Flash Cord On: Saviour of the Universe

Full Flash Photography Wedding

So on other days and in other blogs I have banged on about the high-end snapshot, and on other days and in other blogs I’ve talked about using flash to heighten the drama, to create atmosphere, or just shoot with the direct style of someone like Martin Parr, and certainly the way Richard Billingham used it in his seminal work, Ray’s A Laugh.  But what would a whole day shot on flash look like?  Not the soft fill-in flash of some old school wedding photographers, but that stark, brutal flash.  It’s a tough ask because it’s not flattering, it’s not forgiving and it’s pretty much the polar opposite of the industry definition of wedding photography.  It’s not just photographers that working under the largely meaningless ‘fine art’ category that are all about the beautiful image.  Even as a documentary wedding photographer you’re working to create real images of real people while doing your best to make them look as good as possible.  So how would it work to shoot a whole wedding day on flash?  And who’s going to be crazy enough and brave enough to go along with this idea?  Well, step forward Bridget and Maxie.  

Theirs was never going to be a regular wedding.  Bridget’s initial email to me described the day as being a ‘queer folk goth wedding.  Nick Cave meets meets Morris dancing.’  We met up and just instantly clicked and they both cited this IMAGE as their stand-out photo from my blogs.  In fact Bridget herself was the first to admit that while it’s not flattering it does have something extra about it.  And so, at some point, we somehow agreed, over some really good cocktails that that’s how I would shoot their day.  And while I do think that was incredibly brave and adventurous of them I don’t want people to think that I ever intended to shoot unflattering, Bruce Gilden-like photos of anyone.  That just doesn’t interest me.  I wasn’t going to get all Dougie Wallace on their day.  Wallace’s gaze and flash-style seems to be not just intentionally unflattering but deliberately cruel.  There is a judgement in the way he shoots people, an arrogance, a sense that he thinks his subjects are there to be judged, by him.  Well fuck Dougie Wallace, I think he’s a dick.  

But what flash does is bring a certain raw aesthetic.  Nothing hides in those soft dim corners.  I mean I never shoot weddings wide open, I shoot most things around f8 if I can, but f8 plus flash is something else again.  But I think it did make me shoot slightly differently.  Or at least edit differently.  I maybe left some shots in where the composition was slightly awkward, because somehow that seemed to fit the look.  But that raises another interesting question for photographers: why do we filter out the awkward and the imperfect?  Are we in danger of curating the day in a way that borders on the glossy and unreal just to assure clients that we do know what we’re doing, or tailored to fit what we know award panels will approve of?  Maybe that’s for another blog.  But all that said, this is not a bold new manifesto.  This doesn’t mean I’ll be shooting every wedding like this.  But shooting it this way was a breath of fresh air, and shooting a couple who were up for this was a breath of fresh air.  Added to that it was also such a fascinating, cultural diverse cross-section of people, and of what it means to be British these days, that it was really energising to be able to shoot it in a different way.  

Here are the results.  Some of you will love them, some of you will hate them.  But either way I’d be really interested to know what you think…

31 Comments

  1. Dan Ward

    Been looking at this for about 20 minutes now. Best thing I’ve seen in a long long time!

    I LOVE the look, it feels documentary and accurate to the day!

    Reply
    • Nick Tucker

      Thanks Dan. Really appreciate it.

      Reply
  2. Adam Riley

    Just awesome nick. Proper photography! I can see your street work in these.

    Reply
    • Nick Tucker

      Thanks Mr Riley. Maybe I should start doing street photography again after all!

      Reply
  3. Simon dewey

    This is really fascinating and brave work. I love your comments about the ‘awkward and imperfect’

    Reply
    • Nick Tucker

      Thanks Simon. Semi brave. I did think ‘Jeez am I doing the right thing at points during the day.’ ;-)

      Reply
  4. Jez Dickson

    Refreshing to see. Always looking. Good for you

    Reply
    • Nick Tucker

      Thanks Jez. Very much appreciated…

      Reply
  5. Jo

    Fuck yeah yeah!

