COVID-19 isolation is a tricky time for wedding photographers. Upskilling might already be on your radar as you think about putting time into your wedding photography business over this time where weddings have been banned pretty much across the globe. But I’d like to suggest some out-of-the-box ways that we can upskill as wedding photographers in this time that you might not have thought of yet.
#1. Document Your Life Inside
If you’re anything like me and you’ve been photographing for a while, you may have gotten out of this habit and 99% of the time you pick up a camera to try and be creative it’s for “work” or for a “client”. When you’re busy with your business and shooting and editing for clients all the time, it’s so easy to forget to document your personal life.
Something that I am committing to do while in isolation is to push myself to document my everyday life. In its most mundane form in a way that showcases the beauty of it. I am going to force myself to pick up my camera every single day. In fact, as I write this it’s sitting on the coffee table in the lounge room, ready for whatever might inspire me.
It could be the way the light hits the flowers next to the TV. It could be the way the rain is softly creating new pathways down our window pane. It might be the way my wife looks as the window light kisses her cheek as she reads her book. These things might seem irrelevant at first glance. But they’re achieving a few goals for me.
Firstly, there’s something very powerful about finding gratitude in times like these that I want to hold onto with all my might. When I have a camera in my hand I see the world differently and I notice things. I take greater notice of light, movement, even how a moment feels. It’s helping me stay present and creative in a season where it would be so easy to just numb myself with Netflix and scrolling social media.
Secondly, I can’t speak for all of your weddings, but most of mine aren’t picture perfect in every aspect. Sometimes I’ve got to work really hard to hide the ugly parts of the room during getting ready photos or work the angles really hard shooting reception details to make sure it looks good. On a wedding day, you’ve just got to react quickly to those situations and do your best in the 10 seconds you have till the moment is passed.
Documenting life at home gives you the time to slow down a little and think. Often times that extra minute of thought is the bit that activates the creative center in your brain and allows you to flex that muscle and really think about how you would best capture that scenario.
You’re not focusing on whether you’re standing in front of a guest or interrupting a speech or trying to think of the 30 moments you can’t miss in the next 10 minutes before the formalities are over. Your mind is clearer, you’re limited by subject matter but you’ve got time on your side. Take the time to flex those creative muscles.
Here are a few samples of what I’ve been documenting in my home and around my little walks with my wife in this period of isolation.
#2. Limit Your Gear
Like me, you’ve probably got tons of wedding photography gear sitting in your study gathering dust right now while you’re not photographing weddings. Thinking about shooting your home creatively and having your whole kit-bag with you all day is a little bit daunting and likely to have you do nothing at all.
If having 6 lenses at your disposal is going to help you feel more excited to shoot, then I’m not saying don’t do that. But my personal recommendation is that you limit yourself. Both in the amount of gear you use, and the quality of the gear you use. If you need to go on eBay and pick up an old mirrorless body that’s super outdated for this. I give you full permission to send your spouse this article to justify it.
Here’s why. When you have all the gear, you quickly get stuck into a pattern of knowing exactly how to shoot every scenario. Because these days, your gear allows it. When it’s pitch black and midnight and you wanna go shoot something, you don’t even think twice now because our cameras have such insane low light capabilities they see better than we do. But I don’t think that’s the best way to stretch your creativity. I think imposing limits on yourself is usually one of the best ways to flex those creative muscles in your brain. And that’s because it engages your problem-solving skills.
When you’re shooting on an old Fujifilm X-Pro1 or something like that, you’re having to battle things like the slow autofocus, the limited dynamic range, and the ISO capabilities that make you stop and think a bit more about how you’re going to shoot. The way you might capture a moment with the “right” gear simply won’t work.
You have to find a workaround — think about light differently, think about how you position a subject and position yourself. That’s going to do wonders for your creativity and give you the chance to really upskill your wedding photography for when you do go back to weddings with all your gear.
I’m challenging myself to one mirrorless body and one fixed 50mm lens. And a few film cameras that only have fixed 50mm focal lengths too. Which leads me to my next tip.
#3. Shoot Film
Shooting film is such a valuable practice I think every photographer should keep doing at some capacity during their life. This tip is optional at this time because I know a lot of wedding photographers are doing things tough right now financially and shooting film isn’t cheap. They don’t say “stay broke shoot film” for nothing.
Like the last point, much of this is about limiting yourself. Film places a lot of beautiful limitations on you and pushes you to work within its limits or get really creative and break out of them anyway. It reminds you to stay present; not always looking at the back of the screen to make sure you like the shot. You’ve got to take your time and think about your framing. You know that if you get it wrong it’s an expensive mistake (like when you completely fail to focus on the bridal party).
Film has such a beautiful visceral process to it. It’s all manual, hands-on. It really takes you back to the joy of discovering photography for the first time and that physical enjoyment factor of creating an image can often be half the battle in getting out of a creative rut.
In this time of anxiety and uncertainty, there’s also something absolutely wonderful about having something to look forward to. For me, that’s been waiting for film scans to come back from the lab. And feeling like a little kid waiting for Christmas for them to come back.
#4. Unfollow Wedding Photographers on Social Media
Okay, you might want to argue with me on this one. But seriously, just give me a minute to explain. I know, I know. You want to be inspired during this time of no work. But I know one thing for sure from talking to so many creatives in this tough season: anxiety is at an all-time high.
Even some of my photography heroes are feeling it really badly and talking about getting other jobs or giving up on this profession. To me that’s crazy, but I get it. The thoughts cross my mind too. When there’s no work in the calendar for 6 months that’s not canceled or postponed, it’s really hard to stay positive and watching every other photographer in the world dig through their “best of” archive and post all their Iceland elopements is not what is going to help you improve your own photography during COVID-19 isolation. Believe me!
Watching other people’s best of highlight-reel right now is going to make you feel crap about your work. 99% of the time unless you have an ego made out of concrete. You’re going to feel it. Just get rid of that out of your life. Focus on what you’re doing. My incredible friend Teppo Happoja made an artist profile video of me a few years ago that explains some of this stuff better than I probably will in written form so I’ll just drop that in here. But in all seriousness, if you’re a wedding photographer and following me on Instagram, you have my full permission to unfollow right now.
#5. Absorb Alternative Inspiration
If you’re not getting your inspiration from Instagram, which I believe is one of the worst places to be inspired from, where should you be getting it from? It’s a slightly tricky one to answer because this will be different for every person and what inspires you. Normally this list for me includes lots of nature and being outside which is pretty problematic for now.
But perhaps for you, it means picking up a novel. Watching some documentaries or award-winning films. (Maybe even some foreign films where you purely watch it for the visual storytelling. Maybe it’s flicking through old magazines (not necessarily the photography in them either), looking at how they tell stories. When your brain finds something it loves in an alternative story than the type you typically tell, it has to figure out how you would do that in your own way. That’s the gold!
Let’s just all agree right now to stop filling our eyes with comparisons of other photographers’ wedding work and get inspiration that’s not something we can copy. That’s stuff we have to transpose into our own work and filter through our own lenses to create something unique, something only we could have done.
About the author: Joshua Mikhaiel is a wedding photographer based in Australia and serving New South Wales and beyond. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Mikhaiel’s work on his website, Facebook, and Instagram. This article was also published here.