I’m a Photographer (Who Happens to Shoot Weddings)

My name is Duy Ho, and I’ve been photographing weddings since 2011. I established my style by embracing my personal interests and influences: an architecture and design background, my love of cinematography and film, a respect for classic and renaissance art, and a quirky obsession with the chiaroscuro style of painting.

To further refine my style, I rely heavily on my continuing effort to become a better photographer in a variety of fields outside of weddings.

I don’t believe mastery of any single genre or art involves solely focusing on doing that one thing over and over. Exploring outside of the wedding industry bubble allowed me to make connections and reach solutions that I might not have otherwise considered. I feel like it’s stating the obvious, but the wider the breadth of photography I pursued, the better I could abstractly pull into my wedding work. Just as my architecture affected my understanding of photography, my studio exercises changed the way I use and think about lighting for weddings. The compositional eye I developed in landscape photographs affects how I take on a scenic ceremony. My street photography improves my anticipation and reaction time for candid moments, and so on.

I truly believe that as I study one branch of photography, I am strengthening my capacity in others. Implementing the thinking and technique of multiple genres is like keys on a piano: one note at a time can deliver a melody, but the richness of chords and harmonies can make for something far more impactful.

Architecture and Landscape

I consider landscape and architecture photography to be related. Both deal in a sense of place, as well as finding the right time of day to get the right light on the scene. Without a specific human story to tell, my goal is to convey how this scene speaks to me. Internalize questions to divine a photographic answer. Is it alive and chaotic? Or serene and peaceful? What’s important? How do I show that? This has the benefit of allowing me to take my time and think more about what I’m doing, while at the same time, re-training myself to be less reliant on instinct and reflexes.

My studies in architecture and my interest in photographing cities and structures greatly influence the way I see geometry in a scene. This has become a significant part of how I construct a composition.

As a wedding photographer in the San Francisco Bay Area, I often work in Napa, Sonoma, somewhere in the mountains, or along the coast. Being able to capture these vivid landscapes in the context of a client’s wedding day or portraits enhances the story telling and gives greater context to the event.

Models in Natural Light

Working with great models can be incredibly helpful in developing an eye for what angles work well, how to look at subtleties of body language, and taking out the equation of posing so that the only focus in on light and composition.

Models in Controlled Light

As I felt more comfortable with natural light, I started working more with strobes/flashes. Going back and forth between natural light and studio light made me more keenly aware of how I wanted to position people relative to the sun and, conversely, where I wanted to place light relative to the subjects. These studies came with the added benefit of allowing me to become more comfortable and quick with wedding lighting set-up.

Models and Fitness

Fitness photography has the added benefit of potentially incorporating movement in a straight forward and comprehensible way. Exploring this genre also brought timing back into the fold, along with consideration of light and composition.

Fashion and model photography has strong parallels with my job as a wedding photographer. The knowledge gained here allows greater ease while working with couples. For example, once I began recognizing the subtle differences in body language between a “stiff” look and a “natural” pose, I could effectively check for any unflattering or distracting body language with my clients during more posed sessions. By playing with both natural and artificial light, I garnered a greater understanding of how to “see” good light and utilize any number of lighting conditions. This knowledge enables me to not only find the light I want, but additionally, allows me to confidently create it in situations where it doesn’t exist, such as a reception.

Street and Travel

Street and documentary photography puts us into the realm of the slightly unpredictable. It focuses more on a smaller subset of the scene and is intended to share a narrative. As such, moment has a significant role here. As wedding photographer, I’m subject to the forces of chance. While street photography does not allow me to control what light the moment happens in, I can still control the composition. I’m forced to rely a bit more on anticipation, timing, and a little luck.

Friends and Family

Working with models can only take me so far, obviously, so I try to bring my camera whenever I go visit friends and family. Documenting my experiences with friends and family can be fun and helps me prepare for spontaneity.

Both street photography and subjecting my nephews to my camera have helped improve my timing and composition for candid moments.

Know Your Tools

Lastly, I want the value of my constant pursuit of fully understanding my cameras, lights, lenses, and software.

I’ll be the first to admit that my obsession with photography very much began with a fascination of the gear. The feel of a bigger camera in my hands, the look of an image shot at f/1.2, the sounds of the shutter, all contribute to a visceral experience for me. I don’t believe that buying better stuff will make me a better photographer, but it does make me want to go out and shoot more — and that truly does make me better. Even if I don’t come back with an image I’m happy with, the process of assessing the scene, dialing in exposure, messing around with processing all contribute to making me more efficient at the act of generating work.

Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of my tools can help me in decision-making: how far to push an image or finding a new angle. Knowing my camera like the back of my hand helps me make adjustments on the fly without having to think about it or look down at the dials.

Photographing weddings since 2011 has given me a tremendous amount of experience learning the nuances of managing my time and my clients’ experiences. I have been highly influenced by the work of some of the top photographers in the field in their ingenuity and vision like Chrisman Studios, Two Mann, Todd Laffler, Hoffer Photography, Citlalli Rico, and Apertura. Moreover, I respect their love for the craft. I know that my work today would not be what it would be if I had not thrust myself in several different genres and explored. My goal isn’t to become the best wedding photographer I can be. It’s simply to be the best photographer I can be.

I just happen to enjoy weddings.

About the author: Duy Ho is a full-time wedding photographer in San Francisco. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. He graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Design with a Masters in Architecture. You can find more of his work on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.