Wedding photos are timeless, precious memories that endure years after your big day is over. But how do you make sure that your wedding pictures are as perfect as possible? What do you have to bear in mind when selecting a photographer? In this post, I speak to Tom Halliday. Tom founded Tom Halliday Photography in 2010 and he is now one of the UK’s most established and highly regarded shooters, putting his unique spin on couples’ special moments with a combination of talent and charisma…
How did you become interested in photography?
When I was at school I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was a sponsored skateboarder and we were meant to be going on tour, but I broke my arm badly, so instead of skating I picked up my camera. My dad had bought it for my 16th birthday: a Pentax MZ-90 with digital film. As soon as I started taking photos I thought to myself, this is awesome! I chose a photographic elective on my art course, but there wasn’t a proper teacher. I was taking photos and manipulating them on PhotoShop.
What were your early efforts like?
I wasn’t as adept with film as I should have been, because no one taught me. I had a half decent point-and-shoot digital so I would use that, or shoot on film, scan and manipulate. I then studied photography at uni, as the lecturers saw the passion and creativity behind my paintings, despite my lack of technical knowledge. I was given extra classes to get up to speed. I maintained my focus on skateboarding photography at the time, because the sport was my life and I loved photographing it.
How did you branch into the commercial side of things?
I did work experience for a venture portraits company. One day the photographer I was shadowing didn’t turn up for work, which gave me my chance. A young family arrived who were not expected to spend much money, but they liked my photos so much that they spent a lot, so I was offered a job! I then dropped out of uni.
Did you have to balance your day job with your passion?
Having the studio job as my first job was really cool because I shot family portraits during the day and I learned a lot about lighting, studio work and sales. And then in the off-time in the evening I would be out skating, taking photos and putting what I had learned in the studio to use. I took as many shots as I could and was out and about all the time in order to keep developing. By the time I was 19 I had got to know the technical aspects. You never master it and you are always getting better, but my technique had become quite solid.
Describe how a booking with a wedding couple works…
My initial contact with a couple could be at a wedding fair or by email. If it is at a wedding fair, they get to meet me face-to-face straight away. I like this, people can have a pre-conceived idea of what a wedding photographer looks and acts like, and I don’t think I am that. The classic vision is of an older guy with white hair and a beige leather jacket, an old school vibe. Then they come along and see me with the moustache and tattoos – the ‘chubby hipster’ –and it is not what they expect! Then they see the work, and I like to think that my work is a little bit different to your average wedding photos. So this first meeting allows the couple to get a feel for me and what I do.
How important is the relationship between photographer and couple?
When I invite the couple to the studio to meet me, it is not so much about coming to view albums and so on, it is about coming to meet me and start the relationship. It is essential that you feel comfortable around the photographer on your wedding day – there’s nothing worse than not knowing what they are like as a person beforehand. No-one wants to be standing there really stiff, so they need to make sure that they gel with their photographer from the outset, which leads to good photos. As i have got busier and busier, it does get harder to arrange to meet in person, but it is something I am always determined to arrange, even via Skype. Setting up as much face time as possible is key, to form that connection and build rapport. If we can do this, then by the time I walk in on the day the couple already feels as though I am part of the wedding party.
What is your philosophy on pricing?
Back at the venture portrait place I was taught how to hard sell, but it was horrible. That is not me at all. Now I am my own boss, I have the philosophy that people can upgrade their package and have the add-ons, but if they don’t, that’s also cool. For me it is about creating a piece of art that looks great on your wall, not making the most money I can. I love what I do, and I am an artist first and foremost.
What advice would you give to couples about their wedding photos?
My biggest piece of advice is not to take it all too seriously! If you are too serious, you don’t get good photos. It is important to relax and have fun with it. No-one likes having their photo taken, but I have some silly tricks to get people to smile and laugh. A lot of my clients love how natural-looking my photos are, even though they are posed to a certain point. I put couples in a great spot for the light and location but then get them to say something or do something that will cause a reaction. Sometimes I am just chatting to them and look like I have my camera down by my side, and then as soon as they laugh – bang! I’ll get the shot.
