Interview with a wedding photographer: Faith-Michele James
Hope you all had a spooky Halloween, readers! We’re back with something special today. As you can tell from the last year and half of articles, I rarely give out endorsements of vendors. However, I have come across a few lately that have really caught my attention, so you may be seeing a few features. This most special one is our first wedding photographer interview. I can tell you, there is nothing more personal than your wedding photos. I’ve been reticient in the past to endorse any specific photographer, because everyone has their own style and what I love, you may not.
Faith-Michele James is the exception – she’s so versatile and good at what she does, as you’ll see below, that I truly feel comfortable giving her a grade A ” highly recommend!” endorsement. And that was before I learned she recently won a seriously prestigious award* for her work. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for me – I hope they’ll be useful to you all!
It can be so hard for a couple to communicate what type of couple they are – how do you get to know a couple and their aesthetic?
This might not be what couples expect to hear, but I’ve found that the less I know about a couple outside of their wedding day, the better the photos turn out. The reality of human psychology is that we tend to see what we expect to see, and to authentically document a couple’s wedding day requires me to see and portray what’s really there, not what I expect will be there — ideally, to be a “blank slate” when it comes to recording the day.
For example, if I know the bride is a high-powered corporate attorney, I might assume certain things about her personality that may or may not be true of her as a bride on her wedding day — and those assumptions are going to affect the photos I take. So for example, I might create photos of a corporate attorney bride that have a more aggressive, harder edge to them, even though she might actually be a very soft and playful bride. If I don’t know what she does for a living (or anything else about her beyond that she’s in love and getting married), I’m much more able to be present in the moment and photograph her as she really is on her wedding day — which in turn makes the photos more authentic and meaningful for the couple and their families and friends.
In terms of the aesthetic, I’ve learned the hard way over the years that it’s a mistake to try to adjust my style to what the couple wants — that rarely works, anyway! When I was starting out, I took every assignment I could get, of course, but as an established wedding photographer, if I sense that a couple has a particular aesthetic that’s different from mine, I’ll recommend photographers to them who might fit their tastes better. I do my best to make my portfolio and website an accurate reflection of my style so that if the couple responds positively to my past work, they’re likely to respond to the work I do for them. My best suggestion for couples is to choose a photographer whose aesthetic appeals to you, and let them work their magic for you while you relax and experience your wedding day!
So often couples can look stiff and awkward in their photos – any special tips or tricks for helping them relax into their best selves?
Absolutely! For most couples, this is the only time they’re ever going to be photographed by a professional photographer and the experience can be a little intimidating. The single most helpful thing that couples can do to relax in front of the camera is to do an engagement session — it’s a low stress way to get used to having a big long black lens pointed at you!
I also strongly suggest that on the wedding day itself, couples consider doing a First Look and their couples portraits before the ceremony when there’s more time to relax and focus on each other. Often, trying to do the photos after the ceremony creates more stress and distraction, which makes it harder for a couple to just relax and enjoy being photographed. (And ideally, do your couples and bridal portraits on a whole separate day from the wedding itself, when you really have time to relax and get creative — not to mention getting to wear your dress an extra time!)
During the actual photoshoot, whenever possible I work with a long telephoto lens (like the paparazzi use for celebrities), so I can create a lot of physical distance between myself and the couple — I can’t hear what they’re saying and they often can’t really see me. That allows them to forget that they’re being photographed and creates a lovely combination of portrait and documentary images showing them as they really are together that forms the basis of my style. For the more “posed” portraits, I use my skills as a working fashion photographer to help with some basic modeling coaching that can make a big difference in their confidence level and the quality of the images.
How do you deal with significant height disparity?
If there’s a height disparity, that’s who the couple really is and how they interact, so I don’t do anything to try to hide it or pretend it’s not there. Instead, I try instead to use it as a compositional element — so if he has a habit of leaning down and kissing the top of her head, then that’s what I want to document for them.
What are some of your wedding photography pet-peeves?
Well, I try not to criticize other photographers, as a matter of professional respect. Everyone has to find their own style and what might drive me nuts is probably exactly what someone else loves about wedding photography and vice versa. There’s room for everyone and all kinds of styles for all kinds of couples.
Wedding photography is always on the up-an-up – where do you think the trend is moving?
I found over the years that focusing on staying current with the trends in the business gets in the way of creating meaningful photos that stand the test of time, so I don’t pay much attention to trends. I focus on creating authentic, meaningful images that genuinely depict the personality of the couple and the mood/tone of the couple’s wedding day. To me, that’s the essence of wedding photography — and it transcends trends and fads to create images that stay meaningful long after trends have changed.
I’d strongly caution couples to avoid being overly influenced by what’s trendy when it comes to photographs. Remember, these photos are going to be in your family for generations, and you probably want them to stand the test of time and not look gimmicky, overly cute/trendy or dated 25 years from now when your kids (and later grandkids) want to see them.
*One of Faith-Michele’s photos has been selected to receive an international photography award from Fearless Photographers.
Fearless Photographers is a membership society of the world’s best wedding photographers who focus on photography first and foremost. Their “Fearless Awards” are given to the best wedding photographs in the world every two months and are among the most prestigious awards in international wedding photography. You can visit their website to see some amazing photography (whether you’re a wedding photography fan or not!) at http://www.
Interested in more of Faith-Michele’s work? Check her out here.