South African Wedding Photographers Association Party – My Speech- Finding your own visual language in amongst the noise of Social Media

Now that I am back in Durbs and sitting at my computer while listening to the sound of the ocean, I find it quite ironic that the speech I chose to do at the SAWPA party in Cape Town was about finding ones own unique photographic voice. It’s ironic because I nearly lost my voice due to nerves on the actual night! It took everything in me to get up there and speak, but once I was up on the stage in front of the mic it was all ok.

In case you didn’t know I was invited to give a speech at the South African Wedding Photographers Association Party in Cape Town last week. I have done my fair share of lecturing and have been quite Ok with public speaking, but this was really one of the most daunting things I have ever done (more scary than injections, my first exhibition opening, being profiled on Top Billing, surfing huge waves in Indo and bungy jumping) Getting up to speak in front of so many people and some of the cream of South Africa’s wedding photography talent was a true test of my new quest to “throw myself out there”. It’s amazing what you can do when you let go of fear and trust yourself to be yourself.

This is my speech.

Hi there everyone.

When Ian Mitchinson first emailed to ask me to give an “inspiring speech” tonight I was quite blown away as, up until this evening Ian and I hadn’t ever met or even chatted on the phone. I knew that even though many of us haven’t met either, most of the people in the audience would have seen my work on the net. I know this as many of you have commented on my blog, some of us are friends on Facebook or follow each other on twitter .…. A lot of you “like” my page on Facebook and I “like” many of yours!! I knew that I wouldn’t have been asked to give a speech if it weren’t for my social media presence and that’s when the power of this new movement really hit me.

I decided then and there on the theme for my talk tonight … which is “Finding your own unique Voice and Style in amongst the huge wave of Social Media”

Nowadays we have blogging and e-mail and Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and Tumbler and Stumble upon and Pin interest and now Google plus …..

It’s hard to keep up really. Social Media has changed our lives and the way that we do business – there’s just so much sharing.

How many times have you read the FB status “just shot such an amazing wedding cannot wait to blog it” (I know I have used it myself)

All this sharing is having a massive effect on the way that we do things as we aren’t just sharing with our clients we are sharing with our colleagues.

Social media is a real social phenomenon and it has so many advantages. But it has its down sides too.

One of these problems is that a lot of wedding photography is starting to look the same.

This is a global phenomenon. I recently went onto an Australian blog site and was amazed as it seemed like every second person was shooting or at least trying to shoot and process like Jonas Peterson.

I don’t think it is even always the fault of the photographer, as our clients get involved too. I have had a number clients ask me to replicate images they have seen on my blog. And I have heard of brides asking photographers to recreate the work of other photographers.

At the end of the day though, the most successful photographers in the world are people with their own visual language or style. They don’t copy work and are constantly developing and improving their own style.  Some big names that I can think of off the top of my head: Jose Villa, Jerry Ghionas, Elizabeth Messina, Jonas Peterson, Jasmine Star. All of these photographers are completely different but all highly successful and all with very distinctive and unmistakable styles.

The question is really, how do we as photographers develop our own visual language, our own way of seeing and interpreting weddings when there is just so much noise in terms of social media out there?

One approach is to take the time to look within.  We need to switch off, sign out and do a bit of self- introspection. I learnt this technique from my Fine Art Degree.

Whilst studying at Michaelis we were taught to question everything and this has been really useful with my wedding photography.

So the first tool I want to share with you is a method for looking inward and asking why. This is something I have begun to do fairly recently again and it really does work.

Make some time to find a quiet place and write down the true reasons why you shoot weddings.

Go deep within yourself and be completely honest. Everyone is going to have his or her own unique answers.

My first reason for shooting weddings is:

I love the freedom of not having an art director or creative director or client looking over my shoulder and telling me what to do. I love that weddings allow me the opportunity to be really creative.


