Behind the scenes at many weddings across the globe a battle is brewing between your photography team and your make-up artist (from here on in I’ll just refer to make-up artists as MUA). No, they aren’t fighting about what shade of lipstick you should be wearing, they are jockeying for position on where you will have your hair and make-up done and basically where your entire morning will unfold.
Obviously I’m a bit biased as a photographer but I consider myself fair and reasonable and I’ve tried my best to see both sides of this debate. I’m sure my take on things will upset some MUA’s but honestly most of you are amazing and reasonable to work with and I have all the respect in the world for your job. If this blog does offend you, maybe it’s time to look in the mirror (see what I did there). However, I have seen this growing trend in weddings with more stubborn MUA’s and it’s an issue that should be sorted before the big day begins to avoid stressing out the bride, hence I had to write this blog and clear the air.
Okay, so let me dig into what all the fuss is about, here is the core of the debate. Some MUA’s want their bride in the bathroom with a big mirror where it’s comfortable and easy for them to work. They have plenty of outlets, mirrors, and easy access to their equipment. The photographers want the bride by the beautiful flattering window light so they can make gorgeous natural pictures that tell a story.
So what’s the big deal, just get ready in the bathroom and the photographer can do their best and then they have the whole day to get good pictures. Better yet what many MUA’s offer as a compromise is to do all the make-up in the ugly bathroom and then at the end we can fake it by the window for a few minutes. That seems like a fair compromise right?
Wrong, extremely wrong and let me explain why. Our clients hire us to tell a story, and a huge part of the day, sometimes hours, is the getting ready portion. I’ve captured so many beautiful magical moments in the getting ready part of the day. The bride reading a note from the groom, bridesmaids receiving presents, the mother of the bride watching on and tearing up, the list goes on and on. It makes a world of difference when those moments happen in beautiful window light rather than an ugly bathroom.
Another problem with faking it is it can sound good at the time but more times than not things run late and you run out of time. I’m not done yet, having the whole process done in stunning window light or at least a nice room gives your photographer time to be creative and experiment shooting through mirrors, having the dress in the background, etc. You are paying your photography team a lot of money for pictures that are meant to last a lifetime, do you really want them having nothing to shoot in an ugly bathroom for 3 hours then scrambling to be creative crammed into 15 minutes of frantic shooting?
I’ve explained our side of things and that sounds well so what the case for the MUA. Why are they being stubborn? A few arguments from the MUA side of things I’ve heard are “ I don’t want to make my bride hot” or “I can’t see well with natural light or it’s uneven light” or “I need a mirror.” My rebuttal to that is if you’re in a hotel room than heat shouldn’t be a problem, jack up the AC and of course from the photographer’s side of things don’t place her in direct sunbeams. As for a mirror, just bring a medium sized handheld one so the bride can check on things. For the MUA not being able to see well or uneven light, that’s a bit of BS. I’m a photographer so you can’t fool me about how light works. If you face directly out a window the light is completely balanced. Plus our eyes have amazing optics and guess what we can adjust to variant lighting conditions. I’ve worked with hundreds of MUA’s who have done make-up by the window with ease and with beautiful results so I know it can be done. Don’t let them fool you with playing the old, “you won’t look beautiful.” If your MUA can’t make you look beautiful while working by a window then you should find someone else. I don’t know too many photographers who take beautiful pictures in dark ugly bathrooms.
To be fair many MUA’s can be turned off and defensive to photographers because honestly photographers can be pushy and aggressive. Our team’s approach is to have a talk with our clients ahead of the wedding. We ask them politely if they can ask the MUA to do everything by the window and this avoids the annoyance of a MUA getting set up and having to move later on (I can see why that would be really annoying). Our team also offers to help with moving any furniture, their equipment, and extension cords (although any good MUA should have their own) to help make things comfortable for everyone.
In the end neither vendor should cause any stress to the bride on her wedding day so this should be addressed early on. Unfortunately the reality is that this does happen on the wedding day and a bride has to make a decision. To avoid any stress on your big day, make it clear ahead of time.
