Jonathan Desmond Photography | Documentary & Fine Art Photography
This is my documentary photography journal where I share photographs and write about my wedding photography work, thoughts, contemplations, travels and other projects I'm working on. I love sharing stories through photography and shooting films.
I remember one phone call I had with Alex and Vania where we were talking about the logistics of the day and Alex mentioned that they didn’t want a typical “First Look” but Vania did want to do a first look of sorts. This had me brainstorming of some potential ideas as I knew what Alex and Vania were looking for but wasn’t quite sure at first how to execute it. One evening, it came to me. On the day of the wedding, I had Vania go up one street and Alex go down another street and as the two reached the intersection of the two streets, they two bumped into each other at a street corner for their “First Look.”
Alex and Vania wanted something different for wedding photography. They wanted something more documentary and more about their family and friends. And while we did take some time to do portrait shots, group shots and wedding party photos, the majority of the day was spent with me doing very little interrupting or posing and instead letting things happen while I worked and ran around the scene to find the best and unique angles to capture some of the big moments as well as some of the little moments.
As a documentary photographer, I am focused on work that is unposed, in the moment and natural. However, there are times when I do like to “play” a bit and get creative and play with other aspects of photographic artistry.
Engagement Photosessions are something I still offer (at this time). When I do them, I am always intentional in making the photographs personal and as meaningful to the couple rather than just creating pretty pictures. I like working with the couple to make a theme and be creative and do something that relates to them. For example:
I had a bride who was really into books and so we booked and explored Lawrence Books. As part of the photosession, I had the bride and groom hide messages for each other and they had to find them in the books. Hopefully we found all the messages… lol
Another bride and groom were looking for a nautical theme. While we weren’t able to access boats and ships at the time, we did end up taking photographs by the ocean at Whytecliff Park and also by the boat dock at Horseshoe Bay.
A more recent session involved ultimate frisbee and chinese hot pot… in a park!
After some discussion with Alex and Vania, we decided that we wanted to partially create their first date story, which took place in Vancouver Downtown. I also identified that eating together and enjoying food was a big deal for them so we made sure to get some good eats and some gelato as well :)
On their first date, Alex was pooped on by a bird and had to change his jacket. While this did not happen during this engagement session (phew!), we did end up taking a photo of the two of them with a huge bird crap on a glass window that was next to them. To my surprise, they totally LOVED the photo and didn’t want the bird crap photoshopped out.
The bird crap really made this photo.
Our last bit of the engagement session involved a stroll through Gastown. Unknown to most, I am actually a huge fan of cinematography and look to movies and films for inspiration when it comes to photography. With that in mind, I wanted to create a cinematic feel for their session and with the sun going down and the neon lights and dark shadows coming into play, I had the perfect setup for natural looking cinematic night engagement photos.
It’s always nice to try something new and get to be creative and collaborate with the couple on making something interesting that brings THEIR story into the photographs. It gives me a chance to get to know the couple and vice versa for them to get to know me, all while keeping things natural and letting their interactions tell the story. Once the wedding day rolls around, it’s great because we know each other and they know how I work. Once the day starts, everything begins to go quick and crazy and I quickly become the ninja documentary wedding photographer that they hired me for.
FIRST: Huge thanks to Jumi Story for having me on as a secondary photographer for this wedding.
I won’t say much about this wedding other than I learned a little bit more about Cambodian and Vietnamese customs for weddings. The early morning tea ceremony was a bit different from the usual with the way it was done and there was an aspect of red string being tied to the bride and groom. I’ll let the photographs do the talking :)
FIRST: Huge thanks for Yinger Fotokrafie for taking me on a secondary for this wedding. Glad to be a part of it :)
When Yinger called me in to second shoot for him for this wedding, I was very excited for the opportunity. Yinger is fantastic photographer and a great guy and to be able to shoot with him was quite something.
The main parts of the wedding ceremony took place at a church and also at Fairmont Vancouver Hotel. My day started at the groom’s house, where I quickly documented the guys getting ready (with minimal posing - I wanted it to be all natural and candid) and then followed the groom to the hairstylist and off to Fairmont for the tea ceremony with some (ahem) interesting games.
I found Fairmont Vancouver Hotel an amazing place to photograph. The rooms were brightly lit (it helped that it was a sunny day too!) and beautiful designed. I soon found out that there were some amazing little rooms and hallways laced with columns and old vintage walls. The reception area was a breath to behold with chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. With some luck and some help, I was able to get a few photographs from above!
It was a fantastic day and I would love to photograph again at Fairmont Vancouver Hotel Wedding. But most importantly, love was in the air and there was excitement and happiness all around this Chinese wedding. From tea ceremony to tea ceremony (Yes, two of them!) to the bride’s song at the end to her family… what day. What a lovely day.
Documentary Family Sessions for me are great exercise because usually I find that the kids (and sometimes the adults) run straight for the playground and I have to run with them, get in position as they move and take photographs as moments happen. This all occurs while I do very little direction and no posing. The moments you see here are all genuine and that is always my intent with my documentary family sessions.
Capturing life as it happens is such a joy to see. It’s pure smiles and true interaction. A lot of it happens spontaneously and moments go by so quick but people, like Wendy, hire me for these types of photos and they love them.
Find out more about Documentary Family Photosessions (and the new Long Term Photosessions) HERE.
