Is Vintage Photography the Dance Music of the Wedding Industry?

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There are obvious fashions in weddings just like with clothing, interiors, food and just about everything we consume. However if you want to maintain any kind of longevity in the industry is it wrong to appear to be too much of a particular trend?

I actually get asked about this quite a lot as I guess it could be perceived that I am part of the fashion for vintage toning on wedding images. Ironically, this toning is something that I started doing when I switched from shooting weddings on film to digital a couple of years ago. I have always tweaked the colour on my images, whether it was toning black & white prints or cross processing print film in the chemicals for slide film and vice versa. I like to find out how things work and then mess with them. In the 90s I worked for the experimental Blah Blah Blah magazine and the art director, Chris Ashworth, used to always prefer the images that would normally get binned. He liked to to push the boundaries of everything. At the time, I was simultaneously working for a number of teenage pop magazines so it was utterly liberating to be able to do something creative and definitely my favourite magazine to work for.

So I guess it was inevitable that when I finally embraced digital technology for shooting weddings, I would start to seek ways of messing with the colours again. I have always been passionate about old photographs and all they represent in our social history, so if Photoshop was going to give me the ability to experiment, then I was going to! I looked for ways to recreate those faded tones that old colour images have. At the same time the kinds of wedding dresses and decor items that were gaining popularity we’re also very vintage, and so suddenly it was a ‘thing’.

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Of course I wasn’t the only photographer in the world reaching the same place with Photoshop, and if the weddings had a vintage twist then the images of those weddings were naturally going to follow suit. And, in my opinion, that is what makes this ‘trend’ different to a lot of others in wedding photography of the past that now just look naff. Spot colour, dutch tilt, white vignettes etc are all photography techniques that were imposed on wedding photography by photographers not the industry as a whole.

I have been involved in this industry for long enough to know that someone’s wedding photographs are going to be around way longer than any trend. I have always kept things simple with a view to the longevity required with what I create, and I steer away from anything too ‘now’. The vintage look has coincided with the most creative time in wedding photography EVER and it’s already morphing in several different directions. There is a huge nostalgia for photographs printed from film, hence the unprecedented success of VSCO and the fact that many wedding photographers are now opting to shoot film rather than digital. The VSCO processing system is used by some of the world’s most respected wedding photographers including Jonas Peterson, Samm Blake and Sean Flanigan but it is cheap and very accessible for anyone. This is also why superstar photographers like Elizabeth Messina and Jose Villa are shooting with analogue cameras. They are known for a muted filmic look and they are commanding some of the highest fees globally at a time when many photographers are struggling. In the UK, we have amazing photographers such as Emma Case, Lisa Jane and Joanna Brown who are constantly pushing the boundaries of wedding photography and blending digital with analogue. I am amongst a small group of photographers the world over who also offer their processing techniques via Photoshop actions which other photographers can purchase. And they do, every day.

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When I worked as a music photographer, there was a lot of industry comments on how dance music would be a flash in the pan. There was much talk about how electronic music and sampling was not real music and it was ruining the industry. They said the same thing about guitar based music in the 1950s. But you know what, both are still around and dance music in particular has branched out into dozens of exciting, creative directions. It’s diversified so much that it can’t be defined as just one genre anymore, and to me, wedding photography is on the same track (pardon the pun).

Digital photography and computers have given us the tools to fully embrace a creative approach, just like synthesizers and computers did for musicians from the 1980s and continues to in the current day. Of course the ‘vintage look’ can be done quite badly by the ham-fisted or those merely jumping on the latest bandwagon. I’ve seen some dreadful overly-processed work where it is just too strong, unflattering or simply not relevant to the images it has been applied to. Its a bit like Stock, Aitken and Waterman doing dance music! All the Photoshop actions that I use work well at lower opacities so you can keep the effect subtle and flattering if you prefer. We also encourage photographers to experiment with the actions via our facebook page and blog.

