Let Loose for the Best Images: Behind the Lens with London Wedding Photographer, Harry Richards
29 Jul 2015
It’s a stressful time, but if it’s the secret to beautiful wedding images you’re after, it could be as simple as letting loose, says London wedding photographer, Harry Richards. We go behind the lens with the industry stalwart.
How would you describe your style of photography?
Free and loose! I’m not going to lie, there’s an awful lot of pressure on a wedding to get great results but I find the more you attempt to orchestrate, the less time you're looking at what’s actually happening. I suppose it’s a little like trying to be an alchemist during the gold rush when the real rewards are in the ground around you.
How did you start out in wedding photography?
I photographed my art teacher’s daughter’s wedding at school, aged 17. I think I charged around £50 on top of the rolls of film and that quickly led to referrals. My third wedding was at the British Embassy in Geneva! I was quite late to digital but in around 2005 I began to see the benefits of shooting digitally in low light. I found it a real game changer that I could get great shots indoors without the dreaded flashgun. It was around that time I took the bull by the horns and started formalising my wedding photography services.
Who are your ideal clients?
Clients who are determined to go with the flow and enjoy their day, come hell or high water! It’s totally understandable to be anxious that everything will come together and I actually think that’s important in the run up. Being organised and on top of things in advance is the way to ensure you get most of what you want. Life happens and some things go off course, but often for the better! It’s a lot more rewarding to photograph people who are in the present and savouring the moment. That’s a perfect fit for reportage photography.
Can you choose a picture that encapsulates everything you want to achieve in a wedding photograph? Tell us what it is about this image that you love.
I rarely encourage people to break the fourth wall and look at my camera as they can quickly feel embarrassed and put on a facade. Kids are far less self conscious than adults and when someone makes eye contact on their own terms, the result can be honest and beautiful. I love the idea that as a photographer I might see something that no one else has seen. To that end I always keep half an eye on what happens around the fringes of the main event.
How far in advance should those interested look to book you? Do people stand a chance of getting you last minute?
It’s funny, while I shoot a lot more weddings these days, I do find couples are leaving it closer to the day to book. When I started formally around 10 years ago, it was normal to have 90% of the dates booked in by the 8 month point. Now I reach that point at around 4 months. Also, I might get 5 enquiries for the first weekend in June and nothing for the second, so it’s always worth a call.
What’s the most challenging part of photographing a wedding?
Occasionally, members of the older generations might not like being photographed without prior warning as they’re used to a more traditional etiquette when it comes to having their picture taken. Because reportage photography has become so popular, it’s less of an issue these days. The important thing is how you deal with tension and the answer is ‘always gracefully’! I may even
pop over and cheerfully explain what I’m up to and show them some of my pictures on the back of the camera. On a technical level, poor arti ficial lighting can be a headache but there are various tricks of the trade to deal with that.
How can couples help to ensure the best work?
Avoid routine eye contact with the camera and enjoy yourselves! A reportage photographer should become easier to ignore as you get used to them but it may feel a little strange looking past or through a lens that you’d usually look in to. Also, it’s important to be familiar with your photographer’s portfolio and be happy to accept them as they are. Asking a traditional photographer to shoot reportage pictures for the first time on your wedding day is risky and vice versa!
What’s your opinion on the controversial ‘group shots’ – can you give us an example of yours?
One day, it’ll be my wedding and I’ll absolutely want some group pictures to be taken as my friends and family are very important to me. However, I’d want them to be over and done with as soon as possible after the ceremony. I recommend couples appoint two organised people to round up their respective families while I’m focusing on the group at hand. In my humble opinion, 4 groups within 15-20 minutes is enough. I’ll accept as many as I’m asked to do by the couple but when there are 10 or more on the list, guests can grumble no matter how e fficient and friendly you are. Try as I might, I’m no substitute for Champagne and canapés!
What’s the most common misconception that you have to correct with couples? The thing you’d most like to communicate to the masses.
Own your day! There’s a huge wedding industry and I appreciate how overwhelming ‘wedmin’ can be. I often find myself as an informal wedding planner when I meet couples to talk things through. They ask for my opinion on line ups, speeches, group photos and videography as if they’re looking for a way out! Personally, I’d encourage couples to minimise the things they do out of a sense of obligation and maximise the things they want to do instead. I shoot a lot of gay weddings and find that while some same sex couples go for quite a conventional approach, many will start from scratch. Traditions can be great fun but I wouldn’t feel duty bound by them. Good luck getting out of your first dance though!
What’s been your most memorable wedding to photograph, and why?
While the weddings I’ve shot overseas always stand out, I try to be equally curious with any job I shoot. Being gifted amazing natural light is as important as adventurous locations, photogenic venues and open people. It feels a little like I’m betraying all the other lovely couples who’ve invited me along to their weddings but to pick out a memorable day from last summer it would probably be Lyndsey and Stuart’s wedding at Chateau De La Cazine. I was there for 3 days, the weather was perfect, there were only 25 merry guests and I felt very privileged to be welcomed into the fold. It was intimate and the pace meant I could spend lots of time exploring with my camera.
Can you tell us why you think wedding photography is worth the investment?
The age old question of whether to get uncle Phil to take the pictures for free or pay a stranger a lot of money instead! Photographers shouldn’t be too pompous about their craft - I’d never make the case to a couple that they should pay me twice as much when they’re perfectly comfortable with a cheaper option. If he’s new to wedding photography, Uncle Phil may need extra cuddles to keep him calm on the day! It’s a high pressure undertaking and so it’s important not to have unreasonable expectations of someone who is working for free or being paid below the odds. I have back up lenses, camera, flashgun and batteries just in case. I personally spend around 5 days dedicated to each wedding for administration, preparation, the big day and post production. My clients tell me it makes the difference. If you whole heartedly commit to this specialism, it’s unprofessional to cut corners. Your photographs will serve as windows to your own memories of that de fining day and you have to get them right the first time.
Finally, if you weren’t a wedding photographer, what would you be?
I love the buzz of a movie set. I actually studied film and directed a handful of award winning shorts and commercials. The trouble with directing films is that you spend a hugely disproportionate amount of time setting projects up. Photography is a much more immediate art form by comparison and very satisfying so… possibly shooting film stills on film sets?!