Toronto wedding photographer Christoper Luk shares his creative vision in capturing Toronto wedding couple Seamus and Lydia’s wedding day at Berkeley Church wedding venue Toronto.

Can you explain what “hands-on documentary” entails and how you developed this approach over time?

My signature “hands-on documentary” style starts as a handcrafted creative (posed and staged) image which I nourish to organically grow into a photojournalistic moment.

When I was younger and first starting out, I thought that the more stylistic and more esoteric a pose or image looked, then the more appreciated and more highly regarded the photograph and art form would be. Now that I’m older and have been photographing weddings full-time for the past 6 years, I’m realizing more and more the importance that images have in capturing who people are (their unique character and presence) and how you / the people there felt at that specific time and place (“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”). As I age (and the rest of my family ages), I’m starting to see that grandparents, parents, siblings, friends, etc. won’t always be here with us: that one candid image captured at your wedding might be the only photograph you have with those who are truly significant in your life.

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Your signature “hands-on documentary” style is full of life and joy. How did this approach work so adeptly in this wedding to capture such beautiful pictures?

I’ve always seen weddings as a celebration: an occasion worthy of honour, filled with rejoicing, and a reason to party with your family and your closest friends! 

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You brought out the rustic nature of Lydia and Seamus’s wedding at the Berkeley Church while still maintaining a very elegant and seamless look. What were some of your methods for achieving this?

I aim for an “enhanced reality”: natural, timeless look in my images. Often times, you can look at an older image and say, “Oh, that’s so 70’s”, or “That looks so 80’s” and you can tell stylistically that it was from that specific era. I try to ensure that my images don’t look too dated when they’re seen many generations from now, so I don’t utilize very many heavy filters or shifted colour tones. That being said, it still takes a lot of work to make an image look as natural as possible since cameras don’t see things the same way that our eyes do!

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When you first saw the Berkeley Church what were some of your impressions of the possibilities for photography in this space?

With 3 floors, many stylistic architectural elements, and various textures to utilize, the first thing I thought was, “there’s no way that I’ll have enough time to accomplish all the ideas I have in my head”! Especially, on wedding days, there’s always a lot to accomplish in a short period of time, so you know that you will never be able to fully realize every spectacular idea you envision, but that adrenaline rush definitely helps to keep your creative edge sharp!   

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It was raining quite heavily outside on Lydia and Seamus’ wedding day, so I knew that their creative portrait session would have to be indoors. Even from a quick initial walk through, seeing the various stained glass windows, the “leading lines” of mezzanine railing, and so many possible “frame within a frame” spots, there was not enough time available to utilize it all!  

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How did the couple bring their unique personalities into the wedding day and how did you incorporate all these nuances and details into your visual story line?

Lydia is an avid reader, so she found some copies of her favourite vintage style hardcover books and made them into clutch purses as gifts and bouquets for her bridesmaids to hold onto. Lydia is simply one of the most hospitable and most thinking-of-others-first type of people you’ll ever meet, so that perfectly incorporated her giving personality and personal interests into something visual.

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Seamus and his family are from Ireland and they travelled to Canada for their very first time just for the wedding! I loved that they incorporated some of their own cultural tradition into the wedding: Seamus’ family sings traditional Irish folk songs and his father incorporated that into his speech at the dinner reception! Plus, Seamus and his groomsmen looked great in their traditional donegal tweed suits. 

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Lydia and Seamus shard their personal stories and the strength of their relationship with you and you were able to then communicate that in your photography of their big day. How important is this to you?

Getting to know my couples on a personal level and understanding what makes them uniquely them is of huge importance to me. I’ve always said that couples should look for a photographer who’s personality they connect with. Your wedding photographer will literally be following you around for the entire wedding day (and they’re one of the few wedding partners that you’ll see again after the wedding is finished too), so make sure they are someone you get along with, feel comfortable around, and someone you can trust —  if they have a great sense of humour and make you laugh and smile, all the better! 🙂

Knowing what is of value and of importance to them helps me understand the the purpose, the very essence of the reason they are getting married, and why they specifically chose to feature this or do that on their wedding day.

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The wedding portraits in the ceremony space of the mezzanine at the Berkeley Church worked out beautifully with the details of the wedding altar and the backdrop of the 1871 stained glass windows. Was were some of the technical calculations and artistic choices behind these portraits?

I wanted to ensure that the beautiful colours and textures of the stained glass windows were seen, so I needed to expose for that first (utilizing the exposure triangle: ISO, shutter speed, and aperture). However, the windows are brightly backlit and the bride and groom are in shadow, so they are too dark and not properly exposed. Then, I added enough flash power to properly expose the 2 of them in the foreground. While soft boxes, umbrellas, and other light modifiers often provide the best “shaping” quality of light to the human figure, with the extremely limited time that is available to photographers on a packed wedding day, I often find that a high-powered, well-directed 45-degree bounce flash often works well during a time crunch.

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The photographs of the wedding reception decor all set up the moment before the guests arrive hold all the energy that the day must have had. How important are these shots for the couple to have and what viewpoints are you considering when you take them?

Usually, the couple has a unique vision that they want to convey to their guests and they’ve meticulously chosen very specific people to make that dream into a reality. Many different hardworking (often unseen) people (eg. florists, decorators, etc.) pour in lots of hard work through design, preparation, and assembly to make it happen behind-the-scenes and I want to give each person their opportunity to shine.

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How do you adjust and take advantage on the fly to the changing light sources that occur during a wedding day?

I enjoy shooting larger apertures to yield a shallower depth of field (that distinctive look where the main subject of your image stands out more against a blurrier background), so that aspect of the “exposure triangle” tends to stay roughly the same for me. Similarly, I usually keep my shutter speed fast enough to freeze motion (as people tend to walk and move quickly on wedding days). I often change the ISO or the camera sensor’s sensitivity to light to complete the third part of the triangle and yield the correct exposure. Thanks to modern technological advances, we can now photograph at very high sensitivity values (which were simply unheard of a handful of years ago) without sacrificing much detail now. That being said, my late-night dance floor photos utilize a completely different philosophy for lighting (maybe for another time)!

Sometimes it’s as simple as going for a walk: move around the room a bit and see how the light falls, streaks, or bounces within a room. What you find standing in one spot looking in a particular direction might really surprise you (either in a really positive or in a really negative way)! 

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It says something about you that you have a category on website in your portfolio called fun. What was the inspiration to create this?

I love what I do as a full-time wedding, portrait & event photographer: I meet so many wonderful people and the milestones that I get to immortalize are so special. When you work with certain people and your personalities click, the chemistry and connection is amazing, and you have so much fun being around them. A lively group of bridesmaids and entertaining groomsmen in the wedding party can really influence the amount of laughter we all experience at a wedding too! 

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You are also a musician and spend time focusing on the auditory side of life. How does this in turn contribute to your visual perception of situations?

We have 5 amazing senses: sight (eg. photography), hearing (eg. I’m an audiophile, sound engineer, singer and a musician!), taste (eg. I’m a foodie too!), smell (eg. scents contribute heavily to our sense of taste), and touch (eg. interacting with a musical instrument). They are all amazing gifts we have to perceive the world around us and influence how we experience life.

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At a wedding, sometimes something that was said (ie. auditory): a memory recalled, a meaningful song, or a promise fulfilled, often leads to an emotional reaction that is so visually memorable: a laugh, a cry, a hug. In every image, I strive to encapsulate meaningful, heartwarming, and emotional storytelling of sentimental moments in an artistic way: a fully orbed view or encapsulation of the world in that moment as a memory.

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What are your major sources of inspiration as a photographer?

My Christian faith is the primary window through which I see the world. Simply look into almost any news story today and you’ll quickly be bombarded with scenes of hatred, conflict, and the lack of love that is around us; it’s easy to become pessimistic and hard-hearted. It’s so comforting to know that my hope for a better world is not found in politics / government, education, finances / careers, or safety / security. Instead, the perfect example of sacrificial and selfless love has come for us, He offers unfailing and unwavering hope, and we can be encouraged because evil will be defeated and soon “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore”.
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Secondly, my family! Getting married myself fundamentally changed the way that I see what are truly important moments during a wedding day: sometimes the least photographically creative chapters of a wedding day’s events hold the most personal significance. Similarly, my 2 young children remind me of how quickly our short lifetime here flies by in the blink of an eye. True love is what I see, feel, and experience practically on a regular basis through my family. For example, my wife is extremely long-suffering because she’s stuck being married to me! 😉