Barb Simkova in conversation on telling the story of the day with images at modern industrial wedding space Airship37 in downtown Toronto.
Was there an advantage from a photographic perspective to arrive at a new venue for the wedding reception of Alex and James?
As photographer, I find new venues incredibly exciting. After shooting over 150 weddings, it is lovely to be pushed creatively by arriving a new space and learn to work with the light, architectural and design elements of a new space.
What is your favourite image from Alex and James’s reception at Airship37?
There’s an image of the two of them standing and kissing under the beautiful floral arch that they had installed that I adore simply because it is such a sweet moment and the framing under the arch emphasizes its beauty while showcasing how Airship37 gives us as photographers the freedom to get dramatic vantage points because of the size and light in the room.
The photography of the wedding reception at Airship37 had such a joyous quality to it as the guests appeared relaxed and happy. How did you bring out this essence in your pictures?
First, thank you for the kind compliment.
I can’t take credit for the environment which was created by Alex and James and the connection they share with their friends and family which is ultimately what made the images so joyful. But I do pride myself on my candid dinner coverage and feel that it is the strongest part of my coverage. I feel that a ceremony is a celebration of the bride and groom and a reception is the celebration of all the relationships that have brought them to their wedding day. For all of us, it is so rare that we should be surrounded by our closest friends and family in a single room on a single night. Alex and James had guests fly in from all corners of the world and to me there is nothing more special than that.
The best part of my job is that I get a passport into the lives, traditions and relationships of the couples I work for and I take the responsibility of capturing the best of those connections very seriously. When our team shoots weddings, we take special care to get a sense of the room and how people react emotionally so that we can anticipate the laughs, tears and all the photo-worthy moments in-between. We often tell our clients that when they receive their images they should not only be impressed by the beauty of the work, but that they should feel as if they are transported back to their day and getting their memories back. For Alex and James’ day, this was made easy because of the great speeches, the relaxed and beautiful environment created by their guests.
The guests’ experience at the reception appeared to be at the foreground of the planning Alex and James did and this was in turn reflected in the photography. Was this something you deliberately communicated?
When we initially met, the importance of candid photography was something that we truly connected over. Knowing that candid coverage was important to the both of us meant that they trusted me to work to capture those moments and I was motivated to ensure that I delivered images from their day that put a strong focus on their guests.
How did you maximize the rustic industrial attributes of the Airship37 venue to achieve such a fresh spontaneous look?
Airship37 has unbelievable light which makes my job so much easier. Because the light is so stunning it means that we – as photographers – have the ability to move and get creative with how we frame the room. In this instance it meant that because we had such wonderful light we were able to back up and shoot with more guests in a single image which I feel gives a real sense of the event’s energy as opposed to being limited to shooting one guest at a time during candid coverage.
From a photography stand-point what drew your attention in this venue and how did you accentuate that?
I truly feel that light is Airship37’s best asset. From the outdoor space to the interior of the Hangar, natural light is so abundant. During Alex and James’ day it meant that when the light was at it’s best we worked hard to shoot as much as possible so that we were able to capture the most beautiful moments with glowing summer sunset light.
How does your approach of photography vary depending on the theme and look of a wedding? What were your considerations for this wedding reception at Airship37?
There are certain elements of the way I shoot that are always consistent but there are elements that shift depending on the personality of the couple I am working with. Because I find so much inspiration in both my surroundings – which on a wedding day are largely created by the theme of a wedding- and the connection between a couple, the photography naturally becomes a reflection of the elements that I am photographing. This means that a more classic wedding will yield classic images while a casual and fun day will likely result in more relaxed images. As a wedding photographer it is my role to capture the day beautifully and honestly, so my vision is represented in how I frame each moment and how I direct portraits, but I believe that it shouldn’t involve me imposing myself or my vision upon the day, instead I believe in using my skills to capture the vision of the bride and groom. For Alex and James, this meant a huge focus on their guests and on how fun and enjoyable their day was.
How do you work with your clients to get in sync on the vision for the photographs from their big day.
