WEDDING VS STREET PHOTOGRAPHY

Piotr Biegaj has recently come up to me and said: You know, Warda, you’re the best wedding photographer among street photographers and the best street photographer among the wedding ones. The immediate reaction can be: Wow, this is a proper compliment. Warda must be really talented.
On the other hand, though, most of the street photographers I know take horrible wedding photos and numerous wedding photographers do brilliant street photography. However, we treat street photography as a hobby, as a way to develop our photographic eye, and not as our life mission. So, what Biegaj said was not a compliment after all.
So, what’s all this fuss about? Let’s start from wedding photography.

OUTDOOR WEDDING CEREMONY

DOCUMENTARY WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHERS

At the beginning of our careers we were determined to fight an uphill battle and prove that wedding photography does not necessarily need to be naff or mediocre. It can simply be great photography in its own right. At some point there is no need to prove anything anymore, as your photos and achievements speak for themselves. For some obscure reason, though, what we do triggers a negative response among some reporters and street photographers. Not only do they lack respect for our industry, but they also don’t mince words and say wedding photography is crap and wedding photographers are worth nothing. Most of the people I am talking about believe that we are not able to do any other kind of photography. And that we should definitely not or, even worse, we don’t have the right to do any commercial work, street or documentary photography. Simply because we are wedding photographers.
Is it some kind of mental paralysis, pure hate, bitter jealousy, envy or simply stupidity? It turns out that WhiteSmoke Studio street photography workshops organised with Leica Camera Poland caused serious, monthslong heartburn in some people who had no problem spreading online hate directed at us. We believe there is space for everyone, even those who can’t do weddings or who are not humble enough to accept feedback they themselves asked for.
When you hear ‘wedding photography’, the first image you see is probably the exchange of wedding rings, putting the garter on, the first dance, cutting the cake or a tipsy uncle pinching the bridesmaids. A few pictures at a wedding. What’s the big deal? Anyone can do it, especially someone who’s been doing street photography, someone who’s as fast as lightning when pressing the trigger, someone as good at connecting dots as a special forces soldier.
Stereotypes around wedding photography have been reinforced for years and even though it has changed dramatically for the last 12 years, since we started WhiteSmoke Studio, the phrase wedding photographer still carries negative connotations and is often said with contempt. As Dorota has recently mentioned in one of her blog entries, we often get cringy questions, such as: ‘Are you able to do any other kind of photography, rather than weddings?’

CRAZY WEDDING PARTY

WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY GEAR

So, what’s the deal with weddings? They can be quite interesting. And not that easy. The range of competences a typical wedding photographer must display is really extensive. Of course, everything depends on a photographer’s style, if he or she has one at all. It is ridiculously easy to copy someone else. To create something unique it is not. So, now I’d like to delve into what constitutes our unique WhiteSmoke style.
At each wedding we create a consistent reportage, enriched by the couple’s portraits. What we deliver is unique for every single couple. We don’t follow patterns. What counts is the emotions, the moment, the light. Enframed in classical, timeless compositions. We use flash lamps in a very creative way. We mix intimate frames with Dorota’s rich, multilayered compositions and my slightly ironical vertical images taken with flash. The energy on the dance floor and an atmospheric ceremony. Multigenerational emotions, group photos with great composition and studio lighting. Portraits of guests and the great vibe lurking in. Single-image anecdotes by the coffee table, pictures of details, architecture, human landscape, and deadpan images. Everything is surprisingly consistent, sometimes even for us.
The gear plays a vital role in all of it. In some situations it’s much better to use the Leica M with an 28mm Elmarit lens, sometimes a Canon with a bright 50mm 1.2L lens. We take portraits in a classical way, which means using a medium format camera with a digital back. And during the reception we can even take out a compact camera like Ricoh GR and take simple snaps with flash. Sometimes, the only thing we use is a fast 28mm lens and AF, just like in the Leica Q. Every camera-lens combination gives us a different kind of aesthetics which we need to skillfully juggle.
Editing and postprocessing are next secret ingredients. We need to make sure all the pieces in the puzzle fall into place. The starting point for us is the look one can find in good lifestyle sessions. The only difference is that we have very little control over the light conditions we find ourselves in and that we work under time pressure.

Custom Coffee Table Photo Books

Custom Coffee Table Photo Books

Next come photo books. We create dozens of them for our clients every year. We can’t always be as creative in designing them as in the case of Carl de Keyzer’s book. But we always listen to our clients and are open to their suggestions. Our clients prefer big albums with minimalistic design, which makes us truly happy. Do you want a photo book in ink on baryta paper? No problem at all.
It goes without saying that everything comes with a price tag. The experience, expertise, gear. And enormous involvement. Higher rates result in our clients’ high expectations and there is no room for mistakes here. You cannot replay anything. We have to deliver several dozen perfect images and several hundred really good ones. Despite appearances, the number of pictures to be delivered from a reception with several hundred guests is not daunting at all. You can tell the story of a wedding in 12 frames, but there are much more moments worth remembering.

