We actually get asked this a lot, so I though I’d address it directly. I will explain my normal response in a moment, bear with me.
When a bride or potential client asks this question, they aren’t really asking what MY style is, they are asking what style I emulate. Right now, there are two major styles, “Light and Airy” and “Dark and Moody”. I’ll be honest right here, they aren’t styles of photography, they are styles of editing, and even that is dubious. More on that in a bit too!
I’m not one for being pigeonholed or put in a corner. I don’t generally follow trends or what the hipsters are doing. I’ve been a wedding photographer for a very, very long time, much longer than all these “style” monikers have existed. In truth, they’re all bulls*$t, just labels, and bad ones at that.
Allow me to explain my stance…
“Light and Airy”. Today, the light and airy “style” is normally represented by undersaturated, pastel colors with very bright highlights. Generally speaking, many would consider these to look very much like what a cell phone creates, due to their limited dynamic range and lack of specialized lights, use of light modifiers, etc. Subjects in these images must be brightened so much when the photo is created outside that skies tend to “blow out” or overexpose. White items (wedding dresses, *cough cough*) also tend to be overexposed, losing detail. This style came about largely due to the ubiquitous use of cell phones for photos and the ensuing plethora of photographers who “bought a nice camera” and started shooting for money the very same things people did with cell phones. They used the simplest methods, normally auto modes on the cameras, since that’s what cell phones do too, and as a result, blew out skies and dresses and created the “light and airy” look. Most practitioners of this look claim to be “natural light” photographers since that’s pretty much how it’s created. At it’s core, it is the simplest method of photography you can do. Anyone can simulate this style with what they carry in their pocket, a cell phone. As you can tell, I’m not impressed by it… to me, it’s the lazy way to be a photographer, as it requires no real thought to exposure, throws away valuable detail (wedding dress, hello?), and offers no real punch or creativity to the images. They all tend to look the same after a while, even between different photographers, and why is that? The camera is doing the heavy lifting and the photographers are leaving most of the choices to the camera. Well, camera and cell phone makers use pretty similar methods for autoexposure systems (not to say they are all the same, but all produce similar results) so it’s no surprise that most of the “light and airy” photos with different cameras by different photographers look pretty much the same. Now… there are many photographers out there who shoot this way and do it well. They keep details in the images and choose to expose to gain this look. I’m not really talking about them here. They are taking control of their photos and creating a look, not just letting it happen.
Then there is “Dark and Moody”. I like this marginally better than light and airy, and it requires a bit more experience and knowledge by the photographer, but not much. The look is characterized by “crushed blacks” and very undersaturated warm skin tones. Again, it’s more of a natural light look and the one thing that bothers me most about it is… normally it is achieved by pushing a button. Yes, it’s automated. Sure, the photographer may tweak it a bit, and I pray they do, but most times it’s just a preset applied in Lightroom or whatever image processing program they choose to use. What’s a preset? Glad you asked! It’s a set of parameters applied to an image that changes the look. Think Instagram filters. Same thing. The only real advantage I see with this look is that dresses usually maintain details. This comes at a cost to shadows though. I love a good deep dark shadow as much as the next photographer, but…. when shadows are just inky voids with no details at all? Not so much. Again, many practitioners of this style use auto modes and rarely stray from them, possibly for lack of understanding them. Again, just as above, there are photographers out there who have mastered this look and do it well. They don’t just slap a preset on and call it a day. They intentionally edit to this look and each does it their own way.
There’s also a “natural” style out there, that to me is just a renamed light and airy as I see no real difference!
Let me explain about auto modes… much like your cell phone, even those big honking professional cameras have auto modes where the camera does everything for you. Many, many photographers use these modes all the time. Now… tools being tools, all modes on a camera are useful at some point. It’s the always using auto and not understanding why that bothers me. No, I am not one of those photographers that believes if you don’t shoot in “all manual” you can’t be a pro, but I do believe you should be ABLE to shoot in all manual if you are being paid to take those photos. It’s about understanding and choice. I can use auto modes and override when I think the camera is getting it wrong. I can also just shoot in manual and make the choices myself. If you don’t understand how these things work… you’re just flying blind.
An example! How many times have you taken a photo with your cell phone, looked at it, not liked “how it came out” and taken the same shot again and again? Let me give you a definition here (insert tongue firmly in cheek)
Insanity: doing the same action over and over again, expecting a different result.
I can’t tell you how many people at weddings take dozens of shots of the same scene, and every one of them is horrible (due to the system limitations in the camera for exposure) and yet, they keep snapping away hoping one will magically come out good! I’ve yet to see it happen. The autoexposure systems work wonderfully well in good light, and in soft lighting conditions, like cloudy days, shade, etc. That’s why most “light and airy” photographers only shoot during golden hour or in the shade. Not to say I don’t prefer those too, but… I can shoot anywhere and get a great result.
Situations where autoexposure fails:
Very brightly backlit. Such as… standing with the sun to the subject’s back. Like at the beach, if you want the sun and the water in the shot…. a cell phone or auto mode ain’t gonna cut it. Well… it can, but the sky will be white most likely and have none of that classic sunset look.
Mixed color lighting. Think daylight and light bulbs in the same shot. Colors get… strange.
Too dark. That tiny sensor just can’t keep up, and even with a big pro camera, they are tricked into bad exposure settings easily.
Too bright. Same idea as too dark, they get tricked.
Extreme contrast. Think standing with the sun to the subject’s left or right. Half of them is lit, the other half isn’t…. not a good look for people.
Okay… so I’ve pretty much trashed “styles” as we know them today for Wedding Photography right? Well… not really.
What is my style? I can hear you asking!
When people ask me that, I say, “I can put any label or name you want on it, but it won’t change the images. Do you LIKE my photographs? Then you like my style.”.
A style isn’t “preset #42”, it isn’t “blow out the sky”, it isn’t “I shoot everything bright”. A style cannot be described in so few words. A style is a buildup of years of experience forming habits, trends and recognizable unique qualities to one’s images. This can range from the technical to the psychological to the emotional. A style is unique to each photographer and not easily changed nor duplicated. It is comprised of the wealth of their experiences in life and their personal journey to your wedding day. A style isn’t something you can just put a label on and group photographers into so easily.
So what’s my style?