This week I welcome Jeff Ascough. What can I say about Jeff that hasn't been said. He is definitely one of the best wedding photojournalists in the world. I attended one of his seminars with Marcus Bell last year and was blown away with his image and business skills. In 2007 he was voted one of the 10 best wedding photographers in the world by American Photo magazine - the only European photographer to make the list. He is also a Canon Ambassador and photographs his weddings with the Canon 5D Mark II's due to their low light capabilities. I'm honoured to have him on the site. Enjoy the interview and as always comments are appreciated.
Tell us a little bit about Jeff Ascough?
Born on Christmas Day in 1967, I’m 41 years old. I’ve been married 15 years to Sarah, I have a 10 year old daughter called Helena, and a stupid Bassett Hound called Jess. I’m a passionate Man Utd fan; love Indie music; and play bass guitar quite badly.
Where is home?
Lytham in Lancashire. I live two streets away from the sea front.
If you could live anywhere on this awesome planet where would you build your dream home?
About two streets away from where I am now - on the sea front!! Seriously, there isn’t anywhere else I’d rather be at the moment.
What is your current state of mind before we continue with the interview?
Did you go to school to study photography?
Only a part-time City and Guilds course at a local college. I had a good couple of tutors though. They were into Cartier-Bresson, Raymond Moore, and Chris Killip. That grounding in social documentary work really inspired my photography. I learned a lot about photographic theory, and black and white darkroom work.
How long have you been a photographer?
Nearly 20 years.
How long have you been a wedding photographer?
Nearly 20 years
What or who got you started in wedding photography?
I was invited to join my parents fledgling wedding and portrait business back in the late 1980’s. I was in a dead end job and looking to go back to university, when they asked me to give photography a go. I had no interest in photography prior to that. I wanted to be a professional musician or a psychologist. Yeah I know…they aren’t exactly similar career paths!!
How would you describe your style?
Unobtrusive, journalistic, and voyeuristic
How many weddings do you average per year?
Do you have some wedding images you can share with us?
What type of cameras do you shoot with?
What is your favourite photography accessory, other than your camera?
My Upstrap camera straps. Couldn’t live without them.
If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why?
50mm f1.2L. I could cover almost anything on that one lens. It’s super fast, very sharp, and it’s a focal length that sees in the same way I do.
What lighting equipment do you take on a shoot?
I have a small torch in my bag – does that count?? I have a flashgun somewhere in the boot of my car but I’m not sure if the batteries are charged…
Can you describe how and when you use flash, video light, reflectors and natural light during a wedding?
I only use available light during a wedding these days. I used to use a bit of flash for odd low light situations, but with the new 5DMKII the flash is officially redundant. It has been for most of the winter.
What is your favourite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer?
Wacom Intuos 3 tablet. I bought one when I started to get discomfort in my wrists from a normal mouse. I use it for everything now, even if I’m just surfing the web.
How important is Photoshop in your final images?
It’s absolutely essential. Every single image goes through Photoshop at some stage, although I don’t do anything to an image that I couldn’t do in a traditional darkroom. Keeping a film –like feel to my images is very important to me.
What is your most used Photoshop tool, plug-in, action set etc.?
Ascough Silver Actions (this is my new set of actions that I am using at the moment)
Are you a MAC or PC lover?
Is there such a thing as a PC lover?? I thought people just tolerated those things because they are cheap :-)) Definitely Mac.
A few weeks ago I purchased two Canon 5D Mark II’s and I’m planning on buying a version II Canon 16-35mm lens. Do you plan on buying any new equipment and if so what do you have your eyes on?
Not at the moment. I’ve just got a couple of 5DMKII’s and the new 24 f1.4LII. So I’m pretty much set for 2009. I think the only thing I’ll be buying this year will be more hard-drives.
I finally feel I have mastered my Crash-Art workflow, can you briefly describe for the readers your photographic workflow after a wedding?
Currently I use Photomechanic and Iridient Software’s Raw Developer.
1. Open PM and ingest cards to two separate drives.
2. ‘Edit In’ using PM. Keepers are colour coded.
3. Open the colour coded images in Raw Developer and process to get decent low contrast colour original 16 bit Tiff files.
4. Open the folder of Tiffs in PM and then open the images up in CS4 to apply black and white conversions, colour enhancement, vignetting etc
5. Use PM to save the finished Tiff files as level 10 jpegs.
6. Back up RAW and jpeg images, and delete the Tiffs.
I use Queensberry albums, what wedding albums do you supply your clients with and do you design them yourself or outsource the design?
I have used Jorgensen exclusively for the past ten years of my career. I have a great relationship with Gary Jorgensen and Nick Mifsud at SWPM. I do all the album design work using JAD software. I don’t offer any other albums.
How do you feel about cropping an image?
Cropping is fine. I crop a small number of images in my work. It’s not always possible to get it right in camera, especially under the pressure of a wedding.
