All images by Jason Comerford. Used with permission.
“Honestly, in my opinion, the most catching thing about the illustrative work is that it’s all wide angle, and you almost never seen a great deal of good wide angle portraiture.” wedding photographer Jason Comerford tells the Phoblographer in a pitch email. “Sigma’s 35 F1.4 Art is something I may need to get professional help with, it might be an addiction.”
Jason hails from Puyallup, WA. “My wife and I together shoot a great deal of weddings, but in general, we find ourselves shooting a lot of portraiture, both for professional use and for personal use.” he says. Together though they shoot two different extremes: The beautiful, tear-jerking, knee-slapping candid moments that weddings are so rife with, and scenic, illustrative images.
As you’ll see, Jason is a paramount example of a photographer having passion in their work.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.
Jason: That’s a really embarrassing answer, actually. Back in 1999, I (like every other 12-year-old in America) was pretty sold on Pokémon being the coolest thing ever. And it just so happened that Nintendo released a game called “Pokémon Snap,” where you went about photographing wild Pokémon. After a few hours of playing, I decided I was going to grab a camera and head to the park to try to find some birds to photograph.
Seventeen years, a Bachelor of Fine Arts, a wife, and a business later, I’m still taking pictures at the park.
Phoblographer: What made you get into wedding photography?
Jason: That’s another embarrassing answer. I’d like to say I graduated college and came out with a laser-focused vision for what I wanted to do, but really, that developed over time. I IMMEDIATELY started shooting weddings after graduation because it paid, and I also got a job at a high-volume portrait studio shooting families, couples, and whatever else walked in the door. The longer I did both, the more I realized that I loved the ups, downs, and wildness of the wedding day. I see marriage as something beautiful, valuable, and meaningful, so getting to photograph weddings always felt kind of like a sacred honor.
On top of that, it’s just plain fun for someone who likes to meddle with lots of different photographic styles. There’s the formal portraits you always see with family and bridal party; the detail shots you see of rings, shoes, and locations; and then there’s the tear-jerking, knee-slapping moments of dances and toasts. Wedding photography resists boredom and always challenges you.
Phoblographer: Wedding photography for many people can be daunting their first time around. Tell us the story of your first wedding shoot.
Jason: The first wedding I worked as the primary shooter was also shot solo—it was for friends, and of course I gave them the usual “friend price” that everyone has when they’re just starting out. I had a Canon 40D and a 20D, a Canon EF-S 17-85 F4-5.6, Sigma 70-200 F2.8, and two 580EXII Speedlites. And the ceremony was in a nearly pitch-black room. Welcome to Noiseville, Population: Me.
It was this weird mixture of having enough technical knowledge to shoot decently along with the painful reality of little practical experience. This was before the studio job, so I’m looking at these now and am AMAZED the posing and everything turned out as well as it did. The wedding had the practical effect of hooking me on wedding photography while still gut punching me with how much growing I really had to do. It was both delightful and terrifying at the same time.
Phoblographer: In the past five years, wedding photography has taken an interesting turn from the lavish and the proper to the rustic and alternative. But these days, that seems to be calming down a bit. How do you feel the aesthetics of the industry is changing?
Jason: Y’know, it kind of feels like the industry is always in this flux as folks are looking for something that doesn’t feel trite and inauthentic. And, thanks to social media and its incredible saturation in our lives, things can start to feel trite and inauthentic really fast. So folks are always on this runaround trying to find ways to truly, uniquely, and effectively show who they are as a couple and how important this day is to them.
So when we talk about the aesthetics of the industry, it’s hard to predict where it’s going, because where it’s going in America is more and more styled to the couple’s personal tastes. Regional culture is still very strong, so we’ll definitely be seeing more barn weddings in the Pacific Northwest this year, but I also think we’ll see more and more people seizing on themes and ideas more rooted in their personal ideas and interests. More and more, I see brides moving away from the last 50 years of tradition with—shockingly—the support of older family and friends.
Phoblographer: How do you feel your creative vision is different from all the rest out there? What’s influenced your work as you’ve progressed as a photographer?
Jason: Man, I have been influenced by a LOT of things, and I’m probably not even aware of half of it. As a kid, I grew up on a steady diet of video games and anime. I loved giant robots and action cartoons. I was a SUCKER for how manga artists rendered action hero portraits. Later, college introduced me to a lot of global, classical artwork and gave me enough of a technical understanding to start appreciating the masterwork that 14-year-old me dismissed as boring. I have a particular love of drawn portraiture and science fiction-inspired stuff that, I think, leads to a fair amount of wide-angle work that tries to pull scenery and unique lighting into the story of the people in my images. That’s probably a big difference right there—portraiture is usually the realm of the 85mm prime lens, but I use my Sigma 35 F1.4 Art so much that it might be classified as an addiction. The older I get, the more my personal photographic projects start to resemble an illustrated scene.
