HOW I BECOME A WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER
Travelling the world, working with celebrities and my Grandad’s camera – A personal story about becoming a wedding photographer by Wes Simpson
Call it fate or what you will, but I never set out to become a wedding photographer, however that’s the power of visualisation and attraction. I would describe myself as a photographer interested in people, not just a wedding photographer. My first memory of photography was playing with my Grandad’s old Olympus 10, a film camera that was left to me in his will after his passing when I was 8 years old. Looking back this now makes perfect sense.
Growing up I was always visually creative; colouring 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; travel and photography. This came about by gaining employment for Carnival Cruise Lines in Miami, USA as an onboard photographer (the guy who takes a picture of you holding a lizard in Mexico whilst wearing a sombrero – that was me).
Travelling the Caribbean as a cruise ship photographer was a great life experience, not only did I gain practical and technical knowledge of photography but the confidence and education of working with a variety of people has helped shape my view of the world.
TELIVISION CAMERA OPERATOR
Returning home to the UK, I applied for an apprenticeship and trained in the Camera Department with the BBC before gaining employment with Channel 4’s Brookside as a camera assistant/operator. The training and valuable work experience led to a successful freelance career of more than 10 years working in the media industry. I worked on national well known TV shows such as Hollyoaks and Shameless with highlights of working with rock group U2 on a documentary for ITV and on feature films such as Alfie starting Jude Law, 51st State staring Samuel L Jackson and Danny Boyle’s Millions (read more here).
My interest in ‘celebrity documentary style photography’ came by chance through freelance 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 has 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. 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 it’s functions/ settings and I got creative with photography. Through my work opportunities I was gaining access as a celebrity photographer and I photographed music icon’s such Paul Weller, Pink and Morrissey. Due to the travel that was involved via my work opportunities I found that I was taking pictures at every opportunity. This lead to me taking an interest in street style photography because I was taking photos everywhere I went and wherever I wasn’t working I was organising test shoots and photographing models and actors in my spare time.
I remember, all I was interested in shooting and producing at the time was a wide mix of black and white images that were inspired by the classic, behind-the-scenes-styles of photographic 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 and the works of Herb Ritts and Cartier Bression. Then on to slightly newer photographers such as Mario Testino, Vincent Peters and the iconic advertisement commercial images of Calvin Klein and Guess jeans featuring Kate Moss and Cindy Crawford to name a few.
BECOMING A WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER
It is 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 freelance in the media industry. 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 cousin’s 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 use 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.
MY FIRST WEDDING AS A PHOTOGRAPHER
Armed with my Granddad’s old Olympus OM10 camera, together with a hired digital Canon 20D and some basic equipment I attended the wedding. If I’m honest, my method for 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 photographer’s 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 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 any way.
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 from 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 photographer’s 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 into Lime Pictures/Mersey TV – the producers of Hollyoaks.
I had very little savings at the time! Therefore, 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.
STARTING A WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESS
Artistically, developing my own unique style and approach to wedding photography 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 led to me traveling as far as Italy, visiting a printing and production factory; to see for myself the manufacturing and quality first hand.
WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY – CREATING A BRAND
Over the years, my style and approach to wedding photography has evolved, but I guess (and due to my background) 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 Magazines such as HELLO! (read more here).
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 with 10 years experience, coupled with my education and understanding of body language I believe my skill as a photographer is my ability to see an ordinary moments as extraordinary images.
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 hit me up on social media to find out about my tuition and workshops.