I also have always given my clients a disc of straight colour images as these will always be the best starting point for whatever they want to do with their images. ‘Vintage’ for lack of a better word (there seems to be no other term for it!) has it’s fair share of critics, just like dance music did back in the day. However it is my experience that the people with time to sit around dissing what everyone else is up to, are the ones that fear to progress themselves.

Certainly finding a classic style and sticking with it can be a successful formula, and you will always find clients who love timeless. However, there are plenty of creative folk getting married who want their taste reflected in their wedding imagery. I’m excited for the future of wedding photography and plan to keep messing with my images. I have been recently digging out old cokin filters that I haven’t touched since the early 90s and will also be getting together with Amy to create our next set of actions. If there is room in the music industry for both Eric Clapton and Moby, then there is certainly room in wedding photography for both classic and vintage. However, would it surprise you to learn that Eric Clapton once released a techno album!?!?

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About the Author

Lisa Devlin is a wedding photographer from Brighton and a regular contributor to The Green Room. She hosts the 3-day long Photography Farm on a regular basis. The next Farm will be taking place from the 19th-21st March (with guest speaker & stylist yours truly!)

Lisa has also just launched a 5-day non-residential ‘Farm Week‘ which will take place this month from 23rd – 27th. It has an awesome timetable of talks and master-classes from some of the industry’s finest including Kirsty MitchellBrooke Davis and the girls from The Blogcademy! Prices per talk start from just £50. Registration is now open at http://photographyfarm.co.uk. For enquiries or bookings email Lisa on lisa@devlinphotos.co.uk or call 01273231047.

Supporting Cast

15 comments

  1. This is the most sense I have heard anyone talk about this subject! I was totally intrigued by the title of the post and now I’ve read it I think the analogy is perfect. Thanks for a really great read Lisa xxx

  2. Firstly, I had no idea old slow hand released a techno album…
    and secondly what a brilliantly clear post about a touchy subject {especially for non photies like me} love the sentiment about finding a style – but not being afraid to push yourself creatively, that is what true creatives do, not just the trend whores {i have to credit TigerLily Wedding with that phrase} who churn out what everyone else is doing just to get a piece of the pie {i have to credit David Ledger with that sentiment} xx

  3. Brilliant article. As a wedding photographer I use both digital and film depending on whatever suits my need and fulfills my overall ‘look’; we are lucky that as artists we can use whichever medium we choose. True artists pay no attention to trends and fashions anyway- photographers like Messina and Jose Villa have been using film for over a decade, the fashion has followed them! :-)

    Charlie x x

  4. As a photographer, one thing I strive for is to take photographs that have a signature look that people recognise as being shot by me. There’s lots of different ways to achieve this, and post production – whether you prefer a more classic look, or a vintage look, is part of the way to help make that happen.

    Lisa and I have had lots of *conversations* (!) about vintage processing and why it doesn’t work for my style and what we come back to is that it doesn’t matter how you process the image if the photograph is inherently bad. Strip away the processing and see if the composition is good, if the light is right, and if a connection with the subject was made.

    I think that the photographers who complain about the rise of the vintage photoshop action do so because it is a quick and visual way of making a bad photo a little bit less bad. A natural part of experimenting with toning in post-production is to be a little heavy-handed and through time, tweak it down a bit until you find your own groove with it – a lot of the photographers who now use toning with panache were a little bit less sophisticated with it in their early days.

    To bring it back to the music analogy, I think the biggest thing is to make sure your post production is consistent. When an artist completely breaks away from their style, it upsets their fans who were expecting something similar to their previous work. If your post-production is all over the place, expect a couple of disappointed clients who didn’t quite understand what you were offering. Just today I had an enquiry from a couple who specifically wanted bright and clean and didn’t want the “faded” look they had seen elsewhere. Not all clients will be as forthcoming with this kind of feedback, and if I had suddenly decided to go all vintage on them, they would not be happy customers!

