For today’s ISPWP member spotlight, we feature London wedding photographer Roland Michels who owns Roland Michels Wedding Photography.
Roland Michels Bio:
Roland Michels work as award-winning wedding photographer in London and Hamburg. He has been shooting weddings since 2004. So far he has accompanied couples throughout Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Greece, France and Mauritius. His work embraces reportage as well as tasteful portraiture. He has a far reaching reputation and several articles about him have been published in Wedding and Photo Magazines.
How did you get your start and why did you chose wedding photography as a career?
I became a freelance photographer in 2004, but before that I worked in a completely different business: I had a qualification as a gardener and worked in this field. During my first two years as a photographer I worked mostly for the food industry, for clients such as Volvic, Bacardi and Masterfood. But I quickly changed over to wedding photography, because this kind of work entails far more freedom and creativity. People booked me because of my photography style, and not (as was usually the case in the food industry) because I was expected to conform to a rigid model.
How has your extensive experience in wedding photography helped you in difficult circumstances on a wedding day?
It is good, of course, to always know roughly what is happening when, and what could happen. While I photograph on a wedding day I am a silent observer, but I still offer hints when time is running out, if the groom’s breast pocket handkerchief isn’t quite right or about where the boutonniere should go.
Tell us about some of the more unique weddings you’ve shot.
When I started out I always wanted to photograph the most exotic weddings at fabulous locations and I loved being sent to Mauritius or Greece for assignments. Of course, opulent weddings in foreign countries and cultures have a particular attraction for me as a wedding photographer. But this year the most unusual wedding was on an old ship here on the Baltic, followed by a relaxed evening at a beach club. The marriage was performed with so much love and warmth at the same time so relaxed – something I had never previously experienced.
What are some of your favorite local venues?
There are a couple of special places where I like to photograph weddings. One of these is London, this pulsating city that combines so many cultures and influences. Photographing weddings in London is really quite something. And then I love to take photos on the little island of Sylt in Germany – the light here is special, and there are a lot of top locations all almost side by side. And my third choice is of course Hamburg, the port city that is so complex and modern.
What advice would you give a bride who is looking for a wedding photographer?
In any case it is important to devote much attention and preparation to the wedding in advance. For many couples, their wedding is the first major planned event of their lives. And be it the location, the wedding dress, the buffet or the photographer, heaven and hell are often not far apart. But you can maintain the upperhand by making proper preparations in the various areas. Organisations like ISPWP can offer couples a vast amount of information when it comes to choosing their photographer.
Admittedly, for someone who has never dealt with these matters before, it is difficult at first to find out whether an offer is serious or just a lot of hot air. It’s easy these days for a wedding photographer to create a suitable website template and to upload his or her twenty best photos. So it’s important to exercise caution here and look around a bit. Does the photographer have a blog with regular entries? Can one view the client galleries? Also, membership of an association such as ISPWP is an indication of their quality. A photographer who belongs to this must have photographed a minimum of 50 weddings.
Next, the couple should decide what style appeals to them. Wedding photography is highly creative and each photographer has his or her own approach. When you find work by a photographer that makes you say, “I’d like pictures like that at my own wedding”, then you have a good starting point. I don’t think it’s a good idea to approach a particular photographer with a selection of photos from other photographers and to ask for something like that.
Another thing I consider very important: there has to be mutual understanding, or else it isn’t likely to work. It’s much easier to photograph somebody you find likeable than someone who you feel no sympathy towards.
What’s your favorite part of the wedding day to photograph?
It’s different from one wedding to another. Sometimes incredibly beautiful things happen already during the preparations – the light in the room is perfect, the atmosphere is wonderful. I have two different approaches: observational reportage and artistic portraits. Couples who book me also like both of these things, and so the portrait shooting session on the wedding day is usually a highlight both for me and for the couple, and not just something that has to be endured.
What are your top tips for brides to help them get great photos on their wedding day?
Enjoy the day, let others do the organising, don’t try to control everything. Be aware of your love and show it. Surround yourself with people you like. Let the photographer just get on with his or her job. Follow these pointers and you’ll have a wonderful day and beautiful pictures.
How important is it to hire an experienced wedding photographer?
When I started to photograph weddings, I used to say to the couples: better a new, creative mind than an experienced old wedding photographer for whom everything has become mere routine. I have never had a bad experience; I have always delivered the photos and everyone has been very satisfied. I think I have been very lucky. After over 200 weddings I now belong, according to my earlier estimate, to the “old timers.”
But my views have changed, of course, as my experience has grown. Experience brings security. As a bridal couple one must not forget that there is no second time: the marriage ceremony will not be repeated, and any blunders that may occur cannot be measured in money terms, but always as emotional hurt. Yet despite all his or her experience, the photographer must continue to “burn”, to bring creative ideas and to constantly reinvent him or herself.
What do you find is the biggest challenge in wedding photography?
Having learnt when, where and how to take wedding photographs, one quickly masters the routine. Much more difficult, though, is to photograph the “nuances”, the really important moments that aren’t listed on the schedule. Ultimately it is these moments that make the real story.
Do you do “destination weddings?” If so, what are your favorite destinations?
I see myself more as a citizen of the world. And so I also work as a wedding photographer in London. The distances have shrunk in the meanwhile, and contact is effortless via the Internet. I can fly from Hamburg to London in an hour, while it takes two hours just to drive to Hanover.
Anywhere that is no more than two or three hours’ flight from Hamburg is of interest to me, and London is my second home – I can be reached under a local address.
How would you describe your style of photography?
That is quite simple, it is the style of Roland Michels. – No, really only one thing is important: people look at my photos. They like them. They don’t see pictures like these everywhere. They book me. They get wonderful photos of their weddings. They are happy. I think it’s wrong to explain to couples why my pictures are as they are. Either they like them or they don’t. The more polarisation, the more style will result.
What (or who) inspires you?
I try, athough I don’t always succeed, to avoid modelling my photographic work on that of other wedding photographers. I love looking at art, the old masters, and also modern fashion and advertising photography. The old masters often could not only see the light, but they could reproduce it perfectly with the brush. The more a person occupies himself or herself with these things, the better he or she will be able to master composition and light.
Nature also inspires me greatly; while growth and colour arise from chaos, it is never without order for mankind.
What would you say was the biggest reason for your success?
I was in the right place at the right time and did it right. Apart from that, I seem to have a talent for taking really good photos. OK, so it isn’t really that simple. Success doesn’t come overnight. It is always a long road, in which you make many mistakes but also learn from them. It’s important not to stand still in photographic terms but to continue to evolve.
Success is based on a dogma: it is always more and more difficult to change one’s photographic manner without somebody saying straight away that now you take photos just like X or Y. Yet you have to guard this freedom and remain flexible enough to be able to also strike out along unorthodox paths. Otherwise sooner or later you will degenerate into a parody of yourself.
At the same time you have to remember that wedding photos are not meant to only be indications of their time – they will still have to look good in 50 years’ time and not be too dated.
What future plans do you have for your business for the next year?
This year I am setting myself up as a wedding photographer in London. I’m looking forward to seeing how it will work out.
What is the biggest challenge facing wedding photographers today?
For photographers working on international assignments – a volcano called Eyjafjallajökull.
Thanks for the interview Roland! Use the comment section below to ask Roland a question or leave him a comment.