I emerged on the scene as a birth photographer six years ago when a dear friend asked if I would document the birth of her first child.
I still remember waking my husband up at 3am after getting home and telling him I found my passion.
It wasn’t witnessing and photographing a birth, per se, but the space it gave me to sink completely into a scene like a shadow on a wall. I found myself surrounded by unprompted emotions: tears, laughter, excitement.
Birth stories seemed to have it all. No one was asking me where to stand, if their hair looked okay, or if I could clone out a stain on their shirt.
The space was an open book begging to be read.
I documented birth stories almost exclusively until the demands of being on-call became too much and I knew a major change had to happen.
As I began to brainstorm what it was about photography that I was drawn to, I discovered weddings had all the same characteristics as births: once-in-a-lifetime-moments, emotions, and community, to name a few, but without the on-call lifestyle.
I had previously thought weddings were formal, stiff, and, well, planned. Everything had a slot on a timeline and the photographer was forced into following along. I didn’t want to move from my “open book” to pre-scripted weddings and had to think about how I was going to take what I learned in births and build a whole new business.
Can you be a photojournalistic wedding photographer?
What does that look like when brides expect family portraits, bridal party shots, and images of their dress hanging in the the tree outside?
What I want to share with you, dear photographer, is how I took what I had learned within the genre of documentary birth photography and created a unique approach to my wedding stories that allowed me to transition my business quickly and effectively.
First, I had to allow myself to enjoy portraits again.
That probably sounds a bit backwards to most photographers who may be transitioning from being primarily a portrait photographer to more of a documentary approach, but I had spent five years building my business around NOT being seen or heard and I was now taking my work into a largely portrait-driven world.
No matter which way you need to grow, portrait or documentary, the first step is to invest time to learn and gain new skills. For me, that meant studying the work of photographers I respected, going to conferences, and taking online courses. Photography should be a process of never-ending growth.
Second, I created a vision for myself, not only of who I am, but who I wanted to be.
For my business, that meant capturing documentary moments, or what I call “honest moments,” and portraits, my “killer portraits,” and forming my business’ mission statement.
From the moment clients enter my website, they can see and read my mission. It’s depicted in words, through images, in my welcome guide, and I write it in every email.
Third, and most critical, I had to acquire the gear to document weddings.
As a birth photographer, I almost exclusively used a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and 35mm lens, but weddings required both me and my gear to be more flexible.
I began photographing birth and weddings with the following gear:
For about 99% of a wedding, you can find the 35mm and the 50mm lens on each of my cameras. While I have upgraded my 50mm this past year, this is the same combo I used in birth photography!
Then over the next two years I would add the following to my bag:
The 35mm is wide enough that I can take a step back and give the viewer a sense of the environment, but it also has the perfect amount of distortion that makes the viewer feel like they are in the moment.
Looking at that scene above with the bridesmaids and bride, you can see there wasn’t space to move around the bridal party. The 50mm allowed me to get detail shots without having to move where I was, or ask a bridesmaid to step away.
It’s perfect for times when my presence may interrupt an intimate moment.
My 16-35mm and tilt-shift lenses allow me to be creative in my wedding work. I love the time I have alone with my clients to just dream up new, unexpected ways to create a killer portrait and these lenses have been major game changers!
I have been wonderfully surprised at how easy it has been to take what I learned from birth photography and transition my business to weddings, truly creating a business consistent with my vision.
If you are just beginning as a wedding photographer, or looking to incorporate more of a documentary approach, start by making your message clear, knowing what you’re going to do if and when your clients ask for portraits, and understanding your gear and how it can help share the different aspects of a wedding story.
Finally, enjoy the process!
Words & photos by Courtney Larson, member of the Click Canon 12