Conveying such intense wedding day emotions requires a light touch by the photographer – who is at once involved in that emotion, but distanced from it. Van of Van Middleton Photography is adept at this, telling a story with each of the images he takes. Van shoots around the Byron Bay and Tweed areas, but travels anywhere in Australia or beyond, to capture your wedding day.
Please describe the path that led you to photography?
I guess you could say photography grew on me over the years. In my twenties I traveled a lot, and at about the same time digital cameras arrived. I went to some unusual places and began to obsess over the images I was taking. Travel photography became a passion, although still a hobby. When I finished much of my travels and settled back down at home, I took up someone’s offer to shoot a wedding. I did a decent job, the couple were happy, and I realized I could turn something I enjoyed into a livelihood.
What are the qualities that make a good photographer?
This is a difficult question. There are so many different photographers, with so many different styles, that it’s hard to pin down specific traits without projecting. I do think ambition plays a part in all successful photographers, since it’s the catalyst of many other characteristics: determination, hard-work, a desire to learn. These then have knock-on effects, such as technical skill leading to more creative possibilities, etc etc. For wedding photographers, being personable is also an important trait. You spend a whole day with the bride and groom, and you need to tap into all those pent-up emotions in them: it helps to have people-skills.
You have traveled a lot. What places have had an influence on your life? And on your photography?
Everywhere I’ve been has influenced me in one way or another. But in general I’ve been humbled by how well I’ve been treated wherever I’ve been.
North Korea probably influenced my photography the most. It required the most ingenuity (I had to shoot with a tiny compact and smuggle out my memory cards) and I received a lot of validation from the images I took there. It gave me confidence and drove me towards learning and shooting more.
You like to learn. What have you done to learn your craft? How do you keep on learning?
I searched out those photographers I consider the best in the world and studied them, their techniques, their equipment, their style. I took bits and pieces from each of them. Anything below that echelon I tried to ignore and avoid. Then, at a certain point, it becomes less about learning from others and more about exploring and learning from yourself. The best photographers in the world forge their own path, so at some point you need to trust yourself, experiment a bit and develop a unique voice and style.
You seem to encapsulate a whole story in an image. Is this what inspires you about being a photographer?
I’m definitely attracted to photos that tell a story, or capture a real moment. And by that I mean that manufactured images don’t inspire me as much. I’d like people (including the subjects when they view them later) to feel like they are observers watching an uninterrupted event. When I see a wedding photo with a groom tilting the bride back and someone tossing her veil and a flash going off to the right of frame, I can see all those components, and it strikes me as a bit silly. I don’t see the beauty there, I don’t really understand it. Of course you need to make things happen sometimes, but even when I do that I make it seem like it’s happening of its own volition, and I just happen to be there recording it.
You style is clean and seemingly simple. How is it that you develop an eye for this style, or do you naturally observe the world this way?
I think it goes back, again, to trying to avoid an image looking too manufactured. When I do tinker with the sky, I try to make it look like I didn’t tinker with it!
The landscape and surrounds is a feature in your shots of the bride and groom. Is this to give a sense of place or context to the image?
I’m a fan of landscape photography and landscape painting, and my personal feeling is that these sort of shots can be really dramatic. I’ve never made a conscious decision to shoot that way – I just find large spaces and natural settings beautiful.
How do you help your couples relax while having their photos taken?
There are no silver bullets here. Every couple is different. Some people (and I include myself in this bracket) are not very comfortable having photos taken, while others revel in it. I’m pretty easy-going, and I do my best to make them feel comfortable throughout the day. I make bad jokes, mostly at my own expense, and the mood is usually pretty relaxed by the time the location shoot comes around. I have a few tricks I use sometimes too – getting the groom to whisper something in the bride’s ear can have a good effect. Weirdly, telling them to laugh usually pays dividends as well
You say you would do ‘almost anything for your clients’. What notable situations can you tell us about?
I have a habit of climbing up trees, crawling through grass and hiking up hills. I’m also quite clumsy, so I’ve had my fair share of incidents. I’ve been attacked by a farmer’s dog (took a piece out of my thigh), I’ve fallen in a cane drain and I once sat on a cactus. I tripped over a toddler at a reception (missed the cake by about a foot), and one time I fell on top of the best man at a reception when my camera holster pivoted me off a wall.
If you could shoot a wedding anywhere in the world, where would it be (and why)?
India. For sheer colour and drama, it can’t be matched. I’d also love to shoot somewhere like Iceland – tundra and fir trees and snow. It’s so different to what I’m used to, it would be amazing.
What would you tell your younger self – knowing what you know now?
Not much, except keep going, and enjoy the ride.
What are your dreams and aims for the future?
Shoot less, but make them count. I’ve been prolific in the past, to learn and grow my business, but now I need to slow down, refine what I know and seek out work and locations that inspire me. I need to spend more time on my brand and marketing, it’s something I’ve long neglected.
Being based in Queensland, what do you like to do for fun, in this State that is ‘beautiful one day, and perfect the next’?
I surf (though not as much as I’d like), and I hang out with my wife and little girl. That keeps me happy
Thank you Van for sharing your thoughts with us. To find out more about Van Middleton Photography please visit the website.
All images from Van Middleton Photography.