Photography: Del Sol Photography
One of the biggest challenges of wedding photography is cutting the kitsch. Unless you’re marketing yourself as a wedding photojournalist, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to dodge the formals. You’ll have to line up the family, shoot the rings and catch a shot of the flowers in the bride’s hand. Those sorts of images are standards; the bride and groom expect them and they leave very little room for originality beyond the lighting and composition.
There’s also a good chance though that you’ll be asked to create a series of romantic images captured before the wedding takes place. That should be an opportunity to be get creative. It’s just you, the couple, a picturesque location and a chance to create some beautiful pictures. But even those shoots come with a major limitation. Because the images are taken before the wedding, the clothes have to be kept spotless. The result is usually another standard series of couples kissing against watery backdrops and gazing at each other under blue skies. It’s the kind of the thing that pays the bills and makes clients happy but it rarely gets a photographer’s pulse racing. But what if you saved the romantic shots until after the wedding, when the dress has done its job and before it’s consigned to the back of the closet? You could then get a lot more adventurous and create romantic wedding images that are unlike any other. Instead of shooting a couple in front of the sea, for example, you could shoot them in the sea. Or you could put the bride on a horse or the couple in a cornfield. You could open up a whole new range of creative opportunities. That’s the idea behind Trash the Dress, a branch of wedding photojournalism that’s growing in popularity.
The goal is to create images that are unique, exciting and — most important of all — radically different to the kind of photos that usually turn up in wedding albums. Clients, says Matt Adcock of Del Sol Photography, one of the leading companies supplying Trash the Dress shoots, are looking to break the rules.
“Most of our clients love the fact that they can be free with what happens to them after the wedding versus those who cringe to even let the dress hit the floor as they are walking down the hallway of a hotel,” he says. “I think our clients are living it up.”
Shooting in the Bat Cave
Del Sol, a six-person photography company run by Matt and his wife Sol Tamargo in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, has been offering Trash the Dress shoots since 2007. In the first year, they completed 28 shoots. In 2008, that total rose to 40 and it’s likely that this year will see a similar number. About half of the company’s jobs now involve Trash the Dress, including a quarter of its weddings.
Locations can vary widely. The most popular spot is the beach at Riviera Maya Mexico, close to Del Sol’s home base. Clients can then choose how far they want to go, from lying on the beach or paddling in the surf (a lightweight form known as “Wash the Dress”) to leaping in the waves and swimming under the water. Other shoots have used swimming pools, sailboats off the island of Cozumel, and perhaps most exciting of all, cenotes, cave networks filled with freshwater lakes.
“We prefer these locations because we can generally have more control over conditions and planning for shooting either in all sunlight, half sunlight, or total cavern environment,” says Matt. “We mix it all up actually.”
The most bizarre shoot took place when Matt was wandering around a site with a client and stumbled upon a ladder leading down to a cave. He discovered a platform made of mud, an underwater lake filled with clear water and the kind of romantic atmosphere you just can’t capture without getting your hands dirty. There was just one drawback…
“[We] discovered we were surrounded by bats and LOTS of bat poo,” Matt recalls. “What is most bizarre is that we were able to record the bride in the environment screaming at the bats and not believing where we actually were!”
Swimming with Your Camera
If Trash the Dress shoots demand courage from the client, they can also demand lots of organization from the photographer. Matt notes that while some jobs demand only a few phone calls to book the site and arrange transportation (as opposed to the sort of preparation involved in even a simple wedding gig), others can require multiple diver assistants, safety divers, dive masters and lots of specialist gear. Matt and Sol are both scuba-certified and use watersealed housings to protect their cameras while shooting.
Photography: Del Sol Photography
They also have big insurance policies. Watersealed doesn’t always mean waterproof and many of Matt and Sol’s camera bodies, flashes and pocket wizards have been swimming. Both use the Platinum Membership Plan supplied by Canon Professional Services.
“If you dunk a camera, repair can be much cheaper,” he says. “But if an 85 1.2 and a flash and a pocket wizard is attached to that Pro series body and it hits the agua… OUCH. Hello insurance company!”
At least the marketing has turned out to be relatively simple. American Photo Magazine has listed Matt and Sol among the Top 10 Wedding Photographers in the world. Their work has been published in several national and international magazines and last year, they were asked to judge a Trash the Dress competition for the Wedding Photojournalism Association. All of that has helped to spread their name far enough for clients to ask for a Trash the Dress shoot without them having to offer it.
A strong portfolio helps too, and Matt recommends that photographers looking to break into Trash the Dress show the work they want to sell, even if it means hiring models and experimenting.
All they’ll have to do then is find a way to ask a bride how she feels about wearing her wedding dress in a cave filled with bats.