When you watch Orlando, Florida-based photographer Sally Watson photograph a model or bride, you may not notice anything all that unique at first. Sally might tell the subject she loves that pose or look, but that’s nothing uncommon.
But if you get a little closer and listen carefully, you realize it’s not so much what she’s saying but the tone she uses, which is gently animated and punctuated with lighthearted empathetic laughter. You get the sense she’s subliminally signaling to the model that they’re in this together and that he or she should just relax and be themselves.
It’s something you can see in the photos she shoots, as well as the video that her working partner and husband, videographer Dan Watson, captures. The models, brides, grooms, wedding parties, ring bearers, flower girls and other subjects just have a relaxed air about them. (You can see this in the behind-the-scenes video of Sally at work during a wedding here: https://youtu.be/XA4Xifrram8.)
Of course, both Watsons also have a fantastic sense of composition and often can make the most out of any lighting situation. But the magic stems from Sally and Dan’s ability to connect with their subjects.
It’s a fortunate talent given that they shoot roughly 20 to 30 weddings a year while also producing the very popular camera-tech video podcast Learning Cameras (learningcameras.com).
Striving To Create A Powerful Wedding Experience
In many ways, the Watsons have found that in order to produce first-rate wedding photos and video footage, they need to focus on interacting with the wedding couple and making that the focal point, so to speak. But it’s a strategy that stems from a painful personal experience. For the Watsons’ own wedding several years ago, they hired a wedding photographer who did not shoot it in the way they’d anticipated. He had set up some studio-type portrait shots but nothing that really captured the dynamic sense of the wedding. “We have no real memories,” says Sally. “We were both devastated.”
At that point, the two began a mission to provide a better wedding experience, which also defined their style of photography. “It progressed into what we missed out on in our wedding,” says Dan. “And that’s basically how we’ve been doing things since then.” Dan calls it, “adding a relational dynamic to it.” That means working in an opposite manner to the way the photographer they’d hired worked. “He was more of a studio photographer and just didn’t get the dynamic of people and what emotions are going on during a wedding.” That’s an area the two of them, particularly Sally, excel at. “We’re spending more time with the bride and groom than anyone,” says Sally.
But it’s not just about spending one-on-one time on the day of the wedding but meeting with them weeks prior to get a sense of what they want shot at the wedding. “I love to get to know people,” says Sally. “Plus, I also know lots of people aren’t comfortable being photographed.” She says even professional models can feel uncomfortable at times, “so to make them feel even better is important to me.”
On wedding days, most brides feel overwhelmed, and Sally says she’s there to help get them back into enjoying the experience. “I love speaking to them,” Sally says, “and getting to know them, which is how I’m able to make them appear more genuine in front of my camera versus me just posing them. It’s all about them just falling into who they are as a person. So, for example, I’ll say to the couple, ‘I just want you to hold hands and walk. I want you to look at each other or whisper something into her ear. Tell her she’s beautiful.’ It’s all about communication.”
Also, caring about the bride and groom as people goes a long way, too, particularly on the big day. “I always have a bottle of water for the bride. Or I’ll ask her, ‘Hey, are you OK? You want to take a minute? Take a minute, and we will start again.’ Because often they’re stressed out, and they’re being pushed in every different direction. It’s really important to remember that it’s about them, and it’s about caring for them enough to know what they’re comfortable with.”
Once they’re comfortable, Sally eases them into different types of scenarios, which Dan says works better than telling the couple to move their arms, legs or head in a particular direction. “As that movement plays out,” Dan says, “we begin to see areas we can improve upon, which we can transform into amazing images. But it starts out with them just interacting with each other the way they would normally act.”
However, Sally says she works differently shooting children at weddings. “What I do is, I put my camera behind my back and talk to them for a little while. You need to be overly affectionate, happy and excited.” Then, Sally says to the kids: “‘You look so beautiful. You look so handsome.’ Or I’ll make them twirl around. It’s really just me being a mom,” she laughs, “and making them really happy.” That’s when she quickly pulls out her camera and snaps some shots. “It just works better than saying, ‘Look at my camera.’”