    Reply
  6. Sean Hardy

    Hell yeah

    Reply
  7. Mark Ashworth

    I don’t like them. Sorry. The party shots look ok but as it’s dark I would expect them to have flash. I think the others look a amateurish. As you said though some will like them and some won’t :-)

    Reply
    • Nick Tucker

      Hey man, don’t be sorry. I appreciate the conversation. But what I’m saying is ‘amateurish’ is kind of the point here. We can all take the high-end ‘professional’ shot. That’s easy. The problem with those is if they’re too professional, too polished, too slick, they can end up looking like glossy brochure images for cruise ships. So, given that, what does it mean to reject that aesthetic for something else? Awkward, imperfect, professional are all just modes of representation. So then why is there the tyranny of the flawless in wedding photography?

      Reply
    • Anna

      Bit rude that eh. Nick you’re not just a talented & ballsy photographer you’ve also got excellent manners.

      Reply
      • Sam

        Anna forgot to mention your boyish charm and devilish good looks

        Reply
  8. Carine

    How dare you using flash direct on people?!
    Don’t change ever! Hahaha awesome work!
    X

    Reply
  9. Paul White

    It’s definitely not for every client, but as a photographer I can appreciate that it’s a lot quicker to process than shooting natural light! You say it’s unflattering, but direct flash can make people look way better that the ugly lighting in a lot of venues or top-heavy daylight. Might try it on the next Vicar I have just to see the death-stare down the aisle.

    Reply
  10. Tom Weller

    I love this Nick. I appreciate it may not be to everyone’s taste but that’s the point for me – it doesn’t cater to the lowest common denominator. Great work.

    Reply
  11. Phil Lynch

    Hey Nick

    I can’t say I am a fan (of these images lol). I think that Mark has hit the nail on the head in that they do not separate you from some one that was a guest at the wedding picking up a point and shoot. Not to do you a disservice (as the style and especially composition might be reflective of how you shoot most of your wedding work) I took a look at some of your previous weddings and they are chalk and cheese. Could have been shot by two different photographers. I am not referring to the use of flash but moreover the way you have approached your general composition.

    Take for example the wedding you shot in France (Les Trois Garcons Chateau).

    A great set of images, many of them with beautiful light, considered composition and a real air of ‘professionalism’ about them. You look like you thought about each image as you made it.

    Now compare them to your ‘experiment’ and I see a marked difference in your approach. If I am honest (and I am sure you would want me to be) they look more than a little lazy. You have not really worried about composition. You have just pointed the camera and shot. It sounds harsh to word it like this but that is my opinion when I compare these images to what I see as the ‘effort’ that you have put into your previous work. I can understand that they may have a certain appeal to some, and in fact there are a few that give me a 70’s nostalgic vibe…but I have to agree with Mark (Ashworth) that on the whole they do look pretty amateurish (which obviously you are not). It is not rude to say this. You asked for opinions and I have given you mine.

    I am not against the use of flash. I use it myself plenty when needed. At the end of the day, as professionals, we all need to do the best job we can for the client. There is absolutely nothing wrong with trying to exceed the clients expectations ie. ‘Glossy,magazine style’ or whatever….as long as you meet their expectations one way or another. You obviously did with this couple and you had a bit of fun doing it.

    What are your thoughts moving forward? Would you do it again? Would you change your style to market this approach. Or was it just that…an experiment…been there done that, sort of thing?

    Reply
    • James Rouse

      ROFL.

      (That means ‘rolling on the floor laughing’ btw)

      Reply
      • Phil Lynch

        Pleased you were amused.

        Reply
      • Vikki-Kate

        OOF Phil.

        To throw the word lazy out there is a very bold statement, to insinuate that Nick maybe didn’t care enough about this couple to just lazily use such an important day to them as a “point and shoot” flash experiment is more than insulting and really quite patronising. That may be how you feel when you see them for some reason, but lazy they most definitely are not. You see the guts of this wedding and the relationships between this family and group of friends, something that could never be achieved with a lazy photographer. If anything even from reading the process that lead up to this decision it’s evident how much thought went into shooting this day.
        I see you mentioned you yourself are a working professional, do you not adapt your approach and shooting style on a wedding by wedding basis? To shoot a French chateau wedding in this style wouldn’t really work at all, but neither would shooting in that classic style have worked for this wedding, and especially not this couple. Adapting to our subjects is the very soul of what we do, no?