WEDDING THEMES

And now time for the wedding itself. Sometimes we’re invited to small, intimate ceremonies, and sometimes it’s big budget weddings. At times we work wearing jeans or chinos and sneakers, and sometimes we’ll wear dinner suits. We also have to fit in at a country barn wedding reception close to Warsaw or a black tie party in Venice. Sometimes our clients will be very clear about their expectations when it comes to the work we deliver and sometimes we have to try and squeeze information out for a few months before the wedding. The variety in our photography is rather wide, so we either rely on the classical documentary style or we get inspired by Parr’s photography and allow ourselves to interpret it in our own way.
There’s quite a few things to take care of, right? What’s more, weddings only constitute 30 to 35% of our work. All the admin work, getting new commissions, and other photography not related to weddings take a bit of our time, too. Did you know that we do architecture, industrial, and corporate photography? We’re not talking about our private projects, but we don’t want to make a distinction between commercial and artistic work.
And that’s why we only smile when we hear someone talking about our work with contempt. Or pity. But what do haters know? Let them try and see the results of their work. It’s so easy to spread hate. Everyone can do it. One photographer, an ambassador of an international brand whose numerous clients are wedding photographers, many of whom extremely talented ones, has recently said: “To cut the story short, wedding photography is one big crap. That’s all I can say. It doesn’t matter whether photos are taken with a Leica or a Canon. They are banal, trashy, cliché. One needs to make a living, I get it. Everyone has to do it sometimes. But let’s not make street photography or art out of it.”

WEDDING COUPLE, PORTRAIT

It’s no use beating a dead horse about this lofty analysis of his. I believe he shows a lack of any propriety. But I would like to encourage everyone to say it to your friends ambassadors at the next reunion or clients at workshops. Face to face. Remember, there are wedding photographers in both groups.
Or you can say it to the Bride’s grandfather who’s proud to show you his own wedding portrait from 60 years ago. Tell him the photo is simply crap. Or you can tell the couple that a wedding photo of them and their parents is crap. I can just go on with similar examples. Photographs taken at important family events will hang on the walls. Maybe not at art galleries, which is actually not impossible, but at people’s homes. You cannot deny the social value of wedding photography. The depiction of a culture and tradition would not be complete without it. I can already see comments which say that most wedding photos are just trash and kitsch. Maybe. Just like 99% of images whose authors call them street. Repeatable motifs, predictable frames.

FAMILY LOVE

STREET PHOTOGRAPHY BY WHITESMOKE

But luckily, street photography is multifaceted, too. To tell you the truth, street photography is actually a bit of an empty phrase to us. You can call some photographers street photographers, even though they themselves would have never done it. Half of the Magnum photographers are street photographers, but they have been simply photographing life for decades. They observe social mechanisms and chronicle them, just like Martin Parr. They delve into human relationships, just like Gilden in his recent projects, and they create human stories full of emotions, like Sobol. I am not even going to mention Bresson. Or beautiful stories about places by Webb. Or Harvey’s ‘don’t shoot what it looks like, shoot what it feels like.’ This kind of vision of photography has always been a great source of inspiration for us.
How do street photographers see it themselves? We used to see it as an end, and not as a means to an end. The way to tell a story about the world around us in one ideal frame. With fantastic colours and amazing composition. Surrealism blending into the reality. Cynicism mixed with irony that go well with black humour. With time, collecting those random images gave way to seeing weddings in the same manner. We thought the street approach was ideal. We used to treat weddings the same way many others did, so a mix of street cynicism and humour with a dash of surrealism was a perfect choice. But we soon began to treat weddings as something unique, a chance to learn about family stories, local traditions, or simply a story of two people. And it turned out that we can tap into everything we’d learnt and thought before. We are still on the lookout for single images and an amusing situation. But it is much more about balance and the resonance of the whole material we are going to deliver, rather than flexing our street muscles.

 

THAILAND STREET PHOTOGRAPHY

TEL AVIV BEACH

TOKYO STREET PHOTOGRAPHY

BANGKOK STREET PHOTOGRAPHY

Wedding photographers are beginning to be recognised all over the world. Jeff Ascough was Canon’s Ambassador, Sony had Mike Colon, Fuji – Kevin Mullins among others. Hasselblad, Nikon – you can find wedding photographers everywhere. Even Leica Italy organised Master Class with Carlo Carletti. During the Magnum workshop in Bangkok David Alan Harvey mentioned that wedding photographers are one of the best trained and versatile groups of photographers. Wedding as a subject matter is so fascinating that you can find quite a collection of wedding photographs taken by Martin Parr or Guy Le Querrec in the Magnum Photos collection. In one of his workshops, Martin Parr said that wedding photography is a perfect way to make a living and work on private projects. It’s high time wedding photographers were appreciated in Poland!

Street is street. At the moment it looks like a quest for the most twisted frame. There’s less and less storytelling about people, the way the Old Masters did. It is more about street for street’s sake. Is it bad? No, not at all. The eye has to be developed. And we love to do it, but it’s not our major focus. We are beginning to sit among people and listen instead of catching frames. We soak in the atmosphere. We look for a subject we are not going to glide over. We play with convention at times, and sometimes we create our own impression of a place.

Without rigid rules, divisions or classifications.

Let us know what you think in comments. Let’s talk;)