When I found out my good friend (and Street Photographer) Eric Kim had finally gotten engaged to his long time girlfriend Cindy, I sort of just arrogantly (and correctly) assumed I would be photographing their wedding. I didn’t really take into consideration that, you know, he may have been interested in hiring someone for the job or maybe just wanted me to fly to California to enjoy the celebration. But yeah, I knew I wanted to photograph their wedding as a thank you to all the support they’ve given me over the last several years that I have worked with Eric.
At the time of their engagement, I was still single and figured if I were attending a wedding alone and didn’t know many people, I may as well be photographing it. Plus, Eric and Cindy would be pretty laid back. More importantly, I wouldn’t be that irritated when the hired photographer was using a questionable lens choice or capturing images at weird angles. As you can see, I am a pretty judgmental asshole when it comes to wedding photography for the people I care for.
So what was it like to shoot another photographer’s wedding? Like what was it really like? Here goes…
I am What I am
During our pre-wedding conference calls, Eric and Cindy asked me if there was anything they could do to make my job easier. I told them to simply trust me to get the shots and just let me do my thing. As some of you know, Eric does a lot of street portraiture using wide angle lenses almost always with harsh direct flash. There’s definitely a cool aesthetic to that style, but it isn’t my style. There was no point in asking me to shoot wide angle close ups of people’s faces with a 28mm lens – it just wasn’t going to happen.
I only know how to photograph things my way. You see, when I am in a good rhythm and flow at a shoot, there’s nothing more disruptive than fielding suggestions from Uncle Bob (a derogatory term for a guest that brings their camera to a wedding, gets in the way, and generally tries taking photos next to the hired photographer) because it has the potential to throw me off my game. At the end of the day, I explained to Eric and Cindy that if they just left me to do my thing, I would produce quality images.
Eric is Pretty Awkward
So it came as a bit of a surprise to me when we first started our pre-wedding photoshoot. I’ve seen Eric do selfies with a hundred people in a row in Dubai, smiling and looking pretty normal in a Korean boy-band kind of way. I thought that level of comfort would translate in front of my camera, but didn’t – at least not at first. It took a bit of time for Eric to warm up to the camera. I recall Cindy (and I) remarking about him looking a bit like a serial killer. Luckily, the serial killer look disappeared. I can only assume it was a result of his ultra-fitted pants breaking in a little bit.
Expectations are Greater
Faced with photographing a photographer’s wedding, there is more pressure and expectation to produce good work. Presumably, the photographer knows their shit. You can’t really pass on mediocrity to another good photographer without being exposed. Even though Eric and Cindy assured me that whatever I produced would be fine with them, I knew that in some ways they trusted me to hit it out of the park for them.
During our pre-wedding shoot a couple of days before the wedding, I found myself in two challenging situations.
The first challenge was shooting at the reception venue, indoors in dark mixed lighting. This was where the shoot was starting – so they had to warm up in front of the camera in less than ideal photo conditions. Eric and Cindy knew that I wasn’t travelling with my full arsenal of lighting modifiers and gadgets so these images were very difficult to execute. I think we got two really nice photos indoors and then I suggested we go outside where the lighting situation was much more photographer friendly. I think they both realized that I wasn’t enjoying my time shooting indoors.
The second challenge was at a nearby church in Orange County, known for it’s innovative design and architecture. Initially, I wasn’t feeling the space in relation to how the light was falling. I channeled my inner Greg Heisler by walking the grounds of the church, observing much more than we were shooting. At one point I thought this location was going to be a flop. I could feel a bit of restlessness from Eric, Cindy and the few friends they brought along. It felt like they were waiting for me to stop and take photos, which I wasn’t doing much of. I had one of those brief creative blocks that we photographers have to power through. In time, it all began to click and the light just kept on getting better as we shot. We walked out of there with some pretty memorable images, true to my style.
Just Half Ass It
Perhaps foolishly, I initially thought that I could show up to the wedding and snap a few shots here and there and call it a day. I sort of forgot to remind myself that there is no off mode. Once I’m switched on, I can’t just half ass it. Needless to say, I ran around and hustled for photos just like at every other wedding I’ve ever shot. In many ways, this was a lot more involved than most of my weddings as there were both Korean and Vietnamese traditions that had to be photographed.
