How I Became A Wedding Photographer
A personal story about my journey into wedding photography by Wes Simpson.
I believe that people ‘buy from people,’ and since you may be entrusting me with your wedding photography, I thought I’d share how I became a wedding photographer so that we can get to know each other better.
The below image was taken during my first ever wedding more than 12 years ago at Langdale Chase in the Lake District. Kerry the bride upon viewing the image said –
“Wow! Wes, you captured the true us!’
And, that one remark set me on my path to becoming a wedding photographer.
How I became a wedding photographer. My story…
My story of how I became a wedding photographer
Today, I’m proud to say that more than 450+ couples in over 10 countries have trusted me with their wedding photography and engagement memories.
But, at the time of photographing my first wedding I was still working as a cameraman on Television shows Hollyoaks and Shameless for channel 4.
Humbled by the comments from the first wedding that I photographed, I decided I wanted to share my knowledge and insights so that couples got real, meaningful, and powerful wedding images.
I believed that my background in the media industry together with a degree in body language had given me an incredible gift to be able to visualize an image in my mind before I’ve pressed the shutter.
Also, my knowledge and training on TV sets would enable me to photograph weddings in a ‘cinematic style.’ I believed that I could offer couples a new and modern take on wedding photography.
This unique skill and vision in later years seen me featured on TV as a ‘celebrity wedding photographer’ on the TV show Celebrity Wedding Planner.
My documentary style has also attracted attention from music stars, famous faces and Premiership footballers.
A few years ago, my natural style and ability to capture emotion caught the attention of the UK’s biggest-selling classical artist, opera star Russell Watson; who commissioned me to photograph his destination wedding.
This luxury wedding featured in a HELLO! Magazine and described as – “A Fairytale Wedding Album.” The wedding was later listed in the 50 most memorable celebrity weddings of the decade.
I have been nominated for Wedding Photographer of the Year for 4 years running at the National Wedding Awards and named in the Top 50 Wedding Photographers in England by GoHen and the Top 10 Destination Wedding Photographers by ZankYou.
How I became a wedding photographer has been a fantastic journey. And I’m proud to share with you how it all began…
Travel, education and cruise ship photography
I know this sounds like a cliche, and call it fate, but I never set out to become a wedding photographer.
It’s the classic story. My first memory of photography was playing with my Grandad’s old Olympus 10, a film camera that was later left to me in his will when I was 8 years old. Looking back, it 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.
I gained employment for Carnival Cruise Lines in Miami, USA, as a cruise-ship photographer (the guy who takes a picture of you holding a lizard in Mexico whilst wearing a sombrero – that was me).
BBC trained television camera man
Returning home to the UK, I applied for an apprenticeship with the BBC and trained in the Camera Department as a clapper loader and focus puller before gaining employment on Channel 4’s Brookside as a camera assistant/operator.
This training and work experience led to a successful freelance career of more than 10 years. I worked on well-known TV shows such as Hollyoaks and Shameless with highlights of working with rock group U2 and on feature films, Alfie starring Jude Law and 51st State starring Samuel L Jackson.
My interest in ‘documentary photography’ came via work opportunities. Due to the places that I was travelling, and the people I was meeting I found that I was taking pictures at every opportunity.
During this time I got the opportunity to photograph celebrities such as Pink, Morrissey, Paul Weller, opera singer Russell Watson and rock group U2.
I remember all that I was photographing at the time was a mix of black and white images that were inspired by the classic, behind-the-scene style of photographic images that you see in old magazines from the world of music, fashion and cinema.
The style of photography that has always fascinated me (and still does to this day), are iconic images such as Marilyn Monroe’s ‘Flying Skirt.’ And as I was travelling a lot with work I would take street style photography in my spare time of all the places I visited.
For a number of years, my career took a slide step when I gained employment in the role of a personal assistant to the Opera singer Russell Watson.
This was a uniquely privileged position that saw me travel the Globe with Mr Watson during the twilight years of his career, this included the production and promotion of x3 multi-platinum albums and two world tours.
