ve never actually been (That said I’ve not really been to many places outside of the UK) but I do have a certain fondness for maple syrup with pancakes and bacon not to mention an insatiable impulse to buy a box of Lucky Charms every time I see somewhere selling them.
When I first Skyped Todd Laffler he was right in the middle of some UK imported Marmite, in fact he describes himself as ‘a fiend, like a crack addict for Marmite’. It does make me feel a little better to know that perhaps it’s a case of the grass always being greener. Anyway I briefly extolled the virtues of Bovril but I feel like my description probably didn’t do it justice so we got down to talking shop as planned!
Any conversation that starts off with food has to be a good one in my eyes and I found myself quickly at ease with the incredibly likeable New Jersey based photographer who describes himself as ‘modern, fresh, fun, and sometimes a little quirky’. He started the more serious side to the interview by giving me an idea of how he approaches shoots.
I usually don’t go in with set goals or plans as far as how I’m gonna shoot. I just kind of let the wedding tell me what to do so to speak. If something comes my way then I’ll take advantage of it on the wedding day but I usually don’t go in with any kind of preconceived shots that I want to do or anything like that. Lately I’ve been trying to focus more on the moments of a wedding day rather than trickery or cleverness if that makes sense.
Todd is one of a few photographers who seem to blend photojournalism with more traditional posing with exceptional skill in each area. I asked him about this balance and where he feels his work sits between the posed and the photojournalistic.
I feel like it’s probably a good balance and it’s not something I think of myself as one or the other I just try to be the best I can be at everything. Whether it’s posed photos, photojournalistic, details, whatever it is I just try to do it the best I can and I don’t think of myself as being particularly one over the other. I do know that if I can nab a really amazing photojournalistic moment I’m drawn to that image most times indefinitely whereas some portrait type work that I’ve directed over the years they become…not trite but they kind of look like I’ve seen it before or it got trendy or I don’t have a personal connection with it as much. So when I look back at some of the photos that years ago when I took them I looked at them and I was like ‘oh wow’, patting myself on the back saying ‘look at how great these are’ I don’t really feel that way as time goes on. On the flip side I’ve had some photos that I’ve taken years and years ago when I didn’t really consider myself as accomplished as I am now but I have a personal connection to because it’s just a great moment and it’s proved to me that those images really truly are timeless. And so I’ve kind of switched gears a little bit in trying to focus more on not doing those all day long, but just being aware of them and trying to be present more.
That’s kind of a watered down synopsis of where I’m at, I don’t mind doing portraits, I don’t mind directing people and doing that type of thing but usually the portraits I do set up I like to try to have them look more candid even though they’re not. So they are kind of ‘Semi Candid’ as I call them. Obviously I’m telling them where to go, I might be adjusting where their hand are or moving them a little bit into the light but their expressions should hopefully look more natural and real even though sometimes they are totally not, they are totally directed by me. As long as the end product looks natural I think it’s all good.
Over the years I like to think we’ve got better and better at narrowing down what we put on the blog. When I first looked at Todd’s blog I was blown away by the quality of everything. He is a true master at narrowing down a collection of images to make sure that each blog post looks like it’s a collection of competition entries.
I strive for consistency between weddings, hopefully the photos don’t look too similar but the quality looks similar. As best I can I try to make sure that every photo I post on my blog I would be comfortable putting on my website. So there’s a very high standard that I have both whilst shooting and while editing and also what I show to make sure that every single image I put out – within reason because sometimes there’s some filler images that weren’t as great but are needed to connect the story– I’m proud of, I’m happy with, it’s been edited properly to make sure it can stand on its own as a photograph and doesn’t need a bunch of support images. That’s another way I try to look at my photography is that each photo stands on its own and it doesn’t need to be padded with lesser images to fill in the gaps so to speak.
While I’m shooting that’s another thing I’m very conscious of my blog, I know when I do every blog post there’s a formula to it. Well, not a formula, basically I’m just showing something from every stage of the wedding day. For example if I don’t have a good shot of the bride getting her dress on I’ll start to panic and I’ll start to make sure that I get something because I know I have to put it out there. I’m kind of holding myself accountable. I blog every wedding I shoot and I think that’s a great way to not give up, or sit back and say ‘well this isn’t a good wedding I’m just not gonna try as hard and I won’t blog it’. I know that I have to put something out there to the public from every wedding. It definitely pushes me, if I don’t have a good shot from a certain stage of the wedding day I’m concerned about it and I want to do something about it.
That’s something that I tell couples when I meet with potential clients, I tell them that as they are shopping around for photographers to compare blogs because I want them to see the level of consistency that I can create week in week out so they feel comfortable. There are some photographers that, the website can look good but the blog doesn’t and to me that’s kind of the measuring mark of a good photographer – how good each blog post is and are they showing something from each stage of the wedding day or are they cherry picking the best. So maybe they had a great portrait session so it’s mostly that and not much else.
