This week I welcome Simon Mark Whitten. Simon has been a photographer I have admired since starting my wedding photography business 3 years ago. He is definitely one of the UK's best and his work shouts out photojournalism. He lives in North Yorkshire with his wife Julie and daughter Honey and has been a full time wedding photographer for 8 years, covering over 300 + weddings around the planet. He is definitely one of a handful of UK photographers taking wedding photography to a whole new level. The interview is full of information and stunning imagery. Enjoy it and remember that comments are greatly appreciated.
I want to thank everybody who has subscribed to the blog and continues to leave comments. The stat counter has now reached over 56,000 and new subscribers are pouring in. I'm glad everybody is enjoying the interviews and hopefully you are getting inspired and learning things to help take your photography and business to the next level. The emails I'm getting from people all over the world are awesome, thank you so much for your support. It really makes all the time and effort worthwhile. The interviews do take a lot of my time and now with a little one on the way and a full wedding schedule for this year it's going to get even crazier. But I promise to continue with the interviews as I truly enjoy doing them. If you have any suggestions regarding the interviews email me.
Okay, on with the interview.
Tell us a little bit about yourself – Personally, I'm rather boring.
Where is home? I live with my wife Julie and 4-year-old daughter Honey on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park.
If you could live anywhere on this awesome planet where would you build your dream home? Other than where I do now, probably France.
What is your current state of mind before we start the interview? Optimistic and ever so slightly flippant. Normal then.
Did you go to school to study photography? Yes, - 5 years...although I didn't exclusively study photography, but also graphic design, fine art, art history, film studies and alcohol consumption. I spent 2 years at college in Harrogate and 3 years at Uni in Kent (Maidstone).
How long have you been a photographer? Professionally, 8 years.
How long have you been a wedding photographer? 8 years.
Who or what got you started in wedding photography? By 'accident'. I was looking for something else photographically to pay the bills whilst I developed my landscape photography business.
One totally took over the other...
How would you describe your style? Difficult to put into words as such, but I'd describe it as a fusion of photo-documentary (as that's how I work 90% plus of the time) with a small amount of lightly directed scenarios.
How many weddings do you average per year? I used to do 50 a year until 2004, but then cut it back closer to 40 when my daughter was born. I now average about 35 a year and I'm happy at that.
Do you have some recent wedding images you can share with us?
What type of cameras do you shoot with? A Nikon D3 with a D300 as a second body. I shoot around 90% though with just the one camera.
What is your favourite photography accessory, other than your camera? None, - I don't use any, just camera, lens and if necessary, flash.
If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why? 24-70 F2.8 because I could easily shoot an entire wedding with it (and almost do).
What lighting equipment do you take on a shoot? SB-800 and whatever is provided naturally and artificially.
Can you describe how and when you use flash, video light, reflectors and natural light during a wedding? I use 'natural' (and by that I mean natural plus any artificial if indoors) as much as possible without adding to or altering it. I currently do not use video light and have no intention of, or off-camera flash, or reflectors....or anything else other than occasional bounced flash if absolutely necessary (maybe drinks reception inside, speeches, first dances). Why? Quite simply because I work in a mainly documentary nature with little or no time (or inclination) to do anything other than capture what's available.
What is your favourite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer? My eyes and brain.
What is your most used Photoshop tool, plug-in, action set etc.? Probably Kevin Kubota actions...as they are the only one's I have!!
How important is Photoshop in your final images? Very. My camera is set up a very specific way for the 'raw' capture, but it's in the processing that I achieve the specific look that I'm after.
I'm a Mac freak. Are you a Mac or PC lover? I'm not a 'techy' person and don't much care, - just as long as it does the job. Currently that job is being done by a PC.
Do you plan on buying any new equipment and if so what do you have your eyes on? Can't think of a single thing that I need, but wouldn't mind the new Leica when it comes out simply because people will then know that I'm serious. Definitely. (That's a joke by the way...).
I finally feel I have mastered my Crash-Art workflow, can you briefly describe for the readers your photographic workflow after a wedding? I download and back up immediately and then pretty much get to work on selecting the images ASAP while it's all still fresh in my mind. I've specifically shot many of the days images with a particular reason and don't want to be distracted by another wedding otherwise it breaks the flow. I typically come back with around 750 images, though with various repeats and alternatives, the reality is more like 150-250 with approx 200 being the average. All these images (the 150-250) are immediately turned into an album design and edited accordingly. Noticed the order of that editing comment? Album design first and then images edited, but that's because my clients do not make their own image selections but sign off a finished design. I think trying to design an album based on someone else's (even the clients) choices compromises what is ultimately possible.
