John Dolan is best known for finding the in-between, unplanned moments that make real people look beautiful and beautiful people look real.
John has woven a career of advertising, editorial and fine art photography. He is a recognized leader in contemporary wedding photography. Wedding clients include magazine art directors and editors, as well as celebrity couples Will & Jada Smith, Ben & Christine Stiller, Kate Bosworth & Michael Polish, Bridget Moynahan & Andrew Frankel, and most recently, Gwyneth Paltrow & Brad Falchuk.
The modern wedding has become so much about the photographs and John takes an approach that is more about the wedding and less about the shot list. He photographs as things happen vs curating and cultivating what wouldn’t otherwise be there.
This is a great interview and hope you like it. (always remember you can subscribe to The Photo Report Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts.
And here’s the transcript from the conversation with John and Braedon:
Braedon Flynn: 00:01 John, thanks so much for coming on the show and sharing your wisdom and all that and stoked to have you here. Awesome. Well, for people that don't know you as well, can you just give a slight background as to, I mean where you are in your photo journey and how you got there.
John Dolan: 00:22 I've been in the game for a long time. I was thinking about last night. It's the only job I've ever had since I was 15 years old. Uh, so I've never had a full time job. I've never had a paycheck from somebody besides myself. So I've had 30 years freelance in New York and I started out as a magazine photographer and slipped my way into weddings in the early days of the nineties and I've always had an ambition to keep weddings as part of my business but not let them be the whole business. So I've balanced magazine work, ad work and weddings for 30 years.
Braedon Flynn: 01:09 I think a lot of people either. I know a lot of commercial photographers that have just recently started getting into weddings because I know when I first started getting into weddings who was sort of like, oh, that's cute, you shoot weddings, and it was almost. It was really frowned upon to shoot weddings. Have you found that to be the case coming from both worlds?
John Dolan: 01:31 Certainly when I started, weddings were the lowest form of photography, even I remember being at a party with a lot of journalists back in the nineties and people were talking about doing projects in Nicaragua or Bosnia and they turned to me and said, what are you doing? I've been shooting weddings and they all kind of frowned at me for a second. And I said, well, I just thought will smith wedding. I shot Ben Stiller's and, they started handing out business cards. Do you need a second?
John Dolan: 02:08 But it was, it was a great moment because I realized that I wasn't ashamed of doing it and I was doing it my way. And also in the nineties it was wide open. There was a very small group of us who embraced wedding as photographers rather than as wedding photographers. When you come to it with that attitude that you're. I really thought of myself as somebody who was fascinated by weddings rather than by the wedding industry. I just wanted to tell the stories that I saw in front of me and and dive deep into them as if I was shooting a magazine story. So it was almost that I was naive to the ways of the wedding industry. That was a real help. Sometimes being being an amateur is a help and I feel for people who are starting these days because the wedding industry is so strong and they're so many great photographers who are. I'm making a really good living, doing big time wedding photography, but in a funny way. It was much more innocent to a movement. We were rejecting the cheesy stuff with the eighties and just doing our thing in the nineties, so it's a tricky time now.
Braedon Flynn: 03:38 We'll get into that in a second, but I'd still love to go back to just going from being a journalist and then going to shooting people like will smith and Ben Stiller. How, how did that end up coming about? Like how do you feel like you started getting into that celebrity circuit?
John Dolan: 03:55 It's funny when you, when you look back on a career, it really is just a series of cobblestones being laid out in front of each job, the cobblestone and you cobble it together for years and there's definitely no such thing as overnight success. I didn't start making money as a shooting photographer till I was 30, so I had a long apprenticeship, a four year apprenticeship with a incredible photographer named Sylvia Plachy. And she was a Village Voice staff photographer and then a New Yorker photographer. And her son is more well known than she is. Her son is Adrian Brody, the actor, but he was just a seventh grade kid when I worked there. And I was at their house every day for four years printing her pictures and her attic. And um, so I, I really had a slow evolving, uh, of my sort of way of seeing as a photographer before I started showing my book around and getting assignments, uh, and then it took me another 10 years of shooting to get the sort of, the first big jobs. So I think it's important for people to slow down and lay your cobblestone slowly and not rush to make it into the whatever top 10 lists you're shooting for.
