Growing up in Hong Kong, Terry Li never thought she would be able to pursue her passion of photography as it was not considered a “proper job” that could pay the bills. However, after being offered an unforgettable opportunity to photograph a beautiful British wedding, her career path took a different turn…
Asia Wedding Network’s Lily Chau sat down with Terry in the UK and asked about her life as a wedding photographer– and for HK readers looking for a photographer in the fall, Terry will be back to Hong Kong in November!
AWN’s Lily Chau: So let’s start from the beginning, how did you start as a wedding photographer?
Terry Li: I have always loved photography; it has been a hobby for over ten years now. After getting my master degree, I worked in recruitment for two years. However, it came to a point that I realised I didn’t enjoy what I was doing, so I started to explore other opportunities out there. One day, a friend of mine said to me, “Why don’t you do something in photography? You have always loved it!” I instantly said no, since I’ve never thought photography could be a choice of career for me- especially since I grew up in Hong Kong where any art related job is not considered “proper” and won’t pay the bills.
Despite the initial reluctance I started to explore this potential. I approached an experienced wedding photographer who was a friend of a friend whom I met in a photography society during university. She offered me to work with her on a wedding day and I just fell in love with it! I still remember the wedding: It was a traditional British wedding reception in a marquee accompanied by lovely weather. I continued looking for other opportunities and worked with several other photographers to gain experience and build up my portfolio. Eventually I got referred my first client after three months and started on my own!
AWN’s Lily: Interesting! Who knew that a small opportunity could turn into something that big! So tell me, what is your approach to shooting a wedding?
Terry: My approach is quite subtle and not intrusive or interrupting. I observe a lot, look for details in the environment and capture whatever happens. I usually follow the day’s flow naturally. After the initial meeting with the client, you kind of know what it’s going to be like. I also try to anticipate those special moments and be ready for them when they do come. This way, you can preserve the integrity of the moments with genuine emotions and create a story out of the wedding day.
AWN’s Lily: Yes, getting the emotions from the bride, groom, and all the guests is very important. But let me ask you, what would you say is your biggest challenge working as a wedding photographer?
Terry: Personally to me, the biggest challenge is probably writing. I believe “A picture is a poem without words – by Horace.” However, sometimes when I want to share something additional on the blog or Facebook, I find it difficult to put my thoughts in words. It’s hard for me to describe how great the wedding was, or the ideas and thought process that I had when I created the photos. Maybe it’s best to leave the viewers to interpret them in their own way.
AWN’s Lily: Well I guess words should be the least of a photographer’s worries! So when you meet a client, how do you connect with them and make them feel that they’re in safe hands?
Terry: I think that it is my responsibility as a photographer to make the client trust me. Since I’m sure that the bride already has a lot to worry on the day, I try to make them feel as comfortable as I can. It’s important during the initial consultation to learn more about the couple, their backgrounds and their stories. When you meet them face-to-face, you can learn more about what they are like and their personalities. I usually show them a range of my previous work to reassure them that I can deal with different lighting situations.
AWN’s Lily: Yes, that’s important since the bride is already probably already very stressed out herself! So throughout your different experiences, were there any weddings that was especially memorable?
Terry: All of the weddings that I have done were great and memorable to me! They were all very special and it is different for everyone. I have photographed at the Grosvenor Hotel with 600 guests where there was a crane in the middle of the dance floor to video the whole day- and I was lucky enough to have photographed weddings of different cultures! I did everything from Chinese to British to African to Syrian and Muslim!
AWN’s Lily: Wow, those must have been very different experiences! Now I know you go to Hong Kong from time to time and do some work there. What would you say is the biggest difference between working in Hong Kong and in the UK?
Terry: Generally a typical wedding day in the UK is shorter and the style is more flexible. Unlike in Hong Kong, the wedding photographer doesn’t take as much of a role, since there is less directing. In the UK, my approach is more of a documentary, reportage style but weddings in Hong Kong tend to focus more on capturing specific moments of the traditional cultural practices.
AWN’s Lily: So in terms of pre-wedding and actual wedding day shoots, which one do you like working on better?
Terry: I like both of them and indeed they are very different. I am able to put more of my ideas in a pre-wedding shoot, where I can really allow my creativity to stretch! It is less of a documentary style and it involves more directing. It is also great fun to discuss with the client the location of the shoot, what they will be wearing, and what props we might use. And it simply feels great when you the results come out nicely! I have an upcoming pre-wedding shoot on the beach and we’re planning on having fireworks and candles. The couple has even agreed to let me throw them in the water!
During a wedding day you have to be very observant and quite sensitive as well since a wedding goes by quite quickly. Sometimes it is even chaotic, so photographing a wedding can be stressful- but I enjoy it so much! I love how challenging the job is and I love the satisfaction I get afterwards. It is very rewarding when you realize you can do it.
AWN’s Lily: Yes, it does seem like a very fun job! So what are some tips that you can give to newlyweds getting ready for a shoot?
Terry: Simply be yourself and just relax! Trust that your photographer will capture the sweet moments between the two of you. Sometimes when I see couples that are a bit stiff, I will do some directing. It all becomes natural when you slowly get into the mood. Then, I simply put the couple in good lighting and take the shoot!
AWN’s Lily: Sounds easy enough! And to end with, what are your plans for the rest of 2015?
Terry: I’ve started working with a bridal shop where clients can hire or buy their wedding dress when they’re in London. I am pretty booked up this summer with weddings and pre-weddings all over the UK, but I will be visiting Hong Kong in November. I am also available to do pre-weddings or destination weddings in the UK or Europe.