Thoughtful Luxury Details with Michele Beckwith
Michele Beckwith’s whimsical imagery is filled with botanical details created with elegance and intention. We spoke with her to learn how she started shooting weddings and developed her signature look.
How long have you been shooting weddings? How did you start?
I've been shooting weddings since 2008, so about 11 years now, but I wasn't always going to be a photographer. Originally I was studying to be a nurse. I was working in the medical field, had finished all my prerequisites, and was applying to nursing programs when I had a mid 20's crisis. I started questioning what I really wanted to do with the rest of my life. As a kid, I would use my earned babysitting money to develop film I shot on my mom's camera and spent time in the darkroom in high school. Looking back it's obvious now I had a passion for photography. I purchased a 26 DLSR and started a blog to share my imagery. After a few months a friend of a friend hired me for $100 to shoot her wedding. It was at the end of that wedding day when I knew I would never feel fulfilled in life unless I was doing something creative. Shortly after my "hobby" caught the attention of a local wedding photographer and I shot 18 weddings with him that summer. I got a crash course in how to handle all sorts of lighting situations unexpected off timeline scenarios, and let's be real, wedding day drama. I was hooked. I booked 14 weddings of my own the following year and put my nursing career on hold indefinitely. A few years later at 29 I decided to go to art school and that's when I rediscovered film photography. I've been shooting weddings on film since 2012.
Did you always include flat lay images in your work?
Yes, but my how they have evolved over the years! When I first started, you would simply lay the shoes on the hotel room floor, no matter how crazy the carpet was. Now I make great efforts to learn what the style and colors are for each wedding and bring along a curated set of props and styling surfaces. I've learned from my stylist and interior design friends that you must always be on the hunt for interesting and unusual pieces. I'm constantly popping into antique stores, pulling over at garage sales, and going to vintage fairs hunting for little trinkets to add to my "prop closet". I've found treasures that have inspired whole styled shoots!
Do you style your own details, or do you enlist the help of a stylist or planner?
I always style my own unless I'm collaborating with a stylist/planner, then we work together on the composition and color palette. I often have them look through my camera viewfinder to help them see what I'm seeing. There's a big difference for styling in real life vs. styling for the camera.
Is it challenging to photograph flat lay details on a busy wedding day? Is there any advice you have to get it all done?
Oh of course! Even now I still get butterflies before the start of the day. It's essential to get there early so that I can gather all the details to see what I have to work with. Even though I ask the bride to have everything gathered in one place, I'm often hunting down the florals or find the best man who is safeguarding the rings. I also look around the venue to see if there's a way I can organically incorporate the setting into the detail shots, especially when it comes to the hanging dress shot. When the bride is getting ready in a tiny apartment or busy hotel room, having a well-curated styling kit is essential!
What are the hardest details to photograph on a wedding day?
The hardest detail for me is the invitation suite. When they have multiple pieces, it can take me up to a half-hour to style it. This is not always possible if it's hectic during the getting ready portion of the day. I often just shoot the rings on the main invitation and then tuck the invite away until dinner when I will have more time. If that doesn't work, I often take the invite home and mail it back to the couple with their proof prints. This is actually my preferred method. I've also strategically planted the most popular wedding flowers in my garden and snip as needed when styling (I'm looking at you Koko Loko rose!). Thoughtfully styled invites will always elevate the whole look of a wedding.
What are your favorite styling tools to use? How do you pack your tools? Do you bring them to every wedding?
I cannot shoot a wedding without my Heirloom Bindery linen styling boards and risers, and my locust collection velvet surface! I've had the same linen board for years and recently added 3 more to mix things up. I'm finding that my couple's wedding designs are becoming increasingly more detailed. In this age of Pinterest, my couples are also expecting more from their details shots. I carry my props in a woven french market bag. I love that it not only looks stylish, but it opens wide so that I can easily find (and stuff!) lots of odd-shaped props inside.
Are there any compositional rules that you use when you style? How do you begin, and what steps do you take? How do you know when you're done?
We are the art directors of our own work. We must create a cohesive curated collection of images that will draw the viewer into the story we are telling and trigger an emotional response. When I speak to potential client's I explain that the wedding pictures should be like a fashion collection meaning everything should look like it belongs together on the runway. During the big day, I'm basically designing their wedding album in my head while I'm shooting the wedding. I'm making sure I not only get the key moments, but all the in-between moments as well. I try to shoot every detail 2-3 different ways and in a variety of focal lengths to have plenty of variety for publication and album design. One trick that really helps me see if a particular composition is working is to take a photo with my iPhone first. It's my modern-day equivalent to a polaroid. If you're struggling with getting your flatlays to work, Rebecca Yale has a wonderful course that helps break down the mechanics of what makes a strong flatlay image. It's cheaper than going to art school and will make the biggest impact on your work! How do I know when I am done? The iPhone polaroid method helps me see with a fresh pair of eyes. That allows me to critique my flatlays more objectively. I always error on the side of less is more when trying to appeal to a luxury market.
To see more of Michele’s work, check out her website at MicheleBeckwith.com.