A look back at how I became a Wedding Photographer:
My first ever wedding and finding my way in the industry.
By Wes Simpson.
Growing up I was always visually creative, coloring and painting as a child naturally lead to an Art and Communications Degree with my first photography job coming when I set my sights on combining two of my greatest passions, which are travel and photography by gaining employment for Carnival Cruise Lines in Miami as an on board photographer (the guy who takes a picture of you holding a lizard in Mexico whilst wearing a sombrero, that was me).
Returning home I trained in the Camera Department with the BBC before gaining employment with Channel 4’s Brookside as a camera assistant/operator, which led to a successful freelance career of more than 10 years, working on TV shows such as Hollyoaks and Shameless with highlights of working with rock group U2 and on feature films Alfie, 51st State and Danny Boyle’s Millions.
My interest in ‘documentary style photography’ came by chance through employment for more than five years as a Personal Assistant to the UK’s biggest selling classical artist – Russell ‘the voice’ Watson. This was a uniquely privileged position that seen me travel the globe with Mr. Watson; through involvement in the promotion of three platinum selling albums (Encore, Reprise and Amore Musica) together with a world tour and performances for high profile celebrities, world leaders, Kings and Queens… It was truly a crazy time… and one that needed documenting for prosperity, promotion and for my own ‘pinch myself moments’.
For the next couple of years my camera never left my side as I slowly started to understand my camera and get creative with photography. I remember, all I was shooting and producing at the time was a wide mix of Black and White images that where inspired by the classic, behind the scenes styles of photography images that you see in old magazines from the world of music, fashion and cinema. This is the style of photography that had always fascinated me (and still does to this day). Iconic images such as Marilyn Monroe’s ‘Flying Skirt’ by Sam Shaw, ‘4 Days in New York’ by Ed Feingersh. The works of Herb Ritts, Cartier Bression and then on to slightly newer guys such as Mario Testino and my favourite photographer Vincent Peters.
So it’s now 2006 and I’ve returned home to Lancashire; after long trips to New York and Japan I find I have time on my hands to reflect on both my work and personal life. My time working with Russell Watson has come to an end and I’ve started to fall out of love with living out of a suitcase and the long hours and uncertainty that goes with working in the media industry. Lost and confused I return to working in the Camera Department of Mersey TV/Lime Pictures on the production of Channel 4’s Hollyoaks.
Call it fate or what you will, but that summer I was invited to attend five weddings as a guest, the first and only time that has ever happened in one year!
First up was my cousins wedding; Darren and Kerry’s big day which was to be held at the beautiful Langdale Chase in the Lake District. As I was looking for a new direction and career opportunities, Darren suggested I photograph their wedding.
Even though I knew my way around a camera I was very nervous as I was used to the security of being able to say “take 2, take 3” etc, on the film set. You don’t get that luxury with a real life wedding, however the pressure was lifted as they had booked a full time wedding photographer and I was only asked to take additional pictures to compliment the day.
Armed with my Granddad’s old Olympus OM10 camera, which is a film camera, together with a hired digital Canon 20D, and some basic equipment I attended the wedding. If i’m honest, my method to capturing the day was really bad. To start with, I just followed the professional photographer around for the morning (I now understand this was quite a rude and irritating thing to have done). Hanging on the photographers shoulder, I was posed to taking similar traditional styles of wedding pictures to her… after all, at the time, that is what I thought wedding photography was!
This approach soon got a little bit boring for me and it deffenetly didn’t get my creative juices flowing as i’d hoped. More importantly, I felt that those types of photographs didn’t represent the couple or the story of the event in anyway.
Moving forward, it’s now early afternoon, the wedding ceremony had gone really well and I had a collection of pictures in the bag, so I decided to step back from the action, I was watching the photographer from afar whilst soaking up the atmosphere of the celebration. What I witnessed/thought in the next few moments changed my life and career path form there on in. I noticed the photographer was doing a great job of lining all the ‘jolly’ people up and posing them in nice shapes and lines and then taking classic posed portraits of the Bride and Groom, but for me, this just didn’t seem real or authentic. I felt it wasn’t a true reflection of the couple and it wasn’t a true representation of the story of the day. The real story was happening BEHIND the photographers back as she was ‘manufacturing’ her interpretation of what the day should look like.
I thought to myself, there isn’t any point in me taking similar shots to the photographer, so I started photographing the event in a more ‘documentary’ way, framing my images like I did on television shows and capturing all the real and natural moments as the stories unfolded before me.
After the wedding I presented the couple with a set of images and the following day, Kerry the Bride called me and said “WOW, Wes I just want to say, you really captured ‘US’, your photographs are more real and tell better stories than the photographer we hired, you’ve got something here, something different… a gift!”.
This statement truly lifted me and opened my eyes to the joys of wedding photography. So the following Monday morning and without a second thought, I handed my notice in to Lime Pictures/Mersey TV – the producers of Hollyoaks.
I had very little savings at the time, in fact I was skint! So the following weekend my Mum, with a 100% conviction and belief agreed to sign a 12-month finance deal on my behalf from Jessop’s, the Camera shop in Liverpool for my first ever ‘semi professional camera’, which was a Canon 20D complete with 24-70mm and 70-200mm lens. The following Monday morning I set up Wes Simpson Photography – with an aim to challenge the status-quo and set a new standard of quality and experience for the wedding photography sector in my region.
Artistically; developing my own unique style and approach was important to me. From early on, I heavily invested in education and photography workshops, this meant traveling to places such as Venice, Italy, in-order to study the works of industry leaders such as Adam Alex, Jerry Ghionis and Joe Bussink. Attending these workshops helped inspire and educate me and opened my eyes to the possibilities of different styles, theories and methods of professional creative wedding photography.
The first few years was fun but also a struggle, as all my time, energy and money went into researching and developing my brand. New logos and websites came and went (some of which sucked). However, It’s always been important to me that the quality of the products I offer my customers, reflects the aspirations and quality of my work. So I made an effort to source and provide my customers with the best Wedding Albums on the market. This lead to me traveling as far as Italy, visiting a printing and production factory; to see for myself the manufacturing and quality first hand.
Over the years my style and approach to wedding photography has evolved, but I guess there has always been an undeniable cinematic quality to my work, its very story driven due to my documentary approach and a little voyeuristic at times, but this helps produce authentic soulful images and truly unique wedding stories.
The thing I love most about Wedding Photography, is that it has tremendous power and emotional value. It can soften hearts, strengthen relationships and it can bring people together.
Today a lot of my work comes from word of mouth and recommendation. I am extremely grateful to be able to call myself a UK and Destination Wedding Photographer. I have won multiple awards and i’m humbled to have seen my work featured in Celebrity Magazine such as HELLO! Read more in the ABOUT WES section.
Moving forward, I would like to continue to develop as an artist, to be independent, have dreams and inspire people. I believe the art of creative documentary photography is anticipation and after 10 years, I am starting to read the signs ;-)
Thank you for taking the time to read my story, I hope you found it interesting and hopefully a little inspiring. For me, authentic wedding photography isn’t about the perfect picture, but capturing the perfect moments. I exclusively photograph up to 20 weddings a year, which I accept on a first come, first serve basis. If you’re getting married and want to collectively produce wedding memories to be proud of, I would be honoured to work with you. If you’re a photographer or aspiring photographer interested in tuition, hit me up on Facebook or contact me here.