When Vicens Forns moved from Barcelona to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2010, it was an exercise in reinvention. Seeking a new start at the height of an international recession, Forns turned to something he’d loved since he was a little boy: photography. Forns’ father and grandfather were hobbyist photographers. And now Forns would pick up the camera professionally, first doing architectural and real estate photography before finding his true passion: photographing people. He photographed his first wedding in 2011 and has since earned dozens of awards and “best of” list entries as he’s established himself as one of Napa Valley’s premier wedding photographers.
Forns meets with prospective clients to determine, first and foremost, how important wedding photography is to them. That helps him decide whether they’re a good fit for him, and vice versa. He spends a lot of time discussing the elements they consider most important while trying to get a bead on their personalities.
At this stage, Forns sets expectations and explains what the day will be like in terms of photography. Most wedding couples have an idea of how they want the day to proceed, but the nuances of how that perfect day will interact with the photography can be tricky. “I explain everything I can think of and provide examples from past experience, but I also listen to what they expect from me,” says Forns. Through these conversations, he begins to build consensus with the clients and plants the seeds of the eventual wedding photography plan.
So that he can work somewhat intuitively at an event, Forns builds an underlying plan that serves as a guideline to his approach the day of. With that in mind, he asks clients to consider a variety of issues:
With this information, he builds a timeline and discusses it with the couple. Two months before the event, Forns, the couple, and their wedding planner go through the timeline to ensure everything is covered. Then he and the couple walk through the wedding and reception venues. He asks the couple to identify a wedding guest who can help him wrangle family and wedding party members for the group portraits so he can move through these photos efficiently without missing anything or anyone.
“Nobody likes surprises,” says Forns, “so it’s important to coordinate with the couple as much as possible before the wedding.”
It’s also critical to develop a clear understanding of the business elements of the relationship, Forns notes. Talking money, terms, and timelines feels awkward to many photographers who’d rather discuss the artistic side of things and let the rest sort itself out. That can lead to problems or misunderstandings. Forns knows the importance of establishing a consensus on all elements of the relationship so he can move forward with the creative work without a cloud of uncertainty hanging over parts of the exchange. During his early conversations, he describes the contract, pricing, invoicing, timelines, image delivery, and other logistics. He also explains the photography copyright parameters.
All this legwork pays off on the wedding day, when Forns can rely on the structure he’s created to keep everything organized so he can work freely. Favoring an artistic documentary style, he stays in the background as much as possible so people carry on without noticing him. Keeping his interactions with the couple and guests minimal, Forns can let the day unfold naturally.
“Having a timeline and doing the work beforehand, usually there is not much to talk about on the day,” says Forns. “I tell the couple to just do their thing and I will take care of the rest. When I do need to interact, I try to make jokes to put them at ease. My advice to them is always to enjoy themselves, allow the professionals to do their job, and let us stress for them.”
Taking on that stress is an important and often overlooked part of the job. Forns and his team feel it’s their responsibility to absorb the bumps in the road so clients enjoy a smooth ride. That requires a well-coordinated team that’s always on the same page.
“Things do pop up, and what matters most is that everyone is positive and working as a team,” he says. “There is no room for egos in such a fast-paced, stressful environment.”
Forns’ ultimate goal is to tell a story in images. All the planning, client communication, and onsite adjustments go toward building a collection of photographs that portray each couple’s unique experience. With that goal in mind, Forns improvises often, always looking for original angles and storytelling approaches. The style is artistic and simple. He favors natural looks from capture through editing to produce an authentic storyline that clients can identify as entirely theirs.
This approach resonates most with couples who understand and appreciate photography as an art form, making Forns’ target market distinct. This is particularly true in a marketplace where consumers are demanding of photographers yet often less concerned with the finer points of the work.
Client education is important. Forns tries to teach couples about the possibilities that great photography can provide as well as the differences between work that is good enough versus that which is superior. In the end, it’s up to the couple. Those who get it self-select as clients, and those who don’t will assign their priorities elsewhere. That’s fine with Forns, who knows where his priorities lie.
“My ideal couples understand and love photography and want to tell a story, not just simply look good,” he says.
Of course, finding those couples can be tricky. For Forns, the recipe calls for equal parts art and promotion. “It is a combination of talent and marketing,” says Forns. “If you are lacking one or the other, success will be much harder to achieve.”
On his website and in his materials, Forns showcases the kinds of images he wants to create and promotes a personal brand that is creative, upscale, and a little offbeat. The combination of these elements, paired with a well-honed process for screening clients, helps him create work that fits his artistic ideals as well as clients’ dreams for their wedding photography. The work evolves, the photographer evolves, and everyone walks away happy.
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Jeff Kent is the editor-at-large of Professional Photographer