This is largely dependent on the couple that I work with. I of course have a work flow that ensures I am up to speed about the wish list, schedule and vision of their day, but outside of that it varies from couple to couple. I always suggest that my brides share their Pinterest boards with me and adore it when I am kept up to speed with details as the wedding comes together. Recently I worked with a couple who kept their vendor team connected by emailing photos from dress fittings, floral and decor consultations and tagged the team in all of the pre-wedding images that went up on social media, which resulted in such a fun and cohesive feeling for the team that went into the day. While this job is highly professional, I always encourage my couples to allow the experience to become more personal by sharing their planning process. It truly is my favourite thing when the couples I work with become friends as a result of the time we share working together.
How big a part does the post-production play in your photography?
Truthfully, very little. I am a firm believer in getting everything right in-camera. While we work to carefully select images and edit to balance light and skin tone, most of the work is done on a wedding day making sure that we are using the best light and exposures to capture the day in it’s true and authentic beauty.
If you had to pick a genre that describes your style of photography what would it be?
I would call myself a documentary-style wedding photographer because of the focus I place on candid imagery.
At the reception of a wedding there is so much activity and action. How do you differentiate the moments that are special and need to be captured?
Capturing a reception is about all about capturing emotion. After years of working receptions there are little tricks that become second nature. We try to watch the energy of conversations to see when a punchline might make a group of people laugh, look for extra emotive guests and anticipate which speeches will cause the greatest emotional reactions for specific tables so that we can anticipate reactions and capture the emotional highlights of the evening. It takes some practice but is so rewarding when you capture something truly meaningful unfolding between people and are able to give those moments back to people.
From the floral altar to the lovely table setting the wedding had such beautiful decor which you managed to capture in both the natural lighting of the venue as well as the later evening lighting. How important is it to try to get different looks and perspectives of the wedding venue?
Decor shots are hugely fun for me, but also so important to the couples that we work with. So much time, resources and creativity goes into making a wedding beautiful and while it all comes down at the end of the night, the images endure. The full collection of your wedding images should leave you feeling as if you were there which means telling the emotional story of the day, but also the aesthetic story by strongly documenting the details that go into making a day so beautiful.
You captured a vivid sense of drama and fun in the pictures of the couple and guest entering the venue for the reception. How can photography highlight and bring out the essential moments that tell a story on a couple’s big day?
I can’t take credit for the energy in those images because they are truly a reflection of the guests and Alex and James, who all approached the day with such a sense of fun and lightheartedness. But the opportunity we have as photographers is that we have an all-access pass to all of the day’s highlights and when our job is done correctly, we get to showcase the best moments of the day. This means being there to ensure those moments are captured effectively and beautifully and then curating the collection of final images in a way that allows those moments to shine rather than get lost in the collection. I would say that highlighting moments is done largely by curating the final images so that the important moments aren’t lost in a sea of images.
Airship37 has three separate spaces – the outdoor urban space, the Gooderham Lounge, and the Hangar – you brought out the different personality of each space so effectively in your pictures. How did you achieve this?
Because we do all of our shooting with natural light, it was easy to convey the distinct personality of each space as each have such different light quality: the Gooderham Lounge is warm and cozy, the patio bright and playful and the Hangar light and airy. By shooting with natural light, it allows us to showcase those spaces authentically. We also balance our photography by taking images that focus closely on guests and also shoot to include elements of the space so that we can set the scene for the moments that unfold within it.
What experiences in life do you find yourself drawing from to take such dynamic pictures?
I moved to Toronto alone seven years ago to pursue my career, leaving my immediate family behind on the West Coast while my extended family lives in Europe. I so rarely get to indulge in moments of family, tradition and culture in my own life and I feel so privileged that my job brings those elements into my life. Since moments between family are so rare for me personally, I feel so motivated to find those special moments through the lens of my camera and am so happy when I can give those moments back to my couples. That, and I am a total hopeless romantic. Four years and over 150 weddings into my work as a wedding photographer, I still tear-up (and occasionally ugly-cry) during father-daughter dances, at first-looks and emotional ceremonies.
What are three qualities you believe an effective photographer must cultivate?
1) An endless appreciation for the beauty of life and an obsession with finding the best way to showcase that in your images.
2) The desire to always keep learning and expanding your skills.
3) The confidence to network, communicate and facilitate and excellent experience for the people who are in front of your camera.
Photographer : Barb Simkova Associate Photographer & Studio Manager of Tara McMullen Photography
Catering: Berkeley Catering