I saw a billboard the other day for a jeweller, the message was ‘no pressure, no diamond’ that was the tagline, you need pressure to make a diamond. I kind of look at it in the same way, you need pressure – having to put every shoot on the blog – that’s what gives me the diamonds.
One thing I love about Todd’s work is that each wedding is really different. Not just different in theme but the feel of the photography varies for each couple. It’s still classic Laffler – and ridiculously good – but it never gets boring. It didn’t take long for me to realise Todd shares the same genuine passion and excitement for his work as us. Reflecting the mood of a wedding is a skill we pride ourselves in and after speaking to Todd and looking at his work I think that variety is a reflection of the excitement we approach each wedding with.
Sometimes it’s not excitement its stress but it’s something different, it’s not like I’m going to go in there and do what I’ve always done. To some degree I rely on what I’ve done a little bit but I try to let the wedding breathe a little bit, let it have a life of its own and not put too much of a stamp on it. I understand some people may want to recreate what they’ve done, it’s easier, repeatability for the client. The way I look at it is that there’s ‘an ass for every seat’, you know there’s plenty of clients who don’t want cookie cutter stuff. I’m gonna guess the average professional is shooting 20-30 weddings and the way I look at it is that’s not a big number. That’s not that many people to find who connect with your work. For me there was a big shift a couple of years ago in my work I feel because I stopped doing work I thought would get me more work. I stopped caring what I thought my potential client would want and just started making images that I found interesting and let them find me and make that connection. When you do it that way, you know infusing your own style into the work you make, then you start getting the clients who respond well to that. You get those emails from clients who are like ‘Oh my god I love your work!’ and they already love it, you’re not convincing them. That way it’s not about price even, it’s about finding clients who can appreciate what you do, when you do that there’s a certain level of inherent trust because they want what you do and they realise it’s more unique. When it comes to the wedding day they are usually just like ‘Do what you do’ which allows you to just photograph what you’re naturally drawn to which is what they hired you for!
I’d like to see a lot of photographers come to that realisation if they haven’t already – there’s no rules, you can shoot what you want! As long as you can get people to hire you that’s all that matters. I always look at it as I’m just going to put my head down and shoot what I find interesting. I’m not going to worry about what I think the client wants or expects. I can understand that it might sound like I don’t care about the client, in some ways that’s true and in some ways it’s not. I only show what I’m connected with and what’s authentic to myself, because I only show that I know that’s what the bride wants. For the most part my clients want me to just run around and do what I do!
The more of these interviews I do the more different stories I hear as to how people ended up shooting weddings. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love what we do, but I’ve never really heard of anyone growing up yearning to shoot weddings. I asked Todd about his journey that lead to him being one of the world’s best wedding photographers.
My mother’s actually a bit of a dabbler in the arts and when I was 17 she started developing her own film in our basement and she showed me how to do it. I was blown away by the whole thing, being able to do that just in your basement seemed like magic. So I picked up a camera and I started shooting what I knew which was skateboarding at the time, it was kind of like my life, if I wasn’t at school, eating or sleeping I’d be boarding. At that time I didn’t have a lot of college ambitions and one day this recruiter from art school came in to art class with a presentation about art school and I thought ‘ok, that’s cool I’ll do that!’. So I put together a bit of a portfolio and went off to art school, I actually have a BFA in photography from the ‘Maryland Institute College of Art.
Art school was great, it taught me some things that I didn’t realise it had taught me until years later. Honestly though it was a Fine Art college and I didn’t feel very Fine Arty, it was more about conceptual art which I wasn’t really into so I kind of got burnt out on the whole thing. So in ’93 I graduated and basically didn’t photograph until 10 years later. During that 10 years I worked for my dad’s printing company, I guess I kind of learned digital darkroom printing, I learned Photoshop 3, how to do colour correcting and editing. Essentially what I’d learned in the darkroom but digitally at the printing company. The business went bust in 2003 so I grabbed a camera and took a cross country trip because I was unemployed and that’s when I fell back in love with photography. I tried to go down the fine art path you know selling prints at art shows and things like that but discovered pretty quickly that’s a really difficult way to make a living so in 2005 I started second shooting for a wedding photography studio. I did that for 2 years, so in 2007 having realised I wasn’t going to make a living out of second shooting for someone else, I started my own wedding photography business.
I think in that first year I shot 13 weddings for myself and still did some second shooting, but then in 2008 – I forget exactly how it happened but I shot like 41 weddings and then it settled back down to 30 or so after that. When I shot that 41 weddings in my second season I really didn’t know what I was doing but part of what I feel is so important to learning is just repetition and actually doing something. You can learn anything but if you don’t use it, it just fades. So having a year in the trenches so to speak when I saw so much stuff and encountered so many problems was really important for me. That’s what really pushed me along.
Having started in analogue I asked if Todd still used 35 or 120mm at all or if his work is now entirely digital.
During the 10 years that I was working at a printing company Digital was just becoming bigger and bigger. I didn’t really own a camera at all for those ten years, then one day I got a Sony Cybershot and travelled across country and that’s when I kind of fell back in love with photography.
I remember thinking when digital first started coming out that it would never catch on or be as good as film, just having short sightedness at how far along they would come. For me it doesn’t really matter though, it’s just a tool. Even the camera itself doesn’t really mean that much to me, I think most photographers realise it anyway but I always use the expression ‘It’s not the wand it’s the wizard’. In one of my workshops I use one of my favourite images that I’ve ever taken, I put it up on screen and just show them what I took it with which was the Sony Cybershot – this old prosumer camera, nothing fancy. Just to illustrate the point that most of photography is really just about observation and composition and light. Things that have nothing to do with the camera.
With a wealth of learning opportunities around nowadays I asked if Todd went on any workshops and where his motivation and inspiration came from along the way.
Back then I didn’t do a lot of workshops, I don’t really think they were as readily available as they are today. I went to a DWF convention once and there’s a local guy who does seminars each year so I went to a couple of those. Nothing intense or hands on though, aside from having the college experience in photography a lot of the practical side just comes from practise on my own. I’d constantly be testing lighting and being very observant of light. Most of it is self-taught, I read a lot of books and I spent a lot of time on my own just learning that stuff. Back in 2007 I discovered Ben Chrisman’s work, which was a big turning point for me because I had no idea wedding photography could look like that. He was just doing his own stuff and it looked like art. That really opened it up for me.
That was kind of a turning point for me, I looked at his work for a couple of years and gradually tapered off. There was a time when I kept looking at my competitors work and thinking ‘Howcome they are charging this much? I’m better than that’ etcetera and it just wasn’t very productive. So I stopped looking at work that wasn’t inspiring me. I think that’s important because I think your brain can kind of digest these things, even if you don’t understand it. So I didn’t want to fill my head with stuff I didn’t want to do. I used to do a lot of mountain biking and there’s this saying, if you’re riding a really gnarly trail you have to try not to look where you don’t want to go. There’s a tendency to look at where you don’t want to go, like ‘I need to avoid that’ and you end up going in that direction instead of looking at where you do want to go.
I don’t really look at other photographers work, occasionally if it comes up but for the most part I don’t look at other peoples work in general. It’s a hard thing because sometimes you can look at another photographers work and wish you’d taken it or think you suck and it’s just not always that beneficial. I prefer to just keep my head down and be true to myself. That’s the goal anyway.
So was there any particular turning point when the momentum really started to pick up?
I’m not sure exactly, I think it was in 2008 that I started my blog and I guess that was how people started to know about me. I wasn’t consciously setting out to do that, I just wanted to make good work that I was proud of, that resonated with me. Back in 2009ish I was fairly active on DWF and maybe that’s how some people started hearing about me or seeing my work, not viral by any stretch but maybe they passed it on. I don’t know really, essentially all I did is try to do good work and put it on my blog and the rest took care of its-self.
I think the climate is very different right now in the wedding world, back in 2009 or 2010 there was probably a lot of people doing great work who nobody knew about. Now though, in today’s climate with ‘Fearless’ and stuff they are all coming out of the woodwork. There’s a platform for really great photographers to showcase their work and it seems like there’s an explosion of really good photographers. They were probably always there it’s just that people didn’t really know about it.
I think it’s a really cyclical thing though because now there is that platform it naturally elevates the quality of work in general. Its pretty mind blowing, if you look back just ten years, how much wedding photography has progressed just in quality.
For the last few years Todd has been right up there in Fearless Photographers top 10, consistently putting out award winning shots. In fact it seems like every time the awards are up there’s at least a few with his name on. I asked about this and any other organisations he is a part of.
I’m still not a member of the WPPI or any of those, there’s a whole bunch I never associated with, I always just felt like a lone wolf. I just wanted to do good work and that’s how I went about it. I’m not saying that’s the right way or the best way, it’s just how it was. I don’t really get involved with any print competitions or associations. Fearless was something I felt good about because it was finally the way I thought work should be judged – by your peers and anonymously. It had nothing to do with your name, how much you pay or who you know, it’s just strictly by merit. By how many awards you’ve won based on your photography, the cream just rises to the top and there’s no bullshit.
That’s really the only thing I actively participate in. I don’t know if that’s good or bad or what, it’s just how it is for me. If something isn’t broke I don’t try to fix it, as long as there’s still enough clients coming forward who love what I do, I don’t feel like I have to make more work for myself.
