Wanna know what Eerik Sandstrom‘s secret weapon is when it comes to wedding photography? Knowing the importance of the little details and a couple’s backstory. “For couples, their story doesn’t start on their wedding day,” he says. “So I’ve learnt over the years that to tell a story well you first need to listen.” The result is photography with a strong documentary style that captures all the emotions and special moments of the wedding day, as well as the couple’s unmistakable love and connection. Today we chat to Eerik about the importance of storytelling, how he makes connections with his couples, and what he’s learnt about weddings throughout his journey as a wedding photographer.
How long have you been shooting weddings?
I started out as an adventure sports and mountain biking photographer in my 20s. I travelled a lot, hiking mountains and exploring the outdoors. I was lucky to work with some great brands and magazines during that time.
I became a wedding photographer about five years ago thanks to a friend, Rachel Lynch, who is the goalkeeper for the Australian Hockeyroos. Some players on the team were getting married and I was recommended. My photos were well received and I went on to shoot several Hockeyroo weddings. So, I actually have Rachel to thank for getting me started in the wedding industry.
Fast forward a few years and I’m a full time wedding photographer who will happily hike up a mountain with couples for an epic photograph.
Where are you based?
I grew up in Melbourne and moved to Perth when I was 29 where I met my wife. We’ve been back and forth between states over the past seven years as we love both Victoria and Western Australia. Melbourne is where I have shot most of my couples, but over the coming years I’ll start to shoot more in Perth and abroad.
What do you love about the different states –and how does that influence your photography?
I am quite lucky to be working across two beautiful states like Victoria and Western Australia. They are very different in terms of the landscape; both offer the opportunity to photograph couples in stunning and dramatic places.
In Victoria, I am drawn to the lush, dense forest and waterfalls in places like the Otway National Park.
In Western Australia, the opportunity for couples to get adventurous, particularly if eloping is abundant. The south west coast and Margaret River region is stunning, with the most beautiful coastline I’ve seen. It is a popular wedding destination for good reason.
Then there’s the entire northern end of Western Australia, which extends up in to the Kimberley region. I am yet to photograph in the Kimberley, Karijini National Park and Purnululu are on top of my wedding bucket list!
My photography style is a balance between a documentary styled approach whilst being a little more directional and structured when needed.
What that means is, most of the day I don’t influence what is happening, I just document events as they happen. Then there is a small part of the day I will direct couples with intention. I don’t like leaving good pictures to chance, I look for strong compositional elements and use the best light available. Strong contrast and moody vibes is what people recognise in my work, but they are a small part of a wedding day gallery. I love the natural expressions from people who are so focused on each other whilst having the best day of their life with family and friends.
“….To tell a story well, you first need to listen”. How does this philosophy help you tell the story of the wedding day in images?
I have a rule when I meet up with a couple to discuss their wedding – ‘You can’t sip coffee and talk at the sometime’. If the couple finish their coffee before I do, it means I talked too much.
Stories are what our lives are made up of. Some stories live and fade in our memories, some are worth reliving through photographs.
A story about marriage is a story worth remembering and it doesn’t start on a couple’s wedding day. As a photographer I have a responsibility to understand a couple’s story which brought them to this point, then I can best continue telling the story on wedding day.
For me, listening means taking notes from the moment we first meet, even if they haven’t booked me yet. Small details that a couple might share with you early on could be something important to know on their wedding day.
What’s your approach to a wedding, starting from when you first meet the couple?
From the first meeting, through to the engagement shoot and the pre wedding catch-up, I am focused on getting to know my couple more so they get comfortable with me. By the time wedding day comes along we know each other well enough that I become another guest and they trust me with creating some special photographs. It’s about getting couples to the point where they no longer see the camera, they can get immersed in the experience of their wedding day, forgetting I’m there.
How important is it to make a connection with them?
Making a connection is very important, maintaining that connection from when you first meet through to the wedding day is more important.
There are a few steps I take to maintain that connection as it can be one to three years between our first meeting and the wedding day.
Firstly, as I mentioned above, I take notes on all the simple stuff – what footy team they barrack for, their jobs, where they grew up, are they in the middle of a reno, their dog’s name (when they mention it) etc.
Then when we see each other again, it’s easy to pick up where we left off.
I can’t tell you how good it is to trigger laughter on a wedding day when I randomly bring up a small but funny detail they told me two years prior and totally forgot about.
Do you offer engagement sessions? If you do, why do you recommend them?
The engagement/couple’s session is a critical step in the story telling process. I do these sessions for all my couples.
I encourage them to consider carefully where we go and how the environment fits in with their lives. Is there perhaps a meaning or purpose to the place where we shoot?
Recently I travelled 3.5 hours to the Grampians National Park in Victoria and camped two nights in the rain just for a two hour engagement session.
Their family ties to the region and land dated back generations. They grew up exploring the area, so the place was significant to them.
On the day of the shoot we woke at 5:30am and travelled to the summit of a mountain that overlooked their family’s property. We shared the most beautiful sunrise together and captured some special photographs.
We also visited the family farm, and they shared stories of prior camping trips. These photographs will help them relive this place for a long time to come.
What have been some the biggest changes in weddings since you started out as a wedding photographer?
Well, 2020 and 2021 have been the two most significant years for change in the wedding industry in perhaps a very long time.
A lot has changed, couples I meet now are rethinking what a wedding day truly means to them. They have indirectly been given permission to let go of traditions that don’t work for them and focus on what’s most important.
Embracing a small wedding or elopement has been a welcome change for some couples.
What kind of trends have you noticed in the weddings you’ve shot recently?
Ceremony times are getting shorter whilst cocktail hour is getting longer. Couples want more time with their guests.
The ‘First Look’ and couple’s portraits prior to the ceremony is becoming popular, allowing couples to spend more time at cocktail hour.
What’s your favourite style of wedding to photograph?
I always enjoy an elopement in an adventurous place, but all weddings are unique and can be a lot of fun. There’s something special about photographing an intimate elopement, especially when in it’s in an adventurous place.
You pour so many hours of work into a wedding! What’s some of the behind the scenes stuff that couples might not realise you do, especially after the wedding?
Couples would be surprised and perhaps pleased to know about some of the things a seasoned photographer does behind the scenes to make sure their day is captured as best as possible.
Preparation is key to a great wedding day, run sheets, scouting and coordinating with other vendors to make sure everything runs smooth is a small part of that.
After a wedding, I don’t go to sleep until the photos are backed up in five different locations. Then the fun begins, selecting 500 – 1000 photos from the 5000 taken on the day is big task. Editing, sequencing, magazines, albums and delivery happen over the next four to six weeks.
Landscape and surroundings whether it be forest, or the angular lines of concrete and man-made structures are a striking feature of your photography. What does this sense of place add to your images and is this a signature feature of your work?
One way to elevate my work so it stands out is to bring that sense of place to the story .
I spend a good amount of time scouting locations and planning shoots around the couple and the place where they are getting married. I use engagement shoots as my opportunity to experiment and play with compositions and locations.
I admire work from other artists outside of the wedding industry, like New York street photographer Paola Franqui (Monaris) and landscape photographer Christian Fletcher and look for inspiration that I can use in my own work.
With the changing world of weddings, you think “elopements and small weddings are awesome”. What is it about shooting these occasions that you love? Are there some special places you might recommend?
An elopement is a beautiful way to marry. There is a concentrated focus on the couple, the place they love and the people who matter most in their lives.
For me, I have a bucket list of places to recommend couples but ultimately they need to choose a place that resonates with them.
Post COVID, where do you think your photography will take you?
2022 is shaping to be an amazing year for weddings. For many people their wedding will be the first big family/friend reunion since it all began. Just imagine the emotion and excitement that will surround these weddings! I think like most of us, I have a newfound appreciation for travel. Beyond 2022, I’ll be making up for lost time, chasing some epic elopements in exotic locations!
Thanks so much for sharing your story and incredible work with us today, Eerik! To find out more about Eerik’s photography and wedding packages, check out his website or head on over to the Polka Dot Directory.