John Dolan: 05:31 I did, I did 10 years of assignments of various intensity and size that kind of shot everything and learned how to fail at a job miserably and how to surprise myself and how to challenge myself. But, there's also a cheaper time to live in New York City. I could live on $500 a month rent and all those sorts of things. But I really think that slowing down and working on your vision is something that people don't necessarily get to do these days. You know, we're all, we're all our own brand and we're all rushing to make it to the top. That's a long way to get there.
Braedon Flynn: 06:20 Yeah, and I completely 100 percent agree with that and I don't know if you have could right off the top of your head think of what that looks like, but I mean if you were trying to either tell a younger photographer, tell your younger self to slow down in the midst of, you know, this instagram crazy world where everyone's looking at Ronell's those images and you can see what everyone else is doing or appearing to be doing what, what does slowing down and building your, your vision or laying your cobblestones actually look like
John Dolan: 06:55 a great question because it's I who just gave me a lot of work that was not for a lot of money. I worked for a free newspaper in Tribeca in New York, a weekly newspaper and they would give me five assignments and I would get on my bicycle and I would go shoot a restaurant. I'd go shoot a portrait of a politician. I'd go shoot a homeless shelter. I go shoot a feature story and then I'd go back to my dark room, develop the film, make little quick prints. Then that was in the old days of faxing, so I'd fax these wet prints to the art director so he could start laying them out and you know, I did that for a couple of years and it just got me so fluid with being in a situation and having to problem solve and to know what to do when things aren't working.
John Dolan: 08:03 Just all those lessons. And that was not a money job at all, but it was like being in the minor leagues and working on your swing or your throw into the plate. So if you can ever find a situation like that, and it could even be for nonprofit, it could be for your kid's school, it could be for anything right in front of you,, where you get to exercise your eyes and your instincts and how you deal with people. That's the gold at the stuff you'd tap into when you're shooting a big wedding and something goes wrong and there's no sun and no, you have to figure out what, what's in your Ninja tool kit.
Braedon Flynn: 08:51 Yeah, absolutely. I'm a big advocate of. I, I was already shooting. I mean I went to school for business, but then after I got done with my Undergrad College, I went back to a community college and took all of their photo classes and think there was something about learning to make a photo versus just take a photo. But then at the same time the importance, uh, I think it's difficult for a photographer, anyone to self assign, but to, to have a class where a teacher is telling you to go create this or document this, which is. I think it's similar to working at that low pain magazine. But yeah,
John Dolan: 09:35 Here's a radical premise: photography is easy. I've seen people get really good at it in just 6 months, kill it in a year. You get to a really high level. And then I've seen people get completely stuck or frozen after a couple of years of shooting because it came to them so easily. And you know - what other art form can you get good at in six months? With sculpture, painting, drawing, music. I haven't seen people soar in that way because the camera does a huge percentage of it. I've even had students in some of our workshops who just had some really great photographs with then when I asked them about f stops iso, they basically said, oh no, I just put it on 'P', whatever that means. And I shoot my kid by the window and get this great stuff. You know, it's amazing how easy it is to fake it.
John Dolan: 10:35 And I think what that does is it presents an opportunity to challenge yourself where it's not about how to take pictures, it's about why and what do you have to say and what's your passion? What's your, what's your mission? Or the big one also is what's your superpower? And I think that's a great thing to kind of figure out. And I definitely had a light bulb moment as a young photographer, old days in New York, you'd see other photographers walking around town with their portfolios and you'd be incredibly intimidated by, you know, imagine what's in their book. So I meditated on my, in my, in my little apartment, like what am I good at that other people aren't? And the answer was that I get really calm around people who are nervous. So I'm the youngest of six. So, you know, chaos is kind of the norm.
John Dolan: 11:43 I show up and oh good. There's always kids running around the house. So I realized that the first time I did a wedding that was a very comfortable place for me to be, to be in a house with people getting dressed and people yelling at each other where's my shoes, where's my Tuxedo, all that sort of stuff. That was just me as a kid in, in the, uh, you know, in my house with everybody getting ready to go to. So once I found that in my, in my sort of effect, found that a super power, I realized that weddings where the place for me as opposed to, you know, like a corporate portrait where I have five minutes with the CEO, that was not a happy place for me. I'd rather have an eight hour wedding to get my pictures. So it's good for everybody to dig in and say what matches your personality and how do you turn that into an asset photographer?
