As soon as Jason and I got engaged, I started thinking about our wedding photography. Well, of course! Taking photos is what I do most of the day, every single day! It’s been an addictive thing- up until a couple of years ago- I’d never so much as held a ‘proper’ camera, and wasn’t ‘into’ taking photos in a big way at all. Now though, I’d say that photography is up there in the top five greatest loves of my life!
And so because of this, finding a truly fantastic photographer for our wedding was, as you’d imagine, a pretty huge deal for me. I had a clear vision in mind of the style of photography I was after and thought it might be a challenge to find a photographer whose style fitted exactly with what I was looking for, but the moment Jason sent me over an email containing a link to Sam Docker’s portfolio, I knew he was The One! There was no messing, no deliberation- just one look and I knew we’d found the photographer of my dreams!
Sam’s work is truly beautiful. Both his bridal and commercial photography are superbly creative and unique, and he plays with light in a way that I find so incredibly inspiring. We’ve sent so many emails back and forth since booking him to become our wedding photographer, about everything from the wedding itself to the merits of different lenses, editing software, and so many other elements of photography. Sam’s been such a fascinating person to get to know, I figured it might be fun to do a little interview with him here on Cider with Rosie! He’s even answered the question I get most frequently via email- how to get started shooting in manual on a DSLR!
So here we have it! The inside scoop on what it’s like to work as a professional commercial and wedding photographer…
R :: Will you tell us a little about how you came to work as a professional photographer? I know you’re completely self-taught, so was there a magic moment when you first picked up a camera and thought ‘this is it!’?
S :: ‘I never planned to be a photographer. The signs had always been there, but it wasn’t until I was 28 when I realized it was something that not only I loved doing, but could also make a career from. I’d previously studied creative product design, I also had a short stint in digital marketing, and I ran my own online fashion business for 6 years. I’d always worked with cameras in some form, but it wasn’t until I bought a 35mm Canon AE-1 that things started to change. There was something special about shooting film that really made me question what I was doing, I simply loved it. That was definitely the pivotal “moment” for me. From then on, it has been an absolute roller-coaster journey.’
R ::What excites you most about your work? And how would you define your style of photography?
S :: ‘The biggest excitement and buzz is seeing how much the client values the images you’ve created, whether that be for a new brochure of products, or a giant print of a couple on their wedding day. The images have meaning, some will last more than others, but knowing they provide a huge amount of satisfaction to my clients and couples is what I love more than anything about my job, if you can call it a job!! There’s no greater feeling than opening that email after the client has taken delivery of the final set of images, even if I am a little nervous before opening it!!
In terms of my style, it’s difficult to pigeonhole, but there are definitely elements of lifestyle and fashion in there, with a little documentary and some fine art thrown in for good measure. From a wedding point of view, my images hopefully tell a story of the couple’s day, the moments that happen, the people and the background details that go into such an event, all come together to help them re-live that day. Commercially, my work is much more focused towards lifestyle imagery, and providing brands or agencies with images that feel natural and creatively on trend.’
R :: Have there been any particularly memorable shoots, or standout moments from your career so far? And, conversely, any particular challenges you’ve worked past?
S :: ‘Without doubt, travelling to the Philippines for a wedding has to be a highlight- to be able to take my family with me made this even more special than I could even imagine, a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’ve also been involved in some great commercial shoots, but my latest for the Olive Tree – felt like I’d taken my work to the next level. Seeing my work feature on their site, and to know that it adds value to their brand is a real bonus for me.
In terms of challenges, I’ve been quite fortunate. I think if you manage expectations from the start and communicate your ideas throughout, the only challenges should be ones that you set yourself, such as trying new ways of shooting. The only challenge that has surprised me since I started working in this industry is monitoring image use. It’s amazing how many suppliers think they can just take your images without any credit towards the photographer, or enquiring about a fee to use them for their own promotion!’
R :: What’re your favourite pieces of photography equipment? Are there any bits of kit you’d never head to a shoot without?
