A Marriage Story
With a trained eye and fail-safe reliance on his FUJIFILM X-H2, André Heller looks past all distractions to find the heart of a wedding’s narrative
For any passionate photographer, each scene carries with it a personal stake. Often, the moments we miss are as memorable as those we artfully document. Still, there are few opportunities that truly come once in a lifetime.
Wedding photography is an extraordinary pursuit – not least for this sentiment. The profession’s bold creatives take days of unparalleled importance in their hands, then shape them into a stunning visual collection to be cherished for decades to come.
“When I was a little boy, one of my favourite hobbies was playing around with my grandfather’s photo cameras. I can still remember the excitement of watching an instant photo coming out like magic, or that good anxiety of waiting for your film rolls to be developed. It all started there,” recalls André Heller, thinking back to the foundations of his career.
“Regarding weddings, I started as a videographer, working for another photographer. Some years later, when a friend and I decided to launch our own photo business, we needed a stills specialist because we were both making videos. Having a long background in photography, I decided to take this half of the business on, and never went back to video again. Almost ten years later, here we are.”
But André’s images are no typical wedding scenes. Where many opt for grand, monochromatic splendour, he chooses colour, connection and documentarian intrigue. The creation process is, as ever, all about channelling strong intent through capable tools.
“There’s something fascinating in life’s colours, and it’s just the way I see the world,” André muses. “I’m a cheerful person, so maybe my use of colour is a reflection of myself. Beyond that, I don’t have a willingness to create moments. I want to document them exactly as they are. Everyone who has ever used a Fujifilm camera knows they’re the king of colour science.”
André’s broader settings are kept simple for one reason. His camera choice, too, is all about maximising image quality, rather than a suite of specs.
“On wedding days, it’s important to stay focused on everything happening and find the best way to tell the story of the day,” he explains. “I don’t like to be distracted by settings. Most of the time my camera is in aperture priority, so I only have to control one function. Focusing is handled by face or eye detection.
“I don’t believe there’s space to be a manual-only purist in this genre. Instead, I would say, get a great camera you can rely on. Mine does most of the heavy lifting for me. That’s perfect because it gives me time to focus on other things.
“Most recently, I’ve been using FUJIFILM X-H2,” the creative continues. “From the first time I laid eyes on the file that comes from the 40-megapixel sensor, I was sold. The amount of detail you get is incredible. It almost feels like a little medium format camera. What you see through the viewfinder or LCD is what you get, and I’ve become very confident in its abilities. The autofocus has become so refined that it nails almost every frame – even in fast-paced conditions.”
So, with mental capacity freed up, where does André’s attention lie? One glance at his images is telling. Light, composition and emotion are recurring themes. In this image maker’s experience, all that’s required to document them beautifully is mindfulness.
“Every photographer is searching for spots with the best light,” he comments. “For composition, I’m a huge fan of leading lines and negative space. Also, I’m always looking for the best reactions from the couple or guests. That’s what will give you the greatest image.
“One thing I learnt early was to always photograph without a camera. Walking down the street, I view what’s around me and imagine where I could place a couple to create an interesting frame. When you do this on a daily basis at weddings, it comes to you naturally. Most of the day, people don’t carry a camera, but you can still view life as a photo opportunity.”
Of course, having a couple or group within your scene poses a new challenge. It’s perfectly possible to become a skilled director, but true to his observational approach, André relies on individuals to do what comes naturally.
“I don’t like a lot of poses. Most of the time, I simply pick a nice surrounding to put my couple, then let them interact. If I tell them anything, it’s to talk with each other or have fun together. While that happens, I’m moving around waiting for the perfect moment to press the shutter,” he reveals.
“It’s important not to interfere much on the wedding day. You can tell a couple where to stand, but you can’t tell them how to feel. In the beginning, it’s normal for people to be a little awkward when you’re not telling them exactly what to do, but when they loosen up a little, things start to flow. I normally say that my job is to document emotions, not create them.”
André believes, in his line of work, that subject matter transcends all else. There can be a desire to portray a moment with an elaborate aesthetic, but compared to the moment itself, visuals are the figurative icing on the cake.
“Emotion is the most important thing,” he expresses. “When the father of the bride sees his daughter for the first time, the expression he makes will translate into a great photo, even without any other exceptional element going on.”
There’s a final unique aspect to André’s work – and that’s perspective. Unlike most, who pick out marital moments from afar, he immerses himself in the celebrations.
“The lens I use the most is FUJINON XF18mmF1.4 R LM WR. I know it’s not a common focal length for the wedding industry, but I’m a huge fan. Whatever the venue, I never feel cramped. Then during the wedding day, it almost feels like I’m part of the action and not a spectator.
“Using a wide angle that lets me stay close to the subjects definitely helps me understand their emotions more clearly. I want to give the couple images from the perspective of a guest, not an observer,” André continues.
“A fast aperture is a necessary practicality. We don’t have much control of the environment on wedding days, so having fast lenses is great. I don’t like to introduce flash, I like natural light, so XF18mmF1.4 R LM WR contributes to my style of photography.”
As conversation draws to a close, André emphasises the value of his mindful approach – alongside the most important piece of wisdom he can impart.
“What people need to understand is, with wedding photography, you only have one opportunity. You can’t go back the next day and do it again. But that challenge is a fun part of the business.
“Before all else, the first thing you need to master is an ability to connect with people,” André concludes. “It’s the only way they’ll be unafraid to share their emotions with you. The human element is a privilege – and the most important part of wedding photography.”