I was recently meeting two families for a joint Bar Mitzvah consult when the question about style came up. They came right out and asked “How would you describe your photography?”
Somehow, the question caught be off-guard. Since I work in several genres of photography pinpointing a specific “style” isn’t something that I can easily describe in a few words. In this context, as an event photographer, I could tell they were fishing for a specific adjective that I just wasn’t giving them. Big fail on my part…
I can make excuses all day long; I had been working for 12 straight hours already shooting two commercial jobs and a pro-bono session for the Temple’s Hebrew school. I was exhausted, hungry, and had a fuzzy head. But truthfully, I just wasn’t prepared.
You see, it’s no big secret that I used to photograph events for one of Washington’s major Talent Agencies. The downside of that, of course, is that they did most of the marketing and selling for me and I had a ton of photos, albums, slideshows, products, and testimonials to back me up. Since leaving them (for reasons I won’t elaborate on here) I am more or less starting from scratch when it comes to the event side of my photography business. For the most part, I am forbidden from using photos I shot under the agency’s name for my own purposes and I haven’t had the budget to build and buy sample albums for clients that I have worked with since striking out on my own. I also can’t use contacts that I met while working for the agency or references from past clients I worked with while there. Frankly, since leaving them the event part of my business went from about 75% down to 25%, and of that it has mostly been corporate events. The few weddings and social events I have photographed since being on my own have all come from word of mouth referrals and people who already know my work and my style from other places.
This train wreck of a consult was just what I needed to seriously evaluate how I present myself in consultations.
As for the question of style:
I remember a few years ago when the big style buzzword was “photojournalistic.” The intended meaning was that the photographer gave minimal direction and let the event flow naturally, capturing the moments as they came. Unfortunately what happened is that a lot of amateur photographers used this as an excuse to be lazy and never learned how to pose properly, light properly, or control the flow of events.
There is also the word “lifestyle” photographer floating around out there. I still can’t get a straight answer from anyone on what they think that style is all about, but they seem to like chasing families and couples around just capturing the day. Frankly, I think that is just lazy photography and a waste of time for my clients.
Upon reflection, I should have explained how event photography requires the photographer to be a master of many different styles and to be “captain of the ship” so that everything flows smoothly during the event. Next to the party planner and MC, the photographer is the one that has to be in charge of making sure things happen when and how they are supposed to happen.
I am an expert in portraiture. For those bridal portraits, Torah portraits, and portraits of family groupings. I instinctually understand lighting, posing, and can build and tear down groupings of people quickly enough so as to not lose their attention. Lastly, I come prepared with plenty of energy and silliness to create great expressions and make everything flow smoothly without being too bossy. I’m not the photographer who is going to pose you in the cheezy prom poses, nor am I going to just let my clients pose themselves. Rather, I do my best to read the energy and personalities of my clients to come up with creative poses that I think they are going to love. It sounds trite, but there is a big difference between photographers to take portraits and those who make portraits. I am definitely the latter.
I am an expert in architecture and interior design photography. Seriously, it takes a solid knowledge of architecture and interior design photography to photography “room shots” that capture the way a reception or party is decorated. To add to that, my love of architectural photography tends to play into my portraiture and I love creating portraits that include architectural details.
I am an expert in still life, food, and commercial photography. For those close-up photographs of the wedding cake, party decorations, or delicious plates of food I know how to quickly get the detail photographs that my clients want to compliment their albums.
I also “get into the action” rather than letting the action happen around me. This applies mostly to party and reception photos, but there are an awful lot of photographers who think it’s okay to stand on the sidelines and just shoot what they see. While I do that to some extent, the truly great photos are the ones where I have positioned myself on the dance floor in the middle of the action. The spectacular photos are the ones where I anticipate a great moment, put myself in position to photograph it, and give the moment a little “shove” to make it happen. Yes, I have been known to tell little children to “look outside at the cute puppy” to get them over by a window with beautiful light and a wonderful facial expression.
So, again the question is “what is my photographic style?”
Reflecting back on all my experiences and trying to put them into words is difficult, but here goes… “My photography style is controlled, yet relaxed with a little goofy thrown in.”