Think of weddings, and the sole mementos of the affair are the photographs: beautiful, memorable, and timeless. A wedding photographer by specialization, and based in the Sultanate, Ania James is a name that has garnered fame and acclaim since 2010 for bringing out pictures that speak more than a thousand words.
A charismatic individual, with a style that is unique and graceful, Ania believes that simplicity is what creates the most elegant shots. With a passion towards her work that is intensely personal, Ania looks to exhibit her subjects’ characters and emotions, through which she also reflects her own active and joyful outlook on life.
Paying attention to the individual feelings of the couple is something that she has learnt to express in her photographs after harnessing experience from every kind of wedding, be it intimate or grand. From the basis of professional technicality, Ania continually raises the bar with new techniques of lighting and context, while stretching her own stylistic boundaries to achieve deceptively simple but revealing portraits of people and their surroundings.
She has photographed Noni Goodchild’s wedding in Dubai with her assistant photographer Sally McCoullough, and has also snapped Rebecca Clayton’s destination wedding in Oman, which was specially featured in the 2014 edition of Bride & Groom – Oman.
We caught up with this lively personality to talk more about her work and her colourful career.
How did you enter the world of wedding photography?
I have always loved taking photos. I had a camera when a teenager, and then as a student I spent some time in the darkroom. When digital cameras came out I couldn›t afford to keep up my hobby so I stopped taking photos for about ten years. On a business trip to Hong Kong during my previous career as an architectural project manager, I bought my first digital SLR and when my then boyfriend (now my husband) bought me a zoom lens, I guess that sealed my fate! Sometime later we moved to India and I used to ride pillion on his motorbike and take candid shots of street scenes and people. At that time in Mumbai I took a course in Fashion Photography, but having a model pose felt unnatural to me and I wanted more personal interactions and action. Wedding photography is a place where I can combine photo journalism, human interaction and a bit of fashion – posing, but in a natural way – so now I feel I have everything!
Give us an overview of your career and the places it has taken you.
After India we moved to Dubai where I had my lovely twins and started to photograph them. Everyone loved the photos and wanted me to photograph their children. That’s how I started as a family photographer. That was 5 years ago, and then it grew from family shoots, to events, and then weddings. I have shot weddings in almost all of the Emirates – mostly in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Also my work has taken me to the UK, India, Qatar, Greece, Poland, and of course here in Oman.
How many Omani weddings have you photographed?
I think it will be around eighty altogether including Milkahs.
According to you, what is the most important rule of thumb when it comes to photographing weddings in the Middle East?
The goal is to serve your client. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the bride, and I respect that and give her the perfect memory of the perfect day. Here, especially in Oman, everyone knows everyone so when I get it right this is a win-win for me as well as for my clients.
How do you handle family interference?
I serve the bride so she (or a specific nominee of hers) is the one to who I refer to during the wedding if someone wants something from me.
Oh you meant interference from my own family? In two ways: firstly, I work a lot at night, and secondly, I am a great multitasker. I have three computer screens on my worktable, two are taken up with the particular catalogue of shots which I am post processing and the third will either have a movie or a TV show or a photographic technique video, and that leaves quite a bit of attention spared for my family!
But I also have to discipline myself to get away from work and spend time exploring this beautiful country with my family or chilling out on a deckchair, probably by the pool at the marina. And my twin girls especially are my most regular models.
Often I am recognized by strangers when they are with me because people know them from my work.
There are many regional differences even amongst Omani weddings. Are you briefed about the same before the shoot by the family?
Yes I always discuss the plan of the event in advance to take the best advantage of the different opportunities and scenes. However in the grand structure of the day, there are more similarities than differences. Since I have been at the focus (literally!) of scores of weddings, and this is my client›s first wedding (at least as the bride’s) I find that I am more often the one giving advice about how to arrange the logistics from makeup to room decorations to family sessions and those special shots of the jewellery, dress, decorations and the occasion itself. The differences display themselves in the smaller details of what then happens in front of the lens.
The brief I really need is about who the most important guests are, and I also discuss special shots they want me to take; nowadays everyone looks to Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration, so if a bride wants something specific, then I›m happy to do it and learn something new.
What was the most memorable wedding you have shot?
There is no single wedding that stood out above the others because they are all special in their own way. I give all my heart to each one in turn. But looking back at the memories, of course there are those with a really special wow factor in the form of amazing decorations, dresses etc. My own favourites are those when bride and groom are really in love. Sometimes there I see the spark between them and the happiness that they finally will be together. A third category of happy memories for me may follow when I become friends with bride and stay in touch long after the wedding, perhaps meeting again for pregnancy photo sessions and new-born shoots.
I have to say that probably the most memorable weddings for me are those where I made some mistakes. Some still haunt me in my dreams, but every mistake is a learning point and a challenge to make sure that the results still shine through, so the client doesn’t even notice the gap.
As a photographer, what venue do you work best with? Outdoors or indoors?
My early career was all outdoors because I didn›t have lights and so I needed the sun. Then I built a studio, and of course, Arabic weddings are generally indoors. But there is no substitute for natural light and natural surroundings. I feel restricted when I›m being asked to photograph with a black background – it does look nice, but photos from one wedding to another look similar. In those cases I try to change it by playing with lights and adding or removing extra lights. I could do it the easy way and stay in the comfort zone but then after some time my clients would start to feel that they look the same as their cousin’s photos.
But to answer shortly, I prefer the outdoors and even though it costs me more post production since the light is always changing, the photos from every hour look different as opposed to an indoor wedding when the ambient light stays the same.
What was the most challenging moment in your career?
This comes back to what you were saying about the differences. In some traditions here, the families throw money. Being brought up in my culture where I can’t step on money, I once found myself picking it up. Then of course I felt embarrassed in case someone had seen me, so I probably overcompensated by play acting throwing it all away again to show my innocence. Next time
I should just leave it on the floor!
Do you insist on a pre-wedding shoot?
No I don’t and it’s not popular here. I’m very happy if a bride books me for longer hours to shoot the preparation because it will let me to observe her and see which her better side is, not that I believe in that exactly, but there are better angles for everyone. Another thing when I am with her two or three hours before the wedding, when everyone else is frantically running around trying to fix everything, I can be there with her to comfort her while photographing her and her accessories at the same tim3. This can create a happy bond and when it comes to the actual session she is relaxed in front of the camera and that’s just what I need: a relaxed bride who believes that she is the most beautiful woman in the world, because she is! It’s her day.