Braedon Flynn: 12:50 No, that's really important to figure out how to switch switching direction. But you wrote on your blog a little manifesto and I want to read a little part of it and then we'd love to talk more about it. And before I get into that, you, you came from. How many siblings did you have?
John Dolan: 13:10 6 and I'm the youngest one.
Braedon Flynn: 13:11 That's what I thought you had told me before. Uh, yeah. So chaos would be comfortable for you.
John Dolan: 13:17 Yep.
Braedon Flynn: 13:18 So to your manifesto says: 'As a wedding season comes to a close. I have some reflections on the role we play as photographers. Pop culture would have us believe that a wedding must be perfect down to every last detail to be successful. I see things differently in my experience. It's precisely the unpredictability of a wedding that often makes it memorable. Photographers have a great opportunity to look beyond the shortlist list and find beauty and truth in these imperfect moments. Current trends in photography have inadvertently reinforce and unattainable ideal of perfection by focusing on flawless over the real brides and grooms may not realize that many of these images they see online are actually produced during styled shoots, a shot weeks before the actual wedding. While these photographs maybe inspirational, they often end up creating an unrealistic expectation of what can be achieved during a compressed and stressed wedding timeline. What if wedding photographs aren't only meant to depict dreamy romance, but instead chronicle a full range of emotions" - and then you go on to talk a lot more and and what you do and how you do it. But can you, and I know we chatted about a bit out at engage and you spoke out there. Could you just sort of go into where your heart is behind a lot of this and some of your passions?
John Dolan: 14:34 Well, it comes from what I've seen at weddings and I realize because they're, imagining what people are going to see of their wedding, what people are going to think of their wedding based on this false ideal that they've seen at other weddings. So it's a really strange loop. Um, and so, and the other thing is that I've always been fascinated by the sort of salty and the sweet at weddings, the melancholy, the stress of all that stuff makes a wedding rich for me and to only see photographs that are, uh, don't even know the term to use, but they're, they're only showing a. it's really when you see people posting saying best day ever and the day was perfect. Everything was perfect. Sometimes feels like they're selling something to you or they're a, it's all to sugar sweet from my point of view, when there's so much richness in the rest of the wedding.
John Dolan: 16:01 And it's not to say that we're not taking romantic pictures, but I'm just trying to expand the, the shortlist from the pretty to the real and to come away with pictures that ring true to the wedding, not to the ideal of the wedding. So it's funny, a little shift, but why is the wedding industry so a narrow in its portrayal of what weddings are. I'm afraid the answer is that it's because that's where the greatest profit is. There's no doubt you can make a lot of money by making really pretty pictures. But I'd take the role in a different way, I take the role of photographer as a historian, as a cultural historian, as a family chronicler. I take that seriously. So I don't want my pictures in 20 years to be the kind of.......let me take it a different way. If you look back at wedding photos from the seventies or eighties, there's something about them that's kind of fake. And it was, as I've looked at those pictures, the way the photographer's treated, the bride and groom's was in this kind of fuzzy ideal of marriage, during a time when, when marriages were in rough shape in a lot of parts of the country.
John Dolan: 17:43 So I don't want to make wedding photographs that are this kind of false dream world. It's a really funny thing. It's we have an observation as photographers tell the truth, doesn't have to be the absolute truth, but has to ring true. So my hope is that the photographs that I take will be discovered by some child in 20 years and when they open up that box of photographs, they can feel what their parents were like in 2018, what they looked like and what their real personality was as opposed to some idealized version of that.
John Dolan: 18:31 And also, this is my, this has always been my approach. I know that some people really revel in the other approach to make the dreamy idealized view. but I'm fascinated by finding that essence of every wedding. And that's what's kept it fresh for me for 30 years is that I don't know what I'm going to get an each wedding I kind of enter and try to discover something from that couple in particular and not just stick them in the same setting and have the bride turn back to the camera and fire away.
Braedon Flynn: 19:14 Can you talk through how that plays out for you? Like how do you approach a wedding and what are you..... You know, it sounds like you're trying to come away with the authenticity, but what is, what does that look like for you and how do you feel like that's different than what is happening?
