Full Interview with Wedding Photographer Catherine Hall

This months issue of PhotoComment Magazine featured wedding and portrait photographer Cathrine Hall as our Pro Portfolio. Due to print restrictions we could not feature the full interview in the magazine but never fear, the full interview is here.

Are you getting into the busy wedding season now?

Yes, it’s crazy May, June and July, but you know, it’s interesting that we do so much that it kind of all feels the same now. It’s not like there is a down season anymore, and the good news to that is I don’t have the shock of going into “wedding season”. The bad news is, I never get a break.

How did your interest in photography first begin?

It basically started early on. I took a photography class in Highschool and it was just one of those things where it was very natural for me. When it was time to go to college I went to a university where you had to choose your major before you started and I was good at photography and good at math. As an 18 year old girl what she wants to do between math and photography and they going to choose photography 9 out of 10.

I wouldn’t say I ever chose photography as a path, it was more of, I started doing it, was good at it,  progressed and have grown as I have gotten older.

You tend to be focussed a lot more on photographing people and weddings. Is that your particular passion?

I would say that people within itself and that wedding are an extension of that. I like weddings because you are fortunate enough to be with people on one of the best days of their lives, there is a positivity that comes from that. What a great gift to be able to document such an important time. That kind of just stems from the root of just loving people and being fascinated by people.

Interestingly enough, Scott Bourne said something to me the other day that resonated with me. He said he is not passionate about photography he is passionate about people. I never really thought about it that way, but that’s sort of true for me as well in the sense that I love exploring and learning and exposing myself to different cultures, people etc. Photography is just that tool that allows me to do that.

What is the process you go though in terms of booking the client, planning the day and actually shooting the wedding?

I am still learning and could talk for probably 4 hours and not even begin to touch it. If I wanted to give an easy give away… I think the most important thing – or one of them – is valuing your work. So when you are initially getting started and you love photography it’s difficult to charge what you’re worth. I think understanding it’s okay in expecting it to be uncomfortable, you know asking for it. And the way you can find out what you are worth is by researching your market. Get an idea of what is the going rate for professional photographers in your area.

I know it’s intimidating at first, like when I first began I thought “oh my gosh thats so much money, I will give a discount” and those kind of things, but the sooner you let go of that, value your work and charge what you are worth the uncomfortableness will begin to go away and it will feel okay. It’s hard for everyone in the beginning, its nice to know you are not alone in this instance.

Another thing, especially for new photographers, is to get out there and practice. Shoot as much as you can, practice with friends first to lessen the pressure. Hone your craft to a point where you will feel comfortable and confident before you actually start booking clients versus booking clients at discounted rates and trying to learn that way.

Have you ever found family politics getting in the way of a successful shoot?

I would like to find one wedding photographer that has had one wedding without some family politics. I think every family is riddled with them and I have a very high awareness or am sensitive to these sorts of dynamics. It’s better to understand that families are complex, especially when you are bringing two of them together, there is bound to be politics somewhere in the mix. Usually and hopefully it’s not a parent and you are not having to do much in monitoring it or being a part of it however there are occasions where you are directly involved with it. Typically that is with the formal photos.

My solution to that is, making sure the bride and groom are happy and comfortable and making sure who ever is paying for the photography is comfortable. Then be the scape goat. What I meant by that is if the bride doesn’t want someone being next to her during formals because she doesnt like them or they make her feel upset then use me as an out and say that ‘my photographer has called this a closed session and there are only these people that are going to be a part of it’. I don’t care if aunt Joe doesnt like me. So I tell the bride to blame me, but I still smile and am nice to everyone.

What do you do to get the… Stiffs, and shy family or guests to loosen up?

If I am photographing a group I would focus on others. Usually shy or nervous people are very observant, so letting them see me work and see that it’s not threatening and fun or relaxed they usually come around.

If I am only photographing them, say a kid that is shy or they really camera aware and they stiffen or they just aren’t interested, the worst thing you can do is persist and try to get the child unstiff, or unbratty. Best thing to do at that point is relinquish control and understand that they are really the ones that are the boss in a sense so you have to do it under their rules. With kids you can play with them and have fun and get more candid shots versus the more fabricated and formal.

You need to stay consistent to your style, I think that’s very, very important, however, you can alter your styles while staying consistent in a way that is most productive for any given subject. So even though I am very hands on in the way I shoot, if I have a child that is not that way inclined I need to figure out a way to shoot them in a way that is true to who they are.

Is it important for photographers to develop their own style and how would one do that?

There is good and bad news about developing your own style. They good news is that there is no ‘just do this, that and this and you are going to have your own style’. I believe – and this is the good news- is that it’s something that just comes natually. Bad news, you can’t force it. Good news, it will come but you have to shoot. What I meant by that is, I didn’t say this is my style and I’m going to be this way. It was more a case of really getting out there and practicing a lot, shooting a lot and watching my personal style come through.

I think what makes a style a style is that part of the photograph that is as much the photographer as it is the subject. Your style is just you. It’s kind of ambiguous but the more you practice the more you are a part of your photographs. Initially it’s very intimidating with all the gear, f/stops and leanring so that you really have to get the techniques down first before you can kind of let go of that and allow the more sort of, artistic or natural style progress. You need to stop worrying about the more techniques side before the stylistic, artistic side can truly come out if that makes sense.

When you want to shoot for yourself, do you need to arrange something specific or do your clients provide you with enough opportunities for that?

I would say it’s both. I love every opportunity my client provides me, it’s something I just love doing. All the assignments I have are things I am passionate about. With that said, I really think it’s important for all photographers to have personal projects going on. Things that may not be funded by a client but something that they are passionate about. I always have at least two or three personal projects sort of in the background that I am working on at all times. I think that just for me as an artist it keeps me inspired in all areas of the medium.

