Hello Matt! Could you please introduce yourself?
I’m Matt, I’m 40 and a wedding photographer based in the south west of England. I’m married to Lillian and have 3 boys that are all growing up very quickly! I’m a family guy really and love the whole family vibe; you know, eating around the table, watching films and going on holiday together, stuff like that…
What’s your story, since you discovered Photography to the day you became a full-time wedding photographer?
It’s funny looking back on how the whole photography thing started for me; I was rummaging through my parents cupboard when I was about 11 or 12. I don’t really know what I was up to but I remember looking through these little boxes full of stuff and finding a camera. It was an old Hanimex range finder style camera. I remember looking at it and thinking how amazing it looked. I asked my mum if I could try it out, she loaded it with a roll of film and that was it, I was hooked! My first roll of film was 24 pictures of my dad’s van. They may be worth millions now… (maybe not).
Anyway, over the years my love for photography grew into a passion. I invested in equipment, had my own darkroom and developed black and whites in my basement but was no more than a hobby, albeit one that I used a lot of time on. I worked as a musician, playing drums and touring around the uk. Drumming eventually took me over to Scandinavia where I did some touring in Sweden. I ended up living in Stockholm for a year before being asked to play on a tour in Norway and Denmark. The first day in Norway, back in 1998 I met Lillian, who I married about a year later. That was 16 years ago.
We lived in Norway until early 2009 when we moved back to the UK. I had been running a business in Norway, just outside Stavanger, that we sold and decided to take a year out in the UK. Photography had never ceased to be a big part of my life and I often thought about working as a photographer, but you know how life is, making big career changes can be hard with a family and bills to pay etc. Having the year out in the UK was where it all really began professionally. I remember sitting in a cafe with a friend who was a photographer. We were talking about photography and cameras. I suddenly realised that I had an amazing opportunity to pursue photography properly, so I went for it. My first wedding came through an ad on Gumtree of all places, and that was it, the work started to come in slowly. Ever since then I have been developing and growing my photography business, figuring out what works and doesn’t work, honing my style and approach. That has been the key thing really; figuring out what exactly my approach is and how to effectively market that without loosing my love for the art!
I’ve also got studio in Bristol, an old coach house that we renovated, it’s actually in my back yard, very convenient. I do a limited amount of portrait work there. I believe in specialising if you can so weddings are my main thing supported by the portrait work. I often refer to my photography business as a hobby that got completely out of hand and became a profession!
Being a professional photographer, what do you do on your free time? Are you able to pick up a camera and photograph just for fun?
My favourite use of free time is being with family and friends. Apart from that I try and stay in shape. I also love good coffee and have a serious weakness for flapjack, which means I have to exercise more!
I almost always have a camera with me, so photography has remained a hobby as well as a profession. I have been careful to maintain that. I know too many photographers that won’t pick up a camera unless they are getting paid. I have had photography as a hobby for longer than I’ve had it as a profession, so the hobby side of it keeps me creative and fresh. Having a camera with me a lot has been so important for that, which is why I moved away from DSLR’s a few years ago, they were just getting to be too bulky. I got quite inspired by the new fuji system when it came on to the market, it really helped to keep the hobby alive.
Did you find the Fuji cameras the natural choice for your shooting style, the “Unobtrusive Photography”?
Yes for me the Fuji’s tick all the boxes; size, handling, image quality. To be unobtrusive at a wedding can be hard if you are carrying a D4 and a 70-200, as soon as you walk over people are either hiding or posing! I love the fact that I can get away with (for a while at least) looking like a guest and shooting without drawing attention to myself. The quiet shutter should also helps. The main thing with the fuji’s though is their ability to make you want to pick them up and shoot with them, they are so much fun to use.
Are you a prime or zoom lens kind of photographer, and why?
