Vanessa Joy is one of the best–known names in wedding photography in the US. In this interview, Vanessa talks about her favorite gear, what makes the new Canon EOS R6 so useful, the challenges of shooting a product video during a pandemic, and why communication is key to successful portraiture.


How did you get started in wedding photography?

My mother was a wedding photographer. So naturally I hated it and didn’t want anything to do with it! But when I was picking out my electives for classes at high school I decided to take it. It was black and white photography – which meant darkroom work, at the time. And I fell in love with it. My high school photography teacher shot weddings on the weekends too, so I started shooting for him and I worked for him for about five years before starting my own business.

What drew you to weddings and events?

To be honest I thought that was the only kind of photography that there was! My mom did it, and my high school photography teacher, too. It’s just where I ended up, but I’m happy I did.

What are you shooting with currently?

I’m shooting with the Canon EOS R5 and the EOS–1D X Mark III. Those are my two main cameras. My lens of choice for the mirrorless system is the RF 28–70mm F2L USM, because I basically don’t have to ever take it off the camera. Even though it’s really heavy, I prefer that over having to constantly change lenses.

The Canon EOS R5 is one of two high-end Canon cameras that Vanessa uses for her work, alongside the EOS-1D X Mark III.

If someone was starting out shooting weddings and events, what would you recommend as a basic kit?

If you’re just getting started, I’d recommend a camera like the EOS R6, or equivalent, but if you don’t have the budget, there are so many great used cameras out there. Even something from three or four years ago will still be great. And then add a 24–105mm or a 24–70mm, and you’re good.

You recently made a video for Canon featuring the EOS R6. How did that come together?

I’ve become more video–focused in the past five or so years, in the world of online education, and also via my YouTube channel. When I first saw the R6 I thought it was just going to check off so many boxes for so many people, so in the video I made for the R6 I wanted to really showcase how versatile it could be.

I made that video right around the time of the quarantine here in New Jersey, in early March. That made things very difficult, and it’s why in the video you see me, and my children, and some of our close friends. The scene with the DJ in the club was actually shot in my garage!

How has the pandemic affected your work this year in general?

Probably around 90% of the weddings I had lined up were postponed, which means about 120% of my income. That probably sounds weird, but a lot of my income comes after the wedding. So financially it’s been a shock, like it has for everyone. But I haven’t stopped shooting – I think I’ve used my camera as much this year as any other year, I just haven’t shot as many weddings. The weddings I have shot, though, which have been ‘micro–weddings’, I have just adored. I love shooting the smaller intimate gatherings where it’s just family and really close friends.

How has technology changed the way you work during your career?

Haha, well, right now I’m sitting in front of a computer editing 10lbs off a bride in every single photo – at her request! But the biggest benefits are things like having built–in WiFi in my cameras. For one thing, that means I don’t have to bring a laptop with me everywhere I go, I just bring a wireless hard drive.

Also I can quickly edit and send photos from my cameras to my phone, just my 20 or so favorites from the day, and walk over to the bride and Airdrop them to her, right there. It’s instant gratification for the clients, and it’s also a way of making the photos more exciting for them. My clients are surprised that they get to see the pictures ahead of time, and I love surprising them.

What qualities make a good wedding photographer?

I think it’s all about communication. Whether that’s calming down a bride, or talking to relatives, or communicating effectively so that photos get taken fast. A lot of it comes down to how you relate to people.

As a wedding photographer, every day of your working life is the most important of your clients’ lives – do you feel that pressure?

All the time, yes. I used to have nightmares about it. What stopped the nightmares, finally, was I felt able to tell myself ‘I truly believe I’m the best person for this job, and I know I’ll give my clients the best pictures they can get from their wedding day’. And another thing was just getting to the point where I felt I had a level of control over time. Timing on a wedding day is unpredictable, no matter how much you plan. I developed a concept called ‘Speed Posing’ which means that I don’t really have to worry about timelines anymore, because no matter how late hair and makeup runs, or if a bus gets stuck in traffic, or whatever, I know I can get the family photos done in seven minutes and the bridal photos done in five, if I need to.

Vanessa’s technique of ‘speed posing’ allows her to quickly generate the necessary posed images of couples and family, if time gets tight.

Can you explain a little more about speed posing?

Well, you can actually go to speedposing.com, because it’s a concept that I sell a course on, naturally! But basically it’s a method of shooting which isn’t exactly cookie–cutter, in that it’s not exactly the same thing every time, but it’s things like the order in which you move people in and out of the photos. An approach which lets you get everything done in the most efficient and effective way possible.

From a clients’ point of view, what makes the difference between a good wedding photography experience and a bad one?

I think it comes down a lot to communication and handholding. That’s probably what I get complimented on most. People will say ‘you told me you’d help me design my album and I really appreciated that’, or ‘you said you’d help me make the list of family’, that kind of thing. Anything I can do to make their lives a little easier, make it a little more convenient, that goes a very long way.

What are the biggest mistakes people make in wedding photography?

The biggest one is probably not being aware of the background in your images. I distinctly remember sitting in an image review session with my high school teacher when we were going through images from a wedding, and in the background of one of the photos there was a life preserver. And the way it was framed, it looked like the bride was looking down at a tasty donut. I never lived that one down.

What advice would you give to someone looking to make a career in wedding and event photography?

Before setting out on your own, and making mistakes which might affect your own income and reputation, work for as many photographers as you possibly can!

Vanessa Joy is a weddings and events photographer based in New Jersey, USA. You can learn more about her, and see more of her work at her website, vanessajoy.com and on her YouTube channel.

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