John Dolan: 19:33 The first thing I do take a nap. So I have all my gear laid out, I have my suit laid out and then if I'm leaving to go to the wedding at 2:00 all just like lie down for 10 minutes and I'm sorta emptying my eyes, empty my brain and just sort of saying, "I don't know what's gonna happen today. I'm really looking at almost like a novelist or a short story writer. So I'm thinking of these two families coming together and entering into this union and so I, I really set myself as a kind of empty vessel to be filled up by the day. And then once I start, um, I almost throw away the shot list because at this point I know what the shot list is. I, I, I entered that house and I put my sensors on high alert.
John Dolan: 20:42 Like what is going on with this family? What's going on between the mother and the daughter? Where's the stress point? Who's going to be complicated today? You know, there's, every family has usually one family member who calls him a little, a little bit of extra stress. I don't want to give the impression that I'm shooting edgy pictures of stressed out people fighting with each other. I'm just looking for subtlety and narrative and just, I'm trying to look at each person and imagine how they're experiencing the day. And the interesting thing is that the older I've gotten, I've shifted now where I'm seeing what the dads are going through. I'm really keyed in on father of the bride because I have my daughter's 23, 24 now. It's like all of a sudden I can see myself in these people and I go up to these guys and go, "man, you like the guy she's married because that's big."
John Dolan: 21:46 You're like, you're adopting somebody, you know, so my point of view has shifted and, but still I'm, I'm just kind of um, observe her neutral observer. I don't have an agenda and I'm just trying to really feel what it's like to feel what it feels like in a house full of nervous people. I guess my goal is that six weeks later when the bride sees these pictures that I tap back into exactly what she was feeling at that moment. So that's why I don't direct people at their wedding because I don't want to be the person changing their flow of the day or you know, they're express their feelings and emotion. I don't want to mess with that. I think that's kind of not our job as photographers. I certainly guide people into good light, but I would never tell somebody put your hand here. It just feels like I'd be violating some code of a, I don't know, a little private code.
Braedon Flynn: 23:14 I hear you not to be contrary, but to sort of just have a conversation on this because I would say from my, the way that I approach it is, I mean the photos that I love the most are the candid images and I think I've found over the years of shooting is that there are.... It'll be a of a question I'm going to ask him a little bit is how much you feel, you know, blogs and magazines and that sort of pressure is put on the expectation of the photographer and the bride. But going back to this is: I mean I find that as much as I always tell people, I'm getting "Both And" where I think I even at the reception I say less because I had a handful of weddings where my first weddings, the brides were very coming from the fashion editorial world. And say we want nothing traditional, just be as candid as you can.
Braedon Flynn: 24:09 And I would shoot that. And then, and those weddings got featured in magazines and they came out beautifully and the couple was really happy, but then I was getting mom writing back and being like, where these photos? Why are there no photos of people just looking at the camera? And I told her that her daughter didn't want that, you know, so. So now I say, "listen, those are my favorite photographs as well and I get those, but I'm also going to make, I'm shooting, I'm looking for the laughter at the reception, but then I'm also going to walk up and say, Hey, can I grab your photo and have people look at the camera and take their picture?" So it's, I'm getting, I feel like I'm getting both, but it's in a very natural, candid way.
John Dolan: 24:46 I'm with you 100 percent at a certain part of the wedding from being the neutral observer to being a welcome guest. And I think really what I, I've evolved into is that I'm much more patient than I used to be. So, uh, now I'll kind of wait for the wedding to open up to me rather than force myself into it. In other words, I start slowly and want to get to know people and I talked to people and I mingle and I hang with the bridesmaids and I make friends with the groomsmen and it's a real process to be led into a group of strangers. But it's, it's a funny thing that how I am as a photographer effects the pictures. So the, the, the older I've gotten, the more comfortable I am with, I'm just kind of putting the camera down and engaging with people first and a kind of human level and then the picture is so much better, rather than just walking up to somebody cold and, you know, just firing away. It is a real rhythm to the whole weekend. In fact, when I do weekend wedding where I'm on the outside and then I'm, I find my allies and I worked my way in and, you know, the best ones end up with me on the dance floor dancing with the bride. And um, but that's a are from being total strangers to being intimate strangers, you know.
Braedon Flynn: 26:38 Absolutely.
