Taking a documentarian approach to a couple’s big day, Emily Renier creates lasting memories grounded in connection, spontaneity and honesty. She embodies the important reminder that wedding photography is a fine balance of empathy and technical skill
Seen in its simplest terms, photography is a celebration of lived moments. Unlike paint upon a canvas, scenes are not brought to life from the artist’s imagination, but carry with them an innate sense of truth. More than any other genre, documentary photography is built around this ideal.
Within a lifetime of experiences, many find only a handful of milestones worthy of in-depth documentation – but a wedding is inarguably among them. Emily Renier has dedicated the last five years to just that, exacting her creative vision to provide picturesque reminders of unforgettable days.“Unfortunately, I’m a bit of a cliché,” she begins. “I was a teenager when my interest in photography started, and I spent those years in the south of Spain. I was a grumpy teen, always off on my moped around the coasts, and after receiving my first analogue camera from my dad, I did what all angsty youths do and began making corny pictures of uninspired sunsets. It did evolve from there, though.
“Having used a few systems through the years, I upgraded to a DSLR on my 28th birthday. It was big, bulky and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing with it, so it began collecting dust. I found myself ten years into a teaching career. But, feeling burnt out, I decided to leave. Based on my historic love of photography, I committed to doing something completely different.”
A visit to The Photography Show proved particularly fateful for Emily. Among a slew of personally uninspiring imagery, she stumbled upon a seminar by then FUJIFILM X-Photographer, Kevin Mullins.
“After he delivered his talk, I was completely moved. That was totally the epiphany for me,” Emily recalls. “I didn’t know the guy, or that wedding photojournalism existed as a genre, or even anything about the mirrorless systems he was describing. I messaged Kevin on social media and told him I thought he’d just changed my life, then tried a few cameras at the Fujifilm stand and bought my first FUJIFILM X-T2.”
Dedicated to forging a new path, and with Kevin as an invaluable mentor, Emily soon began photographing weddings, developing a uniquely emotion-led style in the process. To this day, it shapes every facet of her work, from approach to aesthetic.
“If I don’t feel a connection with a couple, I don’t work with them, because I can’t do the best for people without something between us. What I mean is: feeling comfortable in a space, being vulnerable together and letting go of ego,” Emily notes. “That shapes the look of my images because we share things. It’s rare that I don’t leave a wedding knowing a lot about these people’s lives – what makes them sad, happy, fearful or confident.
“All that means I’m free to explore the tenderness, relationships and emotions at play. Those elements drive my imagery more than anything else. It’s not a one-size-fits-all visual process. Each client should look at their wedding images and say, ‘That’s so us!’
“I believe you’ve got to live in the moment with a couple and mirror how they feel. If you can do that, they’ll almost certainly show you authenticity because they’ll understand they’re free to be themselves around you.”
Unlike traditional wedding imagery, the technical demands of Emily’s style are closely aligned with purist documentary photography. Moments are more often fleeting than posed, while lighting, motion and composition all raise their own challenges.
“I work with a pair of FUJIFILM X-H2S cameras, which are perfect for my needs,” the creative explains. “The tilting LCD is perfect for working at heights above my head, then there’s IBIS, huge burst speeds and autofocus that’s out of this world. The combination means I can be much more free. I don’t miss moments often any more. If I do, it’s purely my fault.
“I also have a FUJIFILM X-T5, which is wonderful because it has the 40.2-megapixel sensor and works beautifully in low light. I tend to use that for family and group portrait photography, or when the conditions call for it.
“I use continuous autofocus with face detection, high-speed bursts and fully manual exposure,” Emily continues, outlining her set-up. “Fujifilm’s Program mode is incredible, so arguably you could just let the camera do everything for you and focus on subject matter, but I love looking at the light or a specific situation, then choosing exactly what to do with it. That process is very mindful.
“Film Simulations are the reason I use Fujifilm. I prefer black and white photography, and usually only go into colour for the reception, but whatever you’re making, you see its potential straight away. The same look is not easily replicable in post, and I’m always conscious of not over-processing the image – a lot of that is a personal phase we photographers go through. What I don’t want is to impose that momentary fad on my clients.”
Lens selection, too, is important as ever. Where many documentarians appreciate the versatility of a zoom, Emily’s subjects are contained in a predetermined space. With a selection of primes and enough energy to navigate a venue for the wedding’s duration, she achieves astounding results.
“FUJINON XF33mmF1.4 R LM WR combines nicely with my X-T5. The image renders so nicely, you barely need to touch it in post,” Emily reveals. “Between my other two bodies, I use FUJINON XF18mmF1.4 R LM WR, XF23mmF1.4 R LM WR and XF56mmF1.2 R. I don’t feel I have a need for anything else – I travel quite light for a wedding photographer.”
With an empathic connection made and a seamless suite of settings dialled in, questions of why and how are answered. The final and perhaps most challenging task for those hoping to emulate Emily’s artful results is where to find meaningful moments.
“Many images are there for the taking, with a cake cutting, first dance and exchanging of vows – but if you look beyond those, at the lulls, that’s where it gets difficult. That’s also where you find the potential for your images to be different to the norms.
“I spend a lot of time developing the necessary skills by creating images out on the street. I like to find ways to present ordinary moments of everyday life in exciting ways. Then I can go back to a wedding reception and do the same. Look for patterns, shapes and geometry, and anticipate action if you have the ability. It’s an active choice to work harder and find the magic when it’s not so obviously present.
“The authenticity of this approach is forever a question in my mind,” Emily muses. “You want to establish some sort of truth, so people believe in the work and clients find it reflects their identity; but at the same time, life can be ugly. Ordinary moments are not aesthetic. What I’ve learnt over the past few years is to balance what’s important to me and what’s important to my clients. The pictures need to be as visually pleasing as my client wants, without me having to create falsehood. Ultimately, you’ve got to figure out where you fall on that spectrum – and don’t be damning of other people’s positions.”
Like the majority of image makers, Emily’s work is an artistic representation of a personal world view. Unsurprisingly, then, her final thoughts return to emotion.
“The most important thing I can recommend in such a feelings-led genre is to surround yourself with good, kind people. Social media groups can be toxic places for a new person. You might end up feeling like your work isn’t good enough, or you should be creating in a specific way. But, if you surround yourself with a few decent individuals who are not threatened to celebrate you and make you feel good about your work, you’ll be better for it.
“Be a positive person,” Emily implores. “The rest will fall into place. I believe it’s the beauty of the process that should be enjoyed, rather than the outcome.”