Authentic, witty & artful: Behind the lens with Richard Harris Photography
18 Jul 2016
Capturing weddings across the UK, Richard Harris emphasises the importance in finding the right photographer for you
How would you describe your style of photography?
My clients often describe my work as authentic, witty, artful. I don’t set or stage anything, not because I don’t agree with this method, I just find it far less interesting. My work is situational: taken from real-life experiences. I try not to get too hung up on different styles or at least labelling them as for me, it’s really important you simply connect with the image and what it means.
How did you start out in wedding photography?
I loved to draw and paint from an early age, and soon picked up photography and my own darkroom. When I realised photography was something I wanted to pursue, I gradually gained experience photographing weddings. Looking back, I was fortunate that my first wedding was with such lovely people, Jess and Jehan Shah. We had a connection with how the day should be photographed and what they wanted from the experience, which is so important, especially when you’re right at the beginning.
I have a broad interest in photography but weddings have a particular hold on me due to the reward of creating such personal and meaningful images for people.
Who are your ideal clients?
My clients are people who don’t actually want their day to be all about them, but the experience of the people they’re sharing it with. They’re not interested in a set of ordinary, posed wedding photos, which just look like every other wedding they’ve seen. I love meeting new people and when I speak to people like this, it’s easy to see we’d be a great fit.
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.
This is Fiona’s grandad, who wasn’t well enough to make it to the ceremony or wedding. It was a lovely situation because he had handmade an enormous amount of raspberry jam for all the guests as keepsakes, so he was still with everyone in spirit. This is a moment after the ceremony where Will and Fiona drove to see him and have their own private celebration. It encapsulates everything I love about photographing people’s lives because it’s presenting their unscripted experience in a meaningful way.
Photographers seem to inject a lot of their personality into their work… what are your inspirations?
I think you often see too much of the photographer’s personality in the image. I don’t try to impress other photographers with my work, or add drama that isn’t there. There’s an excellent essay by W.H Auden, The I Without A Self, which I draw much inspiration from. To which, I feel my best images are selfless. I always aim to connect the viewer with what was happening at that wedding (the situation), and what that means as a photograph. That is where I hone my vision to, so although it’s very specific, I largely try to keep my personality out of my work – I’m just not that interesting!
How far in advance should those interested look to book you? Do people stand a chance of getting you last minute?
I do limit the amount of work I take on. As soon as you have a venue/date booked, you should be booking me. It’s not uncommon for people to contact me before they’ve booked their date/venue either, as I can sometimes co-ordinate my availability for the right couple. 6-18 months is a normal range, but as short as a few weeks sometimes, if I have availability.
What’s the most challenging part of photographing a wedding?
When you’ve been photographing weddings for a long time, you genuinely just get excited about the possibilities and with photographing the uniqueness of the day. Saying that, the most challenging part can sometimes be finding a moment to get some food. Hydration, too! Especially on those hot summer days.
How can couples help to ensure the best work?
That’s really just what they pay me for. I always take the time to have a genuine conversation with my clients and go from there.
What are the three most important questions for couples to ask their photographer, in your opinion?
You need to look at their work first, and love it. Not like, but love. Then, you need to see if you get on well with them personally, as you’ll be spending a fair chunk of a very important day with them. Make sure you get both of those, not one or the other.
There are lots of smaller questions about logistics, organisation, etc, but I feel like there is only one you need to ask which will tell you whether they’re someone you can trust and wish to work with. Ask them this: “What is your method for photographing the right moments on my wedding day?”.
It’s that simple. Make sure you get a detailed plan. That way, you’ll know if your photographer is just going to take a stab in the dark, or actually knows what they’re doing.
What’s your opinion on the controversial ‘group shots’?
Controversy? I think they’re fine, really. They’re sometimes seen as outdated, or that family fear they won’t get 'their photo' if they’re not taken. Or they’ll take up lots of time, be boring, or that nobody really wants them. It’s generally a battle between those elements and I’ve heard it can cause some unnecessary stress. This really boils down to knowing what you want and finding a photographer who ‘gets you’. Because you don’t have to do something you don’t want to do. And if your photographer doesn’t understand grandad and your mum are important to your wedding – and your life – it’s a sure sign you haven’t found yourself the right photographer yet.
The staged group photo just isn’t something I do because my clients are more interested in enjoying time with their guests, not repeating stock images, or doing cheesy jumping shots and such. And in turn, I wholeheartedly care and know how to photograph the people who mean the most to them, in situations which will mean so much more to them.
In terms of trends, what do you think is the most interesting at the moment?
I really wouldn’t know. I don’t follow the industry or trends too closely. That may sound odd, but I genuinely just focus on my clients and producing meaningful images for them. It always has to be timeless. Trends just never come into the equation, unless it’s to assure them they won’t have to do anything daft or cliché with me.
What’s the most common misconception that you have to correct with couples? The thing you’d most like to communicate to the masses.
I have complete sympathy for engaged couples because there is such a mass of information out there. And there are things done because of the latest trends or just tradition. Just yesterday I learned that, in-times-gone-by, the best man would read out all of the wedding day cards to the guests – how out of place that would be at most weddings today.
A common misconception has to surround ‘what do we do if it rains on my wedding day'? Because if you follow convention, or what your friends may have done, or what you may read on the internet, you’ll basically end up in wellies and umbrellas splashing around in the rain. Which is absolutely fine for some people, but for others… “it’s just not me”. There are other choices. That is where it pays to have a photographer who you connect with.
What’s been your most memorable wedding to photograph, and why?
That’s a tough one, because I’ve naturally had countless weddings and couples that I’ve genuinely loved to photograph.
I guess one that comes to mind immediately is back in 2013. Just before the wedding, it was made known that the bride-to-be was terminally ill. Gut-wrenching. A complete shock; no less so than because of how well she appeared, but because of all the reasons that rush through your head. That this lovely person you’ve just met doesn’t have much time left. That this wedding may be some of the last (and best) memories they have together as a couple and family. That it’s so important that I capture it authentically and find the moments that will mean the most to them. That these images will genuinely bring back the memories of that day and the people that made it, when they’re no longer around….
It became a moment of realisation. The atmosphere was fantastic on the day, and it went very smoothly. It was just like any other wedding in many ways; full of the uniqueness of that day and the situations that occurred. It wasn’t thwarted by what might be. It’s something I take forward in life and with my work: to throw yourself into the moment and live it fully.
Can you tell us why you think wedding photography is worth the investment?
You need to be someone who loves experiencing and sharing life with others. And wants something to remember that by.
Finally, if you weren’t a wedding photographer, what would you be?
I love creating and making things, so probably an artist in some other fashion.