At Crash Taylor Photography we use Queensberry albums, what wedding albums do you supply your clients with and do you design them yourself or outsource the design? I also exclusively use Queensberry albums and have done for the last 7 years. I've dabbled with others, but ultimately no one else comes close in my opinion. I don't outsource anything but the actual print and production as album design and individual picture editing is as an integral part of the process to me of the whole 'wedding photography' thing as the actual act of capturing the raw footage.
How do you feel about cropping an image? I mostly crop images in my head before I've taken the shot by
pre-visualising each and every shot. I'm not talking so much about candid grabbed shots, but pretty much everything else, - I'm always thinking about not just composition of each image, but the composition of images on the page in the completed album design still a week or so away. Wedding photography to me isn't just about shooting images on the wedding day itself, but the total approach from booking the right client right up until we're done with each other.
What’s the best part of being a photographer? It satisfies a creative need and I'm in control of most things in my life and business.
I choose photographers for these interviews because their work really inspires me and gets my creative juices flowing, hence the interview. What gives you ideas and inspires you to create such amazing imagery? Art, cinema, advertising, architecture, days out to places. I see photo opportunities in my surroundings. Just today I was on the end of a pier at the coast and said to myself, “I'm coming back here to do a photo-shoot”. Same goes for when I'm at a wedding, - yes there is some 'grabbed' stuff where I get lucky and it's a bonus, but generally I see every shot before I take it. Quite often I'll wait for it and sacrifice something else to get something quite specific. I do that pretty much all day long, - pre-visualise the end result often before the subject is even in view.
What has been your most memorable assignment and why? There's been a few, but probably my overseas weddings, - New York, China, New Zealand and France because they are all similar in one way to the typical UK wedding in that all weddings broadly follow the same format, but at the same time totally alien and almost surreal. There's a certain intangible 'something' about this kind of wedding that is due to the location.
If you could shoot a wedding with someone who would it be and why? I have zero desire to shoot a wedding with anyone else. It might be an interesting exercise to tag along/second shoot at another photographers wedding, but I'm not interested in having anyone shoot with me simply because I've always worked alone and like it like that. I think my concentration would be diverted if someone else was there.
Do you have an assistant/2nd shooter that accompanies you on wedding assignments? Nope, - I can even carry my own bag
Where would be your dream destination wedding? Paris.
A website and/or blog you visit often? DWF and another one I can't mention here because it's a clandestine secret society of invited members only with ritual initiation ceremonies.
The hardest part of your job? Nothing. There are only enjoyable parts and tedious parts.
How do you make the bride and groom, bridal party etc… feel relaxed in front of your Nikon D3? Next to little at the time, - rather I build up a rapport and visual understanding/education with my clients prior to any event that pretty much allows me to just get on with it on the day. Plus very little of what I do is directed anyway, - more 'suggested' than 'posed'. Some photographers think I pose my clients a lot more than I actually do, but the reality is approx 5 minutes max with a Bride and maybe 2 with a Groom prior to the ceremony and then maybe 15-20 minutes during the reception with minimal direction. I basically pick the locations and suggest where they go and what they do based on the lighting, background, composition and that's about it. With regards to any 'formals', these have already been pre-agreed as a max of 6 and then having some Irish blood, I just get on with it giving it a bit of the old blarney!
Have you ever had anything go wrong at a wedding and if so, how did you handle it? Very little. The only incident that I can think of was when I turned up at the wrong village where the Bride was supposed to be getting ready, - Topcliffe instead of Tockwith. I resolved it by driving very quickly South and slightly East.
What is your favourite image you have shot recently? Can you describe its creation in regards to location, lighting, composition etc, also your thoughts when creating the image and what it means to you? I don't really have a current favourite image, but the favourite image according to a poll on my blog is this one. I saw a very similar composition on i-tunes the previous day, - an advert/cover for the movie Caramel's soundtrack. I copied it and printed it out and then showed it to my Bride Charlotte the very next day.....et voila.It's just a very simple available light set up though slightly spoiled by the radiator. I need better Photoshop skills to remove it!!
It’s almost that time of year for a Taylor family portrait. Is there any photographer out there that you would be stoked to say - he/she took my portrait? Yes, David A Williams of Her Majesty's former colony of Australia is taking our family (self, wife and daughter) this spring all being well.
The first photographer that comes to your mind and why? Robert Doisneau because; I've just been looking at one of his books, it’s not weddings and much of his work is in Paris and I just love the imagery.
A wedding photographer who inspires you? No one specific, but several Americans, Australians and Canadians who are dragging this industry along. I don't necessarily like the 'design' direction or the 'commerce' of it all, but to me they are providing the buzz.
