Top wedding photojounalist Paul Barnett stands out from the crowd as one of the most sought-after wedding photojournalist in Southern California and around the world. His solid skills and deeply intuitive nature allow him to capture split-seconds of deeply felt emotion and turn them into art that lasts. Read on to find out how he does it and why we’re so thrilled to promote his work as part of our World’s Best Wedding Photographers Hotlist!
Blair: How did you first get into wedding photography?
Paul: When I was little my dad would line all 5 of us kids up against the garage door to take our photos. He would shout, Smile! No, not like that! Smile natural! The result: 5 kids, all looking constipated. Even then, I knew there had to be a better way!
As the youngest of the kids in my family I learned to be observer. At the dinner table, holidays, family vacations, etc. I saw beautiful, genuine moments that needed to be documented. It was those precious, unscripted snapshots that to this day draw me in.
In the mid 80s, I started my career as a printer at a professional photo lab. I remember meeting a photographer who was the man at the time. His work was extremely staged and contrived. Although popular, I was not moved by that type of posed and formulaic wedding photography. Believing I could do better, I started shooting weddings using 35 mm cameras loaded with black and white film. At that time, my methodology was unheard of. Wedding photographers used medium format cameras, tripods, flashes with soft boxes, and all color film. By 1993-94, people were drawn to my style of photography. I had a strong customer base of clients that wanted unrehearsed photojournalistic wedding photos.
Blair: What camera do you like to use the most?
Paul: Honestly, whatever camera I have in my hand at the time. I use only Cannon equipment, but each scenario calls for a different camera body or lens.
Blair: Do you shoot film, digital or both?
Paul: I shoot both! Digital photography has created possibilities I couldnt have imagined ten years ago. It makes Photoshop alterations a breeze and provides intense vibrancy to colors. However, I adore film. It possesses a feel that isnt quite the same as digital photography. Learning to shoot film before digital trained me to be a much better photographer. Film is limited. Shooting for years with the stringent limitation of 36 exposures to a roll honed my skill of releasing the shutter at THE precise moment. Shooting film also requires a bit of a mathematical mind that can quickly translate the light and speed of the moment into the right formula for exposure. When I shoot weddings, I have several cameras for both film and digital. I can weave a variety of the two feels to create a complete picture of the day.
Blair: What is your favorite moment or tradition at weddings, what makes you laugh, cry, or feel sentimental?
Paul: I am always moved by the parents and grandparents when they see their daughters, sons or grandchildren for the first time on the wedding day. In their eyes I can see them relive their lives while sending all their love and hope to the bride and groom. It never gets old and it deeply touches me.
Blair: What are your favorite local wedding locations?
Paul: I really enjoy shootings weddings at the homes of my clients. Especially if the home represents the familys central hub. Refrigerator magnets made by the bride in the fourth grade or dads beloved rose garden, even in the most beautiful hotel these things simply dont exist. Some of my other favorite locations are the eighteenth green at Pebble Beach, The Grand Del Mar in San Diego, and The Annadel Winery in Sonoma. I worked with a bride and groom who owned a deli in L.A. and they were all about good food, great wine and close friends, so Annadel was the perfect location for them. I love it when people choose locations that fit their style. Opulent and over-the-top, or rustic and simple, it needs to make sense for the couple.
Blair: What are your favorite destinations locations?
Paul: Monterey, Napa, Manhattan, and The U.K. in general. In specific the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin which its located in one of the only areas that didnt get leveled in the war and Las Careyes south of Puerto Vallarta. Situated on the Pacific, Las Careyes is a scenic and architectural dream. The food is amazing, and the scenery is breathtaking.
Blair: Where do you want to shoot next?
Paul: Italy. Ive shot several times in Europe, but never in Italy. Its time
Blair: Can you describe your wedding photography style in adjectives?
Paul: I would say spontaneous, reactive, genuine, unrehearsed, and timeless.
Blair: When you aren’t shooting weddings – what do you love to do?
Paul: I love to sail and play the piano (which I do rather poorly). Ive been sailing since I was 5 and I spend a lot of time between Catalina and San Diego.
Blair: Is there one thing you’d like every bride and groom to know before their wedding?
Paul: Thats very simple; I just want them to have fun. I think it is easy to get caught up with a ton of details and forget to have a good time. After all, how rare is it when we can come together with the people we love the most and forget about lifes troubles for an entire day?!
Blair: How has being a wedding photographer made you a stronger photographer over all?
Paul: Because I dont stage anything other than the family portraits, it has honed my ability to be decisive and intuitive. The speed in which an emotional moment unfolds is sometimes measured in fractions of seconds.
In addition to weddings, I photograph a lot of children. The technique of shooting reactively has made my childrens photography both entertaining and sincere. The mechanics of taking spontaneous photos are so ingrained in me that those kinds of decisions are made quickly, and all I have to do is find the moments Im looking for.
Blair: How has witnessing so many weddings impacted your outlook on life?
Paul: At the end of the day, all that truly matters is how we treat others. Its not about the budget, the opulence or what A list entertainer preformed at the wedding. The relationships we forge and how we relate to others is all that counts.
Blair: Who are the wedding professionals you adore working with right now?
Paul: Wedding and event planner Victoria Schroeder, florist Kathy Wright, Michele Martin of M-Bride, Andrew Spurgin of Waters Catering, the TJ Dogs band, and most importantly my staff. Im blessed and frankly really damn lucky to have a group of loyal assistants and photographers that have so much passion as well as understanding the pressures that come with being self-employed theyve worked hard through the economic slow down to keep our business thriving. Without them, it wouldnt be nearly as fun!
Blair: What is the-best advice you’ve ever received about being an artist?
Paul: From my mom she was a watercolor painter and she said, Stay on the outside of the bubble and dont speak She said, Be very quiet, watch your subjects so carefully that you can almost hear them breathe. At that moment, she said quoting Helen Levitt, You will cross the threshold of anothers soul.
Blair: Can you name three photographers you admire most right now?
Paul: Helen Levitt, (her photos of kids on the streets of Brooklyn are so spontaneous and real), Phillip Lorca diCorcia, and Annie Leibovitz especially when she was working for Rolling Stone magazine. She was approaching art through photojournalism long before it was the norm.
Blair: What gets your heart racing – both personally and professionally?
Paul: I thrive on really challenging jobs, when there is a lot riding on the results. I love producing under the pressure and the thrill I get from exceeding at the assignment.
Blair: What is the best “thank you” you’ve ever received?
Paul: Recently I had a bride whose father was dying of cancer and their family asked me to photograph a special wedding ceremony in their home. The wedding date was moved up so that the brides father could walk her down the aisle. He past away a few weeks later. The mother of the bride wrote a very simple yet heart felt thank you that reminded me why I love my job and what really matters.
Blair: What is inspiring you most right now?
Paul: Real life I am inspired by the next couple, the next wedding and the next portrait session and life as it unfolds.
Thank you so much Paul! It was a pleasure talking with you!
And don’t miss our Photographer Spotlight Archive, full of interviews from the past year of other inspirational Junebug member photographers. Fantastic reads for photo lovers!