This month I welcome Brett Florens. I have known of Brett for a long time and have always admired his work. He lives in South Africa but travels the world doing what he loves - capturing life and love through his Nikon lens. He is recognised internationally as being one of the best wedding photographers in the world and has been featured in most of the top magazines. Just check out his images and you will see why. A few weeks ago, Brett sent me his DVD - Behind the Lens, where he takes you on a wedding with him, definitely highly recommended and gets two thumbs up. The interview is awesome and full of inspiration, passion and knowledge. You will definitely walk away after reading it with a love for Brett and his work. Enjoy!
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am a very driven, passionate husband, father son and friend. I have the most incredibly fulfilling life, emotionally and professionally
Where is home?
I am based in Durban, South Africa. A coastal city with a very temperate climate, great for raising a family, however a little challenging from a commercial perspective, which means that I travel a lot. I spend around four months a year away from home.
If you could live anywhere on this awesome planet where would you build your dream home?
I have had the pleasure of travelling to many different places and South East Asia would be a great place to live for a while, but realistically in terms of schools for my boys and access to the privileges of the first world, I would love to build my dream home in Barcelona. The vibe is amazing and there seem to be loads of opportunities there. I wouldn’t want to live too far away from the sea, so Barcelona it is!!
What is your current state of mind before we continue with the interview?
I have never been this happy! There aren’t many things that I would like to change in my life. Family is good, career is great – As a photographer I am surrounded by positivity, everything I shoot is for a positive reason be it catalogue, fashion, portraits or weddings. That has to rub off!!
Did you go to school to study photography?
I am completely self taught – Books, magazines and movies.
How long have you been a photographer?
I have been shooting for around 15 years - I started off by accident as a police photographer in the Riot Unit. It was my job to document all the violent and politically motivated crime that took place during the transition from Apartheid in South Africa. This involved photographing many murder scenes and lots of dead bodies, or still life if you wish. That was for around 7 years, there was a period of around 2 years where my transition from photographing people on their worst day or their lives to the best day ever took place.
How long have you been a wedding/portrait photographer?
I have been shooting weddings and portraits for about 10 years
What or who got you started in wedding photography?
Whilst photographing in the Riot Unit, I was asked by a few of the other policemen to photograph their weddings, and it was a great way to supplement my very small income. It was also a great opportunity for me to express my creativity and to be removed from the heartache and misery of my 9-5 job.
How would you describe your style?
I believe that wedding albums need to be balanced, weddings are a combination of most genres of photography, but if you are forcing me to pigeon hole my work then I would have to say Editorial.
How many weddings do you average per year?
I shoot on average 40 weddings a year, although now that I have stepped up a gear I am looking at shooting less and offering more of a custom service to the couple, which would mean more post production time.
How many portrait sessions do you average a year?
I shoot approximately 250 portrait sessions a year, I really enjoy this opportunity to experiment with lighting and trends, get the money shot first, then play for a while.
Do you have a few awesome images you can share with us?
What type of cameras do you shoot with?
I am very privileged to be fully sponsored by Nikon, so have access to everything I need with regards to kit. I have chosen to work with the D3s – It has the most insane low light capabilities, which I utilise all the time, often we, as wedding photographers, are restricted by rules in a church or venue as to what artificial lighting we can use, but with the D3s there is no problem at all. Shooting at 10 000 iso is not uncommon for me at all.
What is your favourite photography accessory, other than your camera?
I love my Elinchrom Ranger RX!! It is a portable battery pack with outputs for two strobes. It gives me such latitude with lighting options and it’s portability means that you can shoot studio quality images on location.
If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why?
The New Nikon 70-200 VRII is a great lens and I would say that that lens is on my camera 75% of the time, It is super fast and super sharp.
What lighting equipment do you take on a shoot?
I use a variety of different lighting on a shoot, from the basic collapsible reflector, to tungsten video light, to the Elinchrom Ranger RX
Can you describe how and when you use flash, video light, reflectors and natural light during a wedding/portrait shoot?
When and how I use the artificial light is dependant on the available ambient light as well as the personalities of the clients. I use a lot of off camera flash if the clients are aware of fashion and current trends. I always shoot the first dance with a video light as backlighting, I try to get it to flare into the lens and convert to black and white in post production to get a nice photojournalistic feel to it.
What is your favourite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer?
