Artist Interview with Joel and Justyna
Looking for the best photographers in Ottawa? You just found them! Check out the romantic work of Joel and Justyna and read on to learn more about them.
Your work is very distinctive, how did you get started as wedding photographers?
Joel comes from a family of photographers - his father, Michael Bedford, was the official Canadian photographer for HRH Queen Elizabeth II on her many visits to Canada's capital, Ottawa. You would think Joel would have immediately fallen into photography, but it took him a number of years to circle it, working indirectly as a model and retoucher before deciding to start using a camera for himself. Justyna comes from a fine-art background. Although she pretty much always had a camera around her neck, she never really considered this as a career path until she met Joel. It's all rather serendipitous. We've been together for 10 years, we've been shooting together for 12 years, and we don't think we would be where we are, if it wasn't for our fateful meeting based on an ad Justyna posted on Craigslist, looking for a photographer to work with on a magazine she was co-publishing.
When did you first realize you had fallen in love with artform?
Joel: I really started to love wedding photography when Justyna and I started shooting together. Before that, I had shot around 2 seasons on my own, but I didn't really know that there could be more to it than what was already in my local periphery. Once we shot a few events together and established our flow, I really started looking forward to every event we would shoot together. We balance each other perfectly.
What are your favorite parts of the wedding day? Getting ready, the first look, the party etc...
I (Justyna) love that while the ingredients may be the same, the recipe is mine to re-interpret, if that makes sense. I'm confined creatively to work within the mold of what a wedding day looks like, but I dig deeper, and always find something new and inspiring. Also - as a wedding photographer, you HAVE to love people. You have to be curious about people. Your best work comes when you allow yourself to fall in love with who you're shooting.
Joel: I just love that it's going to be one of the happiest days if not they happiest day of the couple's lives. It's amazing to realize that. To be able to add to that joy, even to augment it, to keep things smooth, to not only be honored as the one to capture the fleeting moments, but to serve as a stable force in a day that can also be quite hectic - and to do it all within the time constraints that have to be imposed. It's energizing. Moreover, wedding photography is part portrait, part fashion, part documentary, part landscape. All my favorite types of photography are wrapped into one, highly concentrated affair. It's wonderful!
What is your creative process when looking through a camera?
(Justyna) - a lot of split second decisions, because there's any number of ways to capture a moment, but I always try to think "how do I want them to remember this?" - I'm deeply inspired by film-makers, and I try to bring that into my own work. I always consider angle, shutter speed, composition, light-play, lens choices - I try not to repeat myself too often and always strive to think beyond the photos, because our job is to give our clients memories. Time passes and it's human nature to forget things, to forget details, but HOW we capture their memories will ultimately mesh with the memories they've made.
Joel: Like Justyna, I'm always making split second decisions; what to include in the frame? What to exclude? Would the light be better over here? If so, how much time do we have to walk there? How are the bride and groom feeling at the moment? Are they feeling energized or a little burnt out? How are they as people? Shy? Extroverted? How are they as a couple? Reserved or outgoing? I think beyond what goes on in a technical way, I'm always checking in (be it outright or subversively) with the couple. The last thing I want is to hijack someone's wedding day with a bunch of shots that feel like 'tasks'. I've even cut some portrait sessions short - even though the light was great and I could get 'just a few more' - in lieu of allowing the couple to feel the moment without always having a camera pointed at them. It's counterintuitive, I know, but like with music, painting, acting, or any art, it's important to allow for breathing room. In a technical sense, my mind tends to look for balance, harmony, and geometry - composition, essentially - in order to frame the couple, or individual, in an interesting way, ideally allowing the frame to support the cast, if that makes sense.
How do you prepare for a big wedding?
We travel a bit more lightly than we usually do, but we still take five cameras (two each plus one extra backup), lots and lots of batteries, backup memory cards, two external hard-drives to make a copy (and another) of the images as soon as we're back in our hotel. We make sure that our car is rented ahead of time, that there's ample room on our credit cards, and that our passports are up-to-date (the last 6 months on your passport doesn't count and they can deny you - and will - if your passport is expiring in that timeframe). We also make sure that we arrive two days before (if we have to fly longer than 4 hours) our first event in case of flight delays or the unforeseen. We want to make it as easy on ourselves as possible because, especially when flying to Europe and landing in the morning after a shitty sleep. It's easy to feel disorganized and flustered if we have slow or confusing car-rentals or have to navigate terribly marked roads. That's why we double check all our reservations, and download maps ahead of time so they're all cached on our phones and we don't have to rely on data very much once we land.
