Since shooting her first wedding as a gift for a friend three years ago, Edmonton-based photographer Michel Feist has evolved from an amateur who had “no idea” what she was doing to the creator of a rapidly growing photography business, Ampersand Grey.
Her work has been featured in the Edmonton Journal and Wedding Bells, and on the blogs Weddings in Alberta, Sash and Satin, and the UK-based Rock and Roll Bride. On top of being the Creative Director at design company Graphos, Michel shot 13 weddings in 2012, and has 20+ slated for 2013. Her clients rave about how comfortable and confident she makes them feel, and her images–warm, natural + lively–reflect her ability to create rapport and have a serious amount of fun on the job.
Michel shoots with Nikon gear, mostly in natural light, and often in the hour before sunset.
I’m so happy to share Michel’s work and insights with all of you. Thanks for being here!
1. Despite people striving to create a wedding that feels unique and personal to them, the classic aspects still play a major role: dress, wedding party, flowers, rings. How do you push yourself to keep your eye and therefore your images fresh?
The layout of the day is pretty much the same but every situation and surrounding is so different. I try to bring in the feeling of the day into each different location. For instance, the bathroom the girls are getting ready in probably has a personality and I try to use mirrors and reflections and stealthily shoot around corners to catch organic emotions. I also have an amazing assistant/secondary photographer, Donna, with me on most shoots. She is a hawk for an original prop or cool angle so while I’m focusing on the details, she is looking at the big picture and vice versa.
2. Aside from weddings, you shoot family, engagement, and solo shots. How essential is creating rapport between yourself and your clients to producing great images?
Working with people I like is paramount to running my business successfully. I believe whole-heartedly that I am in the business of making friends. I know it sounds cliche but I really like all of my clients. We become friends, hang out socially and I think it is important for us to have a connection. I haven’t had a client I’m not fond of yet – I do think that being myself on my Facebook page, and showing glimpses of my real self on my blog helps people determine if they will like me and my style before they even send me a message.
3. What do you secretly wish all people being photographed knew how to do instinctively?
I don’t work with models, so I don’t expect that people should know what to do in front of the camera–it’s my job to teach them! What I do wish though, was that everyone felt as beautiful as I see them and how everyone else sees them. I conduct in-studio viewing with my clients after their sessions and every time people are a bit taken aback with how amazing they look. This is one of the reasons why I believe that an engagement session is so important. In the engagement session I get to see how comfortable or more importantly how uncomfortable or awkward they are in front of the camera, and seeing the images from their e-session gives them the confidence boost they need in order for me to create the most amazing wedding photos. Confidence photographs beautifully and I want my client to feel beautiful and confident.
4. Along with creative angles and poses, your images resonate with spontaneity. How do you bring that sense of play into your work amidst the pressure and expectations of your clients?
I use suggestive posing to create authentic moments with my clients. I ask them to perform a certain task in order to create a natural outcome – which is my goal for the photo. I always talk to them throughout the session too–I tell lame jokes, pull off bad dance moves, and apparently say “oh my gosh your gorgeous” an awful lot in a session, I’m told. I have done pillow fights, a holy paint fight, chicken fights, ring around the rosie (bride and groom) and had a bridesmaid smash her bouquet across a groomsman’s face–apparent headache to follow. I also climb a lot of trees in sessions for some reason.
5. You’ve been shooting people professionally for just over a year. How has your process and approach–both creatively and from a business perspective, evolved in that time? What’s been the biggest lesson?
I learn new lessons every day. I’ve never had a natural business sense so that is by far my largest learning curve. Since creating my brand and business I do now love the business aspect of things. Creatively, I have changed so much. Last year I was so worried what everyone else was doing, what kind of camera they had, gear, gear gear. I coveted so much gear! Now I’m set up with a great kit that I’m super happy with, so I reach from within me to achieve my photographic goals. I have resisted adding too much fluff to my images in way of actions, treatments and trendy processing. I want my clients to love their photos in 10, 15 years, not be reminded of what was cool when they got married.
6. What attributes make up your ideal client, and what parameters have you created for your business to limit working with people who aren’t the right fit, and attract those who are?
I love creative clients. I tend to attract other creative people, so we collaborate in planning the session or wedding day creatives. I want to tell their story, so I ask a lot of questions. Most of my business is based on word-of-mouth advertising. I’m lucky to have worked with some really awesome people, and now their awesome friends are getting married too. I always try to remain positive during the stresses of a wedding day–never let them see you sweat! I keep my cool, am respectful of others, and keep the day light. Others seem to notice this. Just recently a grandfather of the groom came up to me after the family formals and told me I was the most professional photographer he’s seen at a wedding. I thought that was a pretty great compliment until he told me he was too a wedding photographer for years in his younger years and was never that nice to the annoying people with their cameras trying to shoot over his shoulder.
I remember my first wedding I was so stressed trying to fit a lens hood back on my lens and it wouldn’t snap in place. I threw it down to the ground to get it out of the way and realized as soon as I tossed it, I looked like I was throwing a hissy fit. I was so embarrassed. Now I always keep it together. Making people feel comfortable is one of my main goals in a session, and having a short fuse is not conducive to keeping people relaxed and happy. I think the way a person acts when not directly interacting with people is a testament to their character. When working with a wedding party, I am working with a big group of potential clients–if they have a good time with me and love the images their friends receive, they will remember us when they get engaged. It’s like I’m being indirectly interviewed and I definitely treat it as such.
7. Location plays a major role in your work. What pre-shoot prep do you do to make the most of the setting?
Nine times out of 10 I location-scout prior to a session. For weddings I always try to attend the rehearsal as well, and many times I do a site visit with clients a few months prior to the wedding too. I like to be prepared for a situation or session with three or so ideas but then create 10 or 12 more images because I am totally inspired but my surroundings. I always say, “OK we’re good, lets head to the next location”, and as we’re heading back to the car a glimmer of light catches my eye and I make my clients pose for a few more. Donna (my assistant) says that when I say “It’s a wrap!” I always make at least five more photos.
8. How much does your personal mindset impact the photos you create on a given day, and what do you do to get your mind in the game when you’re not really feeling it?
If my mind isn’t in it the morning of a session I’ll browse my blog or whip through my photo library to generate some new ideas from old staples. If I’m not feeling it while driving up to a session, it’s probably because I’m a bit nervous, but as soon as I put my camera up to my face I am golden–everything melts away and I’m in heaven again. Because I tend to be a bit of a nervous Nancy prior to a session, routine keeps my mind occupied. I perform the same cleaning ritual the night before a wedding or session and in the morning I go through my bag to make sure I have everything. Being prepared gets me motivated and excited.
9. What’s the most important insight you can give to someone who wants to start their own photography business?
A photography business isn’t for the faint of heart. Having a few people tell you that you have “an eye” shouldn’t be the reason why you start a business, but that’s oddly how most people start their photography business. It’s hard work starting any business, but with a creative business, you are also putting your heart on the line. Art is subjective and not everyone is going to like your work–sometimes that can be hard to swallow.
To contact Michel or view more of her work, visit Ampersand Grey.
Readers: I’d love to hear from you! What do you do to keep your mind in the creative game when you’re not feeling it? What’s been your biggest creative lesson in the last year?