These experiences would later greatly influence how I became a wedding photographer.
How I became 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.
I was struggling with living out of a suitcase, long hours and the uncertainty of working freelance in the media industry and I was looking for a change of direction.
Call it fate or what you will, but that summer impacted how I became a wedding photographer. 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. Their wedding was at a beautiful location called Langdale Chase in the Lake District.
Because I worked in TV and he know that I was looking for a new direction and career opportunities, Darren suggested I photograph his wedding.
Even though I knew my way around a camera, I was very nervous. I was used to having the security of being able to say, “take 2, take 3” etc, on the film set and 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.
Photographing my first wedding
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. I simply followed the photographer around all morning.
I now understand this was a rude and irritating thing to have done. In the wedding photography industry, this is called “Uncle Bob!”
Hanging on the photographer’s shoulder, I was posed to taking similar traditional style wedding pictures as the pro. After all, at the time, that is what I thought wedding photography was. Traditional.
This approach soon got a little bit boring for me and I wasn’t enthusiastic 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 guess this was the moment of “How I became a wedding photographer,”
I was watching the photographer from afar whilst soaking up the atmosphere of the celebrations. The photographer was doing a great job of organising people and posing them whilst taking classic portraits.
For me, this just didn’t seem real or authentic. I felt it wasn’t a true reflection of the couple or the day. And It was kind of boring.
At that moment, I noticed that “the real story of the day” 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 wedding in a more ‘documentary way.’
Instinctively, I started photographing and framing my images as I did on television shows. Like the camera wasn’t present. This enabled me to capture all the real and natural moments that the ‘pro photographer’ was missing.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this would later become my style of photography and what is known as “documentary photography.”
Useful link: What Is Documentary Wedding Photography.
A Wedding Photography Career Was Calling!
After the wedding, I presented the couple with a collection of images from the day and the following afternoon, Kerry the bride called me and said –
“WOW, Wes I just want to say, you really captured ‘US’. Your photographs are real and tell a better story than the photographer we hired, you’ve got something here, something different… a gift!”
This statement opened my eyes to the joys of wedding photography. And that was the goosebump moment of How I Became a Wedding Photographer.
So the following weekend, my Mum, with a 100% conviction and belief, agreed to sign a 12-month finance deal for a camera on my behalf.
We went to Jessop’s, the Camera shop in Liverpool for my first ever ‘semi-professional camera.’ The camera was Canon 20D complete with two lenses. 24-70mm and 70-200mm lens.
The following Monday morning I set up Wes Simpson Photography – with an aim to set a new standard of quality and experience for the wedding photography sector in my region.
Starting a wedding photography business
How I became a wedding photographer – Artistically, developing my own unique style and approach to wedding photography was important. From early on, I heavily invested in education and attended photography workshops.
Attending photography workshops had a massive impact on how I became a wedding photographer. Not only did this help to inspire and educate me but it opened my eyes to the possibilities of different styles, theories and methods of professional wedding photography.
During the first few years of my wedding photography business, all my time, energy and money went into researching and developing my brand. Logos and websites came and went and I made mistakes along the way.
It’s always been important to me that the quality of the products that I offer my customer reflects the quality of my work.
So when it came to researching wedding album suppliers, I went to Italy and visited the factory of the world’s best album manufacturer to see first-hand how the albums are made.
Wedding photography and creating a brand
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’m proud to say that more than 400+ couples in over 10 countries have trusted me with their wedding photography.
I’ve been a Wedding Photographer Of The Year finalist for four years running at The English Wedding Awards and photographed celebrity weddings, Premiership footballers and music icons.
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).
Away from wedding photography, I have set up a Marketing and Branding company called BrandPal. I help photographers and creative business clarify their message, strengthen their brand and get the customers they want.
I hope you enjoyed the story of how I became a wedding photographer. Please feel free to follow my socials. Mention that you have read my story for extra credit ;-)
Contact me today to be your wedding photographer or if you are interested in photography tuition. I offer one to one training, workshops support for photographers.