Brett Florens, a South African photogrpher now living abroard, shares some of his stunning photographs with you. Brett still shoots in South Africa as well as overseas.
Where did you grow up?
A: I am a KZN boy, born and banana-bred!! I grew up on the KZN South Coast, absolutely loving the innocent outdoor lifestyle. Most of my adult life has been spent in Durban North and for the past ten years, my wife, two sons and I have lived in Mount Edgecombe.
Where are you based and what geographical area do you cover?
A: My family and I recently moved to Amsterdam, but while my home base is there, I fly back to South Africa very regularly for weddings, workshops and for other commercial clients. Being a wedding photographer is a great career, however it is largely seasonal, so I spend my time following the wedding seasons. That means I spend most of the South African winter mainly in the UK or Amsterdam, but my weddings take me to other great European destinations such as Italy and Spain. I also fly to the USA and Dubai for work during the year.
What made you choose photography as a profession?
A: My introduction to photography was not conventional by any means. I was a policeman in the riot unit during the last years of apartheid. A need arose for a photographic unit within the riot unit and I volunteered to get out of the mundane task of patrolling the townships. One could say that I fell into the career!
Did you study photography?
A: I am a self-taught photographer. When the bug bit, I was a very poorly paid policeman and couldn’t afford formal training. I became obsessive about shooting and spent hours pouring over photographic manuals, books and magazines. I worked really hard to educate myself with all things photographic, asking any professional photographer as many questions as they would answer. I studied and deconstructed images that resonated with me and then tried to replicate the shots later in my own work. I learnt everything I could technically and started to shoot weddings for friends or family portraits once I felt I had enough technical know-how.
When did your passion in photography first begin and what do you enjoy most about it?
A: Once I took hold of that camera, it was like love at first sight. But it was when my first image was published in the local daily newspaper that I knew I wanted to make photography a fulltime career – I guess because it was the moment that my work and effort was validated by influential playmakers in the industry. So much about this industry is about confidence and how you feel about your own work. Sometimes you need that recognition from others to enable you to believe in yourself. After a couple of years I left the police force and started my own photographic company with a very small studio. Photography is both very technical and creative and to make a success of one’s career, you also have to have strong business savvy – it’s using both hemispheres of the brain! I love the fact that it is a constant challenge – I never stop learning and pushing myself to become better and I’m happy to say I’m just as passionate about photography as when I first started.
How long have you been a wedding photographer?
A: I started photographing weddings for colleagues and friends in 1994, so it’s going on 20 years now. I have shot over 750 weddings and I am still loving it.
How many weddings do you photograph per year?
A: I used to shoot around 50-60 weddings a year, however that kind of intensity does take its toll on family life and is really not sustainable. In 2005 I decided to elevate my brand to target the high-end of the market. Reducing the amount of weddings I shot, but providing a product and service that is world class. I now shoot not more than 20 weddings a year.
What sets you apart from other photographers?
A:I would say that my particular brand sets me apart. When teaching other photographers, this is something I urge them to find for themselves, their own brand. Personality is key and they need to work on their own strengths to create a brand that resonates with them and one with which they are comfortable. In this way we will all have our own signature style that becomes instantly recognizable. My style is editorially inspired. I target fashion conscience clients that are confident and want to participate in the process of creating memorable images that would not be out of place in high-end magazines such as Vogue or Vanity Fair.
Are you planning on doing something different in this years wedding season?
A: My style does evolve over the years and, as mentioned, it has a strong fashion element. However, clients book me because they like what I do, so altering that radically can be dangerous. I tend to introduce new things a few images at a time, wedding by wedding. In that way my photography evolves and stays fresh and trendy.
What are the latest photographic trends and have you implemented any of them?
A:There is a move towards low light or night photography and I am enjoying the options available to photographers now with the technological advancements in camera and lighting equipment. It is making this genre an exciting one to explore for me, adding so much diversity to my finished product and enabling me to express myself creatively.
Do you have any advice for Brides on how to choose the right photographer?
A: Well, that is a whole article in itself, but here goes –
Choosing your photographer is one of the most important aspects of your wedding planning. You will be relying on him or her to capture the entire atmosphere and all the many details of your wedding – a day which can never be repeated.
Reputation – Ask friends and family, particularly newly-weds for recommendations. A photographer’s reputation for delivery is usually a good indication of ability.
Instinct – Contact the photographer and set up a meeting or chat on the phone. You will be spending a lot of time with him or her on your wedding day and you will need to feel confident in their abilities, as well as feeling relaxed with their personalities.
Are you able to match a bride’s budget?
A: If she has a big budget of course! I’m not one to negotiate with my prices actually, so unfortunately if she has a very low budget, she will have to find someone else.
Do you have a favourite pose for Brides?
A: I enjoy feminine lines and creating images that reinforce that. The classic “S” shape pose is my go-to pose and has become part of my signature style.
What is your preferred equipment brand?
A: I am privileged to work with the best equipment available to photographers today. My primary body is the Nikon D4s flagship together with the retro Df. The Nikon lenses are super sharp and the skin tone capturing capabilities are perfect.
What is your favourite photography accessory, other than your camera?
A: I am playing with a prism at the moment, it creates unpredictable and exciting results.
If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why?
A:Nikon 70-200 f2.8 for wedding and Nikon 85 f1.4 for fashion. The versatility that the 70-200 offers is very useful for weddings, but the 1.4 of the 85mm is fantastic for creating the shallow depth of field and great bokeh. (google this word for more information!)
What lighting equipment do you take on a shoot?
A: I use the Elinchrom Quadra off camera strobes, Manfrotto LED and the Ice Light by Wescott
How important is Photoshop in your final images?
A: Post-production is an essential element to creating a great product for my clients. I have a full time team dedicated to great post-production. I believe in specialists handling each part of the process, that being I am the specialist photographer and my designers are specialists in the post-production process. We never overdo the Photoshop on the images, they stay as true to life as possible.
Do you use a Mac or PC? Which do you prefer?
A: Mac – I have used mac my whole career, the platform is very well suited to imagery and the integration of the products and devices is very clever.
This interview was published in Brides Essence issue 14