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?
I don’t know really. It’s something that I never really think about.. I love my photographic books and exhibitions, but they have nothing to do with wedding photography. I suppose my inspiration comes from the photographers that I read about. Don McCullin once was quoted as using just 35mm and 135mm lenses, so I shot a wedding once on just those two lenses. James Nachtwey has a very deliberate way of shooting, and after seeing him work I was inspired to try the same thing. I suppose what I’m saying is that I’m subconsciously more interested in the way people work rather than the relevance of their images. I love looking at images but I never say “wow I’ve got to get an image like that on Saturday”. I very rarely look at other wedding photographers work. It doesn’t interest me at all.
What has been your most memorable assignment and why?
Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien’s wedding. I’m a huge Radiohead fan. It was the first wedding where I was actually star struck. I nearly didn’t take the wedding on, as I already had another wedding that weekend and thought long and hard about if I wanted another. This was obviously before I knew who the groom was …
If you could shoot a wedding with someone who would it be and why?
If we are talking about other wedding photographers then it would be George Weir. I have a lot of respect for George’s work and style. He’s a friend of mine, and I think we are alike in many ways in terms of approach and style. It’s the similarity that we have that would make it interesting for me. The other photographer I’d like to shoot with is David Oliver for much the same reasons.
Do you have an assistant/2nd shooter that accompanies you on wedding assignments?
I never have anyone shoot alongside me. It’s too intrusive. I sometimes work with an assistant if there is a lot going on. My preference is to work by myself. Too many people with cameras can change the whole dynamic of the wedding. People become more aware of the presence of photographers, which in turn changes the way they naturally behave, which isn’t what I am looking for.
How many images do you average per wedding and how many do you usually present to your clients?
700-900 actual shutter presses. 150-200 finished images to the client.
Where would be your dream destination wedding?
Hmmm…..I don’t actually like doing destination weddings, but I wouldn’t turn away a gig in Paris or Venice.
How do you make the bride and groom, bridal party etc… feel relaxed in front of your Canon 5D?
Are you talking about group shots here?? If so, then I shoot very quickly. I don’t hang about. I don’t fuss. I may make fun of someone in the group to get a smile. I won’t take any more than six or seven groups so the whole session usually lasts no more than 10 minutes. Most of my coverage is purely documentary.
Have you ever had anything go wrong at a wedding and if so, how did you handle it?
Not that I can remember. Certainly not concerning me. I suppose I’ve been very fortunate in that respect.
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?
This one of the bride getting into the car. It was taken the week before Christmas near Preston. This image epitomises the path that my photography is taking. I liked the lines and shapes within the image when I saw it. The car driver looking away just made the image for me. It could have been taken last weekend or thirty years ago. It has that quality about it.
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about photographing weddings?
After twenty years and well over 1000 assignments, by far the most challenging thing is going to a wedding and doing something different. Not necessarily for the client, but for my own artistic interest. Weddings follow a pattern, and the challenge for me is to get better, more interesting images that follow that pattern. At the end of each season, if I can update my images on my website with more creative images, then I feel I’ve accomplished something.
What do you think of the wedding photography industry at the moment and where do you see it in 5 years from now?
I find it really bizarre at the moment. I think a lot of people are looking at wedding photography as a way of reaching some level of fame. With the advent of blogs, Twitter, Facebook etc we are able to see into other photographer’s lives, and a lot of big names are pushing the whole ‘rockstar’ lifestyle thing without actually shooting that many weddings. Consequently a lot of people are seduced by this and strive for the same status. The downside is that this seduction is swelling the ranks of wedding photographers, and coupled with recession, there are going to be some tough times around the corner for many in this industry.
I really don’t know what to expect in the next five years. I’m hoping that the wedding photography industry gets a reality check. People start to see it for what it is, and consequently the industry moves forward strongly. It’s a business at the end of the day, not Big Brother, or reality TV and the more people realise this the sooner we can recover.
A wedding photographer who inspires you?
Marcus Bell. He’s a great friend of mine. One of the nicest blokes on the planet and is an incredibly talented photographer.
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 took my portrait?
Antonin Kratochvil. Love his style. His book of portraits ‘Incognito’ is a masterpiece.
The first photographer that comes to your mind and why?
Henri Cartier-Bresson. As far as I am concerned, he is the single biggest reason why I am a photographer.
The last workshop or seminar you attended and why?
David Oliver in 2007. I wanted to catch up with him, and see what he was up to now that he has moved over to digital.
The last seminar I attended was the Jeff Ascough and Marcus Bell seminar in the Midlands. It was brilliant. I took away loads of valuable information and my inspiration level was sky high driving home. Do you have any seminars planned for the near future?
I have a couple of things in the pipeline with Canon, but nothing under my own steam. I'll be at Focus on Imaging on Sunday 22nd with Canon talking about my low light images and the new 5DMKII
Canon will usually release details of what I'm doing through the Canon CPN website. www.cpn.canon-europe.com
What photographic organizations do you belong to?
