Interview: Joel & Justyna
Photographer Interview: Joel & Justyna
Joel and Justyna are an award-winning wedding photographer husband and wife team based in Ottawa, Canada. They were name Rangefinder Magazine’s 30 Rising Stars of Wedding Photography 2016, one of “30 Most Inspiring Wedding Photographers in Canada” by Weddingbells Magazine, 2016, and Rangefinder Magazine’s prestigious 2018 Grand Prize winner in Wedding Photography.
Can you briefly tell us a little about your life, where were you born and raised?
Joel: I was raised in Ottawa by my parents who were professional photographers. I came upon photography in my mid-twenties. I lived in a few different cities and countries throughout my twenties, and am now living in Ottawa, Canada with my wife Justyna.
Justyna: I was born in Europe, and lived in Germany and Southern Ontario before moving to Ottawa and meeting Joel. I studied art history in university, and literally stumbled upon wedding photography by following Joel out the door when he went to photograph an engagement session one day.
Have you always been a photographer? What was your path to photography and specifically to shooting weddings?
Joel: My exposure to photography started at a young age. As I mentioned, having parents who were professional photographers set the stage for my interest, including a vast array of magazines to browse at the cottage; National Geographic, Vanity Fair, books on portraits, etc... I worked as a fashion model for many years and worked with some very good photographers along the way which heightened my interest in the process of image-making. It wasn't until photography went digital and bought a second-hand DSLR that I discovered that I might be able to make a career out of it. I started shooting weddings when a friend of mine asked me to second shoot for a season while his wife was pregnant (his wife usually shot with him). My first wedding that I shot alone was for a friend of a friend. The ball is still rolling (knock on wood).
Justyna: I have always had a camera, whether it be digital or film, but prior to choosing this as a career, I worked in marketing. I love that weddings are a culmination of many styles of photography, and essentially you're paid for your own vision of that day. It's a beautiful thing.
Do you remember the first moment or time a camera/photography jumped out at you as something different/interesting/worth pursuing?
Joel: I think it was a combination of spending so many years appreciating photography and studying photographs that piqued my interest. Being photographed, essentially, – walking around photography before getting into it. Seeing photography from all angles before jumping in myself. There wasn't really one moment, per se.
Justyna: I remember going to a muddy creek and taking a really terribly lit photo of some tree bark when I was in high school. It's not a great photo at all, but I really marvelled at it, framed it and kept it all these years. There's inspiration everywhere – even in a muddy creek.
Do you have a style or widely understood approach to shooting weddings ie fine-art, documentary?
Joel+ Justyna: We approach weddings, of course, from different, unique perspectives, but we tend to be known for dragging the shutter a little (or a lot). Whether unconsciously or consciously, we think it was a reaction to a lot of the stiffer, posed photos we were seeing around. The slower shutter speeds can help render the scene a little more interpretively, translating emotional moments a bit more cinematically, for lack of a clearer term.
What/who do you look at for visual inspiration? It could be a favourite photographer or blog? movies? Etc
Joel: I don't watch a lot of movies but I really appreciate the paintings of the Impressionist era, Art Nouveau, portrait photography masters, like Steichen, Annie Leibovitz, Nadav Kandar, fashion photographers – Mert and Marcus, Horst P. Horst, Paolo Roversi, Sarah Moon, Deborah Turbeville, cinematic photographers like Todd Hido, and photojournalist like Henri Cartier Bresson, Sam Abell.
Justyna: I love visiting art galleries and beautiful spaces and places when we travel. At home, I'm inspired by some cinematographers, beautiful interiors, sunsets...
What would a perfect day shooting a wedding look like for you?
Joel: When the couple isn't trying too hard or nervous with the camera, just natural. When the photos seem to make themselves. That's perfect for me.
Justyna: A day planned with light in mind and a couple in love that doesn't 'do' things for the camera. I loathe pretense.
Do you have any sort of routine before a wedding to get yourself into the right frame of mind to achieve that perfect day?
Joel: A calm morning, a good nights sleep, delicious breakfast – a good slow start to the day – I don't like to hit the ground running. I prefer to ease into the day and start relaxed, when possible.
Justyna: I need to feel organized, but also leave room for spontaneity. I also require a delicious breakfast and extra large coffee.
Generally speaking, what do you focus on when you are shooting a wedding, by which I mean, what (this could be anything eg your own artistic satisfaction, the couples emotion, people, details) about a wedding is important for you to prioritise while your shoot?
Joel: The trifecta of light + composition + emotion.
Justyna: For me its the same thing but emotion, then light and finally composition.
I often think peoples experiences of marriages, theirs or their parents, can have an impact on their involvement in working in the world of weddings. Can you explain what weddings mean to you personally?
Joel: After planning our own wedding, and marrying the woman of my dreams, I can empathize with the pressures that come along of planning ones wedding, with the emotional resonance and the expectations that go into weddings. I can also say if we had the money to do it again, I would.
Justyna: I'm a person that loves celebrating. We only live once, so we might as well have the best time we can while we're here. It's so rare to gather so many humans you love and that love you, to celebrate love – if you take away all the 'stuff' involved in weddings, its an important and beautiful day that really allows your true colours to shine through, and of those around you.
In the feedback you've received from wedding clients over the years, would there be one word that keeps popping up again and again?
Joel + Justyna: I don't know that there's a specific word, but we keep making real life friends with our clients – “Genuine” (though it looks ironic in quotes), is the word that probably comes up the most.
Having seen lots of weddings, what would your advice be to a beloved family member if they came to you and said they were getting married and asked for (any) advice on how to approach their wedding day?
Justyna: Focus on what you both want as a couple, and forget about traditions that don't mean anything to you.
What three pieces of advice would you give young photographers starting out?
Joel: Learn your camera well – let it be an extension of you so you can react to situations as they unfold – because in weddings everything can change in an instant (lighting, location – you need to know your camera well to adapt to the situation). Study how light behaves. Don't get too caught up with the latest 'thing' because it never lasts too long (equipment or trends, etc.).
Justyna: Taste is more important than skill. You can teach anyone to use a camera, but teaching someone to 'see' takes time, effort and work – and its worth it if you want to stand out. Be a kind human. There's no place for arrogance in a long, happy career.