Breaking barriers in the wedding industry – Interview with Jess Rose

Marianne Stenger
1st July 2021

When photographer Jess Rose first began covering weddings, she realised there was an underrepresentation of the LGBT+ community, as well as non-traditional wedding ceremonies that challenged gender norms. As a feminist, she decided she wanted her approach to wedding photography to reflect her own values.

“I didn’t study photography, it just kind of happened organically,” she says. “I started out by shooting art installations and art events for friends. When I had a baby in 2014, I started taking lots of photos of him, and it was around this time that I started doing family photoshoots. This grew quite quickly into wedding photography.”

Images © Jess Rose

She describes her images as “unscripted, upbeat wedding photos for modern couples,” and points out that equal couples of all kinds are finding new ways to celebrate their love for each other, without feeling the need to conform to tradition.

We had the opportunity to talk to Jess about her unique style and approach to wedding photography, as well as some of the most important things she’s learned during her time as a wedding photographer so far.

Images © Jess Rose

You describe yourself as a feminist and LGBT+ wedding photographer. Could you tell us a little about what this means to you?

When I first started out, I worked with all kinds of couples. Although I do still work with all different types of people, I quickly found that I was most comfortable working with people, and particularly women, who had feminist ideas about how they wanted their weddings to work.

For instance, they didn’t necessarily want to be given away by their dad, or didn’t necessarily want to take their husband’s name. They were sort of disrupting these traditions. 

I think that in many ways, the wedding industry is a patriarchal institution, and the traditions are often really silly. For example, we’ve only just recently reached the point where women can put their mum’s name and profession on their marriage certificate.

It’s often little things like this where change happens very slowly. So, because I identify as a feminist and as a lesbian, I just feel more comfortable amongst likeminded people. 

I also think that in terms of the LGBT+ side of things, there’s not enough representation of non-straight people. So I really wanted to highlight the amazing LGBT+ couples that I have worked with and do work with, and create a space for them as best as I can. 

Initially, I wasn’t sure if I should brand myself specifically as an LGBT+ wedding photographer, because it’s kind of niche, and in many ways, an LGBT+ wedding is just like any other. But I do feel that until we have more equal representation, it’s worth putting my hand up and letting people know that I cater specifically to these groups.

Images © Jess Rose

Can you tell us a bit about your creative process and approach to shooting weddings?

I take every wedding day that I shoot completely as it comes and try not to plan too much in advance. I do ask people for an information sheet where they can tell me a little bit about their day, and we always try to meet up for a coffee or a drink just to make sure we gel. Although, of course, at the moment it’s been mostly Zoom calls.

This ensures that on the day, everything will happen as it happens. Nothing needs to be staged by me and the couple can relax without needing to be taken away from their friends and family.

I always have a session with just the couple as well, but I’m not very big on cheesy or overly dramatic poses. It’s all very natural, relaxed and light-hearted, and I try to make the couple laugh by just talking rubbish.  

I always just say to people “imagine you were alone at home in your kitchen; maybe having a dance around or just having a moment together and just try to pretend that I’m not there as best you can.” I always try to capture spontaneous moments, because those are the best moments that you can’t plan for.

I think, compared to many wedding photographers, I definitely undershoot. I know some photographers shoot thousands and thousands of photos in a day. But I’m much more about waiting for the moment to be right and the light to be right, and then taking a few images. I just couldn’t deal with all the edits afterwards I think.

Images © Jess Rose

How do you prepare to photograph a wedding? Do you usually try to visit the location ahead of time?

I’ve been based in London for three and a half years now, so I tend to cover lots of the same venues. For instance, Marylebone is my local registry office, and it’s just down the road, so I kind of know what to expect if it’s a local wedding.

But otherwise, if it’s really far away, I’ll try to arrive the night before, because I get mad anxiety worrying about getting there on time. So, often I’ll get there the night before and have a little look and scout out the location.

With that said, I try not to pre-plan it too much, because it all just depends on where the light is falling that day and what mood the couple will be in on the day and where they want to go. So I always try to keep it quite spontaneous. 

I tend to shoot mostly with natural light, although recently I have started using more off-camera flash. I attended a really fantastic workshop that has given me more confidence with that. For a long time, I was just using bounce flash, but now I’ve been able to get a little bit more creative with that. 

Of course, it’s quite tricky when you’re lugging stuff around with you all day. You do want to keep your kit quite minimal and avoid setting up too much stuff. It doesn’t need to be too complicated.

Images © Jess Rose

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned during your time as a wedding photographer?

I think for me, one of the main things has been learning the value of getting to know people within the industry and making friends with them. It’s the idea of collaboration and community over competition, especially during difficult times.

When Covid hit, it was other wedding photographers and wedding suppliers that had each other's backs. So it’s really important to keep in mind that we’re all in the same boat and we’ve got to support each other. 

I’ve also learned the importance of networking and shadowing other photographers whose work you admire. Don’t get jealous of people that are ahead of you, because there will always be someone ahead of you. Just keep doing your thing and try to find your own style and niche.

There are a lot of us out there, but I really think there’s a client for everyone. Just keep pushing and putting yourself out there.

Images © Jess Rose

Do you have any favourite types of weddings or venues?

After the year we’ve just had, I’m really missing festival style weddings. I think they’re just incredible. I love it when you’ve got tents set up, and food trucks and bottles of beer in ice buckets, and loads of people in the sun. It’s just amazing when couples recreate this kind of festival vibe.

But I do have to say that over the last year, I’ve seen some incredible small weddings where the couple gets married at a registry office and then takes some close friends out for a meal or for drinks. I think this last year has shown that smaller weddings can be just as lovely really.

What has this past year and a half been like for you? Were there any projects that kept you busy while weddings were on hold?

There were a couple of silver linings, but mainly it was really nice to see how the industry came together and how people supported each other. To me that was really lovely.

The second thing is that I’m actually doing a PhD at the moment. So although that was delayed a bit as well, it did give me more time for reading and reflecting and all that.

Initially I thought, “Great I’ve got a couple of months off,” but I don’t think anybody expected that we would still be here today. Now, weddings are smaller, which is kind of nice, but it’s also a bit crazy at the moment because we are all kind of waiting to see what will happen next.

Things still feel really up in the air. All of the couples I am working with this year have got multiple wedding plans, so you’ve got to keep multiple plans in your head. So it’s all been kind of crazy but we’re getting there.

Images © Jess Rose

For more tips and inspiration check out our Ultimate Guide to Wedding Photography. If you’re interested in using Bob Books to print wedding photo books for your clients, visit this page to find out how you can benefit from our discount and reward programs for professional photographers

Biography:

Jess Rose is a West London-based photographer who specialises in LGBT+ and feminist weddings. If you’d like to see more of her work, you can visit her website or follow her on Instagram @PhotosByJessRose.

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