I depend on my Epson P5000 for back-up. There are newer models out with bigger capacities, but mine is adequate for what I require. Great for the long haul flights as well as it stores and plays MP3’s as well as Video’s
How important is Photoshop in your final images?
I use Photoshop for all my post production, I believe in enhancing the image as apposed to manipulating it with faddish overlays and techniques.
What is your most used Photoshop tool, plug-in, action set etc.?
I have only just discovered the amazing bouquet of plug-in’s by Nik Software. The Dynamic Skin Softener for Nik’s Color Efex Pro3.0 is great for improving the overall appearance of the skin without affecting any other part of the image. It uses U-point technology to choose the range of colours being affected. Great Black and white conversions in the Silver Efex Pro range as well.
Are you a MAC or PC lover?
Always have been on Mac not only for the functionality but also for my brand image, Mac does have that edge appeal and brand is so important these days.
I finally feel I have mastered my Crash-Art workflow, can you briefly describe for the readers your photographic workflow after a wedding?
Glad to hear that you are in control!! With digital photography clients are expecting work out faster that when we shot film. The fact that there is more postproduction time involved seems foreign to people in this world of instant gratification. I work systematically in Adobe Bridge and have found some amazing functions that I never knew existed that help speed up workflow. Shooting in Raw is also a great help for bulk processing.
First things first – BACK-UP!! I back up to DVD and store these raw files off –location. I have had to call on them once in the past and I was so relieved that I am so obsessive about back-up. I choose all the images for the client’s album myself, I have found it to be better for many reasons – Firstly there is no bias towards or away from anything or anyone and I feel that I am in a better position to express the story in the way I want to.
My retoucher then goes through all images and enhances what needs to be. Off to the lab to be printed as a book or prints. When it comes back from the lab, my assistant constructs the album. The entire process takes around 8 weeks per album.
I use Queensberry albums, what wedding albums do you supply your clients with and do you design them yourself or outsource the design?
I design the layout and look of each album.
I enjoy the Queensberry system and albums, however they wont deliver to SA so I have a local importer source flat mount leather albums from Italy. They are hand made and my clients love their photo’s before opening their album!
How do you feel about cropping an image?
I hardly crop my images, straightening horizons may be as far as I go, I am lucky to have every lens I need so don’t need to crop.
I choose photographers for these interviews because their work inspires me and gets my creative juices flowing, hence the interview. What gives you ideas and inspires you to create such amazing imagery?
Thank you so much for the compliment. My inspiration comes from magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. I love the post production and get inspired by their use of light. I often browse various sites to seek out international trends – There are some great photographers out there!
What has been your most memorable assignment and why?
I have recently completed an assignment for a publisher, where I travelled the Country making portraits of high profile South African personalities for a coffee table book called “Perfect Weekend”. It’s about how public people spend their private time. I met 52 of the most influential people in our country and appreciated the opportunity of spending time with the likes of Bishop Desmond Tutu and former president FW de Klerk, then there was getting to know some of our sporting hero’s such as Bruce Fordyce (Long distance road runner) and Lance Klusener(Legendary SA Cricketer). I met such a cross section of our most cherished icons. Unbelievable.
If you could shoot a wedding with another photographer who would it be and why?
Patrick Demarchelier, he is a great fashion photographer and I would watch and learn whilst he shot the bride and couple shots - I would do the rest as I would want him to concentrate on the fashion element.
Do you have an assistant/2nd shooter that accompanies you on assignments?
I have a great assistant, who is fantastic with lighting, we have a good working relationship and he is very pro active. I shoot all the images myself and don’t use a second shooter, I have a problem with delegation.
How many images do you average per wedding and how many do you usually present to your clients?
I shoot around 1750 images pr wedding, although I am trying to reduce that as the post production sorting is so time intensive. I present the finished product to them in an album or Photobook format.
Where would be your dream destination wedding?
Indonesia – The culture and landscape is so diverse, with so many street scene options, as well as beach, as well as mountains, as well as forest……OMG where does it stop?!!
How do you make the bride and groom, bridal party etc… feel relaxed in front of your D3s?
I have been told that I am really good with people and that’s why they look so comfortable, I try to get to know the couple before the wedding by meeting and often shooting engagement sessions. I try stay in tune with nuances and body language. You have to be sensitive in so many ways to the state of mind of people. Wedding days aren’t just another day!
Have you ever had anything go wrong at a wedding and if so, how did you handle it?
