Terry was kind enough to write some words about my story in Professional Photo Magazine this month

Title:
Magic Moments

Intro:
Although he never set out to become a wedding photographer Sam Hurd has made this specialisation his own and is in huge demand for his special brand of alternative imagery.

WORDS: TERRY HOPE

Sometimes just a few words can sum up an individual’s whole approach to their craft and, indeed, their life. In wedding photographer Sam Hurd’s case these can be found proudly displayed on the home page of his website: ‘I’m Fascinated by the Magic of Photography.’ And looking through his galleries this is a fact that’s borne out time after time, as you encounter work that not only serves to document the biggest day in a couple’s life but also goes way beyond and creates something lasting and special, startling and unexpected imagery that’s unique to those people and their individual occasion.
It’s one of the reasons why Washington-based Sam has a following that goes way beyond his immediate vicinity and why he’s in demand to cover weddings all around the globe, while his workshops – his most recent being the Thrive 2020 event hosted by Photography Farm in Brighton and Glasgow – tend to be sell outs that attract those that are looking for a little inspiration to lift them above the ordinary.
Curiously enough, and in common with so many others who are held in such high esteem in the world of wedding photography, Sam never set out to work in this area and he only arrived here through a process of self-discovery, a generous slice of good fortune and a realisation that, actually, pictures of a couple making their vows didn’t have to be staid and formulaic and, well, just a tad boring. Instead weddings could actually be fun and lively and different and special and could be captured by inventive imagery that often had more than a touch of the surreal about it.
“During my last semester of college I was applying for jobs primarily via Craigslist, a US classified advertisements website that carries details of vacancies,” he recalls. “I was primarily looking for IT/Computer Science related positions but happened to stumble across a posting that included taking on the photography for an organisation called the National Press Club in Washington DC, located just a couple of blocks from the White House. They wanted to have an in-house photographer to sell as an option for client press conferences and news making events. I went for an interview and was hired to work there full time and develop their photography program from scratch.”
It was a dream position in so many ways, being a rare opportunity to work as a salaried photographer but also, alongside the more run-of-the-mill everyday jobs such as shooting press conferences, speakers at the podium and ‘grip and grins,’ he also found himself with a certain amount of downtime behind the scenes as celebrities waited their turn to address the press. Typically it would just be Sam, the VIP and their handler waiting around and, in the ten minutes or so that was available, he would ask to set up and shoot a portrait to provide the archive of the press club with a different kind of historical record of the occasion.
So it was that, so early in his photographic career, Sam found himself shooting subjects as internationally renowned as George Clooney, Denzel Washington, Michael Phelps and Alex Baldwin and, in an act of creative bravery, to be echoed later on in his wedding career, he decided to do it in a way that was both crazy and difficult, but ultimately had the potential to pay huge dividends.
“I photographed my first subject, who was a successful local man who owned the hockey club and a few other sports teams, and I only took around sixty seconds over it, a panorama with multiple studio strobes, and it was crazy. After that I realised I could probably get away with any approach that I wanted to do, and I would just be trusted to come away with something.”

Moving Sideward
That process of taking a risk and being rewarded with something that, while different, still worked on both a commercial and creative level, typifies Sam’s approach to photography and it’s one that he’s carried with him as his career has grown. And, after starting out as a hobbyist shooting nature and landscape photos, he very much found his niche when he turned his camera on people, and portraiture of all kinds is his abiding and overriding love now.
“I worked as the staff photographer at the NPC for six years full time – I now just manage it on the side – and about three years into my time there I was asked to photograph a co-worker’s wedding and that was my first ever experience of this kind of work. I fell in love with the creative latitude of wedding photography vs press events and quickly ramped up my own wedding photography business.
“I’ve now been shooting weddings full time for about eight years and was lucky to start shooting at a time when there was a clear shift in this genre. It now wasn’t just something you did ‘to pay the bills’ but a job that photographers actually aspired to do full time. I had the luxury of a salaried photography position at the NPC if the wedding stuff didn’t work out so I leaned into curating my portfolio exactly how I wanted it to be from the very beginning. I show a very disproportionate amount of weird/creative photos that hardly have anything to do with the wedding day in my portfolio. That’s something that turns a lot of people off – so it is risky – but it’s ended up attracting the perfect clients for me and now, lo and behold, there’s more than enough for me to make a great living from!”
It took bravery and a goodly amount of self-belief for that approach to work, but it is a fact that if photographers show nothing but the work they want to take on they will naturally avoid the jobs that don’t interest or motivate them while hopefully cultivating a following amongst those that ‘get’ what they’re trying to do. In Sam’s case he’s still acutely aware of the need to provide a lasting and high quality record of the wedding day, but he’s gravitated towards those that enjoy his strictly non-traditional look and these are exactly the kinds of clients who are prepared to give time and cooperation on the day to collaborate on images that stand out from the crowd.
“People tend to just trust me to do my thing,” says Sam, “but I do a little prep work with a questionnaire that I send out a month beforehand and a few other planning tips that I’ve written up. I used to meet everyone for coffee but in the last two to three years I’ve found most people are happy with FaceTime, Skype or a phone call. I try not to control things too much. If every wedding went exactly as I wanted or planned then that would slowly lead me down a path of predictability and stagnation. I want variety, surprises and problem solving because those are the elements that lead to creative renewal.”
Naturally there will always be restrictions and a certain amount of playing things by ear on the typical wedding day, and Sam is only too aware that even the most creatively minded of couples will want to spend time with their guests rather than turn the entire occasion into a photo shoot. It’s intriguing, however, to see how many of his shots look as though they must have taken an age to conceive and set up, so how does he square the circle and come up with standout shots without imposing himself too heavily on the day?
“I work completely improvised,” he says. “I am hyper aware of people’s personality quirks. If someone makes a funny quip, or comes up with a gesture I hook into that and encourage more of it. Even if it’s cheesy to begin with it often leads to something that’s not.
“As the day unfolds I seize opportunities when appropriate, but otherwise just sit back and document without any intervention. Couples portraits on the day are very directed and controlled, but are still only created with iterations of ‘trying stuff’ I’m curious about. I usually have most couples for about 20 mins for their portrait session, so I try not to be over demanding.
“I also primarily shoot by myself, probably 90% of the time. I only show sample galleries of weddings that I’ve shot entirely by myself and I only show my photos on my blog/portfolio/social media. I don’t find it a problem to shoot by myself and honestly I just want to be as affordable for clients as possible, so I’m not interested in upsetting a second shooter unless there’s a good reason for it.”
While his photography may be unconventional, Sam also has very distinct views on presentation and it might surprise some to discover that he’s not heavily into providing the products that some tap into with a view to increasing their profit margins. For Sam it’s about the buzz of shooting and flexing his creative muscles and once the final frame has been created on the day he’s ready to move on to the next big event.
“I’m a big believer in keeping my business ultra-efficient,” he says. “In my first few years I thought I needed all the fancy albums, slideshows set to music, letter pressed pricing guide, business cards and so on to be taken seriously as a professional, but that’s not at all true. I deliver the full gallery of high res images to my clients and sell a few small prints and albums, but that’s it.”

Looking Ahead
Having achieved so much already in what is still a relatively young career, Sam is enjoying the chance to focus on the aspects he most enjoys about his business, and one of the things that really excites him is the opportunity to travel, to share with others the tips that have helped him become established and to take on destination weddings when the opportunity arises.
“My destination weddings are one hundred per cent a result of my reviews/workshops/patron content being put out into the world,” he says. “I share a lot of my opinions and insights about photography, so as a result I have a lot of photographers following my work. Photographers get married too and, as far as I can tell, they’re the only ones with the budget and determination to fly someone in to a fancy destination. I don’t market specifically for destinations: it’s a result of the insights about my work that I share.”
It’s interesting to see how many creatively minded people have warmed to Sam’s approach, one of those being Professional Photo columnist and Photography Farm founder Lisa Devlin, who was keen to bring him over to share his knowledge and to encourage others to similarly follow their hearts in terms of their approach to photography.
And the theme of Sam’s presentation at Thrive 2020? “I called it my ‘Embrace the Panic’ talk,” he smiles. “I’ve found that the more comfortable I get in my own process as a photographer the worse my creative output becomes. It’s good to knowingly set yourself up for shooting scenarios where you just have absolutely no idea what the outcome is going to be. You just begin and take it one iteration at a time. Embrace the panic and it will lead you down an endless path of curiosity and creativity. At least, it has for me: and I like people to see that unfold in real time.”