With wedding season right around the corner, we thought it would be a great time to chat to documentary wedding photographer Kevin Mullins to find out more about his shooting style and his advice for those starting out in the business...
How do you describe documentary or reportage wedding photography to others?
To me, documentary wedding photography is all about capturing the story. The story manifests itself through emotion, through touch, through eye contact. Every wedding has a story that can be told through the medium of images. No words are required - just a series of strong photographs that return the subject, the viewer and the bride and groom back to that very moment in time.
Group shots and formal photography will always be part of weddings and there are many wonderful photographers out there who shoot those, but for me the fabric of the wedding is in the story unfolding and my job is to weave that into a tangible visual folio that will stand the test of time.
What is it you enjoy the most about photographing weddings in this style?
The freedom. I am 100% free to roam and document. I’m not shackled by must-have shots or lists of people whom I need to make sure I get a portrait of. My clients fully embrace the documentary style of photography and for both myself and them, I like to essentially be seen as another guest at the wedding.
I’m not a fan of editing to be honest, but I do love seeing the final product. Whether that is an online slideshow or a gorgeous Jorgensen album.
It’s a very satisfying career that offers me the ability to spend a lot of time with the family during the week, as well as be my own boss throughout the year.
When you were developing your skills as a wedding photographer, what piece of gear really helped you take your photography to the next level?
In the early days I invested in a Canon 85mm f/1.2 lens. It’s a beast of a lens with wonderful optics. It’s heavy and peculiarly slow to focus. However, I've learnt to use it and learnt to love it and even now, whilst I’m migrating to Mirrorless systems, I still use the lens a lot.
The demands that the 85mm lens put on me meant I had to ensure my photographs were composed and exposed properly (or as well as possible). It doesn't take any prisoners and I’m glad I used it heavily in the early days as it’s partly defined my style.
You’re a big fan of the Fuji X-series – particularly the X100 & X-Pro1 cameras - how have they changed the way you work?
They have changed things massively. The X-Pro1 specifically and more recently the X100S too. They are light and produce amazing quality images, even at elevated ISO levels.
As a documentary photographer, I can go about my business of storytelling through the medium of candids with the Fuji X series of cameras and there's less chance of interfering with the scene before me.
What’s your favourite lens to shoot with for wedding photography and why?
Presently it’s the Fujinon XF-35mm 1.4 R. It’s a beautiful optic and with the latest firmware for both the X-Pro1 and the lens, the focusing speed is greatly enhanced.
In fact, I've adopted a mechanism of Manual Focus and back button focusing (note: you can read about it on Kevin's blog here), which has really aided the way I work with this combination.
The sheer weight, coupled with the image quality and high ISO support makes the lens a must have from a reportage photographer's point of view.
When it comes to wedding photography, are there any compositional ‘rules’ that you find useful?
I try and adhere to the rule of thirds wherever possible, but as a photographer who aims to capture the 'moment', sometimes the composition has to be compromised to get the photograph.
I’m a fan of natural back lighting to create silhouettes and will often shoot from very low down, up into the subject to achieve these types of images.
What software or workflow tools were game-changers for you when you were starting out as a wedding photogapher?
In the beginning my workflow was awful. It would take a week or more to edit a wedding and there is no way a wedding photographer can be profitable and do that.
The tool that changed the way I work the most was Photo Mechanic by Camera Bits. This shaved multiple hours of my image selection process.
Once I have my selections, all the images are corrected (if needed) in Lightroom. I've used Lightroom from version 1 right the way to the latest 4.4 and I've watched it mature into a must-have tool for any wedding photographer.
My black and whites are still all done in Photoshop, but I’m hoping with the evolution of Lightroom (and recent version 5 public beta they've released) that soon I will be able to achieve the look I want directly within Lightroom.
Backing up (several times over) is important for any photographer, but especially so for those photographing once-in-a-lifetime events like weddings! Do you have any tips, tools or techniques for streamlining the process?
Does the perfect backup routine exist? I’m not sure but I think mine is fairly tight:
- After the wedding I back the cards up to an HDD at home.
- At the studio those cards are backed up to two separate devices.
- A small jpg version of each image is uploaded to cloud storage (I use Microsoft Skydrive).
- Once the edit is complete, I upload the full size JPGs to my Zenfolio cloud space.
This way I have a copy of the originals at home, in the studio and in the cloud.
Any other advice you’d like to share for those just starting out in the wedding photography business?
My biggest concern for the industry is the amount of new photographers who are starting out without the understanding of what it entails.
The Wedding Photography Business is first and foremost a business. You’ll need insurance, high end gear, back up gear (plenty of it) and understanding of that gear. You should also look at how much all that costs, compared to what you charge. Of course, we all start somewhere and I shot a free wedding at the beginning, but then I looked at my costs (including all of the above) and priced myself to maintain an ongoing business.
Cash-in-hand money on a Saturday is going to lead to stressful weddings with stressed clients and stressed photographers.
Honestly, it’s a great industry to be in and a wonderful business to run, but try to do it right. There is no fast track to earning £100,000 a year, you will get rewarded by playing by the laws of the land and sheer hard work.
It’s worth it in the end to do it the right way.
About the Author
Kevin Mullins is a Documentary Wedding Photographer and you can see more of his work by visiting: http://www.kevinmullinsphotography.co.uk