So we know it wasn’t associations that garnered Todd the worldwide attention he now receives, in fact the answer to how he got where he is seems like an obvious one in some ways.
In the beginning I felt that if I just created good work everything else would kind of sort itself out so I didn’t do a lot of branding, or marketing or anything like that. For me it’s panned out, I wouldn’t say that would work for everybody but that’s kind of how I felt. I’d always hear ‘It doesn’t matter if you create great work if nobody knows about you’ but that’s really all I did, just worked hard and did good work. That’s why I’m always very cautious of telling people that’s how I did it therefore that’s how they should do it, because I don’t really think it will work for everybody.
I’ve seen photographers who are pretty average but fantastic at branding and they are definitely ‘successful’. The thing with that though is I really don’t want to have to be chasing the branding and marketing, chasing that tail for the rest of my life, because that’s what they are going to have to do unless they step up their photography game. I’m chasing the ‘Do good work’ tail, there’s some people who love branding and marketing and that’s great, I don’t but if that’s how you get your business that’s how it will continue. For me that just seems like you’re always chasing people or convincing someone to hire you. I never want to have to convince someone to hire me, if I’ve got an inkling we’re not a good fit I’ll never try to convince them. I can probably find someone else for that date who does fit.
So how does everything work in practise? Photographers are pretty unique here, in terms of how many photos they deliver, how many weddings they shoot and how fast they hand over a wedding to the clients.
I try to do 30 per year, most of my weddings have a second photographer so usually the client gets about 800 or 900 edited images from both of us. That seems to by a typical range. As far as my timeline after the wedding, it’s horrendous, I don’t even want to say it’s just that slow! Mostly because I’m very meticulous about the blog and making sure I have just the right images and that they are edited. They all go through Photoshop and usually there’s around 50 images I have to fully edit through Photoshop. Once I’m done with the blog I hand it over to my photo editor and she finishes things up. Things get very backed up because I don’t send the job to my editor until I’ve blogged it, it kind of becomes a bit of a bottleneck and it’s something I’m still struggling with – how much time to spend on the blog. It’s just that important to me. It’s my favourite part actually, seeing the finished product.
I’m a firm believer in trying to get it as best you can in camera, that said on a wedding day sometimes it’s just not possible to get everything perfect in camera. I always like to use the example of Ansel Adams, if you took one of his negatives and just did a straight print without any burning or dodging it’s really pretty average. It’s really the post processing that he did that made those images come to life. So that’s a big thing for me, to really finish those photographs. I think that’s where a lot of photographers really miss the boat is not honing their post processing skills. It’s not to say you’re going to paste in a new sky and stuff like that, to me you’ve got to have the bones, the composition and lighting has to be there but there’s still a lot that can be improved in post processing and I think it’s important to do that.
My process is basically to edit the file in Lightroom, to do as much general editing there as I can then just for the blog images I’ll take them into Photoshop where I’ll maybe brighten eyes or put a slight vignette on. Basically anything I can do that looks as natural as possible that’s really going to draw the viewer’s eye to where I want it to go. That’s always my goal, draws people attention where I want them to look.
So what’s in the kit bag?
I keep it pretty simple, I don’t use a lot of external lighting so I just have one bag. I use two Canon 5d MK III’s, I just like the luxury of having two identical camera’s with different lenses on. Two 580 EX2 flashes, I also have a couple of pocket wizards just for the reception. My assistant will walk around with a pocket wizard and an off camera flash. As far as lenses go I have my workhorse which is my 70-200 which I shoot probably most of the wedding on, the lens that I use second most really just for the reception is the 16-35. I use that primarily during the dancing and some of the bridal prep. I also have a 24 prime which I use mostly during bridal prep, not much beyond that. I have a 24-105 which I try not to use too much, it’s kind of more a family portrait lens. I tend to use the extremes so if I can be at 200 or 16mm then I’ll tend to go there. That middle stuff, I don’t find myself in that range too often. I also have a 15mm fisheye which I basically use for one shot during the day. I have a 50mm macro lens which is really just for ring shots. I also have an 85 prime which I don’t really use much, just first dances and toasts if at all. I’m trying to think what else is in my bag but I think that’s about it, except for some pop tarts and Gatorade! I try to keep the gear pretty compact and tight, I don’t like a lot of gear.
Let’s hear about a normal wedding day for Laffler Photography?
I don’t have any packages per se, I’m used to working 12 hours, I just accept that’s how long it takes for me to shoot a wedding. I like to shoot the day as slow as possible so I’ll try to make sure I have a lot of time for detail shots, for candid’s, bridal prep etc. that’s the way I’ve chosen to shoot the wedding so I’m not restricted to hours. The way I look at it is I do have enough time, I just have to show up earlier or leave later. Basically that’s my mantra throughout the day, to make sure that I have the most amount of time possible to do everything so I’m not stressed. I’ve seen how dramatically stress can affect the work. I’ll show up at the brides prep and for the first hour I’m basically doing details. Then I’ll put in half an hour of candid’s so the tail end of the bride’s makeup. Then I’ll have half an hour for the bride putting on her dress, jewellery etc. Then I’ll have half an hour for photos of just the bride. So just the bridal prep I spend two and a half hours, I’m guessing most photographers only spend an hour to hour and a half but that’s my choice, I want that buffer.
The we’ll probably have 15 minutes for the first look, about an hour with the bride and groom, half an hour with the bridal party and half an hour for family photos so that’s almost two and a half hours right there just for my photo time. Again I know that’s probably more than most but that’s my decision, it’s what I feel I need and it’s what I ask for from my clients – it’s usually what they give me.
Everything else is pretty normal but I’m usually there till the last dance so typically 12 hours but often up to 14 or more. I try to stay focussed on the bride so I’m just in one location and not moving around trying to get used to another location and another vibe. It’s a different room, a different light and it’s really just a different headspace for me.
I really do love doing these interviews, it’s great learning more about these fantastic photographers that both Verity and myself have followed for quite a while now. It’s even better when I find that half way through an interview it feels more like chatting to an old friend than an ‘interview’. Todd has to be one of the nicest guys I’ve met through the wedding industry and his work really is consistently incredible. What’s even more impressive is the way he’s done it all, no gimmicks, just really hard work and exceptional images.
If you want to view more of Todd’s work check out his website : www.lafflerphotography.com
The next interview next month will be with Samm Blake, so make sure to come back and have a look.
International Wedding Photographer
Sansom Photography interview Emin Kuliyev
Everyone approaches what we do differently. Even in a more specific niche like wedding photojournalism, there are hugely different takes on the style. Being members of the WPJA ourselves, Emin Kuliyev was right up there at the top of my list when I set out approaching photographers for these interviews!
Having moved from his native Russia 14 years ago, Emin now lives in New York, although he has recently been doing workshops throughout Europe. Emin started by telling me about how a usual wedding goes, and how he works on the images when he gets home.
“Every wedding is different but usually something like 10 am to midnight, about 12-14 hours is my day. Basically I spend all of a [non wedding] day editing but I can take a break whenever I want and come back to it. I’m not actually editing all of that time – a lot of the time I spend answering emails or on forums – but again, I will come back to editing every 20 to 30 minutes. I have a schedule so I know I must edit today and when I must finish. It’s my lifestyle too, editing images all day long but with many breaks.”
As with everything when it comes to weddings, editing is incredibly subjective. I’m lucky in that Verity does most of our editing, I’ll just do some extra effects to a select few images in PhotoShop – but whereas Verity will edit around 800-1000, I’ll edit just 100. Emin has a really interesting way of looking at the editing process:
“I don’t know what it means for you but for me editing means just look for the pictures. I’m looking for the best images, I’ll scroll through the files because my computer will freeze if I delete in Lightroom because I take so many images during the day, about 10,000.
For me, editing is just looking through the pictures, which pictures I’ll keep, which pictures I’ll delete. Enlarge a little bit, brighten, maybe make black and white, but not actually needing to retouch it. This is what I spend all of my time doing. Just deciding which picture will match with another in a series.
In Photoshop I spend only a minute or two, maybe less; these are all my secrets! It really depends on my mood and how I feel on the day. Maybe tomorrow I will delete the image that I loved yesterday! I spend about a month choosing images, then at the end of the month I go back through the images again, decide which I will leave and which I will delete, and I leave about 100 images for my blog. For the couple I leave about 1,000 to 1,500.”
It’s clear to see when someone is passionate about their work and Kuliyev is instantly recognisable as one of those artists. I asked him about free time, his workload and if he shoots other things.
“No, I spend my free time with my kids, I don’t shoot anything else besides weddings. And I don’t shoot so many weddings. In 2013 I shot only eight weddings. For me it’s enough – I’m not very rich but it’s enough to survive and I’m happy if I have free time.
I don’t want to shoot many weddings – I’d hate to do many weddings. It’s not so interesting if I repeat myself and copy. When I started, I shot about 35 to 45 weddings and didn’t charge as much; after two years of that style of shooting I decided to find another job because I hated everything about it! Now I can choose my brides – they accept my style, my pictures and my point of view. This is a very different job. It’s the same photography, but it’s my rules.”
When you look through some of Emin’s more well-known photographs you see a certain ‘joy’ in the photos that almost makes it look as though his brides and grooms are natural extroverts. I was intrigued to know whether he attracts this kind of bride or if he brings this energy into the shots himself.
“They are regular people, not models, not clowns. I just try to catch something, maybe ask something. But usually I won’t talk with the people, I just look carefully at how people behave. I know they will react for somebody, maybe not for me but the bride will react for her sister, a friend or for her mum. They will smile a lot, or cry, and I just try to catch this.”
OK, I’ll admit it, I’m an out-and-out camera nerd. I love the things, whether it’s one of Verity’s favourite Holga toy cameras or a well-machined piece of twin lens history. If it takes photos, I’m in! I was pleased to see Emin has a similar love for the kit he uses. He actually has the largest kit list I have seen from any wedding photographer. I’ll just link to his post on it here instead of writing it all down!
“I will bring everything. I have an assistant who helps me with the bags. I try to use almost everything – I try to use some particular lens in some particular situations. It depends on my mood; for me, it’s like a brush and I’m like a painter, and I will draw something depending on my mood. I’m like those people who collect stamps, but I collect lenses! I don’t just collect and store them on a shelf, I use them – [some] not so often, of course, maybe I’ll use 10 percent of my lenses on each wedding, but I have the chance to choose anything. When I shoot an engagement and I do it by myself I will bring a camera with four lenses, but every time I bring different lenses.”
To me, one of the most exciting things about Emin’s high profile within the wedding world is the draw of destination weddings. I asked him how many of his weddings are around the New York area.
“In 2013 I shot eight weddings. Just two were in New York, two were around New Jersey and Connecticut, one was in Russia… the Caribbean… another was in Tennessee and another was in Boston. I don’t like travelling, it just happens over the last few years.”
Recently Emin has done workshops in Europe. It’s a fairly natural progression in the photography world, and I was keen to learn more.
“I created my workshops because I feel I can spend some time with photographers. Usually I sit in my workshop all day long and I need some people for conversation. Maybe once or twice a year I create a workshop, but I make long workshops, maybe eight or nine days. Not many people, but many days. I have about 10 or 12 people at a workshop so we can all sit in any café.”
We all take inspiration from different sources; some people love to look at the best in the world, while others choose incredibly varied subjects to satiate their creative appetites. I asked Emin who he looked up to in the photography world.
“When I started I looked at the previous WPJA Photographers of the Year. Personally I know Carlo Carletti and I meet with him in New York and create a workshop with him in Russia… he’s my friend and I like his work. I don’t like every single image from photographers – it’s more a philosophical question. Say you like Ansel Adams, for example. You like the person or the photographs? You like his most famous photograph or you like every single image from this photographer? This is why I like some images from some weddings from other photographers. It doesn’t mean I’ll like every shot, but their style generally.
Right now my vision is changing, and it’s hard to say I like some particular photographers because I don’t like all of my own work, I just like a few. I like many, many different styles. I try to – like Sherlock Holmes – decide in this particular situation, has this photographer done his best, used the right lens, the right light? I try to estimate – if I was behind the lens, could I have shot a better picture? And that’s how I decide if I like a picture.”
Looking at Emin’s work, I thought he perhaps posed more than he does. On closer inspection, his explanation of when he stages shots makes perfect sense.
“I have a chance to talk only during the morning. In the ceremony and reception I can’t talk. During the reception the music is so loud nobody can hear me, so the morning is the only time I can manipulate.”
So, what does someone who has won nearly 100 WPJA awards find difficult on a wedding day?
“When I start… because you know how it can be in the morning, when you arrive at the bride’s hotel or bride’s home, and [for] the next three hours girls will be just sitting and getting ready, and you must shoot something interesting and different in this same situation, and you must start immediately. That’s the difficult part.”
With that many awards and accolades, I was curious to know what Emin’s proudest achievement is to date!
“It was not a wedding – I was really proud to have my first publication in a magazine. It was about my design skills. It was 10 years ago, in 2004. I thought everybody would point and say “Wow, this guy’s been published in a magazine!” After that, a lot of things happened but nothing came close.”
If you would like to see more out Emin’s work check out his website : http://www.em34.com/
Look out for our interview with Dave Getzschman of Chrisman Studios next week!
Chris and Verity Sansom are International Wedding Photographers covering events nationwide as well as abroad. Together they own and run Sansom Photography
World’s Best Wedding Photographer Interviews
Interview with Todd Hunter Mcgaw
The problem with interviewing wedding photographers is that they all tend to get busy all at the same time! Funnily enough it’s about the same time things get pretty hectic for us so keeping up with these has been fairly tricky to say the least! We have some fantastic interviews coming up so stay tuned for some more big names. In the meantime allow me to present you with our interview with the ever entertaining and super talented Todd Hunter McGaw. It’s hard not to be blown away by his work, from the epic locations to the way he really seems to connect with a wedding day. Verity and myself have been big fans of a lot of the work coming out of Australia over the last few years and Todd is a great example of the kind of forward thinking, boundary pushing photographer whose work we love to keep up with. Todd and his wife Alyda recently found out they are expecting – and I quote – ‘A girl type baby person’, so we’d like to wish both of the McGaws the very best of luck with everything throughout the pregnancy. I think it’s safe to say that she will be one mega cool kid!
Where do you currently call home?
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
How many weddings do you shoot per year?
30 – 35
Do you shoot anything else professionally?
I shoot about 80% weddings, & the rest is made up of editorial, fashion, musicians/bands, & a few portraits..
How many photos do you take on a normal day and how many would you expect to give to a couple?
I shoot around 1800 – 2500 depending on how long the coverage is, (Alyda or 2nd shooter normally adds 1000-1500).. We give the clients 600 – 800
Can you describe a normal days shooting? (What time do you arrive, when do you leave, what time do you ask for to do group shots or any couples shots etc)
Most of our clients want coverage from boys + girls prep, to the dance floor action.. We’ll stay to the very end if needed but clients pay extra for this.. Most of our weddings are 8-11 hours of coverage.. Depending on the clients’ priorities, locations, & the ceremony/reception times, clients on average give us 1 – 1.5hrs for creative bridal portrait session. We have had 4 hours for the creative shoot, & the next week we might have 20mins..
When was your first wedding that was really yours as opposed to second shooting etc?
I shot my first wedding while studying photography in 2000.. I shot it on film (pre-digital era).. I had never assisted or 2nd shot a wedding – I didn’t even want to be a wedding photographer, I was pushing to become an advertising/commercial shooter.. My clients already knew this but they liked some other event work I’d done for the local City Council..
I told the clients I’d do it as long as they had zero expectations about the photos being good because I’d never photographed a wedding before & all I could do was photograph it as I saw it.. They said “Good to go!”
My photography lecturer lent me a second camera body (Nikon 801s) so I could run colour (fuji Superior 400), and black & white (Illford XP2 – rated at 320) together.. He gave me some tips before the gig – I shot the whole thing on 5 rolls of film (4 colour, 1 B/W).. My coverage was 99% documentary & 1% portrait simply because I naturally leaned to a documentary/observational approach & I figured the bride’s Mother probably wanted a nice photo of her daughter in her wedding dress + some family photos..
Alyda & I were dating at the time & she came along to help carry/guard my bags, help with manual flash meter readings, and I showed her how to reload film.. It was pretty crazy, but I loved it & the clients loved the photos
How long did it take you to feel truly comfortable shooting weddings?
About 100 weddings I guess. For a long time, I’d feel like I was going to vomit while driving to the first chapter of the wedding.. I’d often say to Alyda, “Oh man, I’m going to yak! I don’t want to shoot weddings anymore”. She’d smile & say “yes you do”, & then as soon as I walked in the door & started shooting, all the nerves & weight of the responsibility disappeared & I was ‘in the zone’ I guess. It probably took about 100 ish weddings for me to feel confident enough to produce consistently great results in ALL situations regarding light, weather, people, locations, creativity, diplomacy, customer service, workflow/turn around time.
I really love shooting weddings & I still get nervous now, but not to the point of vomitron. I think it’s healthy to be nervous before shooting someone’s wedding. It’s.their.wedding! It’s a big deal y’know? It’s easy to forget that when you attend & work at so many weddings. My clients trust me with their event I’m honoured to hold that trust. It probably sounds a bit douchy, but I try to shoot every wedding like it’s only one I’ll get to shoot all year, and these photos are the only ones my clients will have of their family & friends like ever! (ooooh dramatic!)
What do you do with your spare time?
I really like cycling & swimming in the ocean… so cycling into the ocean for a swim is the ultimate combo although I don’t get to do it very often 😉
I also really like table tennis, and I like watching movies.
What’s the best thing about being a wedding photographer?
Working for myself, being my own creative/art director, travel, meeting lots of amazing people
And the worst?
It’s sometimes hard to stay in contact with friends & family that aren’t photographers. Our busy seasons are so full on & we’re always working on the weekends and travelling away so often, so It’s difficult to catch up with close friends & family. Travelling a lot for work is great, but I also really miss being at home & doing ‘normal’ things like BBQ’s, mowing the lawn, & talking to your neighbours over the fence about not much.
What do you find the most difficult thing about shooting weddings?
Learning to limit the amount of weddings I shoot was really difficult. Once you find your groove with shooting & marketing, and start getting more enquiries, the natural response is to shoot them all. It’s easy enough to maintain a crazy workload for a year or two, but inevitably you’ll run yourself into the ground & your business (and potentially your family), will start falling apart, and you’ll also realise you don’t spend any time with the people you love the most. Everyone thinks, “well that won’t happen to me – I’m in control.”, until it happens to them & they’re totally not in control.
