I received a lot of submissions from wedding photographers. It’s a form of photography I have a lot of opinions about. It’s a an area of the business that is saturated by a lot of people that probably shouldn’t be doing it. Alex definitely should be doing it. I find his work classical, technically sound and in the top 5% of what I see.
My opinion on wedding photography can be summed up pretty quickly. The content of the image is the only thing that should date it, not the photograph itself.
I introduce you to Alex Johnson from Minnesota.
Tell the CR Readers a bit about yourself.
I am a 24 year old photographer living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I got dropped into wedding work as a favor for a friend and haven’t really looked back. Once a staunch despiser of wedding photography, I must admit my perspective has shifted dramatically.
To me, wedding photography was always that stuffy art of placing hard to please families together on the alter and capturing their deadpan stares, staging “romantic” moments between couples and mixing that all together with countless boring still life shots.
It was this notion that drove me in the opposite direction. With a passion for photojournalism and a background shooting for my collegiate newspaper, I took on my newfound career deliberately opposing everything I hated about conventional wedding work.
That approach opened up a completely new idea of what a wedding is and how it could be documented. By letting go of all previous misconceptions, I was free to invent my own abstraction. In it’s simplest form, for most folks, it is the most important day of their lives. As a cultural phenomenon, weddings are a true representation of the virtues society holds most dear. Who wouldn’t want to document that?
When did you first pick up a camera?
My father was an amateur wedding photographer in the 1960s. Growing up, I would (against his will) borrow his Minolta SLR and lenses and take abstract black and white images creating an 8 year olds interpretation of art. I would love to see some of those first shots.
What was your first digital camera?
Some variety of Sony Cybershot point and shoot that quickly lead to purchasing a Canon 350D
What do you primarily shoot?
I mainly shoot weddings but dabble in portraiture and musical acts.
Name one Photographer that has influences you the most
I’m not sure what this says about me, but I have never really explored many photographers or followed anyone’s work in particular. If I had to choose, I would say Jeff Bridges. Yes, that Jeff Bridges. His work primarily documents the process of creating a film and gives an insiders perspective on an otherwise mysterious process.
Any formal training in photography?
I took a class back in college in dark room tech but I didn’t much care for it. Everything I have learned has been trial and error, one often outweighing the other.
Do any books or web sites stick out that helped you learn?
As far as photoshop chops go, photo.net has been a wonderful tool to discuss and learn. Also, strobist.com, in it’s (and my) earlier days, was a huge help.
It was the first brand of DSLR i had purchased on a whim and I just stuck with it.
Probably the best decision I have ever made.
What cameras and lenses do you use?
I shoot with a 5D MKII. As far as lenses go, 35mm 1.4 L, 50mm 1.4, 85mm 1.2L, 135mm f/2 L and a Tamron 17-35mm 2.8-4
If you could only have one lens, what would it be?
35mm. 1.4L, hands down. It’s an amazing piece of glass and perhaps the only prime i’ve shot with that is sharp wide open. Not only is it technically wonderful, but I feel that the 35mm perspective is nearly identical to the human eye. It’s this quality that gives the images captured a real sense of place and allows the viewer to feel the presence of the moment, just like if she/he had been there.
Describe your computer and software workflow
15” Macbook Pro 2.53 Ghz core duo, Aperture, and Photoshop CS4.
After a shoot, I’ll dump my cards into Aperture and have an automatic backup created to my external drive. I sort and rate the evening shoot, flagging the best 100 shots or so for external editing in photoshop. The rest of the images are edited inside Aperture.
Is photography your sole provider of income?
It is about 90% of my income. I walk dogs in the winter time, less for the money and more for the chance to get out of the house. Plus dogs are awesome.
A wedding is a wonderful work environment. Everybody is in great spirits and typically consume a great amount of spirits. Who wouldn’t want to work with folks that have permanent smiles glued to their faces? It is a life changing experience that I get to take partake in every weekend with little to no drama. The idea of going from this to a 9-5 desk job makes me cry a little. I love what I do.
Do you do destination weddings?
I haven’t traveled extremely far as of yet, Minneapolis clients keep me very busy. That does not mean I don’t want to do them. I would love more than anything to incorporate travel into my business. It’s a bit of a dream of mine to be on the road for each wedding I shoot.
If so, the coolest place you’ve shot?
I shot a wedding in a town(ship) called Greenfield in Minnesota. I had never heard of it or any of the tiny towns surrounding it. Upon arriving there, I was absolutely blown away. Imagine a nouveau southern mansion on lush gorgeous garden surrounded on all four sides by huge groves of weeping willow. Now add an insane amount of flowers, a few streams cascading through the landscape with absolutely nothing obstructing the horizon. It was hard to get a bad shot and it didn’t hurt that the couple was gorgeous as well.
Best business decision you’ve made?
Investing in primes and a full frame early on. Sure, it put me in the red for a while, but I wasn’t limited by my equipment which has made a lot of difference in both my shooting style and my versatility as a photographer. I know equipment isn’t everything but when you’re ready to upgrade, you’ll only feel the lack of what your current setup cannot deliver, knowing that you could do more if you had that one lens or that one body. Those limitations will only hurt your business and your satisfaction with the final product.
Do you have any employees, 2nd photographers or helpers?
I tend to be more of a lone wolf. I find it easier to work when I’m in charge of every aspect of the day.
Any plans to expand your business employing more photographers?
It’d be nice to have a shortlist of capable second photographers but I don’t have any plans to expand as of now.
Do you process your own images or farm it out?
I process and edit all of my own work. I have toyed with the idea of using an editor to speed up my work flow and turnaround times, but I like the idea of creating each image from beginning to end on my own. It makes the final product more genuine and meaningful.
Do you spend any money on marketing, or does the industry come to you?
On the whole my clients come to me. I hit the obvious targets (website, facebook, blogs, etc) but do not budget for any advertising. For me, the best advertising is word of mouth from happy couples.
Wedding photography is extremely saturated with “weekend warriors”, how do you differentiate yourself?
Experience. Shooting roughly 20-25 weddings per season it is my familiarity and understanding of how a wedding day works that lets my clients know they are dealing with a professional. Even a “weekend warrior” is capable of taking a good photograph, but how will they respond to the pressures and pace of a wedding day, making sure everything runs smoothly? In many cases, they won’t.
Do you aim for the high end of the wedding market?
I am working my way into that arena but try to avoid weddings that are so precisely planned and orchestrated that my part in them allows for little creativity. My client base tends to be couples who are very laid back and easy to work with allowing me the freedom to be spontaneous and inventive.
One piece of advice you’d give people that want to be photographers professionally.
Jump in and don’t look back. The key ingredient to doing what you love for a living is to simply do it. Don’t worry about money, equipment or anything else that might get in your way, those will all work themselves out eventually. It’s easy to make excuses or go for that safe job with the cushy salary, but you’ll be kicking yourself for the rest of your life.
Name one photographer you would like to take a portrait of?
I think it’d have to be Ansel Adams. His work is truly inspiring, plus I’d get to travel back in time.
Name one public figure you would like to take a portrait of?
Again, dead or living? The time travel thing is really tempting. If I had to pick a living figure, I’d have to say Sarah Palin. Not because I support her in any way but because I fully do not understand her or the U.S’s fascination surrounding her. I’d like to pick her brain.
We’ve learned the most from
I have learned the most from falling flat on my face. With a constant desire to better my self photographically, not succeeding has taught me the most about who I am and what I am capable of achieving.
Something you’re still learning?
Everything. The day I feel I stop learning is the day I am no longer interested in progressing. This happened to me with high school math and I hope it never happens with photography. It is my continued fascination with photography that drives me and gets me up every morning. If I don’t want to keep learning, what’s the point?
What is your greatest photographic fear?
Switching to Nikon. That, or losing inspiration. Or are those the same thing?
Something you’re saving up for?
As a huge tech geek I am saving up for everything. But the next item on my list is a 5D Mk III when it’s finally released. I have nightmares about the Mk II’s autofocus.
What photographic item do you wish you had designed?
The Ray flash is genius but if I had my say in the design process I’d have allowed for the autofocus assist to still function. Also, as weird as he is, Gary Fong makes some wonderful products. The collapsible light sphere is my go to for reception photography.
Your favourite film (movie) of all time?
Synecdoche, NY is a remarkable film. It really challenged the confines of traditional story line and opened up an entire realm of creativity for future film makers to emulate. That and it’s super trippy.
Thanks to Alex for taking the time to do this interview. I hope you enjoyed it and his images.