You know that feeling you had when you were in school and you decided to audition for a play, or tryout for a sports team, or participate in a debate, or in my case audition for UIL region band, (yes I'm a flute playing former band nerd) and there's a little bit of nervousness, a little bit of excitement and then there's the moment where everything calms and it's time to show what you can do. I got to experience that again this fall, while participating in the Photo Shootout by San Antonio Weddings Magazine and Ryan Hamilton Photography. The grand prize? The cover of the 2016-2017 magazine.
This was my first time participating in the competition, and luckily I had been to the venue many times before! (See Fairtale Wedding a Castle Avalon). Castle Avalon is such a unique place for a wedding with several lighting scenarios for a photographer to tackle. As a photographer, you're always searching for the light, and if you don't find it, you create it. Since I had already studied the light at Castle Avalon several times before, I knew the challenges and had a plan in place in order to turn around competition-worthy images. I also brought my favorite assistant, Michael Talamantes knowing I could communicate exactly what I would need and allow myself to focus on creating great images.
There were so many amazing photographers around me, many of whom I already knew and admired their work. After seeing some of the images submitted, I am sure it was a close competition. I tried so hard not to look at what they were doing during the shootout. We are all excellent photographers, and we all bring amazing vision, creativity, and passion to composing an image. Yet, it is so interesting to see how we all came away with something different.
So now I'll tell you how I arrived at the winning image. The challenges placed before us were nothing different than what I am used to on any given wedding day. Many times there are only 2 minutes to assess the scene and 5 minutes to shoot, (for a handful of reasons, ie. makeup artist ran late, mass was longer than planned, all the primos ended up in the family formals after the ceremony, leaving you with little time to shoot before you have to capture the grand entrance). The main challenge that I wanted to tackle was capturing a moment of connection. I am known for capturing emotion. It's the main compliment that I get from mother's of the bride who say, "you captured my daughter's real smile", and from brides and grooms who say, "I love how your photos look like real moments". This is what I do, and so this was my challenge. The models in this image are not a couple, but they are professionals who take direction very well! So, after walking into the ballroom I assessed the light and made a decision, "I want to shoot towards the windows, and I want to see the trees behind my couple, and I want to feature that gorgeous chandelier." I gave instructions to my assistant on where to place the light and what power to set, and headed over to the couple. John was handsome as could be, and Taylor looked like a gorgeous Disney princess in her ballroom bridal gown. I complimented them, told them what I planned to do, and we were ready to roll.
Fired off the first shot to assess light, and then gave my couple direction with three poses. These were great images but something was missing: connection. I turned her away from him twirling the dress and giving a sense of motion, but I asked him to hold her close and then tell her something to make her laugh. Not sure what he said, but it worked. "Look to your left, look at me, look down to the floor." A few snaps of this and the moment was there. Time to move to the window and capture my next idea.
It went so fast, but I actually captured several images I considered submitting for the cover competition. Again, this is much like a wedding day, you have to be fast, creative, and have the technical skill to bring your vision to life, all while creating an amazing experience for your client. So I want to thank San Antonio Weddings, Ryan Hamilton, models John and Taylor, and all the vendors and photographers who contributed to the Photo Shootout. Events like this do so much to support and elevate the industry, and I hope to see more photographers out there at next year's shootout.
Behind the scenes of the Ryan Hamilton Surprise. Photo taken by the editors of San Antonio Weddings Magazaine.
So finally, a note about bravery. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there and create art in such a public setting. I could not do what I do without my enormous faith in God. I believe He put me where I am for a reason. As with most wedding photographers, I did not grow up thinking this would be my profession. But there are so many life events I believe created by God that have prepared me for this moment, and there will be more to prepare me for other things yet to come. I give props to all the photographers that competed that day, I know it's not easy to be vulnerable and I respect you and I am amazed by all of the submissions I saw. Also, thank you so much to the other vendors that contributed to the styling of this photoshoot!
And most of all, thank you to all the brides who voted! I hope this article offers a little insight into what your photographer goes through to create heirloom images for you. Please comment below your thoughts on wedding photography, the photo shootout and any questions you may have!
Below are a few more of the images submitted. I'm in LOVE with the flower crown by Eden's Echo.