Topher Sean, Army veteran and Delaware local, gave us a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to be a wedding photographer. Topher manages to capture moments of both subtle beauty and raw, unfiltered emotion, giving him a unique edge in all facets of wedding photography. His diverse portfolio proves he’s a talented and ambitious photographer, ready to take on any new project.
We sat down to talk about how Topher got his start in the wedding industry, what couples can expect during shoots, and how he helps to make a wedding memorable.
So tell us a little bit about yourself. How long have you been interested in photography?
I’m 28 years old and I’ve been doing photography for over a decade. Strictly portrait photography. I started in high school when I got my first camera and I kind of went off from there. Then I started dipping my toes into wedding photography about a year ago.
What or who inspired you to pick up a camera?
I’ve always been the type of person who very much is into displaying how beautiful somebody is, so portrait photography has always been something I’ve gravitated towards. There are a few photographers out there who have inspired me. One of my biggest inspirations is Peter McKinnon. He’s a phenomenal photographer and I pull a little bit from his style with what I do.
Joe and Rebecca from Skyline Studios
Can you elaborate on your style?
I try to go for a candid style. I never set up any of my shots, I just flow with what’s going on and catch moments that are happening. That’s my biggest thing, especially with wedding photography. It just makes the day easier for everybody. It helps me catch moments that you may not see.
How do you bring your style into your shoots?
I want to make sure I give them what they’re looking for, so if I go into a wedding shoot and I hear the bride say she wants shots of them getting set up, the groom being set up, shots of people walking down the aisle… I’ll get everything they want and then I’ll take a couple shots of what I feel might work. When I deliver the photos to people, I’ll sprinkle in the photos that I felt were a little bit more artistic or fit better with the flow of things. Usually they end up liking my style of photos anyway, so it ends up taking over the whole package regardless. But especially with a wedding shoot, I’m there to service them. I want to make sure I get exactly what they want and I just try to make it fit my vibe.
What equipment do you use specifically?
Currently, I use a Sony Alpha A72. It’s a mirrorless camera and it’s probably my favorite camera right now for portraits. The colors that I get through Sony’s programming, they’re beautiful. It blows my mind every time. I also bounce between that and a Canon 80D. That camera is a little bit older, I’ve had it for a little while, but it’s a camera I feel comfortable with because I’ve had it for so long. I know the ins and outs of it. I can move through menus and adjust things really quickly on it, but my go-to is that Sony. And the lenses, I use a 50mm and a 35mm Sony lens for the Sony. On the Canon, I use an 85mm Art lens from Sigma.
Can you tell us what your setup process looks like?
With a wedding shoot, I figure out where the bride is and I spend some time with her being a fly on the wall. I have a very light setup when it comes to my camera rig. I carry one to two cameras on me with one to two lenses and I usually switch between a 50mm portrait lens or an 85mm lens. Other than that, if I need to set up a shot, I’m real big on just finding a location, putting someone in that location, and letting them figure out what poses they feel are going to look great. I like to catch people in natural movements, so if I give someone a pose, it doesn’t feel natural to me.
Joe and Rebecca from Skyline Studios
What do your clients get in photo packages?
My clients end up with 50-75 photos, not including family group shots. I have a service through a website called CloudSpot, and basically I pay them to provide me with this server and I can upload full albums. Then I send all of my edited photos to my clients through that server, but I also push an app to them. So when you get a shoot with me, you get the whole app sent to your phone with all the edited photos that I constantly update. And then through that app, you can order prints, and anything you need outside of just having the photos themselves.
We’ve included a few of your favorite images throughout this interview. Can you tell us a little about them?
I chose those photos simply because they are my favorite shots I have taken so far. Im a sucker for the little moments and I love capturing them for my clients. And so far they seem to enjoy the moments I find for them too.
What about industry rates? What’s typical for you?
Typically, the way I work it for a wedding, because you can never really lock in an hour basis on it and I feel weird charging someone per hour on their wedding, I usually charge a flat rate of $1000. And I’m pretty cheap when it comes to a wedding photographer, I’ve realized.
So what advice would you give couples heading into a shoot?
My biggest thing is to get comfortable with people. I don’t have any advice that I give people, but I like to get friendly, you know? I sit down with my clients before we even start shooting or I take them to a location where I know we’re going to have to walk a little bit so I can sit there and get to know them and get on a personal basis with them. Find some sort of connection with them. And that I find, usually alleviates any nervousness or awkwardness of being in front of a camera and not knowing exactly what to do.
What can couples expect during a shoot?
When it comes to helping them with what sort of shoot they want, if it’s an engagement or a pre-wedding shoot, I tend to keep a few locations in my mind that I know and love. That way, I can have something up my sleeve to give someone who doesn’t really know what to do. But definitely when it comes to the shoot itself, it’s getting comfortable with the client because it’s an awkward situation for both people. You want to figure out how to communicate with them and how to be comfortable together.
Do you find communication the most challenging part or is it something more technical?
I’d say it’s communication just because there are a lot of moving pieces on a wedding shoot. I’m not the only person there who’s working with them, so there’s a lot of stuff going on outside of what I’m doing. I find that with the weddings I’ve shot, I’ve been lucky to have couples that are great at communicating and scheduling and planning stuff out, and that their weddings went smoothly. So we never had any issues there. But communication is huge on wedding shoots. The photographer needs to communicate with both the bride and the groom, figure out what both of them want, communicate with family members, organize times for group shots and everything like that.
Rebecca from Skyline Studios
What do you find most enjoyable about wedding photography?
Honestly, just getting to go to all these weddings. I love it, I’m a sucker for romance. I love going to these weddings and knowing that I’m there with the sole responsibility of capturing those moments for people. It brings a lot of joy to me. Especially when I send them a final product and they’re completely ecstatic with it or they love everything about it.
Now with Covid-19, how has that changed the landscape of wedding photography?
It’s definitely thrown a wrench into things. I had a whole bunch of weddings planned for the spring and summer that I was going to be shooting and now it’s a waiting game on when things are going to be rescheduled. I’ve had a couple people completely pull out. They just don’t know when they’re going to reschedule their wedding. But I think once things clear up, there’s going to be an influx of weddings and business will be booming again.
How do you prepare for other unforeseeable events like this? Even if it’s a weather change at a venue.
Again, it always comes down to communication between you and the wedding party and everything that’s going on. I’m a pretty flexible person with how light I travel. I’m pretty adaptable. A lot of my gear is able to handle any sort of weather situation. And I really have the mentality when I’m on the job, I’m there to service whomever I’m there to service, so whatever changes are happening, that’s just a part of it and I need to adapt to it no matter what.
What advice would you give someone else starting out in wedding photography?
Understand that you’re not in control. I know that as a photographer, when I step onto a shoot, I always have the mindset of it’s my shoot and I’m the one running things. But when you step onto a wedding shoot, you’re not. There’s so many other more important things going on, that it’s really not your job to intrude and it’s not your job to try and force things to happen so you can get a shot.
What is something you’ve learned from this experience?
You can recreate any shot. The first wedding I shot, I was so focused on capturing moments, that when they were going through the ceremony, I was in the way. I realized I was standing in front of people’s view and I was being an obstruction. Once the ceremony is done, you can literally pose people right where they were and say, “okay, we’re gonna hold this for a couple seconds while I take a couple shots.” That way, everything’s done, everyone has seen it, the wedding’s actually happened, and now you can get your shots and make them what you want them to be.
Finally, how can people contact you?