Fresh Perspectives: Three Photo Studios Do Wedding Photography Differently
by Sarah Ristorcelli
© Ed Godden
April 16, 2014 —
In one of Ed Godden’s earliest portraits, he is—at 5 years old—taking a picture. Never content to be the subject, he’s always taken an active interest in framing his own shots. At 17, he left college to launch his photography career, starting as an assistant for a commercial studio photographer in an industry niche he eventually discovered wasn’t as thrilling.
“After 12 months stuck in a studio, I decided this wasn’t the type of photography that really excited me, plus I wasn’t really getting to take any photos as the assistant,” Godden says. “It was a great learning curve, however, and I’d encourage anyone wanting to get their foot in the door to work as an assistant.”
Godden branched out on his own, gaining experience as a news and sports photographer for a 12-year run he remembers as extremely stressful, yet fun. During the summers, he shot weddings in his candid photojournalistic style and sought out clients who were a good fit for his relaxed and easygoing approach. “Because I shoot 99 percent of my images with just natural and ambient light, my photos have a distinctive ‘real life’ feel to them,” he says. “I hate using flash. I think it flattens a scene and kills any atmosphere.” But he loves his Sigma Art 35mm f/1.4: “It’s pin sharp, and the depth I can get from a portrait when shooting wide open is amazing.”
Knowing your equipment is one thing; standing out from the rest is another. “Building a photography business in the U.K. is not an easy task,” Godden says. “The affordability of camera equipment and the ease at which you can build a website means everyone thinks they’re a photographer. I’ve built my business and my brand by continually photographing couples who really understand my style.” This includes giving each couple a totally unique shoot by finding fresh new backdrops—which he usually stumbles upon while running—and advising his clients on what to wear to pair dress with location.
Godden’s approach seems to have served him well so far; while his work appears on blogs and in magazines like Save the Date, Practical Photography and fiXE, it’s word of mouth that keeps the business coming. “People often approach me at weddings and ask me to photograph their own,” Godden says.
He received the Professional Photographer of the Year 2013 award in the Wedding category from Professional Photographer magazine. Having been so immersed in his work until last year, he hadn’t entered for awards in a decade. He wrote on his blog, “I’m so chuffed I won this award because its judged by photographers, not some number-crunching machine.”
Feather + Stone
Seth and Tenielle Mourra, the husband-wife duo behind Feather + Stone, shoot destination weddings almost exclusively in film. Back in 2004, having just moved from his native Florida to Tenielle’s home in Australia, Seth was awaiting his work visa and began experimenting with an old film camera. Tenielle, who was working as a personal assistant, was destined to be a photographer, says Seth, then a financial advisor. “She’s always been creative and had vision but lost interest in the technical side of things.” Before long, they combined their talents and thought they would go into fashion and editorial shooting, but after photographing a friend’s wedding, their future opened up.
The Mourras say they attract a client base that finds artistry and originality appealing, and one could say that Feather + Stone chooses clients as much as clients choose them. Likewise, they carefully curate their creative alliances by choosing only like-minded publications to display their work. “It all comes down to our taste, which is something so personal to us as artists,” Seth says. “Our taste is constantly changing and being refined and redefined as we experience more in life.”
Seth explains that shooting with film introduces a host of other related demands; the photogoraphers can’t fall back on post-production, so their process and discipline have to be immaculate—but this never seems to trip-up their business, as long as they focus on light. “Especially with film, it’s imperative we shoot in good light at all times. We consult with our couples on timing, lighting and location for every part of the shoot—where they’ll get ready, where the ceremony and reception will be. These decisions are made with lighting in mind,” Seth explains.
At the beginning of their careers, the couple shot a wedding they felt appropriate for one of their favorite Australian fashion magazines, Frankie. “I submitted it and initially they declined,” he explains—the magazine had never featured weddings. “Six weeks later, they told us they would love to include it in an upcoming editorial.” Their work was right at home on the pages of a fashion magazine; Seth names the playful 1950s-era fashion photographer Richard Rutledge as a big source of creative inspiration: “The quiet simplicity of his work resonates with me as a photographer. I feel like I see the world through similar eyes.”
Since their coverage in Frankie, their work has been widely published in magazines like Real Weddings, Peppermint, Modern Wedding DIY, Hello May, Magnolia Rouge and many others—but for the Mourras, it’s never just about exposure; it’s about being seen by the right audience.
Chellise Michael’s moody creativity is often infused with a dash of humor and sensitivity, both of which explain her start in photography. “A friend of mine came over to show me a professional portrait of herself taken during her pregnancy,” remembers Chellise. “It was technically beautiful, but the girl that I knew so well was not the girl in the photo. It was so contrived, it hurt. She had a daisy on her belly—enough said.” It was then that Chellise knew she could give people something to look at in 20 years and say, “That was me back then, 100 percent.”
The only photography experience she had at that point, however, involved portraits of 25-cent machine figurines, such as mini ninjas attacking mini farm animals and mini nuns rushing to save them. Chellise, who at the time was bartending in Scottsdale, Arizona, and her then-boyfriend Mike Busse would shoot these scenes with a macro lens for their own personal entertainment. They ended up selling some of the photos to Arizona State University, where they now hang in the halls of its Honors Department.
After the incident with the maternity picture, Chellise obsessively photographed friends and strangers alike, contacted other photographers for technical guidance, and did some assisting. “I grew really fast and it evolved into weddings,” she says. “I asked Mike to shoot one with me, and he loved it so much [that] he wanted to shoot with me always.”
Chellise and Mike married and made another life-defining decision: they said goodbye to the desert and moved to New York in 2010, after being encouraged by another couple they knew who moved before them. But the move didn’t falter their clientele, Chellise says. “We grew by persistence in sharing online and by constantly meeting new people,” she says. “Also, the relationships that we make with our couples is very genuine and honest. In fact, we are headed out to brunch in an hour to meet Mariah and Dan, a couple whose wedding we shot back in December. The wedding is obviously over, but we adore them and have become friends in the process.”
Now that she and Mike are well on their way, they’ve scored coverage in The Knot, Brides, and New York Magazine Weddings, which has boosted their business—as has incessant creativity, fueled by experimenting with Fuji Wide Instax film and their Lomography LC-Wide. “Double exposures are my personal favorite, and this Lomo camera offers it,” gushes Chellise. “I’m waiting impatiently for Fuji to offer a wide double-exposure camera.”
Beyond the technical preferences, Chellise says it’s getting to know the couples before they shoot that reflects the most in their work. “We don’t want to photograph strangers; we want trust, which allows us freedom to shoot the way we like,” Chellise says. “I don’t know many photographers who put that much time into the personal side as we do, but we could not imagine it any other way.”
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