I have done my fair share of commercial work where you are hired to produce a pre-conceived brief. Weddings are different: they allow me to be an artist, to capture unique moments and interactions, to push myself and go for all those creative angles and do crazy things that I know I probably wouldn’t get away with on an advertising shoot.  You will often find me up trees or waist deep in water to get that “must-have” shot.


The second reason is that Shooting weddings = getting paid to people watch.

This is something I unashamedly love doing! There is a lot of imagination and story telling that goes along with watching people, especially couples!

I push the documentary side of the wedding and love all the very “quirky-human” moments that make each wedding day special and unforgettable. I also like each wedding I shoot to be representative of that couple. It’s my way of figuring them out and recording their special and unique day.

Another reason I love shooting weddings is that I love the fun of the wedding reception, the music and especially the dancing.

I love a good party and I love music, as it really inspires me. Ok, there are only so many times I can hear Cotton Eye Joe and YMCA but I find the joy of a newly married couple dancing and celebrating with friends and family to be quite contagious. Music lifts my spirits so I love taking dancing photos at wedding receptions. People tend to come alive when there is music playing.  I really push this aspect of my work.

The great pay-off  is that I have now become known and sought after by bridal couples mainly for these three traits of my work:

  • My creative approach
  • My quirky documentary approach and the fact that I try my best to ensure that my weddings are all uniquely different.
  • My dancing pics

So…the very reasons why I love to shoot weddings have actually become my signature style.

Find out what you love about being a wedding photographer and incorporate that into your work.

Perhaps you shoot weddings to make money but fashion is what actually inspires you. Well short of telling you to go and be a fashion photographer I would encourage you to incorporate this love into your work and make it your thing. Learn to light like a fashion photographer and learn to direct your couples into those poses. There will be brides who want to look as if they have stepped out of a glossy fashion magazine. You just need to find them initially, and before long they will find you!

Perhaps you are a “girly girl” and love the prettiness and the romance of weddings. Push that in your work and make that your “thing”. There will be brides who will resonate with this style too.

My point is: understand why you are doing and what you are doing and then stick to those reasons as guidelines for how you approach weddings and then shoot them accordingly.

Creative people need to look outward as well as inward in order to be inspired. There is however a huge difference between being inspired someone else’s work and merely copying it.

The second trick I learnt at varsity was to keep an ongoing visual diary where we collected sketches, quotes, poems, photos, photo copies, magazine cut outs, research … anything that inspired us or acted as research to our work.

I still take the time to collect images that inspire me. These images come from all over and aren’t just wedding images. I keep these on my computer, on my mood board, in books. But instead of just keeping them and emulating them, the trick is to sit down and really internalise them, searching for the reasons why these images speak to you.

What is it about these images that draws you to them? Is it the composition? The sense of balance or the lighting? What kind of lighting has been used? Is it the use of colour, the dynamic between the models in the image? The pose of the models? The processing, the use of tone? How does the image speak to you? What does it say? How does it make you feel?

If you work with images constantly and take the time to analyse them, you will eventually start to see a pattern. You will notice that there are certain things that you like about certain images.

Once you have established the pattern … you can apply this to your own work.

Therefore even though you are drawing your inspiration from other photographers you are making it your own. This will take some work on your part …. You may need to learn new techniques or new skills. Pushing yourself constantly is a key to moving forward.

By truly understanding what makes you tick you can start formulating your own way of communicating. You can formulate the words to your own visual language rather than speaking with someone else’s tone, in a foreign language.

Knowing who you are and what you are about is like being given a steering wheel. There are many different approaches to any given subject but if you know who you are what you are about, you can consciously decide which route to take rather than wafting around without direction and being influenced by whichever path everyone else is taking.

There is nothing more satisfying than being chosen by a client …….not because you are available, follow the current trends, shoot like someone else or because you are cheap but because they resonate with your work and because they know they cannot find another photographer who shoots specifically like you!