John Dolan: 26:40 And that's the really glorious thing about this. We do, we do see things, family drama that nobody else gets to see that the photographer is a privileged position. And it's definitely some reason that I've, uh, that I'm really big on leaving egos at the door, you know, when, when, when you start the job, you're this kind of invisible and then very visible and invisible and you kind of shift back and forth, um, in your presence at the wedding. But it's never about me. It's their wedding. It's just there to squeeze the essence out of it. But whenever a, whenever the photographer or the videographer becomes too big a role, the wedding, it seems really wrong to me.
Braedon Flynn: 27:40 Yeah, I totally agree with that. But I want to go back to the directing, not directing because I,
John Dolan: 27:53 yes, I mean, I saw how you moved at Engage and very much a similar thing where you're, dancing with people as you're photographing them. You're engaging with them physically and with your eyes and emotionally and get the best picture out of them and then you're moving on and you keep moving. But I'm not averse to jumping in when somebody set up a group picture of five friends from college with their iphone, I jump right in on that and grab it because I don't know what the five friends from high school or college are. So, but I know I can't even say that I have one way of working. It's very intuitive and it's very dependent on what I think I need for the story and what I think is happening at that moment. And um, so there are certainly times when I could tell the bride doesn't want me to direct it all. And there are certain times when the bride through says, can you get this and this? So there's not a one size fits all. I tend to get a lot of people who are shy and a little bit older and are, I'm really into photography but not into being the center of attention.
John Dolan: 29:25 And, and those brides are just the greatest. They're challenging because they're shy, but they're incredibly grateful when you bring them 12 really beautiful pictures because they didn't expect that. I think if you have a high maintenance bride who'd love being in front of the camera, you know, that's, that can be trickier. But...
Braedon Flynn: 29:49 totally, I mean I would say that almost every single couple, whether you know, that they're going to be obsolete simple in front of the camera because they're ridiculously good looking or from couples who just like are more shy and nervous or don't like the center of attention. Generally. Everybody tells me like we're not really good in front of the camera, you know? And I say like, "listen, unless you're a model, what other time in your life are you being photographed for? You're looking at going, I'm going to have like 30 minutes where I'm going going to be the center of attention." And I think couples feel this pressure that they need to perform for the camera. So what I generally say is, "listen, I'm going to direct you through this whole process so you don't have to perform so because ultimately what you've resonated with my images is that they're really candid and natural, but I'm directing you through that whole process."
Braedon Flynn: 30:40 I can. And so I'm not telling people, put your hand here, put your hand in there. But it is still, I feel like I'm directing them so they don't have to think about what they're doing and they can just be with each other, which I think is probably what you're doing when you're saying you're directing them into light. But I think if you just leave them to do, it's almost like that, you know, will, will ferrell thing. It was like, well what do I do with my hands? You know? So it just like, hey listen, just be with each other. If I needed to look at me, I'll tell you to look at me, but just be, walk and it's moving quickly through the space and it's just so they don't have to like think that they're being photographed.
John Dolan: 31:14 Yes. The only thing I would add is that I'm sort of loving slightly awkward moments, that is if the couple is really awkward. I had one couple recently they told me they were awkward and then I did a little quick engagement shoot and I thought to myself, yes they are super awkward
John Dolan: 31:35 and but then at their wedding, even on their wedding day, they were very awkward. They're just super smart and super shy and self conscious than they're just way too smart for the camera. But the awkwardness they loved in the pictures, it just completely worked for them because it's, it reflected who they were and I know that if I had gotten frustrated with that and wished for them to no really do something magnificent, they would have just been miserable. So it's about reading. It's about knowing the people and really reading those signs of what they're capable of or what they're willing to do. And, you know, I just, my main thing is I do not want to add any more stress to the day. I want to take stress away from constantly sort of reading the temperature of a couple and you know, how they're doing, they need a break. Um, sometimes I leveraged that and if I see them being stressed by family or something, I said let's leave the tents and go take a quick walk. And people love that. People often really loved the relief of that.
Braedon Flynn: 32:54 Yeah. It's funny because I think a lot of the things that you're describing that you think through do is I don't even, it's just sort of a natural piece of
Braedon Flynn: 33:06 my personality. You know, it's that warmth of just making people feel comfortable. Like I literally tell brides like, your maid of honor is going to be a little jealous because you are my person on the day, you know, as like there's those elements where I feel like it's such a win when the bride is coming to you asking for a peanut. It's like, what do you think I should do with my hair? Or like, you know, like those little things of I think it is that element of really gaining trust. And, I mean to me that is the most special thing about the day is when, when you are so valued in that position of trust,
John Dolan: 33:48 Yes, but also your personality is that you're a positive force. We are neutral and I think sometimes I see other photographers at weddings occasionally who are working so hard and you know, just really trying to crush it. And I think that's good to remember that you've got plenty of time and the more effortless it looks like the more effortless you make it look the better it is just for everybody. And I regularly hear stories of people who went to another wedding and the photographer took the bride and groom away for two hours to take pictures. She pictures and the bride and groom missed the cocktail hour and all that stuff. And I just think he doesn't have to be that way. We can get our pictures, we can make it fun. It's not our wedding and
John Dolan: 35:00 it's not our photoshoot. And that, that gets back to the funny thing about, that's the trend of styled shoots had this accidental thing that came after it is that people think they can get that on their wedding day. Like, yeah, can we inbetween the ceremony and the reception, can we go take a helicopter up to a cliff in New Zealand photo shoot? Well, how about we just stand here and blow out the background or. No, I, I really think we can, uh, can relieve pressure and still come away with a pictures and people just appreciate it so much that we didn't take the whole day for them.
Braedon Flynn: 35:55 I think going on that same styled shoot. Do you, because you've seen things come into existence and now they're here like blogs and, and a lot of the social media. How do you feel like that has changed the industry or even expectations and do you feel them and all that sort of stuff.
John Dolan: 36:23 I mean I just have one basic thought that's been spinning around my head for the last 15 years or so. Why does, why do most photographers stay in the herd and just kind of a herd mentality. And everybody imitates each other and I keep looking for people to break out and reinvented, um, and find her own way. And yeah, certainly bride reinventing their weddings and doing things differently and having less formal things. But photography still feels to me like it's in a very narrow bandwidth. And um, you know, I just, I'm really curious to see what people do and it gets back to this central thing that for me, the most important person to please at a wedding and the bride, it's not the planner of the mother's fried, but it's myself. So, you know, I want to, at each wedding I want to make pictures that I haven't seen before and push myself into this other area and, and not just take the same pictures, but I don't see as much of that as I would love to. And um, and I think that when, no, when I've looked at blogs, they all follow a set pattern of the bride and groom's name at the top and then pictures of the dress and the shoes and all that sort of stuff. And then 30 other pictures that all kind of look a little predictable, even though the quality is super high, it doesn't feel to me like, uh, people are pushing the boundaries or taking risks, which is what I would love to see just from my own eyes.
Braedon Flynn: 38:20 Can I ask that question or statement to give an example of where I'm going with this is let's say you were hired for a commercial job from, for an ad campaign of a particular. And they have, you know, like here's our expectations. If I feel like there's an element. If you were to just go out and shoot what you wanted, you know, it's like that element of like you're getting paid to do a job, you've got to deliver on the job.
John Dolan: 38:54 The way I flipped it in my head, if I'm doing a job for tiffany's or something, art director, no, I have great respect for the art director and their vision aiming for that. What I've seen at weddings is that the typical bride groom are 28, 29. They'd never done this before and they don't know what they don't know and they don't know. They know what they've seen on blogs and Pinterest, but they're coming to me to, to capture something they haven't seen before. So when I. So I actually think, I know I have higher standards than most of my clients.
Braedon Flynn: 39:43 Yes.
John Dolan: 39:43 So that's the difference. Our jobs are definitely different. A wedding is almost too important to leave into the hands of a person who's doing it for the first time. but it's, that's a really great window into the mindset of most photographers where you want to be professional, you want to do a great job. But I would contend that weddings are different. you are, you're a specialist coming into blow them away or to, I don't know what the equivalent is, but it's a very unique job and I treated totally differently than my, my other jobs.
Braedon Flynn: 40:33 I'm assuming you know Art Strieber? I went to one of his workshops. For people that don't know who he is, he's a pretty massive commercial photographer. Amazing work. And I went out to the palm springs photo expo a couple years ago and heard him speak and went to his workshop and one of the things that he said was he, takes on a lot of basically editorial jobs or his personal work because, you know, they don't pay all that much and, but he, he said, listen, I owe it. They have an expectation and that's why they're bringing me on. "And so I'm doing a job and. But what I do is I do, I get their shot. I just basically like one for them, one for me. So I get the shot that I know that they want, that's the safe shot. And then I go out there and I do what I want to do that I feel like is art to me."