Master Photographers Association. I used to belong to them all, but the unfortunate reality is that they now have very little influence on the industry.
One way you market Jeff Ascough Photography?
Creating a buzz around my brand name.
Do you advertise? If so where?
High end bridal magazines.
How important is an awesome website for your business?
It is singularly the most important part of any photography business. In my opinion. It’s your shop window. I’m amazed at how many photographers have such poor sites.
If not a photographer, I would have liked to be a marine biologist studying the great white shark. What would you have been?
A criminal psychologist. I reckon if my folks hadn’t asked me to join their business, this is what I would be doing now. I was never good enough to be a professional musician.
I realize that each great photographer has a particular penchant or love for photographing a particular subject whether it be nature, portraits, sea or landscapes, shadow and light, etc. as a result I would love to have you talk about and share whatever images you feel appropriate of your own private obsession in the magical world of photography.
An increasing part of my photographic life is taken up with shooting landscapes. Don McCullin and also the Australian photographer Trent Parke inspire me. For me, landscape is something that I do for relaxation. It’s a world away from wedding photography. Living by the coast gives me plenty of material, and most of my work is shot while I’m out walking, or with the family. My goal is to produce a book of my landscape images in the near future. In ten years time I’d love to be able to move into landscape work as a major part of my career.
Lately I have wanted to photograph Kodiak bears in the Kodiak Archipelago and white sharks hunting seals in South Africa. Is there anybody or anything you would love to photograph?
I’d like to go behind the scenes of a top restaurant and shoot stills during dinner service. I loved the images in ‘White Heat’ that were shot by the late, great Bob Carlos Clarke. When I saw that book I thought “Yeah I’d like to do that!”
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?
Be prepared for plenty of hard work, frustration, tears, and extreme highs and lows. It takes years of experience to get to a reasonable and consistent level. You can’t fast track success in this field unless you are incredibly talented or incredibly lucky. It’s a great profession to be in, but it’s a lot of hard work.
Don’t be seduced by the ‘rockstar’ lifestyle and mentality that is prevalent in the industry at the moment. I’ve been there, done that and believe me it puts an enormous strain on your family life and your mental health. It’s not healthy to have hundreds of people telling you how great you are. I decided to move away from all that a couple of years ago, and now I couldn’t be happier.
At the moment I’m finding a lot of my photographic inspiration from cinematographers and Finnish fashion photographers. We know that each of us has someone or something, which inspires our life and work. Can you tell us the true basis of your inspiration?
Photographically it’s very simple – social documentary photography. In particular Cartier-Bresson. His images continue to inspire me. His use of composition is quite extraordinary. I still get the hairs on my neck stand up whenever I look through a new book on his work, or visit an exhibition.
I’ve never done the cinema/movie thing for inspiration. I prefer to switch off when watching films. I would find it frustrating to analyse what is in front of me .
Is there anything you would have done differently during your photographic career?
I would have moved to the North West sooner.
Name one photographer you would like to take a portrait of?
Cartier-Bresson if he was still alive.
Name one sports player you would like to take a portrait of?
If you could be invisible for one day with your camera...
I’d be a millionaire from the website that I’d set up!!..
I’ve learned the most from…
What talent would you most like to have?
To play guitar properly
Something you’re still learning?
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
I thought about putting photography but I’d upset my wife!!!
What is your greatest fear?
Letting people down.
Something that is overrated?
Alcohol. And also Liverpool FC’s chances of winning the Premiership this year!!
Something you’re saving up for?
What item do you wish you had designed?
The Tag Heuer Microtimer. I got one for Christmas, and it’s a stunning piece of design. One of those things that makes you go ‘wow’ when you look at it.
If you could have lunch with anyone who is famous who would it be?
Gordon Ramsay or Noel Gallagher
Where you'll find me on a Friday night at 9 p.m.?
Watching the Rugby League on Sky HD.
Your favourite film (movie) of all time?
Who would play you in a film (movie) of your life?
Daniel Craig….LOL. Actually Jack Dee would be closer to the mark.
First thing you would do if you won the lottery?
Buy my dream house on the seafront.
Which five words would your friends use to describe you?
What ambition have you not yet achieved?
I’m not that ambitious these days. I have a great life, loving family, and I live in a truly beautiful part of the world. My work is being recognised globally alongside other genres of photography. I have a great business, and a great lifestyle. I don’t really want anything else.
What would you like to be doing in 5 years from now?
Pretty much what I’m doing now. Life is good at the moment.
And the last question, if you had one wish…
A cure for nystagmus, which is an eyesight condition that my daughter suffers from.
Oh one more, if someone said ‘how can I be the next Jeff Ascough?’ What would you say?
Don’t try to be me. It’s a strange place to be. Try to stay true to yourself. It’s more fun that way.
Your readers can find out more about me: