Photo Essays is a series on the Phoblographer where photographers get to candidly speak their mind about a specific subject or project of theirs. Want to submit? Send them to email@example.com.
All images by Travis and Nina Tank. Used with permission. Be sure to also follow them on Instagram.
Something that I have spent the last few years trying to perfect in wedding photography is creating moments. Raw, real emotion is actually very difficult to achieve when you have a semi-stranger in your face expecting you to model. I have found there to be a significant difference in what sets photographers apart… there are ones who create moments and some that simply capture them. While yes we are all technically “capturing” moments, photojournalism in its purest form doesn’t tend to lend itself to the creative imagery that couples want or hire us for.
Those laughs that you see, the smiles and the people who look like they are having a good time are actually having a good time and laughing with us. This is the reason why few photographers seem to have more stiff imagery in their portfolio than authentic emotions. The good news? It only takes a simple switch in your mindset to completely change the way you view yourself as a photographer and how you capture any subject on the other side of your camera.
I have to be upfront and say the UNPOSED workshop from Love is a Big Deal has had a huge impact on the way we interact with our couples and I highly suggest photographers take more workshops from those whom they admire. If you only leave with one piece of influential information it can drastically change your entire trajectory and grow you by leaps and bounds. ( I also suggest anyone who can take that workshop to TAKE IT)
So how did we develop our vision? I am an avid studier of those whom I look up to. That’s not to say you find one person and copy their style, it’s the intake of many peoples’ influence and molding that into your unique creative vision that develops a style. Once you have knowledge, you have the power to put those principles into practice and with practice you develop your own “eye”. I tend to think of myself as a good photographer who elevates my craft with my personality.
I am not trying say I am somehow so popular or likable that people flock to me like Daenerys Targaryen, but I hold enough confidence in my skill set and rely heavily on my way of making others feel comfortable and loose in my company. Once I find the light and compose, I know its a matter of a ten second conversation to start shooting magic. So how do we elevate that into something bigger than just great images and turn capturing into creating? You provide an authentic personality which allows your subjects to be comfortable and the end result will be authentic looking images.
“I tend to think of myself as a good photographer who elevates my craft with my personality.”
Typically when I come into a scene I start with the basics. Where is the light coming from? Is the light good for portraits? Is there something in the foreground or background I can use to make the scene more dynamic? From there, once your color and exposure are correct, then its time to switch from photographer to producer.
Just think of it this way, how would you like to be told on the happiest day of your life to just go into some wooded area and stand there while I look at you through my paparazzi lens like your some zoo animal? You would hate it! You would look at me like “what the hell do you want me to do?”. And the process of looking at each other, look here, look there, foreheads together, yada yada yada can get awkward and mundane fast. Let me also state we NEVER take the couple out for more than 15-20 minutes.
We realize they want to see their family and friends, we realize they just spent 20 minutes doing the high school prom posed family photos and more than likely they are tired of image taking and want to party. A huge factor in stiff imagery is the couple is just worn out. So it’s up to us now to make this portion fun, emotional, energetic and passionate.
“Just think of it this way, how would you like to be told on the happiest day of your life to just go into some wooded area and stand there while I look at you through my paparazzi lens like your some zoo animal? You would hate it!”
This leads me into how we direct our couples. Yes we pose them, or put them into poses where they have fluidity and can move around for real moments with real body language. But once they are posed, now its time for us to start creating. We do this by asking them questions, making them think about their relationship and becoming more of an investigator than just a photographer. Who is late and who is punctual? Which one of you uses the toilet as an excuse for an extra long break? When was the first time she farted in front of you? YES WE ASK THEM ABOUT THEIR FARTS. We are human, they are human and generally most humans think farting is funny.
If you want them to laugh you have to make them laugh. If you want them to be close and passionate, you need to ask them about times in their relationship that would invoke those emotions. They don’t know what you are looking for on your side of the camera so nudge them into it. Ask him to embrace her and tell her when he knew she was the one. Have them put their foreheads together but then ask them to pray for each other. You have to think beyond just capturing and start creating. This can go for any part of the wedding day as well. If you want to get real emotions of people dancing, get on the dance floor and dance with them while singing “YMCA” with the rest of them. You will never get the images you desire by standing in the corner of the room, expecting magic to happen for you.
“If you want them to laugh you have to make them laugh. If you want them to be close and passionate, you need to ask them about times in their relationship that would invoke those emotions.”
At the end of my career I would much rather be known for who we were as humans than for a particular image or portfolio. I want people to hire our company for who we are over just having a great portfolio. While great images are first priority, there are many photographers who can create great images. There are not however many who can authentically connect with their clients along with their family and guests. When I see people review us online, the one thing I always look for is how we made them feel, and most of our reviews are about us as people, not so much the images themselves. I know my talent capacity is much lower than my personality capacity and I’d rather bet on my strengths.
So when people ask what is unique about Tank Goodness, I want our couples to say “Nina and Travis.” I want them to remember the fun we had, the laughs we shared, and the way we made their family and friends feel important on their special day. We photographers all use similar equipment and will capture similar images but the one thing that makes us all different is the person holding the camera. How will you capitalize on YOU!