For MUA’s working weddings, I highly recommend you figure out how to do make-up by the window and don’t scare the bride by saying you won’t look pretty, that’s cruel. It’s your job to make them look pretty and so many MUA’s do a fantastic job so if you don’t know how to do it, ask someone and learn. I see MUA’s work outside, inside, just about everywhere and while it might be more convenient for you to work in the bathroom suck it up for the better good.
For photographers, don’t be an ass and be pushy and demanding. Address this beforehand with the bride and make a plan so the bride doesn’t have to deal with any stress on her big day. Help out with moving furniture and just be polite and friendly about everything.
For Brides, the last thing you want to do is offend anyone and I understand you want to avoid conflict but the decision is yours and better to avoid conflict ahead of time than on your wedding day.
If your getting ready pictures are a big deal and you want the most beautiful shots possible for that part of the day, side with the photographer and let them choose the location. If that part of the day isn’t a big deal and you don’t want getting ready pictures let the MUA choose the set up, just let both parties know ahead of time and you will save yourself a wedding day hassle.
Here are some samples of my favorite getting ready shots all taken by the window.
You’ve shot a lot of fashion and documentary work, how does that background influence your wedding photography?
I’ve always felt like my fashion and documentary backgrounds were the perfect mix for shooting weddings. As wedding photographers, we’re dealing with fast-paced, energetic, and hectic schedules, with so many things happening all at once, so my documentary background comes in quite handy. It’s helped me keep calm in the center of all that potential chaos. Beautiful chaos, but chaos nonetheless. Mix that with my fashion background and the expectations of beauty and artistry that come along with it, and you get a kind of wonderful blend of both worlds: someone who knows how to be there to capture all of those fleeting moments throughout the day while paying attention to the beauty and artistry of everything around him. Or at least I hope so.
If you could only show your client one wedding picture from your portfolio what would it be and why?
Oh man. That’s a really difficult question. To reduce an entire wedding portfolio down to one image is insane. I love to think that my photos build upon each other, each a crucial piece of the larger story. My favorite images tend to be those natural moments where the light just seems perfect and everyone is looking their best and maybe there’s something a little strange or off-putting or just odd enough to stand out in the background. So maybe this picture has all of those disparate elements. Though I don’t think I’ll ever delete all of my other pics and just have this one in my portfolio.
You shoot a lot of Vietnamese weddings, do speak the language or have any communications problems?
My Vietnamese is pretty good, so I’ve never really had a problem communicating with local brides and grooms. That being said, we’re always working with our own Vietnamese crew members as well, so on the off chance I don’t understand something, help is usually only a few feet away.
What piece of advice would you give to a bride and groom on how to make better photos on their big day?
Give me a huge cash tip at the beginning of the day or else I’ll take terrible pictures of you. Simple. Just kidding. Just try to relax. You can really see stress on someone’s face, so the photographs will reflect that. Trust in the day and let all your worries go. We’re there to take some of that burden off of you too. Practice your smile in the mirror. It may seem embarrassing and silly, but who cares. Everyone has a different style of smiling. See what looks best for you! Make sure you feel beautiful, that you’re happy with your hair and makeup. You can really tell when someone knows they look like a million dollars. It radiates in photos, that self confidence, and it’s amazing.
What piece of advice would you give to potential bride and grooms about choosing their destination wedding photographer?
Um. Honestly, just hire me. I’m smart and funny and if you’re getting married on the beach, chances are I’ll end up in my underwear taking photos from the beach or pool.
Why did you join Mott Visuals Weddings?
Justin and Chris have been great friends for as long as I’ve lived in Asia, and I respect their work as much as anyone else’s in the region. It’s such a great feeling to work not only with people you consider wonderful friends, but also with wonderful friends that are stellar photographers. It’s important to work with people who push you creatively through the work they’re doing, and both Justin and Chris do that for me. Plus, Justin’s smile gets all the boys to the yard. And Chris has a great graphic novel collection I like to borrow from.
