Our ‘Real Weddings’ section is another opportunity for couples to find inspiration and find their wedding photographer. It doesn’t matter which part of the world you live in, if you’re inspired by what you see then you should get in touch with the wedding photographer. You should never forget one thing, a wedding photographer loves to travel and all our wedding photographers are passionate about what they do.
Photographer: Neale James Wedding Photography
Couple: Mick and Heather
Ceremony Location: St Mary’s Cathedral, Killarney
Reception Location: Killarney Plaza Hotel, Killarney
Wedding Date: 23rd April 2016
Tell us a little about yourself…
I’m a wedding photographer based near Newbury in Berkshire, though geographically I now work across the UK and occasionally board a jet for an event abroad too. My background is not exactly pictorial, as I came to this having been engaged for the first half of my working life in broadcasting; radio mainly as a presenter, producer and finally Programme Director.
How do you think or would like people to describe you?
I hope (and I suppose the referrals will testify) that couples and guests will think of my professional demeanour as unobtrusive, though I respect that’s a term oft used these days by a good swathe of wedding photographers. I hope I’m thought of as calming. That’s a good attribute for a photographer to have during a wedding as you’re witnessing people at their most vulnerable in terms of nerves and emotions. I don’t run around snapping everything and everyone, I’m measured in the way I act particularly in the morning prior to a ceremony. I hope that rubs off positively on those around me whilst they may be feeling a little apprehensive about their day ahead.
Tell us a little bit about the wedding day…
I join the bride for an element of the preparation, usually about ninety minutes to two hours before her ceremony. This part of the day is a great settler for me. I don’t get nervous before shooting a wedding, I don’t feel the pressure that I’ve read some photographers ‘suffer,’ but never the less, bridal preparations become a great establisher with respect to feeling the mood of a day and photographically in scenic terms. With the exception of a modest portrait session later on, I follow the day in as photojournalist a style as possible. I work available light for the entire day switching on a speedlight only during the dancing. There are times during the winter I may use speedlights for the family portraits, but I certainly prefer the low key approach of; ‘Man with as little bolted on to his kit as humanly possible.’
How did you get into wedding photography?
Like many photographers it was the result of being asked to shoot a wedding for a friend. The first three were along these lines. I don’t remember wedding photography as a genre being something I was particularly excited to try out, actually I recall the opposite; that feeling initially that it was a part of the industry ‘serious’ photographers looked down upon. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a part of that. Clearly my mind was changed!
How long have you been a wedding photographer?
The first wedding I shot (and I’ve notched up over 700 now) was 28th May 2004. There’s nothing like wedding photography to age you of course, since I remember moments from that day as if they were but a few months ago.
Can you share how you’ve made your wedding photography business a success? Any mistakes you made along the way?
I’m cautious to claim the word ‘success,’ not for reasons of pretentious false modesty, but moreover and genuinely because peoples’ definition of success greatly differs. In terms of the prolific nature in which I shoot, that could be defined as success I guess and that’s been a result of working with venues as much as couples to be at the forefront of their thoughts when it comes to recommendation. Mistakes? Not chasing the right venue contacts or not maintaining as strong a business relationship when wedding organisers come and go perhaps?
What do you think a bride or groom should be looking for and not looking for in terms of wedding photography packages?
Right first up, the word package grates on me slightly, probably because it does feel like it’s a very non bespoke approach to what I hope is an extremely personal purchase. We’re not flogging Thompson holiday packages, we’re trying to promote something really very different to that approach. Having said that and entirely contradicting myself, I appreciate that brides and grooms don’t speak in commissioning language. They’re used to vendors in our industry packaging together bronze, silver and gold styled choices. Personally I talk about elements of the day that are important and though format dictates to an extent whether that be to the end of speeches or a dance set, I still think it’s important that couples are able to talk about their day as if it is original, for it not to feel squeezed into a package named after renaissance painters or colours of the rainbow.
How do you advertise yourself and what for you has really worked?
I’ve tried many different platforms; AdWords and traditional print media included. Print works well for some folk, but for me it feels like a bun fight of advertisers and so I tend to stay clear, though I will work to deadline specials from time to time. I spend budget with venues that support or represent me and I include venue commission within that budget. I don’t have many venues that charge commission, but it’s not something I shy from, unless it’s unreasonably high.
Why do you think people hire you?
I hope it’s because I have a personable approach. I’m empathetic to the event that is a wedding. I tell couples that I feel I’ve got to a stage in my career where I can read a wedding day well and that’s important because you find yourself one step ahead of where you need to be quite often, steady and ready for the image to ‘walk into shot.’
How many weddings do you average per year?
Working in years batches of five, I’m on an average of 84 right now, though that average is descending in that I’m settling on a number starting with a six or seven rather than eight in the last couple of years. I’ve heard it said that it must surely be impossible to give anyone your true professional concentration if you do anything over 25 or say 30. On that footing, taking say an airline pilot, they work legally far more hours in ‘concentration mode’ than I do in a year even if I shoot 80. I’m not an airline pilot, I’m not a doctor. I don’t make life and death choices, I shoot weddings, so if the number is high some years, it’s not beyond my ability. But I do get that many photographers would find a high number of weddings a little creatively stifling. I do get that.
Whose wedding would you love to shoot?
I’d have loved Prince William’s. Though I’ll settle for Harry’s really quite happily. It’ll probably be a bigger shin dig anyway? In all seriousness I don’t really chase the VIP weddings. Though these gigs can elevate your standing in the wedding business they don’t always reward the photographer’s eye with classically moving emotional exchange. Often the lower key down to earth weddings with smaller budgets and carefully selected guest list reveal a side of humanity that is deliciously palpable. I love weddings that have a back story and by that I mean a sense of achievement for being there on the day against thoughts or the odds. I’ve covered weddings for retired military who have fought all adversity to experience their day and those truly stick in my mind. This is not to say that anything else is not important, it’s just that I see myself in the emotions business so I’m willing a story to unfold.
If you were asked to shoot a destination wedding, where would you hope it would be?
I’m lucky in that I’ve done a little travelling already. One of my favourites was actually not so far away in Southern Ireland. I was truly melancholic to leave that wedding, but then I’d also found out prior that my birth mother was Irish, so there was a little romanticism attached to the journey. I’d happily go back there. For the experience I’d like to shoot some beach weddings in say The Maldives. It may sound cliché but why not? Having photographed some London weddings of late for families from Iraq with a flavour of middle east tradition I’d so like to work in that part of the World now and then. Sadly our globe seems so much smaller right now in history with some parts of the map not advisable for photographers of my genre to travel and work in alone or indeed unprotected. I’d dearly love for that to change, though I suspect it won’t be during my wedding tenure regrettably.
What equipment do you have for a typical wedding day?
I’ve been a Canon 5D3 user for some time now though started my photographic life with Nikon flavoured bodies and lenses. I have invested a good amount of money in Fuji systems this year though haven’t entirely made the switch yet. I do like the idea of a light backpack with two Fuji X-Pro2 bodies, an 85mm equivalent and 50mm, with a wide for the dancing. I also carry a fair amount of sound kit for the Photofilms I make; four Zoom H1 units with Rode Lavalier lapel microphones.
What is the most challenging thing about a wedding?
I guess the fact that every time you start a wedding you’re effectively forging a new relationship with everyone around you. You’re the stranger, the hired hand and though my desire is to be as hands off and reportage as possible there’s still the reality that you’re in a people business when it comes to weddings.
Do you have an approach to a wedding?
I favour a photojournalist approach. I want to remain a photographic witness with all the freedom that brings. I try to enthuse upon venues that the drinks reception is not the ‘photographer’s time’ it is a part of the wedding. I’m not the master of ceremonies though as a photographer you can find yourself in that role quite quickly sometimes. Guests, even venues can look to you as a ‘Wedding Elder’ sometimes due to your experience of just being at these incredible events, and so do lean on you when unexpected things happen. I remember a football match which was being shown on a big screen during the wedding and when the match went into extra time and then penalties, the groom and venue were trying to use me as the conduit between party and chef, an offer I graciously refused of course.
Who or what inspires you?
I appreciate it’s rather unfashionable to say, but I do actually enjoy looking at the work of other wedding photographers. Of course I’m enthused and driven by studying the works of the greats, but I work in weddings, and I like to see how others push their own boundaries. Equally I’m inspired by those photographers who have climbed their fields through self-teaching and determination.
Best & Worst marketing idea so far?
Definitely the best would be the injection of sound into my slideshows, which I now call Photofilms. Telling a story by mixing in the real sounds of a day, the speeches, the ceremony, the readings, even the odd thing said during bridal preps gave me a photographic USP for quite a while. It gave an alternative to video too which surprised quite a few film makers at the time. Whilst it’s been emulated by a small selection of photographers it still remains a powerful tool for me and with the injection of narration and video diaries, I’m now using my own voice to accompany some of these films. That is a USP I think, after all I don’t know many photographers who have a background in radio and their own sound and voice booth. The worst marketing idea? Probably buying a Smart Car and having it wrapped with pictures so that I could park it in the car parks of venues with wedding fayres I couldn’t get into that always seemed ‘full.’ A sort of back door approach to handing out leaflets. Fortunately for my sanity and ‘local popularity’ this was vetoed.
If you weren’t a photographer, what would you be?
Well, I almost became a helicopter air taxi pilot before photography. I had my private license and was building hours nicely toward a commercial career. But some rules changed on how you could expand your knowledge without it costing a small mortgage and I appreciated I wouldn’t the youngest optioned pilot, so my plans were somewhat thwarted. I don’t fly now, well, apart from drones. I guess the other one would be radio. I love radio and that’s how I spent the first half of my professional working life. I’d like to be able to host a talk show as I’m not sure I could talk the tosh I used to between songs when I was a DJ at commercial and BBC stations. Or documentaries, that would be the other thing I’d like to work on.
Share your favourite image of the day and why?
I guess 005 would be my favourite (see pics); the bride having her make up applied with the ‘Bride to be’ banner in the window above. You know there’s a lot more potent pictures from the wedding when it’s viewed as a collection and this is certainly not the wedding signature image, but it does develop a story and that is what a photo journalistic presentation approach should do. It makes this an important picture. For me this kind of photograph frames the event; what’s going on, where we are, who someone is, what the event is all about.
Do you have any goals for the future photography related or otherwise?
I keep meaning to start some personal projects, I have a bunch in my ‘ideas bag.’ I’ve been working on a series of films about British photographers and have filmed folk like Tom Stoddart and John Swannell. That’s a goal to get finished.
What do you think is key to being a successful wedding photographer?
Again that ‘success’ word. And again I’ll reiterate this is purely subjective. I think being able to be as prolific in terms of numbers of weddings shot each year is down to how you choose to work with people, such as planners and coordinators at wedding venues. There’s still nothing stronger than recommendation whether that be venue or client based. Be a people person, talk on your website where you can in first person tense, let people get to know you through this method. People buy people and what you put out, you get back. That I believe is a universal truth. And whilst that probably sounds a little new age, technologies may have evolved briskly in the last decade but people are still essentially the same. They want to trust you, be a part of you. Not all of course, because some people (and it’s grounding to admit) still see you as simply a tick on the planner list.
Are there any other wedding photographers whose work inspires you, can be a well know photographer or somebody you’ve stumbled across?
So first up, he shot some weddings, though hasn’t of late; Giles Penfound, my very good photographer friend in Berkshire. He’s a former press photographer with the British Army and I can spend hours looking at his back catalogue and talking about everything and nothing. There are the greats such as Cartier Bresson and Salgado, though they’re not wedding photographers obviously and I’ll dip into their works now and then for inspiration. But I also enjoy time spent with photographers who have an approach that is refreshingly honest in my genre, such as Kevin Mullins. I like that Kevin stays particularly loyal to photojournalism. I could go through a long list of photographers I’ve checked out and liked of late, but those two would be top of my list right now.
Proudest moment so far. Photography related or otherwise?
Long answer, sorry. Children will top this list. My children and my wife. I’ve made as many people have I am sure, lots of learning mistakes along the way, but there’s nothing quite so levelling as a family. I am lucky to have them. Of course you’d have to ask them if it is a reciprocal feeling. But in terms of work, becoming a Radio 1 presenter in the 90s for a few years was a particular personal achievement and that is in no small way testament to my own late mother and father who believed in me even when frankly they must have thought there was more chance of a career in brain surgery. (I got a D in human biology.) Telling them I’d got the gig will always make me smile. In photography, there are a few images on my office wall which I am particularly proud to have taken. When couples comment on them, it reminds me that my carriages are stable on the rails. When couples go one step further still and book me, well now, there’s a strong element of pride that they see something in me that hopefully my family does.