I shoot only primes unless I’m using the 10-24 which I’ll usually shoot at 10 and leave it there. I guess it’s to do with the speed of the lenses and the depth of field that is so easily controllable, not to mention the size! It’s also to do with what I’ve always shot with. When I shot with film cameras I used a 50mm 90% of the time. I had a 24mm as well but it was rarely used. It’s incredible what you can do with just one lens. Over the years my favourite focal length has become 35mm, it’s just that much wider and can capture more of the moment and the story around your subject. I must admit I am looking forward to getting my hands on the new 23mm, it’s smaller than the 23mm 1.4, I like small lenses. My wedding photography lenses are the classic 35mm and 85mm equivalent, (23mm and 56mm fujinon’s). I like to keep things simple.
Cameras have evolved a lot in the last years. Have you also adapted your workflow according to this evolution? As an example, the progress of low light performance made the flash almost unnecessary?
Yes cameras have developed so quickly. I remember it wasn’t so long ago that you would stay at iso800 and below! Now, with the x-pro2 I can push 12800 if I’m in a squeeze. For my wedding photography I rarely use flash, maybe on the dance floor with a couple of speedlights triggered on stands. For the most part I don’t like the look flashes give when trying to capture moments and emotion at a wedding.
Also, like I mentioned above, the size of cameras changes the way you work with people. You really can work in a quite unobtrusive way. I don’t know what happened with digital slr’s but they seemed to be getting bigger and bigger for a while. The freedom of working with a smaller system can not be underestimated, it’s liberating.
In a time that everything is at a distance of a click, do you feel the market is changing? When your clients contact you for the first time, they know exactly what they want?
Yes, I think there is so much to look through online, so many different styles and approaches that people are no longer just booking a photographer, you know, someone that knows how to take pictures and use a camera. They are booking you because of your style and approach to image making. That is why I think the smartest thing to do is to specialise and not generalise. I get work because of what people see and my approach. I regularly meet with wedding clients and 9 times out of 10 they will mention my style and approach being the reason they contacted me. I really like that.
People are shopping smarter and that means as a photographer you need to have a goal for what you are trying to present. That can be hard because us photographers are also looking at other peoples work all the time and we can compare and be super critical of what we produce. It’s so important to stay true to yourself and what you love the most, it’s only there you’ll thrive and succeed. Changing your approach and style all the time will mean you won’t really appeal to anyone in particular.
Besides weddings, you also photograph individual and family portraits. Do you prefer the unpredictability of shooting on location, or to have everything under control inside the studio environment?
This is something I have thought about a lot over the last 3-4 years since I’ve had my own studio. My question has been, ‘can you really capture moments in a sterile studio setting?’ May answer to that is ‘Yes you really can!’ I cover a limited amount of portraits, and there is a way of approaching it that can bring really natural results, it’s all about connecting with your client and having fun. Photography is all about people, (unless you photograph birds, landscapes or still life), so whether you are in a studio, on location or at a wedding, you are dealing with people. If you make them feel comfortable around you then you can make it flow and capture some lovely moments.
A last question to finish this interview. Nowadays, would you use the X-Pro1 on an assignment, or it can’t keep up with your workflow anymore?
The x-pro1 is still a fabulous camera, it’s actually the camera I have with me most of the time, it pretty much lives in my shoulder bag. I shot a wedding just a couple of weeks back and used the x-pro1 for a few shots. It’s definitely slower than the x-pro2 and requires a slightly different approach but works perfectly. Actually back in the beginning of 2016, while my x-pro2 was on order, I used the x-pro1 for all my studio to work to see if it would keep up. I didn’t use it for any fast paced stuff, just portrait work, but it worked perfectly and produced some amazing results. So yes, I would, and still do, use the x-pro1!
Thank you for your time!
Thanks so much for the interview!
Matt is a wedding and portrait photographer based in Bristol in the South West of England.
Photography has been his passion since he was just a young lad after finding an old camera in his parents cupboard. He specializes in capturing people naturally and unobtrusively, documenting life as it happens with all it’s beauty and emotion.
Matt has been shooting professionally since 2009 but still calls photography his hobby.