  5. I read this with real interest – wonderfully written, by the way!

    I think there’s quite a gulf between the cinematic/filmic style of processing (which I see in some of the images above) and what I see as gimmicky vintage. The filmic toning is flattering and timeless, although it can of course be combined with creative and edgy ways of shooting. In my opinion, I have no doubt that this will be around for a long, long time to come; I particularly hope so, as my own style of toning is filmic and has been so way before vintage became a trend.

    In the same way that dance music can vary from Moby to Stock, Aitken & Waterman (yep, that’s the extent of my dance music knowledge!) vintage covers a broad band of approaches. I do think that the more gimmicky approach, like any ‘strong’ trend, will run its course. By gimmicky (and not meaning to deride anyone who does this), I mean intentional blurs, cutoffs, strong 1970′s orange tones, big lens flares, and so on. Fashions will move on, as they always will; it’s only healthy.

    I shoot digital and film, and with various cameras, both 35mm and 120. Some of those are lomo, which is such a hot trend at the moment. It’s something I’ve always loved, but I don’t expect the world to continue its love affair with something so niche for too long. That’s why I only offer a ‘lo-fi’ or lomo package in addition to a digital package. I see it as a lovely extra, rather than the core of someone’s wedding images.

  6. Wedding photography has become incredibly creative in the last decade. No more lines of bridesmaids and groomsmen with painfully forced smiles.

    Loved the article, and I’m looking forward to seeing the future of this and other trends.

  7. Great article – totally agree, and I hope that the trend for vintage will keep the demand for real film and analogue cameras going for the foreseeable :o)

  8. Nice article. This is a topic on every photographer’s mind at the the moment. How do we make our photos stand out? How much do we conceded to the pressures of the marketplace? How do we juggle what the market wants with what we want to do to challenge ourselves creatively. Who wins? And why does wedding photography seem to come with an inbuilt nostalgia? What are we saying about our futures when we’re framing ‘the biggest day of our lives’ as an instant process of looking back?

    I think part of the trend for vintage is that digital has always felt a little clinical. A little too bright and clean. It lacks the personality of film. So it’s natural that photographers want to warm/soften/tone our digital files. For me the problem comes in mass marketed actions. If you’re not careful they can lead to a uniformity. VSCO does do a very good job of approximating film but you can also tell a VSCO’d image a mile off — which leads to a disappointing homogeneity.

    Still though, at least these treatments are aiming for a certain filmic verity. The actions that just completely lose me are those ones that seem to shout VINTAGE. That are vintage for vintage sake and actually relate only to their own ersatz response to the notion of vintage. Ie., they don’t actually replicate any film emulsions from the past. They replicate some shorthand digital approximation of a faded process that never actually existed in the first place. And those are the ones that will come to look very dated very quickly.

    In short, I’m all for people cooking up their own recipes, but buying actions just seems lazy. Because even if they’re done well and don’t date badly, chances are they will look pretty similar to a lot of other photographers using the exact same set.

    Ultimately though, great photographers will stand out for the images they capture, not the way they post-process them.

  9. Hi Lisa, I just found your article while searching for the key to that look you describe. It’s been bugging me for weeks how so many photographers are achieving the same look, and yet no matter what combination of actions I try, I’m struggling to emulate it. I’ve been a photographer for over 20 years, but have not really used photoshop for ‘effects’, just using a little tint here of there, and general retouching. But the explosion of wedding photographers using this editorial style vintage brown/dark look was overwhelming, and I wanted to be able to do it, even if I never used it.
    Funny thing is, this explosion of the style, also had me thinking about the whole digital alteration process, and I had written my own blog piece about it here, http://www.wheresmyrider.com/2013/01/the-fashion-of-image.html which you may find interesting.
    Anyway, the technique (or my lack of it) was still bugging me today, and that’s how I found you. Stoked I did. I will give the VSCO a try, check out your actions, and become an avid follower of Rock and Roll Bride. How cool! Thanks

  10. Nice analogy. Vintage wedding photography has indeed stayed in the industry for years so I guess its not just a trend. It’s here to stay. Great work by the way.

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