Last fall I had the luck of being assigned a space next to photographer Laura Billingham at a meet and greet. In the still moments between our “official business” we found ourselves stuck on the topic of kissing. It made sense of course, to interview her for my blog series devoted to the topic…
The “world spins madly on” kiss. Laura Billingham Photography.
Alisa Tongg: What’s your philosophy when shooting a wedding/couple? (Portraiture, photojournalism, story-telling, fine art, post-production magic…?) How would you describe your style?
Laura Billingham: I think so many descriptors for wedding photography are overused these days. They have no meaning anymore. True ‘photojournalism’ would be too objective and might mean that everything about the story (even if it’s not flattering) would be captured and delivered. ‘Fine art’ seems to me like it’s not real enough, not authentic enough, to the clients—it’s the photographer’s style that takes center stage. ‘Story telling’ is probably the closest, but yet, if I just told the ‘story’ without documenting the classic family portraits, then the family history would be incomplete…
Laura Billingham Photography
I tell all my clients that my goal is to capture the important moments and details that matter in an elegant and timeless way. When they look at their photos 25 years from now, I hope they evoke the same memories and emotions that they did the first time they saw them after the wedding.
The “dance me to the end of love” kiss. Laura Billingham Photography.
Photoshopping images to look vintage, add textures and sky, etc. might look cool now, but it’s going to look as weird years from now as some of our parents’ photos look to you today.
AT: Have you ever witnessed a moment at a wedding that’s made a lasting impact on you? Can you share?
LB: Obviously, after 13 years plus of photographing weddings, there have been so many! I’d be lying if I told you I never teared up at weddings. I cry all the time. In fact, I think the day I don’t get a little misty will be my last wedding…that’s when I’ll know it’s time to retire. But I can’t imagine that happening any time soon!
There have been several that have really touched me. It’s amazing how, corny as it sounds, weddings are part of the circle of life. At many weddings, grief is still fresh after a loved one has passed away, or even if it’s not recent, a wedding is another reminder that their loved one is no longer here with them to share their joy.
One particularly poignant memory I have is of photographing a bride just a few short months after her father had died after a brief illness. I met her because instead of having the wedding she & her fiancé planned to at an Irish castle (the groom was from Ireland), she had to relocate the wedding last-minute to be close to her family home in Frenchtown, NJ.
Still moment in a Quaker Ceremony. Laura Billingham Photography.
Their Quaker ceremony was just incredible. Friends and family had the time and space to share both remembrances of her dad, and the joy of the wedding. It was just so moving. In a Quaker ceremony everyone in the congregation is allowed to speak as the Spirit moves them. Consequently, a service may go on for a long time with lots of speaking; or it may have many long silences in between each person’s sharing. It was quite beautiful to be together in community in the silences in between.
AT: What’s the neatest unity ritual you’ve ever photographed?
LB: One of the coolest things about weddings is how each couple makes a wedding their own. Blended families coming together are always special. It’s fun to see how parents help children play an important role in the wedding ceremony and in symbolically signifying family unity.
Some fun unity rituals have included blending sand (bride, groom, and children each have their own color), blending tea leaves that were then shared with guests as favors so they could “brew” their love, and sending fire lanterns into the sky at dusk.
I also love watching the congregation pass the couples’ rings during the ceremony. Then each and every guest has a chance to physically and literally have a hand in the marriage.
AT: In your opinion, what are the attributes of an amazing photograph of a kiss?
LB: It’s pretty simple really. When the couple forgets that I’m there and the kiss is just about their passion, tenderness, and joy for each other and not the audience, the kiss is amazing. It’s authentic.
The “sun bursts in my heart” kiss. Laura Billingham Photography
AT: When it comes to your personal style: Eyes open or closed?
AT: Long after the wedding, when your couples have their final photographs, what type of photo would you say is consistently the most beloved?
LB: Here’s a dirty little secret. The “first kiss” is over-rated. Nerves are still in full effect. There’s an audience. It’s awkward. In certain religious ceremonies, depending on the officiant, depending on the schedule of the service, sometimes couples don’t know when they’re supposed to kiss. Obviously that would never happen at a ceremony that you officiated, Alisa! But it happens more than you would think.
Laura Billingham Photography.
I think the most magical photos – the ones that couples consistently adore — are the shots I take away from the crowd. Before the wedding I let couples know that I’ll need them for about 15 minutes during the reception right around sunset. It usually works perfectly because all the guests have greeted them, and everyone is seated enjoying the first course. We sneak away from the chaos of the reception, just the 3 of us. That is the moment when they really have their first time alone together as a married couple. I let them get ahead of me and have space to themselves. They have the time to breathe and bask in the reality that they’re married. My best advice: ignore me. Works every time
Laura Billingham is based out of Frenchtown, NJ and captures timeless moments at the most important celebrations for her clients.
Laura Billingham Photography