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This Is How: ‘Promises’ by Michael and Hannah Jackson

In the seventeenth of our regular series of ‘This Is How…’, the fab Michael and Hannah Jackson (of Jackson & Co Photography) take us behind the scenes of this brilliant image. Such interesting insights into capturing emotion, storytelling, editing, working with videographers, knowing your equipment, and much more…

This frame has always been one of our all time favourites. It’s one of those landmark frames in our short career that changed things in some ways and confirmed that we were making the right choices in others. At first glance, it’s just a lovely, emotional photo that us documentary photographers love to take and don’t come along often enough. But the story behind it isn’t entirely obvious unless you know the people involved.

Polly & Ismail have been together for a number of years and Khalil is Ismail’s sons from a previous relationship. Polly has been in his life since he was an infant. Moments before they said their vows to one another Polly decided to read a handwritten letter to Khalil. A set of promises between them that she will always be there for him, to care for him and find a way back to him should they ever lose one another. It was the single best piece of writing that I have ever heard before or since and it reduced everyone to floods of tears.

I’d love to tell you that I was steely and focused at this moment on telling the story and capturing this frame but it was very sandy on that beach and for no obvious reason my eyes had started leaking water! Fortunately, Hannah was in the right place and more composed than I was!

The honest truth to the finished photo is probably an inconvenient one for a lot of reportage purists. It wasn’t perfect in camera and it took work to make it look as it does.

Hannah was where she was not out of choice but out of compromise. We were working alongside a Greek videographer whose communication wasn’t the best and we quietly and discreetly jostled for position through most of the ceremony. This frame should almost be credited to him as if it weren’t for him being very very close and slap bang in the middle there’s a very good chance that neither of us would have chosen this composition. Thank you, wherever you are!

Secondly, this was an exercise in trusting in our equipment and the dynamic range of the sensor. There are newer, fancier cameras on the market these days but I’ll always have faith in the camera you know inside out above “new and fancy” every day of the week. In this situation it meant hugely under exposing the scene so as not to blow Polly’s arm and then recovering it in the edit afterwards.

Finally and possibly controversially we chose during the edit to remove two bronzed tourists making their way out of the sea to Pollys left, Speedos and all. It’s something we consider carefully when we do something like this but the bottom line is always simple: Our job is to distill our couples story as purely as possible. The tourists were a distraction, they added nothing to the story and potentially took away from the power of the frame so we removed them.

Put simply, it’s the emotional elements that last the longest. For any of us to take those photos that matter the most and especially on this occasion the only way it happens is by having a great relationship and complete trust with your client.

We got on like a house on fire with Polly & Ismail, they’re two of the kindest humans we’ve ever encountered and to be able to take not just this photo but a whole series of them from two different viewpoints through both mine and Hannahs lenses was a complete honour. Our meetings with them before hand, our communication in the run up to the day, our genuine enthusiasm getting to know them and their families helped make this image. Without all that, we wouldn’t have got it.

It changed us instantly. We’re not the twinkly light, crazy angle composition photographers and this image, at this time in our career, gave us huge confidence that that was ok and not to strive for something that just isn’t us. At the time it gave us, and continues to give us confidence that searching for stories and moments like this within every wedding is always the best thing to do. If we ever take a better frame than this we’ll both be stupendously happy!

You can see more of Michael and Hannah’s work on their website, or here on their profile on This is Reportage.

If you found this article interesting, we have lots of other ‘This Is How…’ posts by our TiR members over here.

Aga Tomaszek

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