S :: ‘My favourite question!! Like most photographers, I’m a tech-nerd at heart, and love new kit. In terms of my “couldn’t live without” items, it would have to be the Canon 50L and 135L lenses, both are complete magic and have produced most of my favourite images. In terms of my staple items that make every shoot, I work with 2 Canon 5D MKIII’s, and have a variety of prime lenses. Commercially, the 50mm Macro 2.8 is one of the most under-rated lenses in my bag. I also love and shoot a lot of my documentary wedding work on the Sigma 35mm Art lens and the Canon 24L, both incredible for when I’m in the mix of a wedding.’
R :: How does working as a commercial photographer compare to your bridal work? Would you be able to share a little insight into how you’d approach each different style of shoot?
S :: ‘There are lots of elements of weddings and commercial work that cross-over, such as the natural, documentary and creative style that I try to achieve in my work, but the biggest and most notable difference between the 2 is the pace and pressure of a wedding. There are no 2nd chances with weddings, you miss that first kiss, or the confetti shots are out of focus, you’re in trouble! There are different pressures with commercial work, but it’s at a different pace, and you generally have a little more time to produce the image.
My commercial work starts with finding out the brief, whether thats from an agency or the client directly. It’s important that I understand the type of imagery they want to achieve, but more importantly, that I can achieve it. For example, if someone approached me to shoot a new car advert and it was heavily studio based, I’d have to turn the project away as that isn’t my field of expertise, and the client would only be left disappointed.
Weddings are much more about engaging with my couples, I want to know them and what makes them tick. I want them to feel comfortable around me, I am after all being invited into their family circle for the biggest day of their lives, and I never take that for granted. For the wedding day itself, I can’t stress enough how much I want my couples to just enjoy themselves, as a recently married man, I know exactly how they’ll be feeling and just how quickly that day will fly! If they enjoy the day, and their guests enjoy it, the images almost take care of themselves!’
R :: It’s impossible to play favourites, but do you have any photos that stick out as your personal ‘bests’? :)
S :: ‘I always get told by couples “we don’t like having our picture taken”, and I do get that, but when it comes to the portrait element of the day, I always want my couples to see those 10-15 minutes as alone time with their new husband or wife, and this image of Jane and Sue [below] completely sums up that zone I want them to find. A quiet and peaceful moment, just the 2 of them, on a day of complete chaos!’
‘This is Emily’s dad delivering his speech. As a dad to a little 3 year old girl, I always find myself relating to everything they have to say, and this image moves me every time I see it. I’m sure it will only seem like 10 minutes before I’m in his boots.’
‘And the very first image in this post has to be included as a favourite, as it was the beginning of my commercial work. It was the first image I took where I truly realized I could do more of this, and that I was able to make strong imagery for brands and agencies.’
R :: What advice would you give anyone looking to start using their DSLR on manual, and wanting to understand the basics of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings?
S :: ‘We live in an amazing age right now, one where photography, and especially high-level photography are more accessible than ever. That said, if you’re thinking of starting down this path, you should really have a strong understanding of the basics. Cambridge in Colour is an amazing resource for reading up about shutter speeds, ISO and aperture, and the relationship they all share. The best advice I can give on shooting manual is to just go out and experiment, a simple walk round the park to try different settings and see what happens is a great start.
My basic approach and setup is to start by setting the ISO, bright sun is 100, cloudy is 400-800, low light is 1600+, then depending on the depth of field I want to achieve, I’ll set my aperture, usually anything between f1.2 and f2.5 for natural documentary work. The final setting is my shutter, and this is controlled by my previous 2 settings, in bright daylight, it will be fast, 1/4000-1/8000, for cloudy it will be 1/800-1/1600 and for low light, 1/200+. I try not to drop below 1/200th for the shutter, this way I reduce my chances of motion blur as anything below that speed will need one steady hand or a tripod.’
*Huge* thank you to Sam- picking the brains of a real-life pro photographer was a pretty great way to spend one afternoon last week! And aren’t his images just incredible? :) All Sam’s links are listed below, so please do go and check out the rest of his commercial and wedding portfolios- I had to a hard job selecting which photos to include in this post, there were so many beautiful images to choose from!
And Sam? We’ll see you on the 17th of July!