        I did feel like Nick was a guest at the wedding and for me personally that’s why I loved them. (And I’m not a flash fan in the slightest so was honestly not expecting to love them!) It wasn’t a show, nothing was put on, I went through them and immediately felt like I knew what it was like to be at their wedding. It dragged me back to growing up in the north east as a kid and going to family weddings and party’s. I could smell the hall and taste the buffet, hear the music, I was there and every time they look at these images they’re going to be right back there too, what a fucking gift.

        The composition is deliberate and shot with intent to give you that feeling of being a guest (I feel anyway, not about to mansplain to Nick how he made his own work, think there’s been enough of that in some of these comments haha) but what separates these from an actual guest with a wind up camera to me is the emotion in them, they’re not just photos of people having fun, the shots of them listening to the speeches for example, they’re careful and considered, you can see he’s played the waiting game and then caught what an impact whatever is being said to them is having, and that’s what I’d want to see from my wedding photos. They aren’t up a mountain, they’re smoking outside an old hall, it’s involved and it’s real and you can feel radiating out of so many of these what an incredibly happy day they had, suits them perfectly.

        Reply
    • Nick Tucker

      I’m sorry, Phil but I think you and Mark both seem to have a strangely rigid and outdated view of what wedding photography should be. Even the fact that wedding photography SHOULD BE anything at all feels outdated. Photography is allowed to be scratchy and raw. Being a professional photographer is not about having the best camera on the block, it’s about what you bring to the day behind the camera. For me, as I was shooting this day I wasn’t thinking about other wedding photography at all. I was thinking of photographers like Lauren Greenfield, Richard Billingham, Nick Waplington, Ewan Spencer, because those were the touchstones for that wedding on that day. As Vikki-Kate said above, I didn’t shoot the Les Trois Garcons wedding in the same that because it was an entirely different wedding and to shoot it like that would have been entirely wrong. It’s about steeping yourself in all forms of photography and then being able to react with honesty and authenticity to the day and the people in front of you. I want to connect to the people I’m photographing and I want people looking at the photos to connect to them through those shots. And that’s really everything for me. The rest is just personal taste. Which I feel no need to be prescriptive about.

      Reply
  12. Steven Carter Hewson

    Really enjoyed this, Nick! Such a unique style and it’s refreshing to see someone unafraid to challenge convention, growing as an artist in the process. Sure, it won’t appeal to everyone but who wants to be generic, eh? Well done.

    Reply
  13. James Rouse

    I love the set!!

    I love that this style is unapologetically swimming against the tide and I don’t know of any other photographer that could have pulled it off with such panache as your good self! I think it’s both visually interesting and stimulating in equal measures.

    Even [as a photographer] if this isn’t for you or your own style, you’d have to be a relic from the past; probably wheeling out the same repertoire over the last 20years, living in an echo chamber of like minded dinosaurs to think ‘your way is the only way’ to not see it for what it is….

    A collaborative adventure between the couple and photographer to create a unique body of work.

    Bravo Nick!

    Reply
  14. Vikki-Kate

    I was fully expecting to wince at these being a woman terrified of her flash (I don’t even know what model mine is, it’s black? ha!) but I actually loved them.

    I had a proper visceral reaction to them, I was immediately a kid again at a family wedding, smelling tasting hearing everything that was going on, right up to going round to theirs for a tea in the morning still in pyjamas to talk about what a good time we all had. I was immediately emotionally invested in them as a couple and the more I saw them having an amazing time as the day went on, the happier I was looking at them.

    No they’re not polished and fancy, but they’re full of love and take you straight there and honestly isn’t that what we all really need from our wedding photos? To be reminded of the emotion, not the nice hillside that was 10 minutes away.

    Would love to see you get asked to do some more of this, you did them proud :)

    Reply
  15. Mark Randle

    As a guest at the wedding in question here, these photographs capture EXACTLY the spirit of the event. Very smart. Not in the least bit lazy. Very instantly cleverly composed and considered. Most importantly- and it matters not one jot what anyone else thinks – ‘professional’ as they may be – precisely what Maxie & Bridget wanted.
    (And I love the ones of Me!) (lol)

    Reply
    • Nick Tucker

      Hey Mark. Really appreciate you writing, and great to get a guest’s perspective. I’m really glad you feel that way. And very happy you love the ones of you. I wasn’t sure who I should feature most prominently, you or Maxie and Bridget. In the end I went with Maxie and Bridget but it was a close run thing.. ;-)

      Reply

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