Melbourne photographer Eric Ronald has won the AIPP Australian Album of the Year Award in 2017, 2018 and 2019, not only due to his cinematic photography skills, but his careful planning, shooting with intention, and skill in laying out the photos and pages to maximise emotion and tell the full story of the couple’s day. Read on for enlightenment.
This article was written by Peter Eastway and originally published in the AIPP Journal July 2019 edition.
To give you a feel for the flow of Eric’s album and the beauty of his visual storytelling, enjoy a moment flicking through this album he created for Suzi and Omar’s epic wedding in Egypt. It won him his 2017 APPA Award and the International Wedding Photographer of the Year Album Award 2020.
Pre-Production For Album Designs
Eric Ronald APP AAIPP explains that putting together an album isn’t something he does as an afterthought, rather it is an integral part of the way he covers a wedding shoot.
“My approach is broader than just producing an album. It’s all about presenting images as a series or a collection – and more precisely, as a sequence of linked images sequenced in a considered way. It’s a frame of mind you adopt even before you click the shutter. It starts in the conceptual stages, whether we’re talking about lighting or a visual theme that might flow through a story, and follows through to post-production and presentation.
“Creating an album is just one way I present the stories I produce. Equally important are the slide shows I produce for the bride and groom and even my blog posts are carefully positioned in terms of how one image flows into the next.
“However, the most exciting form for me is the album. An album turns my work into something that is tangible, a physical record and a creative representation of the couple’s wedding day. It also lets me go beyond the money shots and present a really considered, cohesive narrative.”
Start with the shoot
Eric made it clear that designing a wedding album for him doesn’t start with an edit of a shoot. Rather it begins by getting to know his clients and not just accepting the mundane aspects of the wedding day, wherever it may be.
“I’ll research the locations I’m shooting at, looking for different opportunities and then problem solving them. For instance, the winning album last year was shot in Kenya, but it was quite tricky because the ceremony was happening inside a city restaurant with a small garden surrounded by razor wire and security guards! It was going to be a wonderful wedding inside, but how could I show it was happening in Kenya and not in Melbourne?”
“This is why pre-production and planning are so important – by thinking of the story and how it will flow before you even begin, you can come up with ideas that solve the problems of working in challenging locations. It sets you up for success.”
To inject a little Africa into an otherwise nondescript location, Eric suggested a pre-wedding portrait session out in the beautiful Kenyan landscape.
“My clients had to shuffle things around a bit and, as they had already booked me, I did it at no extra charge because it was important to me. I researched local national parks and settled on Hells Gate because we could walk away from the car and there weren’t any predators that could maul us! It might have produced some great viral wedding shots, but no!
“That’s a really simple example of how research and planning can transform a job and the photos from the national park feature heavily in the album.
“Another challenge was the portrait photography on the wedding day. Neither the hotel where they were staying or the reception venue were going to work, but between the two there was a freeway under construction. Knowing that I would already have some beautiful landscape shots from the portrait shoot, I could confidently go for a true ‘Nairobi’ location. There was some great directional light and lots of concrete, dirt and dust.”
The final hurdle was to problem solve the location where they were getting dressed, a relatively benign high rise hotel with little to offer. There was only so much Eric felt he could achieve here, so he came up with an idea for the album pages, juxtaposing closeups of African wildlife with photos of the clients getting ready.
“The guests and wedding couple were sightseeing around Nairobi, including an elephant and giraffe sanctuary, so this allowed me to take some closeup shots of the animals. I managed to shoot them in light that could pass for being indoors and then, on the wedding day, I shot the bride and groom in similar light as they were getting ready. In the album, this allowed me to play with the idea of juxtaposing shots of the animals with the bride and groom, weaving into the album pages the African theme.”
Emphasised Eric, if you research and plan your shoot, the album almost designs itself.
“I delivered around 1500 images to my clients (which is quite a lot for me) and the images flowed from one shot to the next. When it comes to producing an album, it’s a matter of cherry picking the key building blocks for the story and presenting the strongest and most effective images. If you have done the shoot properly, this can be the most challenging job, working out the best images and how they sit alongside each other.
Establish A Story
“It’s easy to get too emotionally attached to what we’ve produced, but once you remove yourself a little, eventually it becomes clear which are the strongest images. And it’s not just a matter of picking shots of the bride and groom, but also those important photojournalist moments and some establishing shots that tell the story.”
It’s here that Eric’s background as a cinematographer comes out and the language he’s using. “I guess it’s a cinematic approach, considering how each photo sits in the story and communicates information from one page to the next.
“It’s all about using photos as building blocks and piecing together the bigger story. Investing time in pre-production sets you up for later success.”
Eric uses SmartAlbums to design his albums. “It really streamlines the process.
“For instance, by colour coding the images in Bridge, they are recognised in SmartAlbums and given more prominence. So, in some ways the album is already designed, but there are still a few layers to consider. I like the idea of cinematic story-telling, so each shot needs to support the next one as well as the overall design philosophy.
“Normally each spread should display photos that fit together in one way or another, or if they don’t support each other, they should be intentionally different. And sometimes you might just want a single image on a spread for impact, or you might put a whole bunch of smaller images on a spread – like the dance floor coverage which is important for the story, but doesn’t need too much space.
“When it comes to the actual graphic design, I think it’s important to think of the images as having a ‘volume’ dial. Having two small photos on a spread, side by side, might be like two quiet moments, encouraging the reader to lean in and explore them more closely. The next spread could be a large, full-bleed photo that shouts at the reader. In this way, you can take the reader on a journey with more interest and impact.”
Eric used to have his albums printed overseas, but for the past couple of years he’s been using Momento Pro in Sydney.
“I was keen to switch over to an Australian supplier without compromising on quality and, after researching what was on offer, I settled on Momento Pro for all my albums. They are great people to work with and they’re always up for trying anything new as well – even to the extent of using some faux zebra material for the cover of my album. I’m not sure how often they’d get a request like that! Be aware though that anything custom comes with a bigger price tag and takes longer to produce too.
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