During peak wedding season, the best we can manage is a high five in between commitments, so it was a real treat to have an in depth discussion with the very talented and thoroughly decent, Pete Thornton of What Pete Shot.
We met in Goodwood for a latte at Trouble and Strife (awesome cafe, by the way) to chat about how he does what he does (fight mediocrity) and why wedding couples should hold their photographer accountable.
So Pete, how long have you been doing this?
“I’ve been photographing for years and years, but started running my business 12 years ago.
I started out going along to my wife’s horse events and taking pics of all the riders; such a magnificent environment for creating stunning images. There was a thing that the photographers would do at the events - just take a fairly bland shot of the horse and rider jumping over the jump, perfect form and position, and they would sell them to the riders."
"To be honest I didn’t get it - these shots bored me. My eye was seeing something different; amazing athletes, both the horse and the rider! The concentration, disappointment or elation on the rider’s face, sweaty horses with steam rising off them in the morning light. This taught me a lot about light. I got to study light, learn to see light and work with difficult light too. Looking back it was such a cool training ground for the way I shoot now. I’ve shot a lot of those girls’ weddings since then - back then they were just young pony clubbers!"
What kinds of photography do you specialise in?
"Well - weddings obviously! It’s the major part of what I do - more about that in a sec. But I also have a good commercial side of the business that ticks over nicely. I really enjoy the commercial work - it’s such a 180 degree flip from weddings. Slower pace, crafted imagery that has to fit a brief and tell the story that the client needs. I really enjoy developing the concept with a commercial client and working with them to produce the unique images they need."
"Weddings are epic to shoot! I still get a massive buzz from creating classic images that hopefully have the couple just rolling over, dying with how much they’re in love with them. I really believe that it’s the hardest discipline of photography. With studio photo work, or fashion, or architecture etc., you can generally control the conditions, the models and the light! Weddings are just, well, these are the conditions, this is the light, these are the people - c’mon buddy, what can ya’ do with this?"
"In this situation, anyone not completely on their game, can slip up very quickly. You really need to know your gear, and more importantly need to know your head and what you like to shoot, what turns you on and what is really good imagery that’s gonna tell the story of the day!"
When should couples be looking to book their wedding photographer?
"If you really resonate with a particular photographer and like the way they shoot and their style, then lock ‘em in! If you like the way they do things then no doubt others feel the same way and will be looking to book them too. September/October & March/April seem to be the busiest times and I can be booked up to 18 months in advance."
And what should they be looking for?
"I think you need to find a style about them that you love. You need to be able to see a consistency in their work. Ask yourself if you can see a quality that is repeated over the body of their work. Beware of portfolios that show you the ‘best of the best’ images they've shot - are they just flukes? Alternatively, ask to see a few couples’ highlights reels. Look for the photographer’s ability to turn out great work, week after week; not just jag some great images every now and then."
Have you noticed any emerging trends that you like?
"Well, I think ‘beware of trends’ in some ways. Be influenced (by what others are doing) by all means, but your images need to last for a LONG time. You need to love them in 20, 40, 60 years’ time - not look back and go: ‘argh, what were we thinking?!?’
Having said that, the trend I do love is that of choosing venues that are a bit off the radar, like an amazing set up in a backyard. Great ceremonies in a location that means so much and is a true reflection of the couple - I just see people chilling and enjoying themselves. They’re like big parties!"
Okay, so what's you're take on the prevalence of guests using their mobile phones and tablets to take photos during the ceremony?
"I get how special weddings are for the family and friends of the couple and how they want to grab a shot. I feel a bit awkward saying, ‘oi, put that down - I'm the photographer!’ (laughs)
I think a comment from the celebrant along the lines of, ‘yep, go for it, but be mindful of the guy/gal who's been paid to do an awesome job’ is best."
"Also, I read a study recently about this and for those who can put their phones/cameras down at a gig, kids sports game or wedding and concentrate on being mindful and take in the event, actually remember it better – they commit it to memory and connect."
If you could dispel the most common misunderstanding about your profession, what would it be?
"That my job ends after the wedding. Photography, done well, is a fulltime gig. It’s not just the hours of editing, emailing, advertising, accounting, or visits to the physio because the gear weighs a heap. It’s also keeping inspired, staying motivated, updating your skills, blogging, promoting and most of all - doing a bang-up job for our clients. Hey, I’m not complaining. To my mind, it’s a great way of life. I get to hang with people on a crazy fun, happy day!"
What do you want couples to know?
"Be yourselves for me! Really chat to me about what you are hoping your day to be like. Tell me about all the important people in your lives and help me understand as much about the two of you as possible. Show me some (photography) work you love. I’m also happy to see work that makes you cringe - it helps me understand your style. In truth, I’m itching to connect with you and understand your story and then I'm on the hunt to reflect that story in images on your day. I really try to avoid the cliché wedding pics. I’m after the images that could tell a complete stranger who you are."
What Pete Shot.
What's your experience with wedding photographers? Let me know in the comments.