Definitely use social media, it is an amazing wave that has swept us all up but don’t drown in it and lose yourself. The trick is to be very conscious of the way we use it every single time we sign in. Become discerning and be nothing less than a unique wedding photographer with your own unmistakable style.

I believe one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself is to step out of your comfort zone, however uncomfortable this may be. Be unique, be you and stay true to yourself. Throw in some passion and drive and you have a recipe for success.

Push yourselves, and keep shooting!

It is such an honor to be here tonight, thank you all so much for listening to me. Please come and say hi tonight I would love to meet you all.

Thanks you to all the sponsors and a HUGE thanks to Ian for organizing this event.



  1. Tamara on September 15, 2011 at 9:40 am

    Thank you for sharing this with us non- Capetonians. There’s something that strikes a real chord here 🙂 Thank you!

  2. Tricia on September 15, 2011 at 10:00 am

    So proud of you for always being you – my beautiful, quirky, unique hugely talented daughter!

  3. Monica Dart on September 15, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Jax – so inspiring to hear your talk at the SAWPA party, and now reading it I picked up on some pointers I missed on the night trying to take all the speeches in. I am going to ‘take away’ this bit to think about today: “what my reasons are for shooting”. It is so easy to get caught up in just shooting, that to step back and really think about the what’s and why’s is crucial. thanks.x

  4. Melanie Wessels on September 15, 2011 at 10:38 am

    Thanks so much for posting this! It’s really encouraging and such a great help in staying “on track”. Love your work Jacki!

  5. Christine meintjes on September 15, 2011 at 11:53 am

    Jacki you totally rock girl! Was so awesome to meet you and so glad you shared this! What an awesome speech! x

  6. Kim on September 15, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Wow, thanks so much Jacki for sharing your speech! Would have loved to have been there.
    It is so easy to lose focus and forget why you do something. These are great reminders!

  7. Candice Peetz on September 15, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    Flipping awesome. 🙂

  8. Kimi Brink on September 15, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    Lovely Jax – very well done to you 🙂

  9. Robs on September 15, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    Well done Jax. What a great read this was … and love the credits :). Keep being the person you are!

  10. Jess on September 15, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    You really are a treasure Jacki. Thanks so much for sharing this, and for being the way you are.. just wonderful.

  11. nastassja harvey on September 15, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    you are an inspiration thank you Jax!

  12. Keri on September 15, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Great speech and VERY good advice!!!! Thanks so much for sharing it 🙂

  13. john Douglas on September 15, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    Very cool speech Jacki 🙂 its great to be able to find direction and insperation for my photography !!
    BIG thanks 🙂

  14. Candice on September 15, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    This is brilliant! I’m not even a photographer but this inspires me to apply these principles to my own craft. Wise and meaningful words…They should be in a book somewhere 😉

  15. rebecca on September 15, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    Loved it on the night and love it now. Awesome stuff Jax! x

  16. Jonas Peterson on September 16, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    I couldn’t agree more.

  17. carmen visser on September 16, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    YOU are awesome sauce lady B and it was an absolute pleasure to have finally met you and your fabulous husband to be!!!!!!!!!Speech = Brilliant for Bruniquel.xxxxxxxmuch love pretty lady!!!!!!!

  18. […] family came out from the UK and we organised a big engagement party, I went down to CT to give a speech at the South African Wedding Photographers Association, I realised that I actually had PILES  of admin and other work to do and a hundred other little […]

  19. […] you.  This takes a deep sense of self-understanding and a lot of work and time. See my article here on finding your own […]

  20. […] you need to find your own path and your own way of seeing. (Check out an article I wrote about this here) Trying to be someone else will never work as it is through ones uniqueness that magic is made. […]

  21. liza on May 26, 2012 at 9:37 am

    Jacki – Thanks again for emailing me and linking me to this entry. I enjoyed reading it, and fully intend to take all your advice to heart :0). I might even blog about it ;0).


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