That brings me to what keeps you inspired, or as you have explained now, what projects appeal to you?
I think it changes and it shifts. So if I was giving advice to someone else that was initially just starting out, just shoot whatever you feel like shooting and not put limits on yourself. I’ve gone through a lot of phases. Initially I wanted to be a photojournalist and then I wanted to be an architectural photographer and I kind of went through all these different sides of photography and right now I have sort of landed on portrait photography and I think this is porbably where I’ll stay. My advice would be to shoot whatever you feel like shooting. It’s really simple, it’s not that complex. Personal projects will naturally be born out of that.

Do you worry about having to be fresh and different and if so how do you go about doing that?

Its really fascinating, I don’t know the best route for that. I have heard of a lot of photographers reinventing themselves and I have heard of reinventing yourself every few years. I have watched very successful photographers do it and it’s a very sort of calculated approach to staying inspired and it really works. For me personally – and I have thought about that ‘oh I need to focus on reinventing myself’ – it much more organic in the sense that I am never planning to reinvent myself but the way in which I am constantly reinventing myself, which I guess is a difference, it’s not every year or two it’s more of a slow progression that is always happening. It’s just doing the things that keep me inspired which is what we talked about earlier, working on personal projects, shooting the things I love, getting out there and just enjoying photography, not limiting myself to client assignments. The other aspect to that is really surrounding yourself with the right team and the right people in your life whether its a significant other or people that support you because photography is a lifestyle. If you are really going to stay inspired and grow then it really helps to have team members that you work with regularly or boyfriends, girlfriends or wives, that understand that that’s a part of you and really want to see that aspect of you working and continuing to grow.

Is there a ‘defining moment’ in your photographic pursuits?

I think learning what you don’t want to do is as important as learning what you do want to do. Especially within the realm of photography. I can think of a lot of defining moments or times where I realized that I was going down the wrong path and I needed to change, shift gears.

To give you one example. For a while I thought I wanted to be a landscape photographer. I was at Monument Valley with my mom and we went out at like 3 or 4 in the morning. We out in the middle of a desert waiting for this really famous areas sunrise to come out. I had everything ready – at that time I was using a medium format camera – so I had my Mamiya read and all my camera rolls of film, filters and I was ready for the sun to come. The sun came out over the valley and it was just insanely, extraordinarily beautiful. Very short but very powerful. So it all happened within like 10 minutes. I am just frantically – as photographers do – trying different things to make sure I capture it perfect. So it’s different filters on, changing my film and just really frantically working through is 10 minutes as intense as possible, bracketing exposures, whatever I need to doright nowntonnail this sunrise. It ended and I looked at my mom – and I was like ‘I did it, I nailed it, awesome’ feeling really good about myself – and I looked at my mom and she had this very unusual expresssion. I said “Mom what going on?” and she said “That’s the most beautiful I have ever seen, lie going to Sistine Chapel”. She was just like under this magical spell of this sunrise and I could see it was a really profound moment for her. I kind of sat there and thought to myself “I didn’t even get to see the sunrise”. At that moment I realized that landscape photography for me, made me loose a connection with life and earth. I felt like I missed out on something, the camera got in the way. With people I feel like the camera brings me experiences I would never have. I am sure there are landscape photographers out there that are experience life because of their camera but it didnt work for me. It’s finding what aspect of life you want to explore. So often the defining moments are finding what you don’t want to explore.

I hear photographers often complain about having so many images to edit after a wedding. What is your workflow and how much time do you spend editing a wedding?

Workflow isnsuch a user specific thing. It’s almost like you have to try different things to try and come out with what works for you. It’s sort of a generic answer but I truly believe that there is no perfect workflow. With that said, you look at your strengths, your skills and you interests and if you really hate retouching or editing then build a business that isn’t dependent on that or maybe you outsource those kind of things. Maybe your business is really focuses on capturing the images and maybe keeping them natural. I enjoy the compute, I enjoyer retouching. I find satisfaction in retouching images in the same way I found satisfaction in the traditional darkroom so my business is built in such a way that I really push the retouching and take pride in it. I want to produce beautiful albums that people treasure forever. I guess my advice on that would be, finding what your stengths are, what your likes are, and building a business that doesn’t have you doing the things you hate to do on a regular basis, all the time.

We hear often that professional photography is often more time on business and less behind the came. How important is the business side? Should one study up a bit on running a business?

I would say if you really arent interested in running a business and you aren’t inspired by marketing or being organized or any of the things that it takes to run a successful business then I would recommend, if you just love photography, and that’s all you want to do, shoot for another studio. Being a freelance photographer or being self employed and owning your own business you are not going to be shooting most of the time. You are going to be spending at least 50%, probably much more, running your business. If you don’t enjoy that then then it’s probably not the smartest thing to do. There are plenty of photographers or studios out there that have photographers working for them. You may not have as much flexibility in terms of growth, there may be a cap on your growth in regards to income or wedding you can take, but if shooting is your thing, starting your own business is not going to get you behind the camera on a regular basis all the time.

Learning how to manage your book is so important. I did not have a good bookkeeper for years and that was the most arduous, worse part of my business, keeping track of payments and taxes, all of it. At least be educated in how to run Quickbooks (or Pastel for our South African readers). Get it on your computer and get someone to train you on how to use it, take a class, whatever, it will help you run your business and give you an idea of where your business stands in regards to profit at any time.

I have to ask, what gear do you shoot with?

Canon. So I’m a zoom girl, so I have all the L-series zoom lenses. From the 16-35mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm, just the kind of staple lenses. But then I also have an 85mm f/1.2 which I love.