Simeon Quarrie of Vivida Productions talks to David Land about his constantly evolving editorial style, the way he has helped reshape the Asian wedding market, and the challenges he faces as a known wedding photographer stepping out into the commercial world
I don’t like to call myself a I wedding photographer”, says I Twickenham-based freelance photographer and filmmaker Simeon Quarrie. And although he shoots stills and movie footage of over two dozen weddings a year, specialising in the Asian market, you can understand why. Quarrie is peerless. Nobody else does quite what he does. While he primarily works in wedding photography, his approach is closer to that of commercial or fashion photography.
Essentially, he undertakes spectacular location photography, as well as involving his wedding couples in elaborate tableaux vivants, such as the one we shared on our f2 Facebook page (right), in which a groom cautiously cuts the girl he desires free from the ropes that bind her.
“He checks to see if the way is clear”, says Ouarrie. “Then I zoom in to see him look his girl in the eye. The couple worked hard, like professional models. Including myself and the models, I had a team of 11 to make this series happen.”
Ouarrie conceived the idea for the shoot about eight months ago. “I make a concerted effort to generate ideas, which is central to my style”, he says. “I’m not interested in logistics or feasibility when I first come up with ideas. I worry about that later; otherwise, if I’d thought about logistics, I wouldn’t have attempted the series.” Unusually for a person in this position perhaps, Ouarrie is happy to share his knowledge, reasoning, “Anybody can — and many will — copy my style. And I can’t pro¬tect myself from that by keeping my cards close to my chest. I am happy to share ideas. But, by the time I share them, they’re old. My secret is continual innovation.” Ouarrie’s perpetually creative vision has had a transformative effect on the Asian wedding photography and video graph market. He strives to create something unique, and the resultant images most definitely stand out from the crowd.
“Rather than being dictated to by what is the done thing in the wedding world, what I do has always been driven by my creativity”, he explains. “I like to be counted as a photographer first and foremost, who shoots weddings among other things. My work has been well received by those working in the commercial and fashion industries, which is great.”
Asked what gives him his verve and driving motivation, Ouarrie is frank. “I had Special Needs at school”, he says. “I was the kid at the back with the extra helper. Nothing made sense to me. Then, when I was about nine, I suddenly got it. I learnt to learn. And I’ve had something to prove ever since. If there’s something I don’t know how to do, then I will go all out to overcome that barrier and prove that I can do it.”
If a love of photography wasn’t evident in Quarrie from a young age, a passion for business certainly was, something that has undoubtedly contributed to his success. “I was the director of a limited company in secondary school, that was set up with a couple of classmates and a teacher”, he says. “I was in charge of branding and design. It gave me a tangible way of putting my education into practice in the real world.”
Ouarrie went onto study IT at college. “Toward the end of the course, I was presented with the opportunity to build a business and take advantage of the dot com boom”, he says. “I was provided with a budget of just over £1 million, and had my 15 minutes of fame. I eventually opted out though, as I could see where the industry was going, and I realised that what I truly enjoyed was creative work.”
Ouarrie moved back home in 2001, aged 21, and built up a small design business from his bedroom. He specialised in helping clients with branding and website design, and got into video when one of his clients asked him to shoot his wedding video.
Asked if he hired kit to complete the job, he reveals what has become one of his characteristic tendencies. “I went out and bought what was for the time a high- end camera and video editing software — a Canon XL1 and Final Cut Pro”, he says. “I feel that if you invest, then you’re forced to push yourself, to maximise the return on that investment.”
That job led to more wedding video work, and Ouarrie started shooting stills three or four years later. “There was a demand from my clients, and it made good business sense to offer more than one service”, he says. “I always tried to run a business with very few clients, but that maximised the number of services sold to each.”
Quarrie decided to start targeting the wedding market specifically, utilising a more corporate approach.
“There was a stereotype at that time of what wedding photography and video graph was about, and a prejudice against the general standard of work”, he says.
“Nowadays, it’s become more respected within the photography industry, and people approach it in more creative ways, but at the time I subscribed to those same prejudices.
«Rightly or wrongly, I felt that my experience of corporate work would give me an advantage, and that I could offer a superior service to that which was generally available.”
Ouarrie created a website, and advertised his services using Google AdWords. Not knowing what to charge to photograph a wedding, he experimented with pricing.
“My initial prices were very low”, he says. “I charged £500. But then I booked about three or four weddings almost as soon as my first ad went up, so I increased my prices, putting them up by around £50-£100 every time I booked a few weddings at a certain price.
«My pricing was always done as a ‘special offer’, so I had a higher perceived value. I didn’t care so much about the location of the work: the prime objective was building a portfolio.”
His background in corporate work gave Ouarrie the confidence to tackle more complex weddings and, having received an enquiry, he looked into the possibility of undertaking an Asian wedding.
He explains, “Book one Western wed¬ding, and you’ve got one booking, whereas book one Asian wedding, and you’ve got four.”
He continues, “Asian weddings are far more elaborate than their Western counterparts, with a tradition that both sides of the family hold their own ceremonies, taking place over a number of venues.
“Normally, each side of the family will book its own photographer, but I set out o get both bookings. Added to that, photographers and videographers are usually booked separately, but I am able to offer both services.
“It sounded like a good prospect: I had the potential to get several bookings for video and photography, in return for marketing spend on one client.
“This wasn’t far from unheard of at that time, but being from outside the Asian culture, I had a totally different creative viewpoint to offer.”
Changes in young Asian culture mean¬while have perhaps led to a wider acceptance of Ouarrie’s work than might previously have been possible.
“Many of my clients are people like me: first or second generation immigrants”, he says. “Having been brought up in the
English system themselves, they have more Westernised tastes and aesthetic values than did their forebears, and they simply weren’t being catered for.
”It was a conscious decision on my part to address that market. I realised that I had something to offer, in terms of my difference in style.”
Another strength of Ouarrie’s was to treat each new client as individuals, allowing him to create something personal and exciting, which would reflect each couple. “In graphic design, you can’t just replicate what you did for a previous client”, he says, “and I applied that same mentality to my wedding clientele. I wanted to bring some¬thing new to the table every time.”
Named Unico Weddings, Ouarrie’s business grew to the point where he was taking on upward of 50 weddings a year. Then, about 18 months ago, he decided it was time for a rethink.
“We were charging £2000 to undertake either the photography or the video element of a wedding”, he says, “so we were doing quite well on paper.
«But I was beginning to feel that we didn’t have the opportunity to be creative, because it was all just about numbers. Mentally, creatively, and emotionally, a shift had to happen.”
Ouarrie rebranded the business to Vivi- da Productions, a limited company owned solely by himself.
“The brand is the whole experience that clients and potential clients have from the moment they engage with us”, he says.
“I started to think about what I wanted clientele to feel when they looked through my portfolio, and what experience they would have once they engaged us. We effectively redesigned what it was that a customer saw.”
Post-rebrand, Ouarrie can now command fees in excess of £8000 per wedding. A perhaps surprising facet of this is the prominent display of pricing information on his website, proudly asserting, ‘Mini¬mum investments of £4500 for photo, and the same for cinema, or £8500 for the two’.
“Displaying the pricing on the website is part of the move toward looking for fewer, more high quality, clients”, says Ouarrie.
“I used to find that I’d be spending all day on the phone discussing pricing with prospective clients. This way, I’m up front with the pricing, and that narrows down the enquiries to those who are able to make this sort of investment.
“For what I wanted to produce, an in¬crease in price was deserved. If you change and improve your product, that warrants a change in price. We wanted the freedom to shoot a reasonably small number of wed¬dings, allowing us the time to express our creative vision. The right type of clientele then followed.”
To secure a booking, potential clients are invited to the company’s studios, where Ouarrie will take them through a wider col¬lection of his work on a computer screen than is available on the website.
“I like to give clients a peek at something that no one else has seen yet”, he says.
Where Ouarrie has paved the way in the industry, others have inevitably followed, but his secret to avoiding imitation is to stay continually one step ahead of the crowd.
“It’s difficult to imitate my style, because it changes frequently”, he says. “That’s an inherent part of striving to be as creative as possible, making it hard to put your finger on exactly what defines us.
«We’re storytellers, from both a video and photography point of view. Couples arrive in our studios and we’ll help to create and tell their story.
“I have always been able to visualise something that I want to create and, given the technical possibilities now available, I’m in a position to create what I visualise. I’m becoming more theatrical. It’s become a question now of ‘How big can I go?’” Ouarrie has definitely noticed a shift in the Asian wedding photography market, and he is proud to have played a part in it.
“My work reached more people when I began using Facebook, and I’ve in turn became more aware of what else is going on”, he says. “People in India now follow my work, and you can see a shift in the country’s style. We’ve been really privileged to have had a number of new companies tell us that this is because of what we’ve created.”
With the wedding business well established and a commercial style that clearly appeals to a wider audience, it is unsurprising that Ouarrie is looking at ways to further expand.
“We’re looking at the various op¬tions for creating a separate identity for commercial work”, he says. “We’ve already had corporate clients come to us through our weddings.
”I was the photographer at a benefit event for the former England cricket captain Andrew Strauss. My commissions have taken me to places as far afield as New York, LA, Italy, India, Kenya, Norway, and Switzerland, where we were flying around in two helicopters, shooting a commercial project for a very expensive chalet created by a well known interior designer.”
With regard to the differences between shooting video and photography, Ouarrie says, “Photography can be more difficult at the time, because you’re judging expo¬sure without seeing the end result where¬as, with video, you’re seeing your expo¬sure in real time, and can judge and make changes as necessary, but then the editing process is extremely time intensive.
«What I love about photography is that it’s a lot quicker in terms of post production — sometimes, I don’t need to do much to them at all.”
Ouarrie sees convergence as very much a live issue and, interestingly, shoots his videos on Canon HD DSLRs, 5D Mk II and Mk III’s.
He says, “The excellent wide aperture Canon L series lenses, and their full frame format, make for an aesthetic that you simply can’t achieve with dedicated video equipment, and it’s very handy having one camera to do both the stills and the video.
“Video and photography are still very definitely two separate sectors, but emerging technology will see them continue to converge.
“We’re getting to the point where I could film a video, and potentially be able to pull the best stills out of 25 images per second. You can see that’s the direction the technology might go in, but I don’t think the work load will be cost effective: can you imagine having to choose from so many frames?”
In terms of reaching new clients, social media has proved invaluable. “Facebook is responsible for probably 80% of my business for the last two years”, says Ouarrie.
“This surge in exposure of my work to a much larger audience has allowed me to stop advertising. I’m very particular about what type of work I put up on Facebook though, because I don’t necessarily want constant wedding work. This is a key part of the business: the need to show people what you want to produce, and the direction in which you’re travelling.”