We caught up with award winning wedding photographer Neale James to find out more about his work, to get his top tips for taking better photos, and to learn what couples should look for when choosing a photographer to capture their big day on camera.
“The main appeal for me is the freedom you have to tell a story. There are no commercial directives aside from; ‘Show me my day.’”
How did you first get into photography?
I was in my mid to late 30s, working in radio as a programme director, but feeling a little creatively stifled by the changing scene of the types of programming I was working in. I’d always had an interest in the visual medium, so had bought some reasonably decent kit and was experimenting with portrait sessions for friends and so on.
In short, my co-directors in radio felt the weekends of photography could impact my ‘day job’ which at the time was a strange suggestion indeed. And so I was issued the ultimatum of ‘us or the pictures.’ I chose the pictures! Sometimes in life you just have to take a leap of faith.
What appealed to you about wedding photography over other areas of photography?
In all honesty? Wedding work wasn’t exactly how I saw everything developing, so to speak. My studio work was going okay at the time and I was picking up a decent amount of portrait and even commercial work. A couple of friends though invited me to shoot their weddings and from those experiences I entertained the idea of doing more. And then it just snowballed.
Pretty quickly I went from eight to thirty, to fifty a year, and over the past five years I’ve shot an average of eighty per year. The main appeal for me and especially since my work has become far more photojournalistic is the freedom you have to tell a story. There are no commercial directives aside from; ‘Show me my day.’
“I love emotional images; pictures that show contact between people where you can see their honest feelings. I guess you could call them palpable images.”
Do you have a favourite photograph you’ve taken?
This one is difficult, because I don’t exactly have a solid favourite. I certainly have a set of images that I believe form become some kind of signature. I like contrast. I like to draw the eye into a picture. If the picture makes the viewer ask a question, then that’s ‘job done’ as far as I’m concerned.
I certainly love emotional images; pictures that show contact between people where you can see their honest feelings. I guess you could call them palpable images. I don’t mean by that set up shots where you meld couples together, I’m more likely to mean the touch of a grandparent’s hand from bride, or the look a father gives his daughter during the exchange of vows. That kind of thing.
“I think if you photograph enough weddings, you would find it very hard to have the creative and emotional freedom in almost any other genre of photography.”
What do you enjoy most about photographing someone’s big day?
I think the development of a story. Does that make sense? Even if you know the bride and groom before the day, to watch them journey what is quite an emotional roller coaster sometimes, is a genuine privilege. And I get the chance to be professionally nosey with a camera!
Weddings draw an odd reaction from photographers of differing genres, almost as if it’s kind of hobbyist. But I think if you photograph enough weddings, you would find it very hard to have the creative and emotional freedom in almost any other genre of photography.
What is the most memorable wedding you’ve shot?
Probably those of my friends and family. I remember photographing my brother in law’s wedding a year back and my two young boys aged six and four were page boys and ring bearers. There was a big lump in my throat as they walked down the aisle that day.
How do you help couples to relax and feel at ease around the camera?
Well, I lean toward the documentary angle, so I don’t feel I need to tell jokes or manipulate emotion to get what I need photographically. Don’t get me wrong, when I’m asked to photograph a few group portraits and the bride and groom alone, I’m gregarious enough, it’s just that most of the time I’m there to observe. It’s a wedding, not a photoshoot, so I treat people with dignity. It seems to work.
What are your top tips for anyone who wants to take better photos?
There’s certainly no substitute for just getting out there and taking pictures. Experiment, move the dials on the top. Learn what aperture priority, shutter priority etc etc mean on your top dial. When I started I certainly didn’t have the plethora of information at my finger tips you do now from places such as YouTube.
Try to get it right on camera. Don’t think of pictures as just the conduit to your post production work in Photoshop. And use your eyes. Don’t spend all your time looking through the eyepiece.
“Look for the style you want, over the price you want to pay. Style, not price, should be your starting point. You do get what you pay for.”
Is there anything couples should bear in mind when they’re choosing a photographer for their wedding?
Look for the style you want, over the price you want to pay. Style, not price, should be your starting point. You do get what you pay for. Buy experience; photographers who see a wedding unfold and second guess things before they occur are worth their weight in gold plated camera bodies.
Choose according to what you see on a photographer’s website, not from what you read in wedding blogs and magazines. These resources can certainly be rich in terms of pictorial ideas for a wedding day as a whole, but sometimes they seem to have a pretty defined version of their own ‘one size fits all’ approach to covering a wedding photographically.
If you want a photojournalist search for that. If you want classic wedding photography, Google that. Documentary, stylised, black and white etc etc. You’ll need to do some homework, but you’ll get a far better idea of what and who is out there by doing that.
Neale has twice been featured in Junebug’s exclusive list of Best Wedding Photographs of the World, and was voted Wedding Photographer of the Year for London and the South East at the Wedding Industry Awards in 2014. Based near Newbury in Berkshire, he accepts commissions throughout the UK as well as destination weddings abroad. To find out more about Neale and his work, visit his website.