I have had things go wrong, but not anything that I couldn’t recover from, Once shooting film, I counted the rolls I had shot and was one short, my whole body went numb, by some miracle I found it in the car park of the hotel.
What are your favourite three images you have shot recently? Can you describe their creation in regards to location, lighting, composition, camera settings etc, also your thoughts when creating the images and what they mean to you?
I shot this image in the passage of a hotel, there were these down lighters that changed colour, I had the Bride sat down in the passage and shot various colours until I liked the image. I thought I was going to push the D3s to it limits by shooting on 6400 iso, It just laughed at me and asked for a real challenge!! D3s 6400 iso 1/160 @ f2.8
I had such fun shooting this “Drown the Gown session” Kate and Sam were so happy together that they were practically doing anything. Shot on the beach with the wind howling and rain threatening they got right into it and loved the experience. D3s 250 iso 1/500 @ f2.8
This shot got me a lot of International recognition, so I have an emotional attachment to it. The Bride had booked another photographer for her wedding and had a fight with him the day before the wedding, I was packed and ready to go off into the country for a rare weekend off and she called in tears, I just had to help her out. Elinchrom Ranger D2x iso 400 1/200 f 16
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about photographing weddings?
There are so many people at the wedding that have an emotional investment in the wedding – The challenge it to meet not only the bridal couple’s expectations, but the many other’s who are really excited about the big day! Some of these people can be overpowering and pushy, and dealing with an overzealous relative can be a challenge.
What do you think of the wedding photography industry at the moment and where do you see it in 5 years from now?
The wedding and social photography industry is in a constant state of flux, with a large turnover of new photographers entering and leaving the market. However, for those photographers who are really serious about wedding photography as a long-term career, this can be a very profitable industry to be in. This is due to the fact that high-end clients are generally not willing to risk hiring a photographer with little experience to capture their auspicious events, as these events have a very high emotional value attached to them. Wedding and social event photographers only get one chance at capturing a once-in-a-lifetime occasion, be it a wedding, Bah mitzvah, engagement or milestone birthday party. Those who have the reputation and track record of delivering great images time and time again, are able to command greater prices as the client is willing to pay a premium for guaranteed results. It’s almost like a built-in insurance policy!
A wedding photographer who inspires you?
I really like the work of Marcus Bell, Mike Colon and David Jay. Their marketing strategies and generous spirits are an inspiration
It’s almost that time of year for a Florens family portrait. Is there any photographer out there that you would be stoked to say – he/she took my portrait?
Mario Testino – He is one of the world’s greats and to have been photographed by him would be pretty cool!
A website and/or blog you visit often?
I look at a diverse range of material, I’m not that big into blogging so it would mainly be sites like Diesel, Guess, Abercrombie and Levi’s. I draw a lot of inspiration from fashion photography. I am on the WPPI and Rangefinder Magazine sites quite frequently.
The first photographer that comes to your mind and why?
Patrick Demarchelier – I like the fact that despite his international fame and success he seems to have remained grounded and humble, I have just watched the documentary “September Issue” about the making of the Vogue September issue and that re-enforced my opinion of him.
Do you have any workshops or speaking engagements planned?
I have two Workshops planned for the summer, one at my favourite London hotel, The Berkeley and then in Milan, Italy at the Style design College – Here’s the Blurb -
The "Nikon Behind the Lens Wedding Worshop" is a fully intensive 3 day workshop covering everything from marketing and shooting the wedding, to post production. It is an interactive course with me, Brett Florens, which will include live shoots using models at a simulated wedding. I will give you close personal attention regarding your portfolio and marketing material.
I also have a tutorial DVD out which takes you on location with me.
I have written a book on wedding photography to be published worldwide by Amherst books, due out later this year.
And the last thing is Crib Cards – A set of poses in a pack of cards –
What photographic organizations do you belong to?
I belong to the WPPI – It is a really great source of reference for me and offers good exposure to so many other talented artists.
One way you market Brett Florens Photography?
Marketing to the trade is such an effective tool – after each wedding I send images to all the suppliers from the wedding, they are really grateful to receive the images and I get so many referrals from the directly from this.
Do you advertise? If so where?
I advertise in two magazines and always full page – Conde Nate’s Supplement called “Wedding Planner” and in South Africa’s leading bridal magazine, Fairlady Bride. The reason I mention full page is because I would rather have full page presence in one or two mags than ten quarter page adverts – I feel the impact is far more impressive.
How important is an awesome website for your business?
Essential – clients do all their research online and have looked at your work long before contacting you, it is your only chance to make that first impression so it is essential. Because capturing weddings is so important, clients are prepared to look outside of their local pool of suppliers and if you don’t have a great website you will not land that dream destination wedding! Did I mention it is essential?
If not a photographer, I would have liked to be a marine biologist studying the great white shark. What would you have been?
I really enjoy the marketing side of my business so I think that I would enjoy the advertising industry although I have been told that it is a romantised industry that requires a lot of sacrifice, but I supposed that’s our industry too.
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.
My boys are my passion and recording their journey through life is a project of mine. I realise that I am privileged to be able to photograph them with all this amazing equipment and take full advantage of that.
Is there anybody or anything you would love to photograph?
Ever since I became aware of images and photography I have wanted to Photograph Sting, not only because I appreciate his music be it solo or from his days with “The Police” but because of his lifestyle and philosophy.
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?
Keep your overheads low – I know the questions revolves around photography, but if you don’t stay in business, what’s the point? Running your business like a business is such an important issue. Stand your ground on your morals and principle and avoid compromising as it only sets a precedent. The photography improvement comes with experience.
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?
This sounds cheesy, but my wife is such an inspiration to me, she is an author with 7 children’s books published to date. She is my sounding board and explains this from a woman’s prespective, which is so important in this industry. She checks each album before it goes to the client – Quality control so to speak, and has some great objective advise that is always constructive.
Is there anything you would have done differently during your photographic career?
I have only just realised how marketing to the trade is so effective. I would have started that years ago, and it is way cheaper than traditional methods.
Name a photographer you would like to take a portrait of?
I would have liked the opportunity of taking the late Lord Litchfield’s portrait – not only because of his talent as a photographer, but he had a great face to shoot.
If you could be invisible for one day with your camera...
I would love to be on the set of a Vogue shoot in Milan watching learning and documenting a behind the scenes shoot with a great fashion photographer.
I’ve learned the most from…
Being a dad, being a parent teaches you how to be selfless. Knowing that you are responsible for moulding an other human’s life is very humbling.
What talent would you most like to have?
I would love to be able to speak more languages, I am in awe of people who can speak more than two languages fluently. Andrea, my wife speaks French and Spanish and I really admire that
Something you’re still learning?
I am still learning and discovering things about myself, I have changed so much in the last 10 years and I have realised that it’s OK to be yourself, I think that when you are in your twenties you are too concerned and aware about what others think of you that you forget who you really are. I try to be someone that I like and make decisions with others in mind, it has been an interesting journey.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Andrea, my wife, is amazing, she is really supportive and has so many qualities that I aspire to. We have a very passionate relationship, when we fight we really fight, but when times are good, which far outweigh the fights, times are really good.
What is your greatest fear...
Losing my children
Something that is overrated...
Facebook – Sorry to offend anyone.
Something you’re saving up for?
What item do you wish you had designed?
Windscreen wipers, I have heard that the family of the bloke who invented them still gets royalties from all car manufactures – Not sure how reliable that is but I’ve heard!
If you could have lunch with anyone who is famous who would it be?
Johnny Depp – Love the mystery and style.
Where you'll find me on a Friday night at 9 p.m.?
Asleep – I am a long distance road runner and train 6 days a week. I run a race every year called the Comrades Marathon, it’s around 56 miles and I train for it for around 9 months. Nuts I know!!
Your favourite film (movie) of all time?
Shawshank Redemption – Great message all round!
Who would play you in a film (movie) of your life?
Matt Damon – like his energy.
First thing you would do if you won the lottery?
Build my dream home in Barcelona
Which five words would your friends use to describe you?
Wow, very deep!! So off I went to friends I knew would tell the truth and this is what I got,
What ambition have you not yet achieved?
My ambition for around 5 years time is my diary to read:
April – Mexico George Clooney
May - Spain Keira Knightley
June - Nevada Charlise Theron
July – Fiji Holiday
What would you like to be doing in 5 years from now?
And the last question, if you had one wish…
There are so many things that I would love to achieve, personally and professionally, so I wish that I had more time to reach those goals.
Oh one more, if someone said ‘how can I be the next Brett Florens?’ What would you say?
Keep your eye on the prize, it takes a long time to get to the stage where you are satisfied with your own work, be patient.
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