What should brides and grooms look for when shopping for a wedding photographer?
Firstly, connection. It's been said so many times, but it really is true: you have to LIKE the person they are, and feel comfortable around them - comfortable enough to bear all your emotions that will come on their wedding day. Get a sense of who they are with an in-person or at least FT meeting. Secondly, you have to love their portfolio, and we don't just mean Instagram. While we all use the medium, Instagram is really easy to "curate" and it doesn't give you a full sense of what to expect from a photographer. We like to think that every photo we take is an abstract selfie in a sense - the photographer is present in those photos, the question is, how present do you want them to be? There's so much more to creating great photographs beyond technical knowledge. Do see a full portfolio, or at least several blog posts.
If your next destination wedding was anywhere of your choosing, where would you go and why?
Joel: I adore France, so I wouldn't complain about traveling there to shoot a wedding again. We covered a wonderful wedding in St. Tropez a few years ago, and we would love to revisit a wedding in a region like Grasse, or Aix-de-Provence in the spring or summer. Otherwise, a traditional Shinto wedding in Japan amongst the Sakura bloom would be epic!
When it comes to inspiration, who are your favorite photographers, painters, musicians or other artists that are not in the industry?
(Justyna) Jacques Henri Lartigue and Paolo Roversi. I think its pretty obvious why if you look at my work and theirs - I love JHL for his off-the-cuff imprints of memories - they're so lovely, and even though he has a specific point of view, you never feel like his footprint is cemented into the moment he captures. Paolo Roversi is just plain a modern-romantic master. To me, he is Rembrandt with a large format camera.
Joel: My mom had a subscription to Vanity Fair, so for years - mostly in the late 80's and 90's, I'd flip through and be enthralled with Annie Leibovitz's prolific style. She could shoot with strobes, without, have big productions with tons of people or a simple, intimate session with a subject. She could shoot groups well, too. She usually had an interesting concept when it came to her celebrity portraits and her post-production work was mesmerizing. I studied the photos intensely. More recently, I was obsessed with the fashion work of Mert + Marcus. They're use of colour, lighting, and post-work makes their photos practically jumped off the page. I could tell that they were just having so much fun making their photos and it was contagious. Anytime I pour over their images, it makes me want to pick up a camera and shoot!
Other than photography, what do you love to do?
(Justyna) Fashion, a day at the museum, people watching at cafes, my favourite films and film-makers.
Joel: Travel is big for me; to be able to land in a place and it be so different than the place I was just in only hours before. I remember the first time I went to Europe when I was 23 and landed in Paris. I was on zero sleep, but was immediately so fascinated by the sights, sounds, smells, that I walked from the 11e to the 17e arrondissement and back (that's like 5 hours there and back)! To this day, I can still smell the vendors roasting chestnuts, the uniquely European cigarettes, the diesel exhaust. It blew my mind and travel still inspires me so much today.
What can couples do to prepare for an engagement or portrait session with you?
With us, the only thing we really ask for is openness. The more in tune you are with your emotions, and with what you want the photos to represent, the better the final product looks. We like to think of our portrait and engagement sessions like wine - they should age. They're not necessarily created for you in the present, they're going to be even better when you rediscover them a few decades down the line. It's sometimes hard to imagine yourself that much older, but try to picture yourself as finding your engagement photos in twenty years, in a dusty attic - and all the feelings of that moment in your life will come flooding back. Engagement sessions are a great collaboration. The more you really consider what you want to remember about the present, the better the photos will be in the future.
On another note, what’s been the biggest challenge in your career so far?
Unquestionably, the global pandemic. We always thought wedding photography was one of those jobs that was totally safe from the threat of automation, and that weddings themselves would be a tradition - aside from war or an alien invasion - that would be impermeable to the rest of life's inconsistencies. "There will always be weddings', we thought. Well, there are still weddings, but fewer of them and those taking place are now redefined. There's a lot of uncertainty amongst brides and grooms and it's disrupted our business-as-usual model. We've had to juggle a lot of changes, reschedules, worries, and cancelations over the past year. It's crazy. Fortunately (touch wood) the world is looking a little more optimistic nowadays and we feel like we can play The Beatles' 'Here Comes the Sun'...
Thank you for sharing your gorgeous work and your wonderful insights. It's gonna be alright, and we can't wait to see your stunning photos in the years ahead!