I typically do weddings with a second photographer, usually someone who is experienced with weddings and definitely someone I trust to be in the right spots at the right time. For this shoot, Eric had another friend (Brandon Phan) act as a second shooter. Because I had not worked with him before and he was a friend of Eric’s, I didn’t feel right directing him like I would at a regular wedding. There definitely were situations when we were in each other’s way, but we still managed to get the job done working independently.
One of the more obvious things you’d expect from an Eric Kim wedding bonanza is you knew there was going to be even more photographers than normal. And not just the regular Uncle Bob’s that you’re used to seeing, but ones that have to be seen with whatever showy uber expensive Leica / film / Polaroid with flash set up. The one-upmanship of the camera carrying crowd was next level at this wedding. I am probably projecting a little here, but I assumed they were eyeing me, questioning my lens choice and/or use of weird angles throughout the day.
You could say that there was some external pressure from other photographers as well. It felt as though I was constantly being sized up whenever I did something. But being confident in my abilities, I just shrugged it off knowing that I was getting the (better) shots. For the amount of people with fancy cameras there, they were mostly a non-factor in terms of getting in the way or being disrespectful of the space we need to operate.
They say that when you’re busy focusing on photographing something, that your recollection of whatever was going on when you were taking the photo is diminished. It’s like the people recording video or taking photos at a concert or sporting event. They remember looking at something behind a screen but they miss what’s really happening. I remember Eric coming up to me after the ceremony saying: “wasn’t that entrance music just so beautiful?” I kind of just looked at him and said “oh yeah!”. The reality; I didn’t remember no damned entrance music! I was way too focused on getting the photos of Eric and Cindy walking down the aisle to the altar. In fact, a lot of the smaller details of the day was a bit of a blur to me.
You’re the Photographer, Not the Guest
There’s no doubt about it; it was definitely work. Man, I love Eric and Cindy. But the idea that I could moonlight as photographer/guest was a fantasy. At the end of the day, when faced with two choices 1) act as the photographer or 2) act as a guest, #1 always prevailed.
Should I wake up at 5am to shoot prep photos or should I just sleep in like the guests? Should I sit and enjoy the service or walk around the church looking for more interesting angles? Do I have some drinks at cocktail hour or photograph the traditional Korean and Vietnamese rituals? Do I follow Eric, Cindy and their family around to greet everybody table-to-table or do I eat dinner? Of course I knew what I was getting in to when I volunteered to photograph their wedding, but I didn’t exactly anticipate it to be so one-sided. For me, I just don’t think it is realistic for someone to be both photographer and guest (unless you want the photos to suck).
Under Promise, Over Deliver
I had joked with Eric that I would be able to edit down the entire wedding to 12 photos. Eric was jokingly ok with that, but Cindy was vehemently against it! We never really discussed how many images I’d deliver or what exactly I would hand over. I know Eric had mentioned he’d just take the RAW files from me, but my policy of not giving away RAW files applied to him as well. I know that his style of processing is drastically different than mine, so I wasn’t prepared to give him my RAWs for him to process in a way that was not consistent with my look.
But I digress. I knew that I wanted to process a selection of images and design a nice flushmount wedding album as soon as possible. Within a couple of days of coming home from California, I had the album ordered with the intention of it reaching them shortly after they got home from their honeymoon in Mexico. The package came as a huge surprise to them! Bonus points for the photographer!
From a photographer’s standpoint, I was pretty lucky. I was able to just be true who I am and how I do things. If the other photographer truly enjoys your images, they’ll be able to let go of their ego and let you operate as normal. Eric and Cindy did a good job of giving me free reign, creatively. I couldn’t have asked for anything more on that end.
So what is my main takeaway lessons learned from this experience? Well, most notably, the wedding was every bit the same as most other weddings I’ve shot. It was equally as exhausting and just as much work. However, because Eric and Cindy are such good friends of mine, I did feel extra proud that I was able to make these memorable images for them to cherish for many years. I’m proud of the work I did and look forward to photographing the next photographer’s wedding! Bring it!
View additional photos from Eric and Cindy’s wedding in the slideshow below: