Photographer at Crossed Keys Inn
Susan Stripling Photography

Photographer at Crossed Keys Inn

Oftentimes it’s easy to only see what’s in front of your face. 

During cocktail hour I can see how it would be easy to stick to just the space where cocktail hour is being held and not venture outside of that comfort zone. 

At this 2012 wedding at the Crossed Keys Inn in Andover, New Jersey, the cocktail hour was held adjacent to the wedding reception tent. Across the lawn and down the hill was a swing attached to an old tree that was hugely popular with the younger members of the wedding! I was taking pictures at cocktail hour when I looked down the hill to see if anyone had ventured onto the lawn. 

I documented several guests milling about and chatting and then I saw the kids running towards the swing. I waited until one boy was swinging and the others were engaged in the moment before taking my shot. I love the motion of this image and the way the motion of his body mimics the line of the hill and the branches.

I used to run a wedding photography education blog called The Dynamic Range. I wrote a series of reviews of my experience with prints in the WPPI 16x20 Print Competition, and I wrote a write-up of this particular image! The description of the judging process, my score, and how I felt read as follows:

Entered into the Bridal Party category in 2013, this image scored an 85.  Hurrah!  An 85 means that the image is "excellent...Very good use of imagination, skill and technique."
I've heard people complaining that "The only image that matters is one that your client loves!" and "I don't enter print competitions because my clients being happy is the only thing that is important!"  
My rebuttal to this is multi-fold.  Of COURSE the most important thing is pleasing your clients!  I don't shoot weddings to win competitions, and I don't enter competitions to fuel my own ego.  I shoot weddings to care for the wonderful people who, year in and year out, trust me to document their memories for them.
However, to hide behind "The only thing that matters is pleasing my clients!" does a disservice to yourself and your skills.  I'm not saying that you have to enter competitions to keep yourself motivated, but if pleasing your clients is your only barometer of success, it's easy to become complacent.  
I want to do MORE than please my clients.  I want to blow them away.  I want to deliver images that are technically and emotionally excellent, at every wedding, for every client. To do this, I have to keep pushing and holding myself accountable for my photographic weaknesses.  
If you think you're done learning, you're done.  I'm never, ever done learning, no matter how long I'm in business or how many awards I have.
This image scored well for several reasons.  
1.  Each child is doing something compelling.  You have the boy on the swing, whose motion mirrors that of the tree shape.  You have the three little girls, all in motion.  No one is holding the image back, and every person in the frame is contributing.
2.  The composition is good.  The slope of the ground mirrors the movement of the boy, which also mirrors the movement of the tree.  The negative space on the left pushes your eye to the right.
3.  The print was great.  The blacks weren't blocked up, the highlights weren't blown, and the detail was excellent.
So with all that considered, why didn't it score HIGHER?  The next level of scoring is above 90, meaning "outstanding....exhibiting exceptional skills in all areas." When you get up into that score range, which is rare, you have to display a skill that is truly outstanding.  
This is a great shot, but it didn't require excellent skill to capture.  The light was even, there was no flash work going on, the scene wasn't difficult, the moment wasn't fleeting.  It's a great image, and absolutely deserving of it's score of 85.
Lest you think I'm complaining, I'm not!  An 85 is a killer score, and it receives a silver distinction award.  In that score range, you also receive 1.5 points towards your Honors of Excellence status.  Go 85!

Location: 289 Pequest Rd, Andover, NJ 07821.

Keywords: Andover (12), Crossed Keys Inn (33). 1/400; f/3.5; ISO 250; 70.0 mm.

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