Spotlight on a Wedding Photographer - wedmate
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Photographer Sue Smart

We’re once again going behind the camera of a fabulous photographer who has shot weddings since she was only 17. Susan Smart works as a Medical Photographer for UCL Health Creatives at the Royal Free Hospital but still photographs weddings in her spare time. Read on to find out about the moments she loves to capture the most, what you should look for in a Wedding Photographer and why she now loves taking photos in the Operating Theatre…

Tell us how you got into photography and, in particular, wedding photography?

I have always had a great love of art and in particular painting. I could only ever paint from an image in front of me and would use images I saw in books as my inspiration. After encouragement from my art teacher to take the photo myself and use that as my image to paint from, I fell in love with the camera and haven’t picked up a paintbrush since! My teacher encouraged me go to College, where I studied Photography and Video, and Uni, where I gained a BA (Hons) in Photography.

When I was about 17, I got asked to take photos my brother’s friends wedding. There was a lot of pressure but because I was so young, I didn’t really feel the stress of it so much. It was only a small wedding but it went really well. His sister then got married a few years later and so I covered their wedding, and then her friends got married – and so on. All the weddings I’ve photographed have always been through word of mouth and personal recommendation, which I really like because people then know your style and what you’re like.

Your main job is quite different from wedding photography – what attracted you to the role?

So now I’m a Medical Photographer at the Royal Free Hospital in London, which is completely different as weddings are joyful occasions and my job can be a mixture between joyful and very emotional. The best thing about my job is that I feel I’m taking a picture for a reason and I’m a very small part in a big circle of people who are all helping to save lives. As lovely as it is to capture memories for people on their special days, I needed a bit more from taking photos and medical photography has given me that. I can follow a patient through their treatment and see the look of joy once they’ve overcome their illness; it’s such an honour to be a part of that journey. Plus, I might just meet my McDreamy or McSteamy (for all the Grey’s Anatomy fans out there).

I’m a bit squeamish but when you’re behind your camera, you’re just focussed on the technicalities such as the exposure or the lighting, rather than what’s happening on the theatre table. When I started out, I never thought I’d be witnessing and documenting an operation as it was happening – that’s the best thing about photography, that it can take you to so many places that you’d never expect.

It’s a real privilege as a wedding photographer to go behind the scenes on the day and to be there from start to finish.

What makes the perfect photograph?

If you capture someone’s true emotions and expressions. You’d think it might be seeing a happy, smiley face but not necessarily. Someone could have their eyes closed because they’re laughing so much but you then capture their true joy and emotion in that moment.

One of the best things about my job is when you give the bride and groom their final pictures after the wedding and you see their faces. If the bride sees a picture of the groom and they really feel that picture and the emotions of the day, then you know you’ve captured the two of them and you’ve done your job. Makes me feel a little emotional thinking about it!

My least favourite is when we’re doing the posed shots at weddings because they’re staged and everyone wants to get them over and done with so they can move on to talking to everyone, having a drink and then a dance. But you’re catering for everyone so you have to do these for grandparents and the rest of the family.

Rain or shine? What’s the best weather when photographing a wedding?

You can plan so much of a wedding but on the day you have to be versatile as you don’t know what the weather will be like. At one wedding, it didn’t stop raining all day but you come prepared e.g. bringing giant umbrellas. Some of my favourite pictures have been in the rain at weddings; I took a photo of a happy couple standing in an archway, lighting it to show the rain coming down from outside in a beautiful, romantic way. You can always hope for a cloudy day but you have to be ready for anything!

What’s the most unusual wedding you’ve ever photographed?

This would be one I went to in Turkey; it’s always lovely if people want to book me for weddings abroad (hint hint!) It was very different; the bride spent about five hours getting ready in the salon and that’s because it’s all about the preparation for the wedding itself. All the women went to the salon to get nails, hair and make-up done and have something to eat and even I was included in the process. The hairdresser was doing my crazy curly hair as I was taking pictures!

Then the groom came to meet the bride at the salon to take her to the ceremony, which started at about 7pm. The ceremony was pretty short and then there was dinner and dancing. So the whole day was about making the bride the most beautiful she had ever been. I was invited to all the parties in the lead up as well so it was nice to be a part of the experience and to see a different style of wedding.

I also photographed a wedding where all four flower girls were dogs, the ring bearer was a dog and the bridal party arrived in a tractor! Very different.

What moment during the Big Day do you most enjoy photographing?

Definitely the bride prep. The first part is really slow and then as soon as the bride puts her dress on, time just disappears and the excitement mounts. It’s a real privilege as a wedding photographer to go behind the scenes on the day and to be there from start to finish. You get to see moments like the first time her mum or dad sees her in her dress, the bridesmaids getting excited as they’re all getting ready, when the groom sees the bride as she walks up the aisle, the tears, the laughter; you get to witness it all. I also love the speeches because if you want to capture expressions, that’s when you can see them all!

How many photos do you normally take during a single wedding day?

I’d say about 1,500. The good thing about digital photography is that you can take so many. Someone may be laughing and may not look great laughing so you can take a few to get the best photo! Every picture I edit I think if it was me, would I like it; I never want anyone to see a picture they don’t like.

What should couples look for when picking a wedding photographer?

As you spend all day with them, you’ve got to like them! You’ve got to feel completely comfortable with them, especially when they’re capturing intimate moments like you kissing, crying or laughing together.

Most people say they forget I’m even there taking their picture, which means I’ve done a good job at blending into the background and not getting in the way on the day. I might be bias but I think some of the better photographers are those that don’t photograph weddings all the time as it can become more about ticking off a checklist of photos on the day, rather than capturing the moments as they happen. It can’t be all about getting that one photo if that means getting in the way or creating any kind of stress for the couple as it’s their day, not yours. Your schedule goes out the window and you have to adapt to that.

Which celebrity wedding would you have most liked to photograph?

I’d have loved to photograph Robbie Williams’ wedding only to stop it from happening!

Share your favourite photo and tell us why it’s your fave!

A recent one would be the sunset shot at Sarah and Ali’s wedding as that’s something you can’t plan. They wanted to have a lot of natural shots on the day and at the time they were talking to people and though I didn’t want to interrupt them, I just saw the sunset and thought I have to do it. And I know it’s one of their favourites so it’s all good!

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