Meet Charleston Film Photographer Clay Austin
Why photography? What led you to pursue photography, and specifically, weddings?
It's honestly something I have been passionate about for a long time. I can remember being a kid and giving myself a photo assignment where I had to take a picture (using one of those flat-rectangle 35mm rangefinder cameras) of my Fozzie Bear Pez dispenser in a variety of locations. I would sift through the prints afterward critiquing my angles and try again on the next roll! (I think I just successfully dated myself and sounded super nerdy all in one sentence, good start Clay!)
From there it was high school darkrooms and college majors, a constant in my life. Weddings sort of crept up on me. Throughout college, I was hell bent on pursuing landscape and travel photography, and weddings were the last thing on my radar. It wasn’t until I was offered to shoot a friend’s wedding that I first understood how humbling wedding photography could be.
To me, wedding photography is the ultimate challenge. You have to be a portrait, lifestyle, documentary, landscape, fine art and product photographer all within an 8 hour day!
Oh and on top of all that, the light is constantly changing! All that aside, the real reason I have fallen in love with being a wedding photographer is the people. The emotion. The memories. I cannot even begin to tell you how honored I am to provide my clients a way to relive those moments for the rest of their lives! The birth of a family, an heirloom to passed on by generations, not to be entered lightly!
How would you describe your style?
I try to approach every shoot with a journalistic mindset. The more I fade into the landscape, the better, letting each moment unfold naturally. With that said, I will offer a little guidance here or there when it comes to the portrait part of the day because I totally understand that for the most part, this is the couple's first time being photographed.
What is something you wish more brides knew?
To take a second during the day to stop and take it all in. This will most likely be the only time ever, that all these people that have such meaning to your life will be in one place at one time. That is such a beautiful and unique sentiment that can sometimes be overlooked by the natural hustle of the day.
What is something you wish more grooms knew?
How to tie a bow tie, haha!
What is your best advice for couples looking for their photographer?
Take your time. There are a ton of amazing photographers out there so make sure you choose someone that speaks to you as a couple. When it's all said and done, all you are left with is the photos, so make sure you connect with your photographer.
Also, try to meet in person, or at the very least FaceTime or Skype with your photographer before signing any contracts. This person is going to be with you for the entire day, so a solid relationship is paramount.
Why film? What made you decide to shoot film and has it affected your style?
I could go on and on, pontificating about the color tones, the depth, the grain, that Christmas-like excitement waiting for scans, etc., but for me what it boils down to is the way it makes me shoot.
With digital photography there is that inherent level of comfort knowing immediately if your exposure is correct, if you subject blinked, if you need to make any changes at all, etc. so you tend to overshoot and sift through the duds later.
With film, however, all that goes out the window and you are forced to slow down, compose your image, and be present in each moment. When you only get 16 images per roll of film you're really forced to make them all count!
Having your portraits taken can be intimidating for some, how do you prepare your clients or perhaps their environment for the session?
Indeed! For the most part, I would say that almost all of my clients first ‘professional’ experience of being in front of the camera is with me, so making them feel comfortable is crucial! With that in mind, having a solid dialog leading up to a session is super helpful. Planning everything from locations, to what they wear, all has to do with making the experience as pleasant as humanly possible.
If they are constantly at the beach during the summer or love just spending time together at home, I would much rather incorporate those elements into the session rather than say “I know this great street downtown, we should shoot there.”
When it comes time to start shooting, I try to ‘direct' my client into actions together rather than placing them in poses. The more I interject, the more people realize they’re being photographed and can start to clam up. It's in those moments when they forget that I am there and let their guard down, that I get the best images. Oh, and a little wine never hurts!
What's the best part about living in Charleston?
The food! Well that, and the incredible variety of backdrops I get to work with! Within a 15-minute drive, you can go from historic downtown with tons of great colors and textures, to a farm littered with oak trees and Spanish moss, or to a beach with gorgeous marsh around it.
I also love the community! Even though the wedding market is massive here, there is an overwhelming sense of admiration amongst all the creatives. Most of my closest friends are somehow tied into weddings and much of them, other photographers! I feel like that is pretty unique, a sense of community over competition.
Where has been your favorite destination to work?
I got to travel to Nice, France this summer and photograph a wedding in the hills overlooking the Mediterranean; that was insane!
Where do you dream to travel for work?
I would love to go to Bali! I have seen a ton of amazing weddings there recently, and the colors are gorgeous!
What would be your advice to an aspiring photographer?
Shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot! Shoot as much as you possibly can! With friends. With family. With strangers even. Shoot! Every time I get behind my camera, I learn something!
If you are just starting in the wedding business, reach out to photographers whose styles you connect with and see if you can second shoot with them. The more you understand the craft, the better you will be as an artist.