I recently had the opportunity to catch up with friend and fellow photographer Suzy Clement, a San Francisco wedding photographer whose work has been featured in Martha Stewart Weddings, Town and Country Weddings and InStyle Weddings, to name a few. As the author of the recently released book Weddings: From Snapshots to Great Shots
, Suzy writes about core shooting basics in a very accessible manner (if you are secretly tech-challenged, you'll get this). For new photographers considering the wedding industry, this book is a great introduction to the fundamentals of photography within the context of a typical wedding day.
LW: What inspired you to write this book at this point in your career?
SC: I've had a feeling for a while that the industry is creeping towards the idea that the work doesn’t matter as much and that the marketing and branding was more important. The work is important, the craft is important. Let's get back to thinking about building a solid foundation. When a former bride working in the publishing industry approached me about a year ago to write a book on wedding photography, it felt like the right project for me.
LW: It's interesting to hear that perspective, as you are so proficient in both areas. I mean, you've pretty much single-handedly set the bar in terms of getting work published, and yet you've also got such a strong shooting philosophy. It's so important to have a good balance of photography fundamentals as well as the marketing and business side of running a photo studio.
LW: How did you get your start in photography?
SC: I've been shooting weddings for 15 years. I started out with a “manual everything” camera. I took photography classes, and at first I just asked friends, and friends of friends, if I could show up at their wedding with my camera to begin building my portfolio. I learned the basics-looking at light, using a light meter and so forth. That gave me a very solid foundation.
LW: What's different about your approach to teaching this subject than books on the same subject?
SC: It's not just a technical guide; it's laid out and written specifically for wedding photographers, presenting the information according to how things tend to unfold at a wedding day.
I found a couple of different approaches out there-books with beautiful imagery featuring a very specific look or style, but light on technical instruction. On the other hand, there are also books with very good technical instruction but not very inspiring visually.
Weddings: From Snapshots to Great Shots starts with camera settings and core shooting basics and then goes into different stages of a wedding day. Each chapter focuses on a particular stage of a wedding and addresses common challenges that come up and strategies for how to handle those situations. For example, wedding photographers are often faced with photographing a backlit wedding ceremony, so I offer a couple of strategies that photographers can use to deal with those types of situations.
LW: For beginners, it can take a while to understand the different camera settings and how to apply them to various lighting situations. For myself, it was a solid two seasons of second shooting before I felt truly competent with my camera. How long did it take you to learn?
SC: I felt pretty secure in my camera skills because I had taken excellent classes in photography and had a very solid educational experience. But a wedding is a different animal, and I'd say it was about 3 wedding seasons before I started feeling really confident that I could handle whatever came my way. I think that is probably a pretty typical timeframe.
LW: What would be your advice for someone looking to learn wedding photography?
I wrote Weddings: From Snapshots to Great Shots specifically for anyone who wants to become a wedding photographer. It's filled with a mix of core shooting principals, assignments and picture call outs, which explain why I composed an image in a certain way.
It's hard to try things out on the wedding day because you are so busy just dealing with what's coming at you. The idea behind the assignments is learning strategies for dealing with common situations you'll encounter on a wedding day, so that when you are in that situation, you'll know what to do.
For example, one assignment is to put a fake centerpiece in a window and shoot it from every possible angle. This teaches you to understand directional light in a very similar type of situation you would encounter on a wedding day.
Another assignment involves enlisting a couple of friends to re-enact a “first meeting” between a bride and groom. A wedding day is NOT the place to learn how to position yourself or the couple. By practicing it at home without wedding day pressure, you will learn how to position yourself for that type of shot, so when it happens, you are ready.
LW: What mistakes do you see when looking at the work of new wedding photographers?
SC: The most common mistake I see beginner photographers making is blowing out the highlights. No details in the dress, no details in the shadows. A good quality photograph should have those details. You can't leave it up to the camera to make judgments for you. That's why it's critical to understand how to use your meter.
LW: As a wedding photographer, what would you say is the hardest thing to master?
SC: Two things. Being in the background and capturing moments without drawing attention to yourself. Reactions to touching toasts, emotional responses to key emotional moments. The other thing is staying present during these moments throughout the day. There are these sweet little moments happening all around you, but you need to be attuned to them.
You can only achieve that level of awareness if you know your camera settings intimately. If you have mastered a level of skill to be free to capture the essence of a moment.
LW: I noticed you have a lot of examples of certain shooting techniques throughout the book, such as panning, blue hour and freezing motion. We (Geoff White Photographers) have always used these techniques routinely. I personally find these types of shots go a long way in adding some flair and visual interest to a wedding day, yet I am always surprised that I don't see these techniques being used very frequently by others. Why do you think that is?
SC: Many photographers simply don't know how to capture these types of images. It's critical to have this kind of basic shooting knowledge so that when opportunities present themselves (for example “an open getaway car provides the perfect opportunity for a quintessential panning shot” from chapter 2) you can take advantage of them.
LW: Where do you stand on the idea of “momtographers” entering the profession?
SC: More power to them. Everyone starts somewhere. You can't tell people they are not allowed to make a living at something. As professionals, it's up to us to create the value so people can see that. Most people do not have a trained discerning eye when it comes to photography, so it's our job to increase the bar of quality and educate our clients.
LW: What's next for you?
SC: In writing the book, I did a lot of soul searching about what matters most to me in wedding photography. I feel so passionate that wedding photographers have a real responsibility to create something truly authentic and meaningful for their clients, and that I have a lot to share to help them do that. My goal in writing the book was not to teach you how to shoot like Suzy Clement, but how to understand the basic photography techniques as they apply to a wedding day so that you can learn to develop your own creative vision, and then execute it with confidence. I'd like to explore more ways of sharing that type of education.
WRAP UP & FINAL THOUGHTS
This is a fantastic guide for beginners, as it walks readers through different stages of a wedding day and explains what to expect and how to deal with it. It can be quite disappointing and frustrating when you're used to seeing wedding images that are completed staged and styled to perfection, and left wondering why you can't create those types of images yourself. It's because a real wedding day and a styled fashion wedding shoot have very little in common.
Wedding magazines and blogs are featuring more and more of these fashion shoots and calling it wedding photography, when in fact, it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Gorgeous sunset ceremonies with perfect lighting? I wish! What's great about Suzy's book is that it gets down to the business of authentic wedding photography- real moments captured at a real wedding.
The information is very well laid out and easy to understand. Even though there is a lot of technical information and instruction, it's not quite so intimidating because everything is tied to a certain kind of outcome related to a wedding.
The best part of the book, in my opinion, is the assignments. Weddings can be very stressful for a new photographer trying to learn so much on the day. Exercises allow you to practice common scenarios like less than perfect lighting situations and how to approach different moments of the day. Wedding photography is unlike anything else, and there is a certain flow to the day that you need to understand and anticipate in order to truly capture the key moments. If this year is going to be your first, second or even third season, you should absolutely take a look, and set aside time for the exercises. With the summer wedding season quickly approaching, now is a great time to brush up on you skills. Read more reviews and check it out below. To learn more about Suzy and her work, visit her blog.