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Finding Beauty

As an artist I feel a drive to capture, express and share beauty. But also a tension at being unable to capture all of it. Beauty is all around us. A person in the right frame of mind can be totally captivated by the simplest of things. I once sat on a bench and stared for many minutes at the movements of pigeons moving around a town square. I resolved to learn everything there was to know about pigeons when I got home. Of course I forgot. That right state of mind is everything.

Like a tree falling silently in a forest because no one’s there to hear it, beauty is something that happens inside the mind. Without an observer it’s just a load of stuff. You can only be in one place, and you’re not usually paying attention. Even if you try you can’t always pay attention to beauty. You’ve got to get on with life! If you look at the fabric of your clothes through a magnifying glass the pattern and complexity of the weave is beautiful. But you wear clothes all day long and don’t usually care.

As a wedding photographer my job is not just to take a record of what things looked like on the day, but to add insight and perception by noticing opportunities to make the photos more meaningful. Choosing one half second over another, or moving an inch to the left to include different objects in the frame can make all the difference. This is what’s most tiring about my job. It’s not carrying bags or standing all day. It’s constantly thinking and looking with purpose.

I’m always distressed by the thought of moments I could have seen but didn’t, or worse the ones I anticipated but couldn’t capture. Maybe because I was on the other side of the room. This doesn’t make me a bad photographer – it’s literally impossible to capture everything you see. Your eyes are faster than even a professional’s camera. That’s one reason I feel incredibly privileged to do my job and be there up at the front at someone’s wedding, lowering my eyes and trying not to draw any attention from the sacred moment in front of us. I’m often aware of everything coming together at once and experiencing a truly beautiful moment I know I will always remember, even if I’m only able to capture a portion of it in photographs.

It’s an odd relationship between the couple and myself. Most customers are not artists. They’ve hired a photographer because they’re aware they ought to capture something of the day. They can certainly appreciate beauty because we all can. But they find it hard to quantify and put a price on it. Anyway their photos don’t exist yet. They can only look at other people’s weddings in my portfolio. So they tend to revert to talking about tangible things like how many photos they get and how long we stay for. How many photos you get is so completely irrelevant to how beautiful they are! It might even be inversely proportional. I’d rather hire a photographer who could guarantee me forty stunning images than four hundred of any old snaps.

There’s a thing that happens when photographers look at each other’s work. They convince themselves everyone else is better than them. But that’s because they’re comparing the other photographer’s portfolio – a mere handful of all time greatest hits – with their own last shoot including every single shot good and bad and even accidental. We say the good is the enemy of the best. One way to make yourself look better is to show less work. Leave out even very good photos for the sake of the truly exceptional. And everyone will assume truly exceptional is your average standard. (Hint: that’s why I tell you to look at real wedding galleries and complete albums)

Now digital cameras, whopping great hard drives and fibre broadband mean I can supply you with hundreds of photos so I’m going to. I’m not going to deprive you of the shot of your school friend talking to your brother with the slightly different expression than the previous shot of the exact same thing. Sometimes you’ll look through the whole set, sure. But the artist in me begs you please, choose a small number of absolute favourites. Say twenty. I’ll even help you – this is something I love doing. And present them in some way that lets you savour the beauty of each one slowly. This is why art galleries are laid out like they are. They’re meant to slow you down and give space and time to consider each piece for a while. These days photos are fast and cheap. Mine aren’t really cheap, but I hope they will sometimes stop you in your tracks.

bride and groom

This photo from the homepage works because by moving into the grass, we increase the feeling of privacy and an intimate moment between the bride and groom. At the time, being hidden away a bit and not giving them any posing instructions increased the feeling of intimacy between them.

first dance

I love this photo from just a few weeks ago because after the first dance is over, the second dance is a lot more relaxed. There are other people on the dance floor doing all kinds of things, and the couple once again have a moment together. The weird vantage point between the DJ and the pillar just gives a little fly-on-the-wall perspective.

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