What’s in your kit bag?
Nikon 24+35+85mm f1.4G lenses
Nikon 55mm f2.8 AI-s manual focus macro
Nikon SB900 speedlight
Incase ‘Ari Marcopoulos’ camera bag
Colorspace UDMA2 hyperdrive
If you had to shoot a whole day with just one camera and one lens what would that be?
Nikon D4s + 35mm 1.4G (that’s not overly exciting is it?)
Do you have a favourite camera and lens? (Doesn’t need to be for shooting weddings)
I think my favourite right now is my Hasselblad 503cx with 80mm 2.8 Zeiss Planar T*. I love everything about it – the shutter/mech “ka-chunk” sound is amazing. I also love my Mamiya C330 TLR with 80mm 2.8 it was my first medium format camera & I still use it. I also love my Fujifilm X100 for travel & walking around/street stuff.
If you could shoot anything else other than weddings what would it be?
How heavily do you edit your images?
Not very heavily for weddings. I generally like my images to feel bright & clean – that’s about it. I’m more concerned with the content of my images rather than how ‘filmy’ they look.
Can you describe your workflow after a shoot? (How long do you spend narrowing down the photos, editing and the fine tuning etc)
On average, I’d say around 2 hours to select the keepers, 3-4 hours to edit the wedding.. If there’s any retouching required Alyda does that and she also builds slideshows etc, so maybe 1-2 hours for that. We deliver the images to our clients within 4 weeks.
Any big mistakes you’ve made in your career in terms of business decisions?
Nothing that I would call a BIG mistake. I’ve never made a mistake, but I’ve made about 1692 small (what I call) “learning curve” decisions that come from lack of experience mostly, I try really hard to only make those decisions once.
What are the best things you’ve done for the success of your business?
There are things you do because that’s who you are, and there are things you do specifically (and strategically), for the success of your business. I think the ‘success’ of my business has a lot to do with the fact that only about 7% of what I do is for “the success of my business”.
(Less philosophical answer I actively & truthfully love what I do, I nurture & build good relationships, and I regularly participate in my industry.)
I love your website, anyone that’s not seen it definitely needs to go and take a look, where did that come from? Did you get a designer in or see to it all yourself?
Thanks man . I’m a photographer, not a web designer so we worked with an identity consultant/web designing company on that project. It was a great creative collaboration actually – after braining out some concepts together, I literally sketched out the logo with the robots & my name as a “something along these lines” kind of sketch, and our designers just tweaked the graphical content a little & then literally developed a A-Z font based on my hand-writing to use throughout the site. The colour palette was brained up by Alyda. The design work was developed by both us and them, but the site structure & navigation concept & coding was totally their genius..
Over the last couple of months you’ve had an awesome Engagement shoot turned surprise wedding, a Festival themed wedding and some awesome beach weddings just this year. What kind of brides do you feel like you attract and is this intentional?
Every single little piece of our marketing material is angled towards & locked on to attracting the kind of people we want to work with. The perfect client is different for everyone, but I guess we want to work with people that we can imagine ourselves spending time with generally in our day-to-day. Similar interests, outlook on life, values, music tastes, etc.. but most of all, they really value photography and art. We often photograph weddings of photographers, graphic designers, and architects.
You’ve won some awesome awards and are recognised throughout the world, can you pinpoint a turning point in your career where you started to really get noticed?
I think around 2009/2010 my work really started to get noticed by clients and other photographers. My highest priority is always to record the event as well as I can for my clients from a documentary, social, & historical standpoint, but I started looking for, & finding room during the day to explore creative concepts for my clients and myself as well.. That’s when other people started saying to me, “That’s such a ‘Todd’ shot!”, & that’s when I realise I had a ‘style’ I guess, and it was different to what a lot of other people were doing at the time. It’s like other people identified & pointed out my style before I did – it was a bit weird actually. So I just kept exploring, & I think the developmental boom across the internet, blogs, forums etc, at the time just gave me more exposure.
What has been the most successful advertising for you?
Active participation in the online industry/community.
And the least successful?
Online directories that don’t participate in the industry.
What are your goals for the future?
Move to the beach. Also, Alyda’s pregnant with our first baby person so I just really want to be a good Dad.
Where in the world would you most like to shoot a wedding?
I think shooting a wedding at the Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert USA, would be interesting.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring photographers what would it be?
Hard work + respect + artistic integrity + playing well with others = getting paid well to do what you love.
If you would like to see more of Todd’s work then visit his awesome website ! http://www.toddhuntermcgaw.com.au/