In conversation with Scarlet O’Neill on her vision of photography and the potential of capturing all the special moments at a Berkeley Fieldhouse wedding venue Toronto.
I bet you hear this a lot ” I love the way you shoot.” What do you attribute this to?
My shooting style is about the honest interactions between the couples I have the honor of working with. And, it’s about ensuring the experience is wonderful and never does anything but add to the day. I want people to look at the photos and go “that’s us”. I want them to feel goosebumps knowing that their photos are truly theirs, and that they are not just yesterday’s couple’s photos. I watch how my clients interact, how they care for one another, and how they exist as a couple; that’s my focus.
Wedding portraits and first looks have been compared to style shoots. One difference is that you are not working with trained models. What are some of your techniques and approaches for achieving those beautiful shots with your wedding subjects?
This kind of falls into my last answer. For me, it is the honest interactions between the couples. The beauty of photography is in real life situations. Honest, candid, genuine moments are the best and that’s what makes for the most wonderful wedding portraiture.
You have some lovely pictures where your subjects are not camera aware and there is a pure candid quality. Do you look for these moments?
80% of work is this. I aim for candid photos because those are the ones that truly bring you back to that moment and are real. I don’t really pose my clients, but instead try to create a situation for real interactions to grow and that’s where those goose-bump photos come from.
Wedding photography matters and the stories that you tell about people in these unique gatherings can have unforseen importance. What has been your experience with this?
Weddings are this lovely time that everyone you love is all together in one room and there is nothing more love filled than that. One thing that is really important in being a wedding photographer is remembering to document those candid moments between the family and friends. I always make it a point to get to know who’s really important to my couple to make sure I’m highlighting specific people I know will be special when they get their photos. As fun as portraits are, it’s also the entire rest of the day with all the other people that build the story of this sweet day.
When you were editing your pictures from this wedding what made you the happiest about how it went?
When Adrianna was getting ready, the mood of this set the tone of the day where I knew it would be playful, sexy and full of emotion. Some brides don’t like to get ready in front of the photographer but Adrianna trusted me and we created some epic-ly stunning photos in every moment together. It just fuels the entire day. I also was really happy for the adventure we went on with photos, both around the area and around Berkeley!
How does art direction come into play in your job on a wedding day?
One of the most important parts is being aware of light and then also surrounding areas. It’s important to me that everything I’m choosing to have in the frame is purposeful and lends itself to a stronger image.
How does it help you in your profession to connect with other event professionals and share your areas of expertise?
The community of photographers has significantly grown over the past few years. Right now it’s so healthy with people helping others to constantly grow and that warms my heart. It also strengthens photography as a whole. I think too often photography isn’t seen to be worth as much as it’s worth and I think we are really working towards getting all people in the wedding industry to see it’s importance.
How important is it that the photographer of your wedding have an emotional depth and maturity so they can interpret the important moments of your big day.
Huge. I think, though, the client must be the same and/or appreciate this. But, if you are the kind of person who wants pose-y photos where everything is forced, then you don’t really need an emotional photographer. It just depends on the style of work, and then that aligns to the type of photographer.
Adrianna and Dave’s wedding day portraits have such a fantastic fun and spontaneous feeling to them. It appears you are heading out on an adventure and there are many happy incidences such as the stopped streetcar. Is a big part of this success having trust to have a loose script and feel confident to go off script?
It’s really important for people to trust me and to be up for an adventure. I am lucky that these two did because we really were able to create a unique collection of photos with stories behind each photo.
How do you define mastery in your field and how do you “push the envelop” of your field of expertise?
Mastery to me is creating images that are truly timeless. Photos that carry with them the power of being able to bring that person back to that moment. It’s not all about creating the perfect photo, but more about telling a story. If you can achieve that with your photos, I think you’ve truly mastered your craft. I strive to tell stories with my photos that are unique to the person/people in it. I don’t ever want to recreate something that’s been done, or impose another story on someone else.
Each wedding you do is so unique and individual how do you manifest this?
My whole brand is about being true to the moment and how no two moments are the same. My clients inspire me and they allow me to get to know them so that their photos are their own.
You maximized the setting of the Berkeley Fieldhouse in looking at all the possibilities for photo opportunities and framed it through a creative lens. What is your process for exploring a venue and seeing the hidden gems?
I think it’s really important to approach each wedding with a fresh set of eyes. My goal with each wedding is to see the personalities of my couple and to shoot with them in mind. My constant aim is to create a wedding unique to them. I never want my images to be a repeat of the last time I was at that venue. For me, it’s knowing how to go with the flow and find the surprise element in a new space or if you know the space well, it’s knowing what works best and trying to shoot from a different perspective…. magic comes out of that!
Are there master photographers that you have studied that inspire you?
India Earl, Joaoh Guedes, Danielle Bohane, Sarah Lovrien, Dan O’Day and Phil Chester are some of the photographers who’s work I really admire right now.
Are there points in the wedding day where you give yourself space to goof around and try new things?
For me, it’s always about trying new things. There are moments I play safe, but I try to be a little more adventurous each day.
Does photography give you a sense of autonomy and what does this mean to you?
At first I wasn’t sure how to answer this question, but upon thinking more about it, I think its a really important and deep question. I think photography allows me to really focus on what is important in life and in human interactions. And, specifically weddings. I think people get lost sometimes while planning a wedding. They end up focusing on little things they wont even remember years later, instead of the big picture. For me, seeing all the relationships and these situations, I’m constantly reminded about the importance of the right things.
You were recently married. How did this impact your perceptions of a wedding day?
Oh my, what a question! I actually really struggled with being a bride. Having the attention be on me was really not something I was comfortable with. But what I knew was really important during day were the real moments; being present and spending time with my soon to be husband. We broke a lot of traditions on our wedding day because to me, I felt like the traditional didn’t represent us as a couple, or as individuals. We did things that reflected our relationship, and didn’t do them just because “that’s what you do on a wedding day”. I think being a part of so many other weddings made it so that we created a wedding that was really personal and unique to us, and we honestly enjoyed every moment of our day.