The first camera I ever got my hands on was a fully-manual Nikon SLR film camera. I was probably age 10. Thanks to my lens-wielding father, I was fortunate enough to get a good head-start in the world of photography.
My love for it developed further as I grew up, mainly fuelled by the curiosity of meeting new people and being able to contribute to their stories in the form of photos.
I soon discovered that the kind of moments I loved capturing the most were often found at weddings. Being a wedding photographer can be both magical and nerve-wrecking at the same time.
A marriage is such a big milestone of two lives coming together and so the wedding itself is naturally driven by strong emotions, colourful personalities and, of course, high expectations on the photographer.
It’s your duty to capture every important moment so that the couple and their families can revisit them in future as they recall the story of their lives through your photos.
Yes, the best wedding photographers are really just great ninja storytellers and I knew that the only way to get better at storytelling through photos was to form the right habits.
However, I recently realised that these habits or these lessons I learnt from wedding photography aren’t just applicable for telling someone else’s story in photos.
It can be applicable in living the story of your own life too.
Here are some of the life lessons I picked up during this time:
People never hire you to take photos the same way that just anybody does. They choose you specifically for how you see the world.
How you capture the simplest things in such a way that it becomes a real moment.
How you’re able to use the most ordinary objects available around you just to add that extra depth, meaning, and colour to your photo (e.g. a tree branch, a lightbulb, a glass bottle).
To be able do that, you have to be committed to seeing things differently.
Taking it beyond the viewfinder, this too can be applied to your daily encounters at work, in a family situation, or even when listening to a friend in need.
You could turn a negative situation into a positive one. Or an ordinary experience into something extraordinary. There is so much value you can bring to the world around you when you just ‘see different’.
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Position yourself for the best
Have you ever come across a photo and wondered:
How in the world did the photographer manage to capture that?!
Well, let me tell you (and this is especially true of wildlife and nature photography), those moments probably didn’t happen by chance or sheer luck.
Sometimes you have to go in knowing what you want to see and then anticipating those situations so that you’re ready to capture them when it happens.
Maybe it’s keeping yourself in front of the bride and groom after the posed photo sessions are done so you get that gorgeous sun-lit lens flare just as they spontaneously swing the flower girl up in air and catch her midway in her giggles.
Or maybe it’s making the effort to talk to the right people and picking up a new skill so that when the career opportunity presents itself, you’re all set. And it won’t be sheer luck because you’ve positioned yourself for the best.
Value people most
Among the string of high-stress weddings I’ve shot, I’ve also had the privilege of taking photos at weddings where a lot more time is given to the couple and their loved ones to simply take it slow, enjoy each other’s company, and soak up every minute of that special day together.
Guests and family members who have little worry about what’s next on the agenda are a joy to photograph because their relaxed demeanour, unforgettable props such as wedding hashatags, genuine eye contact, and happy expressions really make the best shots.
Years later, when the wedded couple looks back at their photos, they’ll have the best memories not because they checked everything off their dream-wedding bucket list but because they were truly living in the present, with all their favourite people.
It’s just too easy to get caught up with the amount of things to do in a day, or accomplish in a lifetime. Sometimes we forget the things that makes life worth celebrating are the people who live it with you. Value them most.
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I used to be part of this international uniform group called the Royal Rangers. Our motto was to “Be Ready – Ready for anything!”
It’s an incredibly practical mindset to have, because if there’s one thing that a photographer needs to always bear in mind, it’s making sure they’re ready for anything that could potentially happen on the event day.
Extra batteries? Check. Extra memory cards? Check. Umbrella? Check. Nice wooden clothes hanger to photograph the bride’s dress? Check that too!
A photographer needs to always be ready to adapt to changes. If something is happening that wasn’t on the schedule earlier, you’d better be there clicking away regardless, because that’s your role and you might just capture something spectacular.
I think that’s a pretty good metaphor for life in general as well to be honest. Curveballs being thrown at you, unforeseen circumstances that drastically alter your path, come what may – be ready and be adaptable.
Have that extra stash of kindness and forgiveness, of courage and of faith. And make sure that no matter what, you’re still in the thick of the action – living eyes-wide open through it all. You just never know what kind of spectacular encounter you might have.
There are probably many more valuable takeaways that come from the experience of being a photographer, and perhaps you might have some of your own to share too. The truth is, any discipline or art has its valuable lessons to be learnt.
Like hidden gems waiting to be found, they will only reveal themselves when we are truly hungry to find them.