I was on a ladder when I met Tyler Wirken.
I was nervous as heck – eight feet in the air with 80lbs of iron pipe hanging from my shoulders when I heard a voice behind me say, “Whatcha buildin?”. I turned my head slowly, teetering on my aluminum perch, and saw a big teddy bear of a guy smiling up at me. “At least,” I thought, “If I fall there’ll be a friendly body to catch me.”
I had no idea I was talking to one of the best photographers in the Kansas City region. How could I know? Photographers, especially good photographers, are supposed to be aloof and intimidating, right? They are supposed to parade about in pointy leather boots imposing on everyone with their mammoth egos. Tyler just didn’t look the part. He was happy, friendly and easy to talk to. He seemed more like the type of guy you’d like to catch a weekend movie with than the type who should be behind a camera.
That was a year and a half ago now. I was building our booth for the KCWeddings Bridal Spectacular show, and Wirken Photography was just across the aisle. He and his lovely wife Pam Wirken kept us highly entertained during the show with their quirky comments and warm personalities. They were so likable I’m sure we would have loved them as people even if their photography was awful (though the fact that their portfolio was amazing sure didn’t hurt).
A couple of weeks ago I had coffee with Tyler and he was kind enough to bring along Becca Spears (That’s Becca with two c’s; not Bekah Spears Photography or Rebekah Spears Photography. I used to always get it wrong, which complicates google searches, so I thought I’d pass on the advice.). Becca’s studio, Becca Spears Photography, merged with Wirken Photography last year, further expanding the Wirken’s personality, capabilities and offerings.
Defining Good Photography
“When you look through a good portfolio, each image shows three qualities consistently: A decisive moment, sophisticated composition, and good use of light.”– Becca Spears
My question for Tyler and Becca was, “What is it that makes great photography great?” A hard question, I thought. I mean, anyone can see that Tyler and Becca’s shots are good, but why are they good? Becca had a very quick answer for me, “When you look through a good portfolio, each image shows three qualities consistently: A decisive moment, sophisticated composition, and good use of light.”
Now, I went through design school and took all the standard courses, so composition makes sense to me. Color theory, visual literacy, movement, balance and energy in two dimensions – all that stuff is an old hat to me. I even know a bit about light and how it effects composition and plays with emotion. The thing that was new to me was this whole idea of a decisive moment.
The challenge of capturing a decisive moment, I think, is unique to photography. A wedding, for example, is just a series of moments. They happen and then they are gone. It could be the moment the ringbearer nervously straightened his tie before walking the aisle, or maybe it’s the expression on grandma’s face during the first dance. If you wait too long the expression is gone and a world of emotion is gone with it. Thus the importance of a great photographer.
About Tyler Wirken
Tyler got his start in photojournalism. He went through KU’s program, graduated and paid his dues at the Columbia Dispatch in Ohio. He loved newspaper work, but the pace was wearing, so he came back to KC and set up shop as a photojournalistic wedding photographer.
It seems to me that photojournalism is a very misunderstood term in a contemporary wedding world. To many, it means simply black and white photography. To Tyler, though, photojournalism transcends style – it’s a philosophy. “The same wedding can be styled a million ways”, he told me, “but I’m really not much of a stylist. I’m more of a documentarian. My goal is to find the personality and emotions of the people in the wedding and capture them. The personality and the emotion becomes the style.”
So, what does that mean? It means that if Uncle Lester is gettin’ his dance on with his pudgy belly peeking out beneath his wrinkled shirt tails, that’s what you’ll see in the pictures. Now, I know that sounds disgusting, and it probably would be disgusting if you took the shot yourself, but Tyler’s got a little magic up his sleeve. Remember the lighting, the composition, and the “decisive moment” we talked about? Well Tyler mixes them all together, and somehow when you look at the picture you find yourself saying, “Ahhh, I’ve always loved uncle Lester.”
For those of you who don’t want shots of Uncle Lester, don’t worry. If Tyler can pull emotion out of a balding fat guy, imagine what he can do with a beautiful girl in a white dress. Tyler loves people–all sorts of people. Young ones, old ones; even fat balding ones. His photographs are always beautiful, but not necessarily because the people were beautiful. Tyler captures the beauty of their personalities, with all of their quirks and Idiosyncrasies. His wedding day photographs are a celebration of the bride, the groom, and all of their friends and families.
Some of Tyler’s work
About Becca Spears
Becca’s start was a bit different than Tyler’s, though her philosophy is quite similar. She began as a fine art (painting) major at K State. Photography was just a hobby at that point. Somewhere along the way she fell in love with culture and people and changed her major to Sociology. She even tossed around the idea of becoming an anthropologist until it hit her that her old hobby was the perfect mix of all the things she loved.
Becca soon set up shop as Becca Spears Photography and had several successful seasons under her belt before Tyler convinced her to merge with Wirken Photography. The merger wasn’t born out of necessity as much as it was out of the desire for synergy and growth. Becca’s style is highly refined and in is in many ways similar to Tyler’s. Like Tyler, she shoots in a photojournalistic style and is a master of capturing beautiful emotion on film. Still, it would be a mistake to view Becca as the “other Tyler”. Her images are her own; rich in life and color. Like Tyler, Becca is primarily interested in the lives and experiences of people, but she also shows a fondness for all the little elements that make up the texture of a wedding or any other interaction. She’s the rare artist who see’s the big picture and the details all at once.
Some of Becca’s work
Choosing a Wedding Photographer
“The same wedding can be styled a million ways, but I’m really not much of a stylist. I’m more of a documentarian. My goal is to find the personality and emotions of the people in the wedding and capture them. The personality and the emotion becomes the style.” – Tyler Wirken
Becca or Tyler? Tyler or Becca? Ideally it would be nice to have two first-rate photographers documenting our weddings, but because of budget constraints and scheduling, most of us have to choose just one. But which one?
First, let’s get something straight: Kansas City does not have one best wedding photographer. If anyone tells you otherwise, run away. The truth is that there are several excellent photographers in the area, and it can be very difficult to select just one. Tyler has an interesting and obvious solution to the problem: “Just choose a photographer who sees the world like you do.”
Good lighting, great composition, pivotal moments, vibrant color, emotion… any good photographer can capture these things on film, but will they capture it in a way that will be meaningful to you? If you’re a bit quirky and have a bit of a goofy sense of humor, you should probably find yourself a quirky photographer. Don’t make my mistake and decide up front that the good photographers are all a bunch of snobs. The truth is that good photographers come in all shapes and sizes. Just find one who reminds you of yourself.
Of course, none of us have time to meet with every photographer before we make our decision. That’s hardly necessary, though. A few minutes browsing through an online portfolio is all it takes to know if you have a basic connection with a photographer. If you find yourself chuckling a bit or saying, “Ahhhhh” or simply staring in silence, you probably have something.
To get the ball rolling, you should head straight to www.wirkenphoto.com and spend some time with their portfolios. I bet you’ll find a connection with at least one of them.
Of course, photography is much more than just a business for the folks at Wirken Photography. They do it because they love it. Both Tyler and Becca are heavily involved in the photography community in Kansas City and beyond. In fact, they just recently got back from the Foundation Workshop in Texas wear they devoted a week of their lives to leading/mentoring a talented group of photographers as they experimented and explored the possibilities of photojournalistic photography. You can read all about it on the Wirken Blog.
Tyler and Becca were kind enough to share a few of their own shots from the Workshops and other non-nuptial venues. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.