The last workshop or seminar you attended and why? Jeff Ascough and Marcus Bell...because I was interested to hear what they had to say.
Do you conduct workshops for aspiring photographers? No thank you.
What photographic organizations do you belong to? No thank you.
One way you market SMW Photography? Referral by meeting or exceeding expectations.
How important is an awesome website for your business? Very.
Do you advertise in bridal magazines? Yes.
If not a photographer I would have liked to be a feature film cinematographer. What would you have been? Probably an architect as I partially trained as one although funnily enough, I could have gone down that cinematographer route to having done film studies at Uni.
Is there anything you would have done differently during your photographic career? No. It's an evolutionary process. I don't have much tolerance, but sufficient patience that I can play the long game. I've always known where I want to be and how to get there and simply push that without rushing it. Too many these days want to be at the top immediately and IMO, it's just not possible. You can go to all the seminars and workshops you like, but experience cannot be bought or sold for any amount of money. The only stuff I'd do differently is eliminate the mistakes, misdirections and money wasted on speculative items/products/services/advertising that turned out to be useless.
What do you think of the wedding photography industry at the moment and where do you see it in 5 years from now? Honestly? I both love it and hate it. I love some of the people in it who are positive and pushing it forward and at the same time have little or no time for those that are cynical, negative or in it for the wrong reasons. In 5 years, I can see the boundary between photography and filming well and truly blurred. There's going to be specialists in stills and specialists in video with the greater majority though offering a hybrid/fusion of both. I don't say this just because I've been to the Bebbs seminar at the DWF convention in Phoenix, but because it's inevitable, - it cannot be any other way IMO.
Do you have a few more wedding images you can show us?
If you could be invisible for one day with your camera... That's a tough one, - probably a film set.
Lately I have wanted to photograph great white sharks in South Africa. Is there anybody or anything you would love to photograph? A photographic record of all my ancestors dating back to the ark would be quite cool.
When I was 2nd shooting I was picking everybody’s brain, I still am actually. That’s why I love these interviews so much. Every interview I learn something that makes me a better photographer. What advice do you have for somebody who wants to pursue wedding photography? Good luck!! But seriously, I wouldn't want to be starting out today and hand on heart, couldn't recommend that anyone did so, - it's an incredibly tough arena to survive in, never mind thrive. But, if you must, then be sure you are doing it for the right reasons. If it's because you fancy a part-time 'lifestyle' with plenty of easy money...stick to your day job as it will be difficult to regain your previous position a year or so down the line.
I’ve learned the most from…Not having my head in the sand or up my own backside.
At the moment I’m finding a lot of my personal inspiration from my wife being pregnant and the joy it’s bringing to our lives. In regards to photographic inspiration I have been watching a lot of movies and studying Russian and French cinematography? Where do you draw your personal and photographic inspiration from? The 20th Century, particularly the 1920's through 1950's, - I'd liked to have lived then...at least in my 'idealised' version of those times.
What talent would you most like to have? Be an ace at Photoshop.
Something you’re still learning? Photoshop.
Something that is overrated? X Factor. Or Christmas.
Something you’re saving up for? A period house from the first half of the 20th century.
What item do you wish you had designed? The bikini, - could have been fun.
If you could have lunch with anyone who is famous who would it be? No one, - I have very little interest in 'famous' people or the cult of celebrity.
Where you'll find me on a Friday night at 9 p.m.? At home.
Your favourite film (movie) of all time? I don't have a single one as such as I love films/movies, but generally anything historical or 'sweeping' in scale. Atonement was a recent favourite, - the cinematography is outstanding.
Who would play you in a film (movie) of your life? Outside of the UK, very few will know who this is, but it would have to be (reluctantly) Robson Green. The number of times I've been at a wedding and a guest says, "do you now who you look like?" I suppose it must be true then.
First thing you would do if you won the lottery? Depends on how much, but if we're talking jackpot millions, I'd spend about half and invest about half.
Which five words would your friends use to describe you? I really have no idea.
What ambition have you not yet achieved? I don't have any particular ambition that I have yet to achieve, - my goals and ambitions are quite simple and humble, - to do well in life and business. Becoming a 'rockstar' is not on my agenda. Industry respect for my work, yes, but other than that, nothing in particular and even that (industry respect) plays second fiddle to my own life and business.
What would you like to be doing in 5 years from now? Same as I am now only even more successfully.
And the last question, if you had one wish… My bank would write to me and say, “we've written off your mortgage for you Mr Whitten, Happy Christmas”.
Oh one more, if someone said ‘how can I be the next Simon Whitten?’ What would you say? Don't bother; there can be only one...muhahahahaha
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