I was delighted to learn over the Christmas period that one of my images picked up an 18th place in the “Other Vendors” category in the latest Wedding Photojournalist Association contest.

In this global contest, competing against potentially thousands of other images submitted by some of the worlds best wedding photojournalists, having an image placed in any category can be considered a great achievement so it would be fair to say that I’m very pleased to have been awarded 18th place, perhaps the only circumstances under which that would be the case.

This is a picture that relies on the story it’s telling for its success (the string quartet diligently playing on whilst nobody pays them any attention at all as they’re all outside), rather than being just an aesthetically striking image.

Technically, achieving this image so that it told the intended story was less straightforward than it might appear, relying as it does on both the inside and outside detail being recorded. The difference in light levels between the inside and the outside meant that I had to drastically underexpose the inside in order to record the detail outside. I then “lifted” the shadow detail and added contrast in post production to reveal the quartet playing to nobody.

Ironically, part of the ethos of the WPJA is that images should not be altered too much in post production. The moment is everything and should not be overshadowed by heavy-handed post production techniques. It’s something that’s caused a little frustration for me in the past, partly because I’ve seen images chosen as winners that to me have clearly been “worked on” and partly because I firmly believe that sensitive post-production enhances and strengthens an image rather than just making it less “pure”.

This is an example of where post-production didn’t just enhance the image, but actually made it possible, and although I went to some lengths to make sure it didn’t appear to be too processed (partly with the WPJA in mind), were it not for what can be achieved in Lightroom and Photoshop it wouldn’t have even made the final cut.

Part of my job is to understand at the moment of capture what I can achieve with the image later on, pulling out vital shadow detail so I can record equally vital highlight detail that wouldn’t otherwise be recoverable, for example. This, of course, goes hand-in-hand with having an intimate knowledge of the capabilities and limitations of the equipment I’m working with; not every camera would have been able to record the shadow detail in this picture to a sufficient quality for it to be usable in post-production.

In common with photographers throughout history, I know that what I’m recording at the time I press the shutter is really just one stage of creating a photograph. It’s a journey that begins with seeing the picture in my head and then goes through several processes before the picture is realised as a photograph. Today those processes involve sensors, computers and software. In the past they involved film, darkrooms, chemicals, paper choice and dodging and burning. I’m lucky to have used and loved both processes and don’t believe that the new digital methods are any less valuable than the old ones. It’s the final picture that counts, as I hope this image helps to demonstrate.

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