There was silence on the other end of the line. Not an uncomfortable silence, but long enough. Finally, our client, a wonderfully sharp and hilarious woman in her thirties, spoke.
“Now, when you say artistic photography,” she said slowly, “what exactly does that mean?”
It was one of those moments that drives a person forward, as a professional. Her hesitation was palpable, and perhaps rightly so. What is beautiful to one person may be dull to another. Everyone has experienced this at some point in their lives, looking at a painting, sculpture, or other piece of visual art alongside someone who finds it just as strange as we do stunning. Finding an artist who represents the world in ways that make sense to a given person can be a delicate task – and when the artist’s subject is us and our singular, unrepeatable wedding day, it becomes a task of incredible personal value. Which is why the heavens opened up and delivered wedding planners unto humanity.
“Well,” I replied, just as deliberately, “If you can tell me what you find beautiful, we can find the right photographer for you two.”
And after a long talk about other people’s wedding photos, pieces of art in the VMFA, and the colors in the couple’s wardrobes, that is exactly what we did. But it took something more than time – it took a great deal of bravery on her part. Although every person on the face of this planet has an artistic voice, not everyone knows exactly what theirs is yet. Figuring it out for your wedding day can be scary, especially when the wedding industry tends to present only one version of what a wedding should look like.
The best photographers understand that every way is the right way to have a wedding. Their job is to tell the story of one joyous day of your life. Your job is to choose the right storyteller. The one who gets you, and gets your partner, and is excited to create a series of photographic artwork together with you. Something incredibly unique and memorable.
You know, something like this.
These superb images come from real shoots by two of our absolute Richmond favorites, Shawnee Custalow of A Lovely Photo and Nadiya Nacorda of Imani Fine Art Photography. It’s easy to see the story of each wedding, and how the photographer chose angles, colors, shapes, and light to complement the style of the client. Good photographers listen to their clients and translate a mood onto film this way.
To get a better sense of how this is done, we caught up with both Shawnee and Nadiya to ask more about the art of wedding photography. We think you’ll be as inspired as we were. Enjoy!
EQ: How do you artistically approach weddings, and choose locations?
A Lovely Photo: When I talk to my couples about where they want to take their portraits, I always try to find out what really excites and moves them, and figure out a unique location that will work best for them.
Imani Fine Art Photography: I tend to move off of the vibe of my couples when I approach a wedding. Not every couple is going to be into my offbeat and adventurous ideas, which is totally fine. It’s my job to gauge them, get to know them and navigate that relationship.
EQ: What unexpected locations have you photographed couples in, and how did you (or they) choose them? Do you think any locations are off-limits?
ALP: No location or idea is off limits (unless of course it is physically dangerous or breaking the law…in a not-so-subtle way). I’m more than happy to go on an adventure and shoot on the fly with my couples, that’s part of what makes this profession so much fun. I want their wedding photos to be even more amazing and memorable than they imagined!
IFAP: It wasn’t a wedding, but for example, I recently photographed a couple in the Natural History Museum in Raleigh while we were shooting downtown. It was mostly inspired by how chilly it was outside and we just spontaneously popped in and decided to explore. In my mind, the only locations that would be off-limits are the ones in which we would be openly trespassing or the location is physically dangerous. Even then, if the couple is passionate about the adventure, so am I!
EQ: What advice would you give a couple that is nervous about taking an artistic approach to their wedding photography?
ALP: Unfortunately a lot of people (even if they try not to) have had their expectations of what is considered acceptable, normal, and “right” for a wedding celebration shaped by years of in-your-face traditional mainstream wedding industry nonsense. Some of my couples are very aware of this, and know exactly what they want, not caring about what society tells them to do. Others, while they are all about blazing their own path, are worried about the backlash of their more traditional guests, parents, etc. I tell them that they should do WHATEVER THEY WANT. You’ve always wanted bright colorful art in the background of your images, you want to see each other before the ceremony and get out all the nervous energy and have a special moment together, and you have a crazy prop that you want to secretly incorporate into the reception? That sounds amazing, YAS!
IFAP: My advice to couples is to find a photographer that can manage working on the fly and dealing with a variety of situations. The truth is that if your photographer needs a ton of prep time and usually works within the same lighting conditions, then taking an artistic or adventurous approach may not be for them (which is obviously fine for the couples that match them). However, if a couple is interested in or is contemplating an artistic approach, it would serve them to find a photographer that will assuage their nervousness and that could even align with how they feel and work through that with them. Overall, I think my approach is about collaboration and connection.
Their professional advice returns us to the fundamental question: what exactly does it mean to have artistic wedding photography? The answer is as broad as art itself. Taking the imaginative route can mean whatever you want! While it can seem daunting at first, it’s actually extremely freeing. You are limited only by the laws of physics, and well, by actual laws. The trick is to find your creative match, when searching for the right photographer. But hey, you’ve found the right person to marry. You’ll know when you find the right one this time, too. After all, these photos are what you will truly treasure, once the wedding is over. As Shawnee says, “At the end of the day, after all the dessert is gone, you’ve danced your heart out, and kicked your fancy shoes off, one of the few physical things you’ll have left is your photographs. These are the memories you’ll want to dearly hold on to, so they should represent you exactly as you are and want to be remembered. Don’t compromise, don’t settle, just do you.”
We couldn’t agree more.