From being in an unsigned band, to learning about gig photography, Tony Hart’s journey into wedding photography is an interesting one. He shares his insight and how he finds the moments which are personal to each wedding day
How would you describe your style of photography?
I consider myself to be a narrative photographer. My aim is to tell a story through pictures to document the day. Most of my clients like to set aside some time for portraits and group photographs during the wedding day and they’re both hugely important, but primarily my approach to a wedding is to observe the day through a camera in a real, yet sympathetic manner. This means hands off and no direction, as I prefer to let events play out as naturally as possible. Someone once said to me that I am a ‘professional spectator’ and, while it might sound like a backhanded compliment, I quite like the description.
How did you start out in wedding photography?
I used to be involved with an unsigned band and, while it was a passion project that eventually fizzled out, it also fostered my interest in photography. I was doing heaps of promo and gig photography, and learning a lot. Around the same time, via my day job, I met a prodigiously gifted press photographer called Kieran Doherty. Kieran taught me a huge amount and at that time was also shooting some weddings himself. I had a background in web development and Kieran needed a website so there was a mutual exchange of skills and knowledge. After photographing a friend’s wedding I decided that weddings were about as challenging and rewarding a photographic field as you could hope to work in and things pretty much went from there.
Who are your ideal clients?
My ideal clients are couples who love documentary photography and are happy to commit completely to the concept.
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.
The less obvious moments are almost the raison d’être of narrative/documentary photography. Sometimes it’s the least ‘iconic’ elements of a wedding day that tell the most sincere and captivating story. When you get away from the bride walking down the aisle and the first kiss you find the moments that are personal to each day. I love this image. It was taken shortly after the wedding ceremony – the flowergirl, in a world of her own, blissfully unaware of all the adults preoccupied with the celebration and civility. It is a moment that the bride and groom would otherwise never have seen, yet it tells its own story and presents things in a unique and individual light.
Photographers inject a lot of their personality into their work. What are your inspirations?
Years ago, just as I was getting into photography myself, I attended a wedding as a guest. The photographer was unbelievably intrusive. It was quite a large church and the photographer spent the ceremony within a few feet of the couple. That experience had a huge impact on my approach to wedding photography. It made me realise that while the outcome was important, the experience for the couple on the day is equally important. It ought to be possible, I thought, to photograph the day without making the photography itself dominate the day. That lesson has continually informed my work. I also draw a lot of inspiration from cinema. Compared to wedding photography, cinema is an incredibly controlled environment and this allows for superb lighting and considered composition. I love seeking out the same ingredients during a wedding day.
How far in advance should couples book you? Is there a chance of getting you last minute?
There’s sometimes a chance of booking me last minute. I shoot roughly 20 weddings a year, with a maximum of 25. I only cover one wedding per weekend, as I shoot until midnight as standard and often work 14-plus hours on a single wedding. That said the majority of my clients book approximately a year in advance and sometimes more. For peak dates, I strongly advise getting in touch sooner rather than later.
What’s the most challenging part of photographing a wedding?
Working with challenging light. A wedding is a live event and normally comprises a huge range of lighting situations, some of which are beautiful and some of which are downright horrendous. Because I take a narrative approach to photography my aim is always to capture the atmosphere of a scene, this generally means that I try to avoid modifying the ambient light excessively as I want to create images that look and feel like the day my clients remember. Sometimes, however, this raises challenges and you end up having to hunt for novel solutions to less-flattering light.
How can couples help to ensure the best work?
A sensible schedule is absolutely key. Documentary photography is about recording the day as it happens, but a detailed schedule really helps as it allows me to anticipate possible moments before they occur. Also, for group photographs and portraits it’s important to build in sufficient time at appropriate times of day.
What are the three most important questions for couples to ask their photographer?
1.” Can you explain how you operate on the day?” It’s important that couples have an understanding of what the process of being photographed will be like alongside an appreciation of what the final results are going to look like.
2. “Can we see an example of a full wedding?” Portfolios are great, but there’s nothing like a full set of delivered images for getting a sense of what a photographer’s work is like. You should ask to see a number of full weddings, ideally including one from a similar season and setting to you own wedding.
3. “Are all of our photographs edited to the same standard?” You’d be amazed at how many photographers only do the bare minimum of post production. Many simply do basic editing on the majority of the delivered images, only working more extensively on the images that end up on their blog or make it into your wedding album. Good editing is essential and can make a great photograph superb.
What’s your opinion on group shots – can you give us an example of yours?
Group shots are an essential part of most weddings. They’re often the photographs that are most important to parents and grandparents yet, if organised poorly they can have a detrimental effect on the day. It’s important that a list is prepared beforehand of exactly who is required and when. It’s also useful to designate a few members of the wedding party to help find anyone who is needed. I limit group photographs to a maximum of eight separate groups and suggest that couples focus on the wedding party and close family to ensure the key people are included without the groups taking an excessive amount of time.
In terms of trends, what do you think is the most interesting at the moment?
I actively try and avoid trends in my photography as I firmly believe that really great wedding photography should be inherently timeless. You don’t want to look back in 20 years and think, “oh my god, these look so 2016.”
That said, I love watching how things change over time in weddings as a whole. Sparkler departures are a perfect example. Five years ago they were barely heard of, yet now they’re a common feature of the end of night send-off. Great fun and tremendous to photograph.
What’s the most common misconception that you have to correct with couples? The thing you’d most like to communicate to the masses.
That great wedding photography, whether documentary or otherwise, doesn’t happen without proper consideration being given to light, situation and schedule. Documentary photography is not ‘turn up and see what happens’. Preparation and planning beforehand and proper editing after are both key to a strong end result.
What’s been your most memorable wedding to photograph, and why?
Shooting the wedding of my close friends Dan and Nicole on the North Cornish coast in 2011. It’s always very special photographing a wedding when you know the couple personally but Dan and Nicole’s was a particular standout. Dan is a photographer and Nicole an illustrator and they trusted me entirely. They didn’t want any group photographs or any portraits and this resulted in a strictly documentary approach throughout the day. They also asked for an entirely black and white edit which was a lot of fun as I adore black and white photography. This, coupled with the fact that they’re awesome people, meant their wedding was beautiful and the majestic setting made for something very memorable indeed.
Can you tell us why you think wedding photography is worth the investment?
Simple really. Photography has a unique ability to capture the best of moments in time and preserve them for the future. Given the amount of investment, planning, preparation and emotion that goes into it, a wedding is a remarkably transient thing. Once it’s all done and dusted, a first rate set of photographs to look back on – that really tell the story of the day – is truly invaluable.
Finally, if you weren’t a wedding photographer, what would you be?
I grew up wanting to be a pilot of some description so that certainly still appeals. If not that, perhaps a novelist!
Tony Hart Photo, Hartley Wintney, Hampshire.
Price range: £1700-£2500
07515 353 247