Photographer Kent Miles on Wedding Photography
Kent Miles (www.kentmiles.com) is a native of Salt Lake City, Utah who graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. He has worked with the Center for Documentary Arts (CDA) for more than 25 years and was a principal contributor to many CDA exhibit and book projects. In 1987, he was selected as one of the “Top One Hundred New [American] Photographers” by Photography’s Annual Awards in New York City, sponsored by Eastman Kodak and Maine Photographic Workshops. He has taught in multiple art centers and universities and now mentors photographers in the Salt Lake Seven. We have heard from him before on a variety of subjects, but wanted especially to hear about his thoughts on his style on wedding photography.
ON WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY
Kent Miles: “I find weddings to be wonderful subject matter. It’s a great chance to do a documentary project. The event is short-term, only a day or two, and it is a great opportunity to make meaningful images that are going to matter over time. My approach is to create a fine-art portfolio, primarily in black and white. I try to be a pair of educated eyes and to tell the story from beginning to end. Clients get a unique portfolio that says “This is what it felt like to be a part of this event.” The photographs are beautiful, honest, full of life, and are memory triggers. Together we edit the images. Clients know the people and events they want to emphasize in their portfolios, and I know the images to use to best accomplish what they want.
Recently, there has been a lot of downward pressure on wedding prices. The economy has generated a lot of weekend photographers who will shoot weddings inexpensively in order to make a little money. People believe that if they buy a camera, then they’re a photographer. My clients are discerning people who know that there is something better available than the indiscriminate commodity that low-ball photographers produce. They are looking for something that doesn’t look like every other photographer’s wedding album. If you have ever been to a wedding or bridal show, you know there is not a lot of difference in the images that most wedding photographers make and show.
We normally see two kinds of approaches to photographing weddings. Traditional portrait and wedding studios tend to make the same pictures over and over again. It is a good business model. If it sold yesterday, then it will probably sell tomorrow. Reduce overhead and maximize profit. Their intent is not to take risks in making photographs; their intent is to minimize risks. The ideal is to have no out-takes but to sell prints of each image that is made. The other main approach to wedding photographs is the photojournalistic approach. It has less formal structure than the traditional studio style. Because of that it is the kind of style that people think they can just do because they bought a good camera. All you have to do, some think, is show up and take pictures. As with the traditional style, there are some who do this very well, and some who do it poorly. There are those who use a combination of these two approaches, but these are the main styles.
What can be lacking in both of them the perspective of time and of the role of weddings in society. Pictures that look stylish now may look silly in 20 years. I want to create pictures that will be as interesting to look at in five years and in 50 years from now. I want the aesthetic and significance of the image to continue give pleasure with the passage of time. This requires a documentary perspective that the weekend photographer hasn’t had a chance to develop. Most traditional wedding photographers are not willing to take the risks needed to make these kinds of images, wanting instead to make predetermined images. This is not the same as being a pair of educated eyes, seeing unforeseen picture possibilities and taking the risks needed to get those pictures, going through the process of telling what it felt like to be with these people on this day in these conditions, and of graciously telling the story as it unfolds. The ideal client for me is someone who recognizes the value of this kind of storytelling. I tell them that the photographs are not the most important thing—the most important thing is to create an event in which they celebrate with the people they love the intersections of two families. This doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does need to reflect respect and consideration for their guests. After that, though, the photographs are the most important expense because that’s what remains after everything else is gone. The photographs will be the memories. They have meaning over time. If you pay $400 on a weekend photographer and you hate your pictures, then it was no great deal. If you get someone like me, who creates images and portfolios of prints that have a great aesthetic and emotional connection to you, you might pay more, but you don’t miss the money because you end up with something that increases in value with the passage of time. This becomes the best deal. My clients are people who are wise enough to understand value over time. My approach is not an inexpensive undertaking, but what the client gets is a remarkable value.
I encourage emphasizing black and white images because the fundamental elements that tell the stories of the human experience are expressions and gestures. Color is an extremely potent element in visual communication. It sends powerful emotional signals, and we put a lot of effort into choosing the colors of a wedding, and it is important to photograph the color. But color alone can commandeer an image. We can get an emotional signal from color, and we don’t have to look at the people. Sometimes colors clash, and they distract. For me, the story of a wedding is the story told by gestures and expressions—the human story. Black and white allows me to emphasize the things that I think are most important. This is not to say that I don’t shoot color, because I do. I like to shoot color, but when color is used, it needs to be a critical part of the story I’m telling and it needs to support what you want people to look at when they see the picture. It shouldn’t just be a default mode of looking without really seeing.”
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