Phoblographer: What wedding photo that you’ve shot is your personal favorite? Tell us the story behind it.
Jason: Flying in the face of EVERYTHING I just said, it’s this one: [Michael-Stephanie-Wed-0817.jpg]
That’s the father/daughter dance right there, and the family wasn’t even sure that he was going to make it to the wedding. He had some severe health issues that might not have ended as well as they did. The look on his face and the tears that followed are those of a man that almost didn’t get to dance with his little girl on her wedding day. Sometimes joy is so thick that tears are more appropriate than laughter, and I love those moments. I still tear up any time I seriously think about this moment.
Phoblographer: Wedding photography is a lot more than just doing the photojournalistic work and the portrait work, it’s also a lot of people work. Have you ever had a Bridezilla? How have you dealt with them?
Jason: Yes! Although, honestly, Bridezillas have been rare for us, it’s usually Mother-of-the-Bridezillas.
There are lots of effective strategies in dealing with ‘Zillas of any kind, but I think most ‘Zilla behavior is rooted in fear, insecurity, and stress. Communicating that they’re being heard and their worries and complaints are understood goes a long way. People tend to respond remarkably to genuine empathy. Having solutions to problems ALSO definitely helps (and that’s part of why you hire a seasoned professional!), but humbly empathizing with folks, despite insult and disrespect, is about 80% of the heavy lifting.
The other 20% is being able to proactively think on your feet. We had a gal a while back who was very upset that things had been running behind schedule (through no fault of our own) and guests were starting to arrive while she was still outside getting her formal portraits done. It was very important to her that she not be seen, so she went back to her dressing room and wouldn’t come out. After talking to her, I quickly set up a studio at an accessible indoor location and posted sentries at every entrance to make sure that no guests entered while we finished the formal photos. Not only did the quick response and confident assurances of her wishes being met improve her mood, but we also ended up with photos she was truly thrilled about. (And, at that point in the day, improving mood was probably more important than getting those last few formal photos.)
Phoblographer: To you, what are the essential wedding photos that every couple needs to have? The cake? Shoes?
Jason: What I’d consider the “essential” photos are photos with people. Who will you want to remember was there? Who will you want your kids to see pictures of some day? Who might you not see again in person? Relationships usually end up being the most important thing.
After that, details. Shoes, flowers, food, decorations, lights, etc. Anyone who’s had a wedding knows how much of a blur it is and how quickly those small details fade from memory. Our own wedding album is a delightful reminder of all the details and decorations from the day of.
Phoblographer: How much of your time is spent shooting vs marketing, editing, seeing new clients, etc.?
Jason: I think we once calculated that shooting takes up about 17% of our time. Financial/admin stuff is about on equal footing with editing, after that is email, and after that is actually meeting with folks. THEN shooting.
Phoblographer: At the end of the day, what helps you justify your prices to yourself? Expenses? Your talent?
Jason: Well, here’s to answering this without sounding like a jerk.
There’s a myriad of things, but foremost is that we charge what we need to live and pay expenses. Our average wedding now is about $3,000, and that provides a paycheck and a functioning, growing business.
I think we’re also worth what we charge because of what we provide outside of mere photographic services. Our first meetings are almost always planning sessions. Usually, the first schedule that we help clients write up in our proposal is the first one they’ve seen. Most folks find it hugely helpful.
Also important is the fact that we’re reliable. I know we haven’t even touched on photography yet, but this one’s huge in my mind. I’ve heard too many sob stories about photographers running off with couples’ money, not showing up, showing up late, doing a poor job, having a poor attitude, etc. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating to hear those kinds of stories. I take very seriously the responsibility each client gives us—this day isn’t happening again and can’t be done over, and we play a role that will either negatively or positively impact the day in a BIG way.
Finally, well, we’ve made the technical and educational investments necessary to do a really good job. Our gear is reliable, suited for the specific work we’re doing, and we have plenty of experience with it. All that is important when you’re hiring a professional. On top of that, we invest in continued education and honing and perfecting our craft. To be frank, no one else has the time or money available to pursue photography quite the way dedicated professionals do. All that time and monetary investment is part of what you get when you hire us or any professional photographer.