Braedon Flynn: 41:19 And so I think I've always taken that approach is where, and I think it goes back to those first couple of weddings where I would get emails from the mom saying where these photos. I was like, listen, I don't necessarily care for the photo of the bride and groom just looking at the camera smiling. But I now say, listen, I'm going to end up getting these felt like because I want to come away with something that was better than the last thing that I shot. And I think that's a constantly difficult thing to do when you are shooting. But being able to also get like, listen, I'm getting the photo when they are walking into the light and they already are smiling. Be able to turn around and say, all right, put your cheeks together and put your arms around each other.
Braedon Flynn: 41:57 Click, click. We've got a nice classic photo and then we're gonna keep on. But I think for, I know for me and it, and it could be different for you, but the, uh, that element of still coming away with those traditional photos, but then I, the element of once you've got those are in the middle of getting those. Then being able to like take it and be a little bit more creative and do the thing that you're gonna walk away with. And I think for younger photographers, like if that's what you're trying to do, don't show the safe photos. Show show the photos that you're the most proud of and then eventually it gets to the point where like where you are, John, like if, if that person from tiffany's hires you, they're hiring you because they know you have a voice and they know that you have a point of view and so hopefully at a certain point by starting to only feature those images really resonate with you. People are going to hire you for that. And then you get to do that thing.
John Dolan: 42:51 That's exactly the core of it. If you don't have a distinct voice, you're not going to move up the ranks. There's everyone knows Jose is. Look, everyone knows, uh, if you don't have a specific vision and point of view, then you're just taking pictures every Saturday and it's, you know, you can make a living but you won't be able to stay in it. You won't be able to grow as an artist. And No, I think that along the way at a wedding I'm shooting, I'm aiming high, but even when I Miss, when I'm aiming high, I'm hitting the middle and I'll please the mom. And I definitely learned that years ago that you need that one picture for the piano or the mantlepiece, so, so, you know, that's definitely not worth missing. Um, and it's amazing how often I still forget that picture and then, oh, better get that
Braedon Flynn: 43:57 and it's so easy to get to,
John Dolan: 43:59 but it's so easy to get. But the real thing is that if I, if I aim towards the middle and then I'm down in the drink, if I aim high and miss, I'm still, I'm still hitting the middle and then pleasing a lot of people. But it's, it's about, um, again, sort of a cobbling together of images that create this mosaic of what happened that day. But um, but I need those 12 slash 15 peak pictures, high point pictures. It doesn't necessarily have to necessarily have to be as specific thing on the list and the timeline. But I just think in our memory of an event, we remember, you know, eight to 12 things in our mind, or at least that's what I want to bring to the bride and groom when I'd be over there. Pictures want to bring these, these peak moments of list or a tension or beauty or truth or beauty or whatever it is. But um, it, it's all there. We just have to sift through and find it.
Braedon Flynn: 45:22 If someone was listening and thinking, man, I don't know if I do have a voice in my images yet and I really want that. What, how would you encourage someone to find that voice?
John Dolan: 45:39 Well, because I had written down, I had written something down, uh, after I saw and there's a great moment. We're broadly talking to lady Gaga and they're on a balcony overlooking La. It kind of says to her, a lot of people can sing really well, but what's your, what's deep in your soul that you're going to share with the world? And I thought that was just completely app to the whole conversation that know a lot of people can shoot pictures. So what gets you anything anymore? It's no dig deep. And I would say turn off your follow up following a people who are like you and dig into other sources of inspiration. So for me, that's a, uh, I love older photography and discovering new photographers from the fifties and forties and thirties and back. Uh, I love reading short stories and uh, I love reading really good detective novels because they're completely observational.
John Dolan: 47:01 So the detective walks in a room and can see all these relationships that informs me as photographer. I love watching really good television. There's just an incredible time for tv before the visual aspect and the light and the camera movement. And I watched TV in a very active way. Same with, with films and older films things. So, you know, you've got to find your source of inspiration, but I wouldn't suggest following photographers. You can get caught up in that. The hyper loop of blogs and Instagram, you're gonna your brain's going to explode and that's not a good thing.