Shooting Video In 2019: Telling A Story And Working Together
Digital cameras have changed a lot in the past 10 years, allowing photographers to, among other things, capture such high-quality video that they don’t need a separate video camcorder anymore. But what’s changed even more, Dan says, is the type of video videographers are expected to produce.
“It’s gone from general and documentary coverage,” says Dan, “into telling a story with your videos. And that is a massive change. I used to set up three cameras on a tripod and a safety shot. As long as I had an angle covered, that was good enough. But that’s not the way things are anymore.” Dan says wedding couples want video that tells a story, which takes a lot of editing skill. “It’s gotten a lot harder. So, now we use gimbals a lot because it allows us to be very flexible and mobile.”
Because videographers have become more mobile, nearly as mobile as photographers, it means the two must have a collective shooting strategy of sorts, so they’re not fighting with each other to get the shots and footage during the wedding. That requires both of them to discuss their game plan prior to the wedding.
“It’s super important that photographers and videographers communicate when it comes to how they work best. And this quite often doesn’t happen,” Sally says, and points out that each might be demanding 15 minutes with the bride and groom at the exact same time. “It’s all about doing a dance together and making the couple work with both of you. Honestly, it can be super easy,” says Sally. However, it has to start by talking it out beforehand and seeing how each other works best.
Dan and Sally’s approach is also to keep a fluidity about the various shoots and to have the subjects continually moving “from one movement to the other. People are always moving,” says Dan. “And so I’m able to capture moments in video and put together a little bit more of a story than when people are being told to hold a particular pose like they are for a traditional portrait. If you see us work, we basically capture at the same time because the way that we’re doing this is we’re having our bride, groom and other subjects move in ways that work for both photos and video.”
And that’s how the videographer can tap into the same spontaneity the photographer is capturing, as the subjects move from one scene to another.
The Importance Of Timelines
A key component of Sally and Dan’s process, which makes things run smoothly, is having a timeline. “I meet with the bride and groom beforehand,” says Sally, to get a general timeline of the wedding day, which the Watson’s use to figure out when they might have “little windows of time that are flexible” to get back on track. That’s crucial since they both say that timelines can run behind schedule for a million different reasons, such as the makeup artist took too long or the mother of the bride hated her dress. The timeline provides you with a way “to create that cushion, which is why the timeline is critical,” says Sally.
Sally also says what the timeline provides is a way to be flexible with the wedding couple, which also shows that you care about them “enough to give them the best product. They’re paying me a lot of money. So they should know that they’re going to get something good at the end of the day.”
Weddings And Social Media
As you can see, wedding photographers and videographers are responsible for many different tasks during the wedding. So much so that some shooters may look to ease up on some of them. With so much to take care of, it might be easy for some photographers to overlook social media.
But for the Watsons, social media is an essential communications tool. “I think that it’s very important for photographers to be extremely active on social media,” says Sally, “posting at least two to three times a week, engaging with brides, making sure you’re hashtagging the right things and even creating stories while you’re at a wedding.”
Sally and Dan both say the real benefit goes beyond showing a potential couple what type of work you shoot. “Brides want to see that you’re busy,” says Sally. “I’ve talked to a lot of brides, and they say, ‘It’s important for a wedding photographer to look as if they’re shooting all the time because then I know that they’re good.’ Honestly, social media is everything these days. I don’t think all photographers love that aspect of it, always needing to push out images and to create something new. But I think the wedding photographers that can do this stand out the most and get booked the most.”
Dan points out that they’ve recently changed their focus a bit in their social media posts. “It’s become a little bit more personal,” says Dan, “and a little less focused on business. We’ve started focusing a little bit more on who we are as people in our social media.”
“Brides want to know who you are,” says Sally, who says she’ll often receive direct messages from brides interested in her work.
One additional way to publicize your work, Sally says, is to consider submitting your portfolio to online publications. “If you get featured on the other wedding blogs, brides might see you again and might remember you because a particular image stands out,” says Sally, “and they might say, ‘I want that.’ I’ve had that happen, which is awesome.”
For more on Dan and Sally Watson’s work, see dan-sally.com.