Do you recommend the bride and groom to leave the resort to capture the local culture when you are shooting a destination wedding?
I think it’s a brilliant idea to get off the resort and get a bit of local color and culture in your wedding images. It adds another dimension to the final visual story, plus it’s a fantastic way to interact with whatever town you’re getting married in. There’s nothing better than hitting the streets of Hoi An or somewhere similar in your wedding dress and suit and having all the shopkeepers clamoring over how beautiful you look, yelling their congrats to you, and stopping to have their picture taken alongside you. Sometimes it’s those seemingly small and fleeting moments that mean so much when you return home.
Have you seen any interesting trends in wedding photography?
Trends are a funny thing. They’re gimmicky by nature. They’re a little like choosing Gangnam Style as your wedding song. It may seem like a good idea at the time, but the overall longevity and relevance is questionable at best.
You rely a lot on natural light, what do you do when a wedding has bad weather?
There’s this idea that bad weather means bad photographs, but really nothing could be further from the truth. Bad weather just means different photographs. It means we get to get creative. It means we go chasing the sun, or we’re finding windows with beautiful streaks of water to shoot through, or we’re using those dramatic skies to various ends. Some of the best photographs come out of the craziest situations, when we’re all pushed to our limits, running through the rain, dashing under umbrellas, cursing and laughing and everything else. It’s the emotions of the day that make amazing images, not the weather.
Every career has a reality TV show nowadays, from chefs to pawn brokers, but what about photographers? When I was asked to be the resident photographer on History Asia’s first home grown reality show about photography, Photo Face-Off, I jumped at the chance.
The show is regional only, filming in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Indonesia. It was described to me as Iron Chef meets Amazing Race. The show has essentially made photography a sport and being a competitive dude I love this idea.
I was confident and maybe a little cocky about my skills because I shoot all kinds of professional photography. I’ve shot over 100 assignments for the New York Times all over Asia, and I also run a successful wedding photography and commercial photographybusiness. I’m use to working under pressure and working quickly.
I was a little worried that my looks might hinder my chances at being selected. The producers had only seen my old biography pictures where I had a full head of hair and was decently fat. The updated version of myself was larger and lets say less hair present. I was later told the Advertising Agency was disappointed that my looks didn’t match my picture; you have to love that Asian honesty.
I slammed an afternoon whiskey at my office to loosen up the nerves and had my friend interview me for my audition video.
I’m a goofy dude and that showed, and the next thing you know a tall fat American photographer was put on TV.
The show pits me up against amateur photographers all over the region and is based on the Canon PhotoMarathon, a popular yearly photography contest in most major cities throughout Southeast Asia.
Through the course of an episode I go head to head against the amateur local photographer in 3 different challenges and we use everything from the top of the line DSLR’s to compact cameras. The playing field is leveled by time restrictions and extreme circumstances like having to get a macro shot of bees without wearing protective gloves. I don’t always win and the show humbled me quite a bit.
The show is part entertainment and part education and it caters to any level of interest in photography. After the show was finished, I got to travel to all the Canon PhotoMarathon events in the Southeast Asia and talk about photography. It’s amazing how many people come to these events — there were thousands. I was enthralled about the passion for photography in Southeast Asia; people are so hungry to learn.
Season 1 was a huge success for the network and Season 2 was just given the go ahead. We start filming in Singapore at the end of this month and I can’t wait to compete.
Photo by Aaron Joel Santos/Mott Visuals Weddings
With a little help from the Sheraton Nha Trang, Vietnam staff the groom’s father was able to attend his son’s destination wedding his home in Australia via Skype. He was there via video chat the entire ceremony on the beach and even gave a speech at the reception, technology rocks :).
We are always honored to be featured on Junebug Weddings, they are an amazing resource on wedding photography. Read the full article by Junebug about technology at weddings here: