Darren Williams: Creating Wedding Portraiture Strobist Style

All images by Darren Williams. Used with permission.

Darren Williams is a photojournalistic wedding photographer who integrates creative portraiture and strobism into his work. His creative vision can be described as almost painterly–for when you look at the work it seems magical in so many different ways. He’s based in North Wales though shoots throughout the UK and Europe.

And for Darren, getting the creative vision he wants it really all about the process.

 

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Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.

Darren: My first camera was a Pentax ME (35mm SLR) which I purchased back in the 1980s on a whim. I had no idea and no experience of photography so I learned through trial and error. I remember the whole feel of the camera and how excited I felt whilst taking pictures. I took a LOT of pictures and over the years I just got better. By the 1990s I had photographed several friends’ weddings which at the time didn’t hold much interest for me apart from the fact I got to photograph people which I loved, and still love today.

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Phoblographer: What made you want to get into wedding photography?

Darren: In any one moment at a wedding I might be required to be a photojournalist, portrait photographer, a landscape photographer, or a product/still life photographer; I may be shooting in available light in all sorts of lighting scenarios, from near darkness to the brightest of days, over which I have very little control apart from the ability to control the exposure on my camera. I might also, in the next moment be shooting with an array of lighting from from single a speed light setup, multiple studio lights to LED lighting. What could be more exciting for a photographer than that? Wedding photography is all that I dreamed it would be.

Phoblographer: A lot of photographers really enjoy the photojournalistic capturing style side of wedding photography but very few really talk about the formal portraiture side of it. What do you enjoy about the process?

Darren: I too love the photojournalistic element of weddings but I also think the portraiture side of things is also important. I hate to use the word formal because it has two meanings. Yes, I intervene and direct my clients for about half an hour during most weddings but other than that, it is quite an informal affair.

“In any one moment at a wedding I might be required to be a photojournalist, portrait photographer, a landscape photographer, or a product/still life photographer; I may be shooting in available light in all sorts of lighting scenarios, from near darkness to the brightest of days, over which I have very little control apart from the ability to control the exposure on my camera.”

The bride and groom portrait part of a wedding requires three people working in harmony to create something beautiful; the couple as well as the photographer. I not only have to take care of the technical side of things such as light, location, the setup and exposure, but also have to take care of the relationship side of things. It’s a joint thing and I love that. The fact that it all happens in such a short space of time, quite often in a beautiful but limited location, with very little flexibility in terms of choice of when and where I have to shoot adds to the buzz that I feel from completing a shoot.

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Phoblographer: What do you feel you do to work with your clients and create very compelling and exceptional portraits? How does your work differ from so many others?

Darren: The main thing is about being creative yet convincing/natural. It’s about creating a striking image whilst at the same time, having the couple feeling totally relaxed throughout the process.

I photograph throughout the UK and have photographed weddings in Italy several times so I sometimes don’t get to meet my clients before hand. I need to quickly create a working, warm and friendly relationship with them. I need to inspire them and get them to totally trust me and my approach. My portfolio pictures go a long way to help with this process, and of course, I do speak to the couple at least by telephone before hand but I rarely visit a venue or location before the wedding.

Portraiture for me is about guiding the couple, as naturally as possible, oftentimes shooting in a photojournalistic way with an assistant carrying a quad light on a stick. Although sometimes it does take a short while to set up but more often than not, it’s over in a flash (pardon the pun).

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Phoblographer: Where do you typically draw your inspiration from when creating wedding portraits?

Darren: Nature, shape and the available light! Wedding photography is about making the very best out of what you have to hand, and although I may have photographed at a particular venue several times previously, here in the UK, the light is so variable that I simply cannot expect to do the same things at that location each time I shoot there, and besides, the couple expect me to do something different too – they want their wedding to look unique.

I therefore take a walk with the couple (this is how the shoot normally starts, I look for the best light possible which could vary from an amazing sunset, to candle light or window light. I think to myself how can I fit my couple into this situation as naturally and as convincingly as possible? What shapes do I need them to make? What emotions can I evoke in them? What lighting, if any, do I need or want to add to the situation–my inspiration these days comes from what I see at the time more or less.

Phoblographer: What do you love about being a wedding photographer and what do you hate about it?

Darren: What I love about being a wedding photographer is that I get to photograph people on one of the happiest, if not the happiest day of their lives. That is such an honour. The other element I enjoy is the buzz I feel during and after I have shot a wedding. It’s basically that I don’t really get many second chances in wedding photography. I have to get it right for 15 hours with hardly any time to think about it or even take a break. That’s a big buzz for me.

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Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear that you use. How does it help you achieve your creative vision?

Darren: Haha, my kit!! The list is endless, but this is my core kit for weddings. I don’t take all of it to every wedding but here it is:

Nikon D4 & Nikon D800 slung on a black rapid harness was the order of the day until recently. I have a full range of Nikon Primes and zooms ranging from 14mm to 135mm but I would typically be shooting with a 35mm and 85mm F1.4 combination for most of the day.

Currently however, I shoot most weddings for most of the day with a pair of Fuji X Pro 2’s slung on a Moneymaker harness. Again, I have a full range of Fuji lenses ranging from 10 – 90mm with the 23mm and the 56mm on my camera for much of the time. The Fuji X series are tiny compared to
the Nikons but punch out an awesome picture quality. They take a bit of getting used to but they are light weight and help very much with the photojournalist side of things, and the fact that they are so light, really helps free me up to be creative.

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Lighting wise, I have:

4 Nissin i40s

1 Nikon SB 900, 1 SB 700, 1 SB 800 and two SB 600.

I have an ice light and a non branded LED square light.

A cheap but very powerful torch.

2 Cactus 60 Flashes and 4 triggers.

Elinchrom Quadras

Profoto B2

A bunch of pocketwizards of various ages and descriptions.

Various types of mods ranging from a Gary Fong dome to soft boxes, brollies and softboxes.

Normally I will take at least one or two TTL speed lights to a wedding with a means of triggering them and either the profotoB2s or the Quadras. Other stuff just finds it self in or out of my bag at random.

Phoblographer: If you had to make your kit super minimal, what would be your most essential pieces and why?

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Darren: My basic kit ould be two X pro 2 bodies, my moneymaker harness, a Fuji 23mm, 56 and the 10 – 24mm lenses. 3 Nissin i40s, a third party TTL cable and and 2 Cactus 60 flashes and three Cactus triggers … BOOM!!! that’s all you need for the shooting side of things. It’s all light weight, the picture quality is AMAZING and and it covers both the photojournalistic situations and gives you strobes capability.

I need and love my MacBook Pro 15 inch with Lightroom so that I can PP my images.

Finally, a hearty packed lunch and a sensible pair of comfortable shoes goes a long long way.

Phoblographer: Where do you see your business in one year? How have you grown?

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Darren: There is no short cut or magic formula. You’ve got to work hard and be good at what you do … before choosing me, my couples have typically done a lot of research, spoken to several photographers on their short list and are fairly savvy in terms of what they are looking for in their wedding photographer. The higher you get up the ladder so to speak, the less price becomes an issue although everybody has a budget, and the more things like artistry, experience and skill comes into it. Firstly, they choose me because they like my pictures and because they feel confident in my skills and abilities. Every year I take time out for my continued professional development. I had no initial formal photography training but these days, I may attend the odd workshop or shoot collaboratively with a photographer from another genre, or take up another type of photography – anything to improve my skills, my abilities and artistry.

Anything that would make me a better photographer.

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