Now I have two huge cameras on me, and I'm the only male in the room of a bunch of women getting dressed and ready for a wedding. By the time she asked me that, I had taken around 600 photos of these women.
“Well, I'm comfortable in my own skin. So I'm probably comfortable to be around,” was the answer I came up with at the moment. I've been thinking about that question ever since though, because it's a key piece of my photographic process.
Photography is only a little bit about cameras and lenses and technique. The skills to use that equipment have to be completely fluent and unconscious, of course, but I do this stuff every day. I respond a lot faster than I can think about it, but I'm paying constant attention to the equipment side. If there is backlight, I'll adjust the exposure compensation. If I move environments, indoors to outdoors, the first thing I do is reset my ISO. I'm always watching for compositional possibilities, imagining what the scene would look like if I were seeing it from that direction instead of where I am, and if the image in my mind is better, I'll move myself over there.
That's maybe 20% of the job. The rest is presence. I'm engaged with my subjects, not so much with what they're doing, and not even so much in conversation. I often don't say a lot. I'm just there. Sitting on the floor half the time, or scrunched up against the wall in a really awkward position. Watching what's going on. Sensing how I fit, if I need to give someone near me some space, or if I can be closer. It's that hypersensitive energy thing that I can't really explain, and I couldn't tell you how much is innate and how much is learned behavior. I'm one of those people for whom, if there are small children (or cats) in range, they will soon be crawling over me unbidden.
I'm engaged in what is happening around me in the moment. And I'm engaged, as a witness, to what is happening inside me as I hang with the scene I'm in. It's from that dual attention that I work the photographs. And I have to keep it up for 12 hours. Weddings are about the hardest gigs I do.
When I photograph a wedding, I want it to be from deep inside the event. And afterwards, I need about a day to not talk to anyone before I am fit for company again.