As I was looking back at the photographs I had made of Kevin and Julie’s wedding, I suddenly remembered how much raw emotion there was at this wedding. It wasn’t always evident everywhere (it wasn’t everyone bursting into tears! That would be interesting) but definitely amidst all the hustle and bustle that is usual to a wedding day, I saw and documented the love and passion Kevin and Julie had (and still have) for each other and the love that their friends and family had for them. It was a mixture of laughter, embarrassing stories and also of tears of joy. Amidst it all, I was there documenting individual moments that were happening throughout the day, from Julie getting ready at their newly-built home through to Kevin’s first look at Julie and later on to a beautiful ceremony and also reception at the Single Tree Winery in Abbotsford.
I recall ending that night and saying goodnight to everyone, packing my bags and making my way back to my car. However, as I took some steps away from the wedding tent, I saw the summer night sky with the stars glistening above. I took a photo of it (which you can see at the end of the blog post) and the wedding tent to close out on a series of photographs I had made that day documenting the amazing joy and laughter that was happening that day.
As per my usual approach to weddings, I did not do a lot of posing nor any guidance of many of the events happening (other than the formal photographs of family/friends and of the bridal party). I was there as a documentarian and an observer of all that was happening. To be able to take part in people’s lives and create these genuine and authentic moment photographs is a dream come true for me.
A little while ago, while it was freezing cold in December, I had the chance to document Vietnamese wedding with my friends Juliette. There was a lot of food and a lot of laughter and a lot of fantastic moments. For me, the best moment was capturing the groom Alex showing off the ring he put on his bride’s finger earlier that day just as they were making their entrance into the reception. Epic.
We started at the bride’s house, where family and friends partook in an amazing meal. After they loaded into the party bus, we made our way to Sun Yat Sen Gardens and finally to a reception at a Chinese restaurant in the heart of Downtown Vancouver.
For this series, I decided to portray this wedding entirely in Black and White. I’ve had requests where people were looking for colour but once they saw the black and white photos, they were pleasantly surprised and in some cases, wished there were more! Black and White photography, to me, is not the absence of colour. It’s seeing something in abstract. It’s taking away the distraction of hues and saturations so you can focus on shape, expressions and personalities.
A while ago, I had the opportunity to work with Yinger at Yinger Fotokrafie as a secondary shooter and also a Behind The Scenes photographer. This photoshoot was entirely orchestrated by Yinger but I was able to capture and document some of the going-ons behind the scenes that made the photoshoot amazing for this couple. Huge thank to Yinger Forokrafiefor having me on! All of the photographs here (I believe) were shot on beautiful 35mm film, my favorite photographic medium.
After some hectic running with all of my cameras on me (PS: If you ever need an extreme workout session, become a photographer and run through the trails of North Vancouver to catch up with a bride and groom, I found Yinger and the bride and groom and the makeup artist standing around the rocks at Lighthouse Park, preparing to pose together and be photographed. At one point, we saw the Coast Guard come rushing towards us in a boat and once they were within earshot they shouted “CONGRATULATIONS!” Ha ha.
My documentary approach tends to lend itself to find moments and create deep and beautiful photographs from them. That’s what did on this photoshoot. I probably also burned hundreds of calories in the process too.
I’ve started to make it a habit to post up these Chinatown Parade photos a year later… whoops! Life does get busy and now even more so with my daughter’s arrival. However, this has allowed for a strange benefit: After having faced a Chinatown Parade in the freezing cold and then in a blizzard (literally moments ago… and the snow is still falling as I type), I now look back at the photos from last year’s parade and am able to enjoy them more after having let them sit and marinate for a year rather than if I had simply posted them straight away. There’s something about the passage of time that really matures a documentary photograph.
Also, after feeling the light singe of firecracker during the parade last year, I came back this year with a mouth cover and it somewhat helped in breathing in less of those firecracker fumes but golly…. stay away from those things!
A few years ago, I penned a letter to brides and grooms expressing my thoughts on what matters on a wedding day. Having been married for 7 years, photographing dozens and dozens of weddings over the years and having recently become a father, I’ve revised my original letter to reflect some of my most recent experiences. I’d like to share it with you all as a little note to remember what the wedding day is all about.
“Dear future Bride and Groom,
If you really love the idea of documentary photography for your wedding then I want to be your wedding photographer.
I'm not about the posed photographs or manufacturing a moment to look great. I'm into film cameras, black and white photography and grabbing authentic moments throughout a wedding day. I'm about waiting and finding those authentic moments and weaving a story through them. I'm about being in the midst of things while doing my best to not be noticed. My photography is about friends hugging a groom, a bride sitting with her sisters while getting make up on, the expression on a groom's face as he nervously waits for his bride, a flower girl staring up at the bride-to-be with wonder in her eyes.
In the midst of all this, as I sit and look at the photographs I’ve taken of couples over the years, I think of this: Time is so fleeting and goes by so fast. Take a moment to breathe and enjoy the moment. Your wedding day will fly by in a flash and it is so important to live in those moments!
Regardless of whom you choose as your wedding photographer, know that the most important decision you will make is when you say "I do" at the altar to your spouse-to-be. Things fade over time but true love prevails over it all. Embrace your man/woman and love him/her with an amazing passion and keep that flame going even when the sweat pants come out and laundry needs to be done :)
And just one day, you may have children to call your own … or maybe not. But in the end, the wedding day will be one fantastic day in the timeline that is your life. Don’t sweat the small stuff and enjoy each moment of the day as it’s happening but remember that it’s a small part of something bigger and setting the stage for things yet to come. You may one day be telling a mini-version of you about the way you danced the night away.
Regardless of how a wedding day goes and regardless of the speed bumps and meltdowns along the way, know that the love that you have created with your special someone is more important and more rewarding than anything on Earth. Forge it well over the years and may the wedding day be just a start of a beautiful journey together.