We've noticed a shift in wedding photography recently in which photographers are experimenting with composition, moving away from formal wedding shots to let their images tell a different story. Rachael D’Cruze spoke to wedding photographers who are embracing this new style, taking their influences from creative and reportage photography to see wedding photography in a new light.
My recent interview in full by Rachael D'Cruze for Turning Pro magazine
“I never set out to be a wedding photographer, perhaps that’s why my style is so unconventional,” says Allister Freeman, talking about his unique way of capturing weddings.
Allister’s style is perhaps best described as fine art documentary with a healthy dose of both fun and contemporary style. Indeed, Allister initially set out to be a fine art and social photographer, but found himself shooting weddings instead.
Once he’d stopped feeling obliged to produce what he calls ‘stereotypical wedding photography’, he started to enjoy himself and his work has continued to evolve from there.
Allister now has a thriving business with creative clients who actively seek him out, as they fully appreciate what his coverage is all about.
After studying photography at the The Arts Institute at Bournemouth, Allister assisted several advertising and fashion photographers in London before shooting his first wedding in 2001.
“For the first few years of the business I felt obliged to cover an unnecessary number of formal group photographs – an issue faced by many relatively new professional wedding photographers I’m sure,” says Allister.
“I think that 95% of the time formal group photographs are completely unnecessary, as a strong documentary image is far superior in terms of its storytelling ability,” he continues.
Allister’s particular style of documentary wedding photography is very personal and sees him work very close to his subjects, typically shooting with just 50mm and 24mm prime lenses.
“I know many wedding photographers have an issue with these focal lengths and argue that they would create an awkward environment. This closeness, however, allows me to make incredibly personal, authentic photographs of often quite private moments,” explains Allister, who adds that he knows he’s not a ninja and can’t make himself invisible when shooting this close – he has the necessary interpersonal skills to mingle at a wedding as a guest would, while still getting the shots.
Over time Allister has mastered his single focal distances and perspectives of choice, to the point where he can see the image without lifting the viewfinder to his eye, so he is not constantly walking back and forth – something which many photographers considering switching to prime lenses are fearful of.
Allister says his close way of shooting means he is completely tuned into the wedding, as opposed to standing on the sidelines picking people off with a telephoto.
He can predict when things are going to happen, when the decisive moment will occur and ultimately when to create the best, most thought provoking and inspiring photograph for his clients.
“Images, for me, must have enough narrative to work alone. By ensuring each image tells its own little story you can create an incredibly powerful body of work – a complete picture of the day and its emotions in their entirety”, says Allister, who feels that this allows him to give the client more with each image and a more diverse coverage too.
“Seeing beyond the obvious aesthetic qualities is key to producing something that provokes emotion, not just a set of pretty pictures.”
He also looks for patterns and symmetry that not everyone would notice – matching or even contrasting facial expressions, for instance.
“It’s very important for me to stay creative with composition; every event throws up different challenges and results in a slightly different approach. I’m always looking to evolve and improve,” he says.
The fun element is an important aspect to Allister’s work and to his clients too – he says he knows they’re his target customers if they ‘get it’. Shooting up close helps him with this; specific moments are easier to understand because he is close enough to see the cause and subsequent reaction.
“I like to subtly mock, and I know the customers take great amusement from it. It’s important to have fun; documentary wedding photography needn’t be so serious and ‘film noir’ all the time.”
It makes sense then that Allister is influenced by Martin Parr’s photography; “I’m mesmerised by his representation of society in his unique style, in an often unflatteringly honest but very amusing light. Most importantly for me however, his work is so much more than just aesthetics – it’s a study of people, of human behaviour, an aspect I always apply during my wedding coverage.”
Elliott Erwitt’s quote, “It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place,” is pertinent for Allister and describes his ethos perfectly. He prefers to draw his photographic inspiration from beyond the wedding scene, and cites the work of Sam Abell, a fine art documentary photographer, as playing a huge role in how he frames and structures his images.
“Sam’s images are always beautifully composed and balanced and he has an exceptional skill for ‘layering’ the subject matter to strengthen narrative. His images therefore demand a more thoughtful and penetrating interpretation,” says Allister.
Allister’s clients are largely professionals working in the creative industry: designers, stylists, and other photographers – a great accolade to his work. Feedback is incredibly important to Allister’s business; in fact he says it’s the driving force, or at least one of them.
“When you’re looking to create such a personal product it obviously matters a great deal what the customer thinks and I’m often incredibly flattered at how honest people are when giving feedback.
Powerful images create powerful reactions, so it’s always nice to be on the receiving end of a client expressing their gratitude,” explains Allister, who says the most satisfying feeling is an uproar of laughter, or perhaps a few tears during a preview session, when an image that requires a certain level of understanding is appreciated.
When clients visit Allister they go to his studio, close to his home in Wiltshire. Although not strictly necessary in terms of his photography, Allister says his studio is important for creating a good impression, as inviting clients into your home can conjure images of ‘weekend wedding photographers’.
Demand has been so high for Allister to cover weddings that he has started a mentoring programme. He currently has one full time associate, Joshua Archer, and has just taken on another this year. “We can offer a dual perspective on the same wedding, which is incredibly valuable for very large Asian commissions,” he explains.
The photographers he mentors are freelance, but work under his brand.
The majority of Allister’s clients are based in London, although he does get booked for international weddings, some of which he has to turn down due to time constraints. He currently shoots 45 weddings a year and the majority of his work comes through word of mouth, although he says he’ll always do some paid-for marketing with high-end magazines and Google, as it’s undeniably good for brand building.
After all, Allister should know: he’s in demand, has an enviable client base and shoots in the style he loves.
- Two Nikon D700 bodies - 24mm f/1.4 - 50mm f/1.4 - 135mm f/2.0 - 16-35mm f/4.0 - Nikon Speedlight SB-600s. - Manbag!