Braedon Flynn: 47:49 Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. It's either been, if, obviously if you're listening to this, you probably shooting weddings to some degree, but you know, looking more at fashion magazines. I love looking at Bon appetit and the way that people shoot food and even just like the way that they shoot portraits of the chefs. There's so many amazing styles of photography and if you're just looking at other wedding photographers, it's really difficult. It's almost like it's hard not to plagiarize when you're just reading one author, you know, it's, it's hard not to sound like a muse, a certain musician if that's the only musician he listened to. I think. Yeah, there's that element of being able to look outside of your craft and even looking at paintings look like all that sort of stuff. Yeah.
John Dolan: 48:36 No, I just got contacted by a woman in South Africa who started a new instagram account called counterpart and she just reached out to me and started talking, but she's featuring kind of out of wedding photographs from history or current, but I just really applaud her for trying something like that. Just curating pictures that haven't been seen before and know how do you stretch it all out and replenish your inspiration and your creative soul because uh, you know, there's always that balance between art and commerce. And I think photographers these days are so strong on the commerce and on the Seo and I'm posting and all that sort of stuff. But are you filling your art quota for the day? I, are. You feeling your inspiration that outside the wedding industry and um, it'll, it'll really make it so you can stay relevant and stay fresh and I highly encourage it.
Braedon Flynn: 49:53 This was a really enlightening conversation and I hope that other people listening find that as well because I, I just love your perspective and point of view and also the fact that there is such a young industry, but it's the, I feel like the barrier to entry is so low. There's so many people that have only been in it for a few years and to have someone being it for as long as you have. And I mean I, and I'm always looking to that as well, being that I've been in here for vet as well, trying to figure out how to, how to continually do this and make a living doing this while supporting a family and then also not burning out. And, um, maybe maybe we could end on that element as I just thought of it is for shooting for this long. How do you feel like, have you gone through burnout? Have you, have you gotten out of it? How do you not get into it?
John Dolan: 50:46 Uh, I definitely went through burnout. Child was born. I realized that I had shot, realized I'd shot pretty much every beautiful weekend
John Dolan: 51:02 in New York. We have made June, September, October, and I used to do 20 weddings a year and like every beautiful weekend was gone, so definitely slowed down after that. And then now I do 10, the 10 to 12 a year and it's great. And I would encourage people know if you're feeling any burnout, then do a wedding for a family member for free or for 500 bucks or something and just go as a, bring one camera and just shoot completely fresh without the obligation of pleasing that big fancy wedding planner or big fancy, broad. Um, I have a big family as he knows. So my nieces and nephews are getting married and each of their weddings has just been incredible because I been a guest, I've been a relative, I fit in all these different boxes while shooting it as well. So I kind of love the spirit of that where I'm just part of the party and in it and dancing with everybody and, and I'm not trying to please anybody except just making our family history.
John Dolan: 52:19 So I do a wedding for free or for, for fun every once in awhile, like once a year. And um, and that definitely helped use your winter time if you get a break during the winter, use that too. Reenergize and make a battle plan for the next year. Um, and uh, one other thing you said earlier, Bryan, was don't show pictures to clients that you don't love. Don't try to please the client. Don't try to sell them, uh, on something. It should be a really strong match. And whenever possible, I'd say meet people in person and look in their eyes and see if you want to make pictures for them and not. It's not, you're not trying to sell yourself, you're trying to see, am I the right photographer for this wedding, but showing pictures that really get to the core of your vision and your superpower during meeting is
Speaker 3: 53:26 super crucial.
Braedon Flynn: 53:28 That's huge. Yeah, it is. Those are the things that either make the job life giving or life sucking is when it's not a good fit, you know?
John Dolan: 53:39 Yes. There is. There's a real energy exchange at weddings. You put out a lot of energy as the good ones. You've come back to your home, to your family and go, I was filled up by that weekend. Totally. And that's, that's really the guiding principle for me is if I make great pictures, I come back really fulfilled.
Braedon Flynn: 54:02 Love it. Well, hey, thanks so much for just sharing your knowledge and if people want to see more of your work, is it just John Dolan Dot com?
John Dolan: 54:11 There is a secret, a secret other part of the website. [inaudible] dot com slash wedding.
Braedon Flynn: 54:17 Alright, perfect. And then to find really hidden, defined your manifest so they can go to blog dot John Dolan.com and they can read that whole article, which is great. On what? Well, thanks again and hopefully get to see us in. Fantastic man.