Photography: Kevin Mullins
In the last few years, we’ve seen photographers push unique sales points by offering reportage wedding photography that drops the formals for shots taken on the run, and Trash the Dress photography that gives brides a chance to let their hair down and soak their gown. Kevin Mullins, a British photographer working in Wiltshire, UK, takes a relatively unusual approach: he offers reportage wedding photography shot entirely in black and white.
Mullins has only been a full-time professional photographer since 2009 shortly after a move from London forced him to look for a new job. He’d been dabbling with photography for a few years and after receiving compliments on his work decided to turn his art into a business.
“I had been told I had a good eye many times so decided to embark on a career that offered me flexibility, as well as a decent income,” he said.
The following year he shot 58 weddings, an average of more than one a week. He hasn’t looked back since.
While his first jobs contained more formals and portraits than he would have liked, all of Mullins’ weddings have been shot in a documentary style. His ideal wedding shoot would provide no time for formal photography at all, a goal he’s now able to achieve in most of his bookings. But the bulk of the images he produces are also free of color. After beginning with a mixture of 50 percent color photography and 50 percent monochrome, one of Mullins’ “standard” albums will now contain a proportion of black and white photography as high as 80 percent.
And some of his clients will opt for his “wedding noir,” an album shot entirely in black and white. There are no colorful bouquets, no lavender bridesmaid dresses and no red carnations pinned to the lapels of suits and jackets. Instead, couples are given an album filled entirely with shades of grey.
Selling the option can take a little effort. Brides, in particular, often balk at knowledge that the money spent on garlanding the venue with flowers won’t be reflected in the photography, and the time spent choosing the right pastel tone for the maid of honor’s gown may be forgotten. But Mullins’ website does include a special section for black and white weddings, and he usually makes the pitch when he knows the client appreciates the lack of color.
“I often ask my clients what it is that drew them to my work and when they mention the black and white coverage I ask them their opinion on a totally black and white wedding for themselves,” he says.
Editing is Easier, Composition is Harder
The benefit of shooting entirely in black and white, he argues, is that the image takes the viewer straight to the heart of the story. Without the “distractions” of tones that could influence the opinion of a scene, the shot is more direct, distinctive and exciting. A beautifully matted album with black and white images throughout can be more appealing than mixed process coverage, says Mullins.
Shooting entirely in black and white doesn’t just affect the album and influence the viewer; it also affects the way the photographer works, thinks and looks for shots. Editing the image after it has been taken is simpler but getting the composition right requires a sharper eye and a keen understanding of how the image will look and how the gray tones will impact the mood of the picture.
“The mindset does need to be different when you know you are only going to be delivering black and white images. You have to be conscious of the light direction, shape and contrast in the scene. There is more latitude when correcting color or white balance issues with black and white wedding photography but you have to be more on the game when it comes to the structure of the image in camera in the first instance.”
Mullins concedes that not all images work in black and white and there may be some aspects of a wedding that should only be shot in color. But for him, black and white photography creates albums and memories that are exceptionally beautiful — and which also help him to stand out from the crowd.
That is essential. Mullins notes that in the UK, it can feel that there are more wedding photographers than wedding couples. Having an offer that’s unique, distinctive and can give couples a reason to choose you instead of the next photographer on Google is a necessary part of business. Price is the easiest and the most common way for photographers to win work from competitors but that’s a route that can only lead to lower profits and a sinking income. A style that’s different to one being offered by other photographers won’t allow you to win every job but it will let you pick up work from people who want their wedding memories to have a particular mood.
“People talk about a USP (unique selling point) all the time and whilst I think a genuine USP is probably a bit of a tall order to reach, I do believe you need to do something to put your head above the local crowd at least,” says Mullins.
For clients, owning a monochrome wedding album means that they get well-composed images shot in a mood-filled, atmospheric black and white. For Mullins the marketing advantages of having an offering as unique as noir wedding photography means that he can steal an edge on other photographers pitching for the same jobs.
But the real reason that Mullins combines documentary wedding photography with black and white photography is much simpler: he enjoys it. Describing himself as “never having been very gregarious,” he dreaded the idea of having to corral guests against a wall to have their pictures taken. Although he appreciated color photography, his biggest influences were black and white street photographers and portraitists like Jane Bown and Elliott Erwitt. Asked for advice to help other photographers stand out, his suggestion was to follow your instincts not the crowd:
“Don’t go down the route of shooting weddings the way you ‘think’ they should be shot because the industry dictates it. Shoot weddings the way you want to shoot them. You will enjoy them more, attract the correct clients and hopefully make a good living too.”