Chris Kapa from Me Love You Long Time has a secret weapon when it comes to shooting weddings. And it’s … yoga.
The Melbourne photographer, who has been in the business for about 30 years, says mental and physical preparation, and treating your body like an important piece of equipment, is just as important to his job as planning locations and setting out Plans B and C.
“I’m hard core into health, energy and yoga,” he says. “I eat foods that energise me rather than bog me down. And I eat to perform.”
It’s a dedicated regimen that has paid off by way of a stellar reputation grown through word of mouth. And it’s one that primes him perfectly to give some insights into the secret of capturing memorable and timeless shots of brides and grooms that serve as works of art in their own right.
Here, he talks us through some different approaches and insights, using his own photographs to illustrate.They always say less can be more. And here, it applies not only to the lack of colour, but also to the relatively plain background, which guides the eye towards the bride and groom, captured in a pose that is not overplayed, but is subtle, sophisticated and very romantic. It shows you don’t always have to feature the couple front and centre to make a strong impact. Distance is another great way to add variety to a shot. Because the bride and groom aren’t presented front and centre, you really have to pay attention to process all the little details that make it so special. Here, for example, the gorgeous greenery creates almost a lush tunnel of love while the looks on their faces – combined with their body language – tells you everything you need to know about them as a couple. In a similar manner, height is a great way to give a different perspective – in this case a bird’s eye view. You can see how relaxed the couple is because they’re just being themselves, rather than posing formally for the camera, which adds a wonderful note of personality. Candid moments between a bride and groom are the cornerstone of a wedding album, but a keen eye for background and character can take them to another level. Here, the shot builds on the popularity of colourful alleys and laneways to add interest through both a roof of shoes and a kitchenhand who is so focused on his phone he doesn’t even notice the foot traffic. Both elements serve as great framing and help to echo the idea of a couple caught up in their own little word as life continues around them. The built and urban environment offers myriad inspirations for photos that couples won’t have seen before. Even something as simple as a sign can imbue an image with a personality and perspective it may not otherwise have had. Night time is definitely the right time for shots that would classify more as unusual than traditional. And it’s always fun when you can create a moment that taps into a couple’s sense of fun with a simple pose and a look. I mean, anyone can stand together in front of a fountain, but it’s the bride and groom with a sense of whimsy and fun who will stand together on it. English art critic John Ruskin once said: “The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love colour the most.” Or, to put a more modern spin on it, colour makes any bride and groom ‘pop’. And how. Crisp and clean images are the aim of the game, but sometimes an unfocused element can bring the bride and groom into even sharper focus. Especially when the blurry object acts as a frame for faces shining with love, devotion and happiness. You can never go wrong positioning a couple under a door, a ladder, a string of bunting … anything that creates the feel of them entering into a new life together. And when you can create a kind of gateway from natural elements – in this case two towering trees – it really does evoke that sense of a new beginning. Often times a photo’s content is static – taking a classical approach to the art form that is wedding photography. But, by throwing in some moving elements, such as a bridesmaid, and backgrounding it with a feature such as a wedding car, you can really capture a sense of the day’s action. Images taken in front of graffiti walls are all the rage – precisely because they are always so vibrant and colourful. But I like to give this approach a shake-up by using a black and white perspective to almost give it the feel of an urban art gallery backdrop. Sometimes the simplest set-ups can be the most stunning. Here, the overall feel kind of suggests you happened to have had a camera in hand as the bride and groom drove down the street. They look chilled and happy and, if you had to reach for a single-word description, it would be relaxed, which is a wonderful emotion to reflect back on as they flip through their album in years to come. Mother Nature offers the ultimate backdrop, so in settings like this, it’s about not getting too fussy or formal but just letting her roll out the welcome mat to the new husband and wife. There’s ‘spontaneous’ shots made with a little direction, and then there’s truly spontaneous shots, where the bride and groom are caught up in each other to the exclusion of everyone else. They’re great moments and they make for even greater memories. This is the kind of shot that would look good as the final page of an album. You’ve captured the couple, their wedding party and their guests, showcased all the fun and beauty of the ceremony and reception, and now it’s time for their honeymoon to begin. Look at them already wandering off into the sunset…
As you can see from these shots and advice, Chris’s approach to weddings is far from cookie cutter. It’s one he’s evolved over 30 years, first as a student who didn’t like any other subjects, then as a photographic assistant and finally as a renowned professional with his own studio.
He’s equal parts instinctual and preparation focused, finding no greater satisfaction than when a couple trusts him enough to say: Shoot it however you like.
Used to working in short timeframes, and using techniques such as lighting to find the greatest variety of shots within the limits of a single location, Chris – who prides himself on a strong work ethic – says serving as someone’s wedding photographer is almost like a fast track into their lives.
“You kind of become one of them,” he says of the bond that forms. “You’re put into their family environment, so you’re pretty much crashing into their lives.”
That encompasses a range of personalities, attitudes and emotions. And with that comes a sense of protectiveness and caring that can manifest itself away from the lens.
“You basically just want to help them out,” he says. “You make sure they’re hydrated and you have scissors so you can cut off tags if need be. You do what you can to make the day run smoothly.
“For example, I was once shooting a wedding at Ripponlea and the groom’s dad was bumped while holding a glass of red wine – which went all over his shirt – 15 minutes before he was due to give a speech. So I ducked around the corner, grabbed a shirt and then whispered in his ear that there was a shirt waiting in the bathroom for him.”
It was a wonderful kindness, but the humble photographer isn’t looking for kudos. He just appreciates and understands what a massive show of faith hiring a photographer is. And one he rewards by always looking to go the extra mile for a great result.
At the end of the day Chris says wedding photography is about serving as a kind of muse – inspiring the bride and groom in the same way a director would deal with his lead actors.
“It’s about finding the collection of words and emotions that will get them to think about each moment in a different way,” he says. “It can be candid, or something high art, but the overall aim is to create a wedding album that offers broad strokes of personality and emotion.”
And it’s something he takes home with him.
“Sometimes I’ll be editing thousands of shots on a computer and my kids will walk past and say ‘What are you smiling at?’ And I simply think ‘It’s a wedding. How could I not be?’”