Q&A with SMW

I was recently interviewed for an on-line article and this is a copy of that transcript…

Q: Name?

A: Simon Mark Whitten, Firehorse Photography.

Q: Where are you based?

A: Harrogate, North Yorkshire.

Q: How long have you been photographing weddings Simon?

A: I photographed my first few weddings in 1999 and went full-time in 2000 creating the business that a few years later would become Firehorse Photography and since that time have photographed over 500 wedding days.

Q: Do you specialise in anything else or just weddings?

A: First and foremost I consider myself a wedding specialist as it makes up around 90% of all the photography I do, but I also photograph some location portraiture and some commercial projects of special interest.

Q: Are you qualified or trained in anyway?

A: There isn’t any such thing as a ‘qualified’ wedding photographer. There are quite a few subscription based organisations that purport to, but what they offer are awards of distinction based on their opinion rather than qualifications. I choose not to belong to any of them. I did however spend 5 years at college and university culminating in a BA hons degree in ‘Communication Media’ specialising in photography & design so I have had formal training and do have a genuine qualification in photography. Wedding Photography though is largely a self-taught process based mostly on a combination of skill and experience.

Q: How would you describe your style?

A: Low-key & observational for the greater part of the day, ie, I try and intrude as little as possible preferring to document what happens as it unfolds rather than orchestrate it. I don’t really like hanging labels on what I do but it could best be described as a mainly documentary approach. That isn’t to say I don’t direct anything at all as those bride & groom portraits and family group shots don’t just happen without a little direction, but it’s with a light touch and efficient rather than taking over the day.

Q: Do you work alone or with someone else?

A: Out of the 500+ weddings I have covered to date (closer to 600 actually) I have only ever had another photographer work with me on 3 occasions. The first time was when I had a minor back injury and took a colleague along ‘just in case’. On the day I didn’t actually need him. The second time was a complete surprise at a wedding in France where the planner decided to send her own photographer (probably miffed that the couple chose me…) and he proceeded to get in the way from start to finish…except the cutting of the cake which he missed and was mortified. The third time was at the insistence of a client and was totally unnecessary. The way I achieve the results that I do is by working alone as most of the best UK photographers do and two mediocre photographers will never equal one good one. Plus why would two equally as good photographers be working together unless charging twice as much as the solo operator??!!

Q: You are based in Harrogate, North Yorkshire but where does your work take you?

A: South America and Antarctica are the two continents that elude me so far, but otherwise I have covered weddings all over the world including in; Ireland, Italy, Greece, USA, Mexico, China, Australia and New Zealand. I also have a separate website for weddings in France as I photograph an average 4-5 over there every year. Otherwise in the UK I work all over from country houses in England to marquees in Wales to Castles in Scotland.

Q: Who are your favourite wedding photographers?

A: No one in particular and I prefer not to look too hard at what anyone else is doing, especially in the UK. Britain does seem to be behind a little bit though with the US, Canada and Australia leading the way, although that is maybe due to their ‘exotic’ locations compared with the UK (though they are very jealous of our castles and ‘Downton Abbey’s’!!) and generally better weather. Mostly it’s because they simply tend to be a bit more positive and proactive than the majority of Brits!

Q: What other influences do you have then/where do you get your inspiration?

A: My biggest influence by far are the film photographers of the 1930’s-1950’s, – that’s what I’d call my era. There was something about that era that made it a real craft and the types of film available somehow made those images seem special…or maybe it’s because we are so bombarded with images these days, something has been lost compared to back then? In the 21st C I’m mostly inspired by the imagery of magazine ads such as Vogue, GQ etc and also by movies/cinematography. I like to think I blend the two, – a more ‘classic’ or ‘timeless’ look but with a bang up to date approach.

Q: Dream wedding to photograph?

A: I have a few actually… the one type of wedding I’d like to photograph more of is the ‘quintessential’ British seaside with perhaps a pier, bunting, sand, sea etc, but I don’t think I live in the right area to attract them and especially as I don’t have any on my website. My dream wedding however would be a proper Indian wedding in Rajasthan in Northern India. I do quite a few Sikh, Hindu and Muslim weddings in the UK, but to do a ‘proper’ Indian wedding in the country of origin would be fabulous.

Q: Is there any type of wedding that you specialise in?

A: Not as such as I’m interested in all kinds of weddings, but if I had to narrow down what I am mostly booked for it is for my top 3 regular venues (Rudding Park, Swinton Park and Middleton Lodge) plus marquee weddings and weddings in France. The rest of my wedding work could be anywhere in the UK and I love new venues.

Q: Don’t new venues need ‘local knowledge’?

A: No, not at all, – that is simply a myth. A good photographer can turn up absolutely anywhere and the results will simply be based on his/her individual skill, their experience, the light & weather at the time on that day, the scenario & situations presented (and created) and the clients and has next to nothing to do with the venue itself. There doesn’t tend to be any ‘secret’ rooms, gardens or angles etc and a lot of my best work is produced at new venues visited for the first and sometimes only time.

Q: So venue referral lists are no good?

A: Actually no and at the same time yes, – it depends. Some venue referral lists are simply based on paying to be on them and I’ve declined a few of those in my time. Many (the one’s I am on) are based on merit, ie, the venue refers me because they know me well and I’m consistent and reliable and they like my work…and my clients haven’t said anything bad about me!

Q: Where do you get your work from?

A: Word of mouth/referral is by far my biggest source, – previous clients, venues and other photographers who are not available for a particular date. This accounts for over 90% of my work so I don’t advertise or market much outside of having a decent website.

Q: Have you won any awards?

A: No.

Q: Why?

A: I haven’t entered any!

Q: Why not?

A: I haven’t the time and anyway they are dime a dozen with every other photographer claiming to be ‘wedding photographer of the year’. The criteria and judging is sometimes so ridiculous, though there are one or two that have some merit…but it’s simply not something I am interested in. Judge me on my portfolio rather than my words!

Q: Are you married yourself?

A: Yes.

Q: Good wedding photography?

A: Absolutely terrible! It was from another time (before I became a wedding photographer).

Q: Best wedding you ever went to?

A: All my clients weddings of course! But being serious, it’s hard to say other than some weddings inevitably offer more opportunity than others and stand out as a result. These are the one’s I tend to put in the FEATURED category on my website, – the one’s that stood out in any given year. The two weddings that mean the most to me however (other than my own) are my sisters (2013) and brothers (2014) as they allowed me to take the perspective of a guest as I photographed neither.

Q: What do you do when not photographing weddings?

A: I like to cycle, mountain biking, a bit of running, a bit of rowing, walking, travel, family time.

Q: How much do you charge?

A: Not as much as I should.

Q: Best piece of advice to a prospective bride & groom?

A: Take wedding photography out of your wedding budget and put it into a category instead called ‘lifetime investment’, then research research research until you find a photographer whose work you absolutely love. If you don’t, or shop on price, be prepared for it to be an unrewarding experience, an expense and a regret.

Q: Do you like cheese?

A: Only the edible variety.

Q: I think that’s it Simon. Thank you for answering my questions.

A: It’s been a pleasure.


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