How do you break down potential awkwardness?
I’ll split the drinks reception into sections. So the first 20 minutes are candids of everyone having a good time. Everyone has just got their first free drink of the day and the couple have just been married, so everyone is super happy. After that we can do the family formals and I always like to have a list for this that I can stick to, to keep the system flowing. Group photos are not the most exciting part of the day so it is important to keep these moving. After that I’ll take the bride and groom round for a few shots, returning in time for the dinner call, and then I’m off to do the detailed shots of the room.
Is it important for you to be subtle, unnoticed even?
I pride myself on the fact that people don’t know I’m there when I am doing the candid shots, and I am determined not to stick out as the photographer in the black polo with my logo on it. I never want to be in anyone’s face. A lot of couples will say that they hate being in front of the camera. But I am a bit of a chameleon and can blend to people’s personalities. Sometimes even the toughest client can break into an unexpected grin! The face-to-face meetings really help with that.
What are your favourite / signature shots?
For a long time the most popular shot I took was a night time one with the stars visible. When I first started, there were not many photographers staying late and doing night photos, so I pushed that heavily and used my studio and skateboard experience. However, nowadays my ‘Same Day Edits’ are very popular too. For every wedding, during the meal I edit photos and put them on my Facebook on a slide show, collecting together all the day photos. I try and do something different for every wedding. I shoot at quite a few weddings at the same places, so I never want the first wedding I shoot at a particular venue to be the same as the last one. Side by side, they need to look distinct. My classic shot is a wide landscape with a tiny bride and groom. Especially for couples who don’t like having their photos taken, they like the fact that I am that far back; it puts them at ease. Sometimes I start off with that shot, going really wide and far back, and then bring it in closer for some more intimate ones, throwing some creativity in there each time.
How do you make best use of venues?
The locations around Herts, Essex and so on are awesome. I really like natural scenes and the country house setting is perfect for that, as are forests and lakes. It always looks so pretty, which makes my job that bit easier. Getting a dramatic sky into the shot can make it look like a piece of artwork. Equally, I like to make something urban and gritty sometimes, if the couple are looking for that. In the south east of the UK there is such a variety of venues, and they always look after you really well too; the staff are lovely. You end up working with friends, people you have met along the way, forming a nice little community.
Take us through your wedding day preparations…
There are a lot! I need to go through a questionnaire and schedule with the couple, to make sure everything is locked down and everybody knows where they are going. In 2016 I shot 98 weddings, and it is important not to get blasé and to ensure that you check everything before heading out. On one occasion my son decided to remove my SD cards from my bag. Fortunately I allowed myself enough time to buy some more near the venue. Since then I have taken nothing for granted, it gave me a jolt! I make sure the night before that everything is charged, all my lenses are clean, and even that my strap is in there. If I’m taking my selfie booth with me, I make sure that is ready to go. I’m looking to make the process as efficient as possible. It’s a wedding – nothing can go wrong!
What was one of your most unusual weddings?
I once shot for a couple who were really into their heavy rock. All the bridesmaids had skull masks and the groom had a skull cane. It was a bit of a rave, and I dyed my moustache pink for the occasion! It was featured in Rock N Roll Bridge magazine. I also did a Back To The Future wedding. They had the camper van – the Buick Special – and the groom’s suit matched the blue and orange colour scheme. I got one of the groomsman to run around with a smoke grenade and ended up making a DVD cover of that for them which got featured on a few blogs. It was great fun.
What are the most important things to remember when booking?
Make sure your photographer has public liability insurance. If something goes wrong and they don’t have that, you’re in trouble. Also, ask them about their backup system, be it the backup for themselves, the equipment or data. I am a serial backer-upper! By the time it gets to the meal I have four copies of all the images. I then back up to a hard drive, a Cloud, and place in a safe. Nothing gets written over until the images are delivered. There is too much at stake with wedding photos. With the network of photographers we have in the region, we can communicate with each other and find cover if there is a problem with illness or something else on the day. Such reassurance is crucial.