EE003 – Kevin Wylie

Episode 3 takes us to Ayrshire in West Scotland

Kevin Wylie is a photographer based in Ayrshire in West Scotland in the UK. Most of his work is at weddings and from very early on in this episode it becomes very apparent how passionate he is about trying to create exceptional memories for his couples.
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Tony: Hi, this is Tony Winyard, you’re listening to Episode 3 of Exceeding Expectations. My guest in this episode is Kevin Wylie, a photographer based in Scotland. There’s definitely a lot of photographers can learn a lot from this episode, but not only photographers but for a start, there’s going to be many brides beating down his door to book him when they hear…his mind-set is phenomenal. I feel that people for many other industries can learn a lot from the way he approaches things, the way he prepares things in advance. There’s definitely a lesson in here for many of us in, they say preparation is everything and he really proves it with some of the stories that he gives. So I’ll talk no longer and let’s please welcome Kevin Wiley. Good afternoon Kevin. How are you?

Kevin: I’m good, thanks Tony. How are you?

Tony: I’m very well, thanks. We haven’t had the best of luck with technology so far, but I think I have a feeling this time it’s going to be fine.

Kevin: It certainly seems a lot clearer than earlier, yes.

Tony: So let’s start from the beginning. So you’ve been a wedding photographer for a few years now, haven’t you?

Kevin: Yes, it’s been six and a half years now since I went full time.

Tony: What was it that got you into it in the first place?

Kevin: To be honest, I had no intention of photographing weddings. I spent a few months in Africa with my regiment, with the Scottish Guards back in 1991 and the scenery that I saw there, the sights will go with me to the gravestone, they were incredible. Unfortunately I only had a small compact camera with me to record that. Obviously taking photographs wasn’t a priority for us, but I made the promise that when I come home I was going to buy myself a proper camera and learn to record the things that I saw as I travelled with the army. Came back home to a lovely tax rebate from HMRC and went out the next day and blew the entire lot on a new camera.

Tony: Okay.

Kevin: It just went from there. It became, I had a camera with me everywhere I went. I spent an insane amount of money on film and books and magazines and reading things and trying things out and writing settings down. Over the years it just from my national interest with landscapes and you know, my travels like just grew that I found myself gravitating more towards photographing people and enjoying the interaction with people and recording those things. It just got to the point after I left the forces I worked in health clubs for quite a number of years and they’re just, the cameras were always there and they just always seemed that there was something that was within me to do.

Ultimately my wife made the, [inaudible 03:02] for a couple of years, a few years ago and said, look, you know, you’re really not happy. You’ve got to give this a try. You know, you’ve listened to people telling you that you’ll never be any good and you’ll never make money out of it. You know, just stick to doing what you’re doing. She says you’re really, it’s what makes you happiest when you’ve got a camera in your hand. She said just go for it.

So I was at a point where we are I’d left the fitness industry. I was working in retail and manage managing a shop 60 miles away from where I lived so I never saw my kids who are both fairly young at the time and we were at a point where I had a lot of wedding bookings coming in through friends and family referrals. My eldest girl cuddle up to me. She would be about three or four I think at the time and on Sunday she cuddled up and she said, “Dad, why’d you go to work when I’m sleeping and come back when I’m sleeping? Is it because I’ve been bugging you don’t love me anymore?”

Tony: Wow.

Kevin: Tony. Honestly, my wife and I had been speaking about the change for a wee while and I just honestly, it felt like my heart had been ripped out. As an adult I knew I was spending days off shooting and editing and stuff to try and provide a living for them. But my views were if my daughter’s perception is that she’s done something wrong and that I don’t love her then I’m doing something wrong. So the next morning I give my boss six weeks notice and had a heart attack. So I thought, I now need to build a business in six weeks.

That was it. It was tough. It was hard entering to a supersaturated area of the market. Where you only need to go onto Google and type in bad wedding photography or wedding photography disaster and there pages of this stuff. There are so many horror stories out there with people not turning up or they turn up and the photographs are blurry or the heads are cut off, you know, and it’s hard for brides to sort of sort the wheat from the chaff when, you know.

I’ll have a near-shore on the west coast of Scotland and if you tape in looking for a near-shore wedding photographer there are over 400 people saying that that’s what they do. then there’s a huge range of places, everything from…guys that are doing it from…I saw somebody saying they start weddings from £59 all the way up to the top names that have charging £10,000 – £20,000 pounds for a day’s wedding photography. So how does someone decide that? Yes, you’re worth them trusting. It was a hard game to get into but it’s something I’m hugely passionate about. It’s a 24 hour obsession.

So unfortunately I’m on the stubborn side and if you put my back against the wall, then I’m coming out swinging and I thought, no, do you know something that is, what want to do? I’m not going to do weddings for £200 and you know [inaudible 06:03]. I want to do the best that I possibly can. I want to produce the best images as I possibly can. Thankfully my wife supported us when we share the business up. She was working as a manager in retail and she will let you know, I can cover the bills. You build the business, you build what you want, your dream. That’s how we went about it.

Tony: Wow. I know it is such a big thing because that doesn’t happen to everyone.

Kevin: No, it’s a huge leap of faith and hotpot. She saw an ability that I had always been taught wasn’t there. But it was something that was just…Anyone that’s creative, whether it’s a musician an artist, a sculptor or whatever, it’s something that’s just part of you. To have someone to be so selfless as she was, I’ve said it’s so many times, I’ve been very lucky in the things that I’ve achieved in six and a half years and the people [inaudible 07:01] countries have soared through it. None of it would have happened had I not had the amazing wife that I’ve got who said, you know something, I will work and I will pay the bills and you follow your dream. that’s a very, very rare thing that happened.

Tony: Absolutely. Wow. Yes, that’s really cool. So, you say you’ve been doing it for six and a half years and so how did you kind of eventually, I’m presuming when you first started you were doing say lower end weddings?

Kevin: I was, as I said I never wanted to get into wedding photography. I sort of became the friend with a camera that Uncle Bob as a lot of people like to say, because that’s why I tend not to get down on Uncle Bob because Uncle Bob has a place. But I became the friend, if you’ve got a good camera and even you know even as an amateur I realised it wasn’t just about having a good camera. When it was a friend’s wedding I would always have at least two cameras, with the flashes, two flashes, use backup kit with me just in case, so it wasn’t just the case of turning up and making a couple of hundred quid. To me it was a special day for a couple.

This is a day that you cannot turn back time, you cannot say oh I’m sorry but the battery’s died or my memory card’s corrupted or something. That’s not an excuse. Even if as a good friend it’s just non negotiable. You’ve got to deliver the best that you can. It’s probably the Scots guards and me that came out that if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it 100% even if it’s just a favour for a friend. It gets to the point that where my friend’s now getting married. So you become the guy that will do it for a few hundred pounds.

Then when we made the move, when it was the jump to full time, do I want to keep doing weddings for a few hundred pounds and be sort of four or five days a week but never see my family and then I was going to be back to square one. So for me, I looked at the market and certainly from my experience of the wedding industry where I love, the middle market’s gone and is very much either cheap as chips jets or brides are willing to pay money for a service which is sort of the top or really the best that they possibly can. At that area, they’re looking to book a sale rather than a price.

You know, for me, but that had much more appeal where I would rather say I’m going to do 30 weddings a year, absolute maximum. I’m not going above that. That will give me the level that we want, it will allow me the time with my family that I want and it will allow me to put the time and effort into my work that shows brides my style and the vision that I’ve got in my head. as I said, it was hard, you know, because you’ll start noticing you’re skint, you’re putting every penny straight back into the business to get the best lenses that you can and you know, your Adobe subscription and you know, all these kinds of things.

It’s fairly tempting when someone says, oh, well, you know, there’s 150 quid in your pocket, you know, you’re not doing anything two weeks in Saturday. It’s really, really hard to walk away from that when you’re sitting saying to yourself, do you know that’s £150 that would, you know, that would contribute to the meals, to the household bills for the change. Again, my wife was the backbone saying you know, do you know it’s not what you want you to do and you’ve said it yourself, so I’m reminding you. If you do that wedding for £150, the referrals you get from that will expect you to do them for £150.

Tony: Exactly.

Kevin: It’s sticking to your guns and you know, I’m worth more than that. It sort of came around. It just kind of grew through word of mouth. The wedding I’d done Saturday was actually the aunt of a bride that I photographed 2 years ago and that’s where the majority of the business comes from. to me that’s such a huge compliment when you know a bride will turn round and say to you, not just a friend but a family member, you know, that’s who you need to speak to.

Tony: Yes. Wow. So you’ve carved out a niche for the kind of style that you do. So how far do you travel for your weddings?

Kevin: I’ll travel around the world. Anywhere at all. So far the furthest I’ve travelled…I’ve got quite a few connections with the Black Sea Coast of Bulgaria, I’ve shot some weddings there. I photographed one in France. I was across there for five days for a wedding on the Somme. One of my brides and grooms who, the groom is Italian, flew the family to the [inaudible 11:58] area of Italy for the wee girl’s christening. I was asked to go across and photograph the christening.

So I’ve been very, very lucky, you know, if I’ve photographed all across Europe. I was in London in May last year, I’ve shot quite a few weddings across England that… I try to get away from saying I’m purely a wedding photographer because I photograph people, whether it’s portraits or whatever. I was very fortunate enough to be asked to go to Buckingham Palace in May this year as photographer for, a military event with her Majesty the Queen. So, travel’s quite cheap nowadays, so I will go anywhere that I’m needed.

Tony: I mentioned to you that the idea behind this podcast is talking with people who kind of go out of their way to give something to kind of over deliver today to their customers. You, I was mentioning this on a DJ group asking, does anyone know any people that really kind of do over deliver to their customers? You were recommended by a guy. So what is it that you think you do to your customers to give them an experience they’re not expecting?

Kevin: You know, I’ve got to thank them very much. That’s a huge compliment. I read a quote years ago in a book and it says that, “A man must think like a hero, in order to be perceived as a merely average individual.” It’s so true because if you think if you go shopping with your wife and you approach the door of Sainsbury’s or whatever, and the guy in front of you just lets the door swing back on to you. Chances are you’re going to mutter a name under your breath. He’s an ignorant so and so he really isn’t because that’s not his job. He’s just a guy that’s just shopping exactly the same as you. It’s not his job to hold the door so he lets it go. That guy takes 10 seconds of his day to hold that door and let you in, yes thanks very much. But you don’t care, you know, offer to buy the guy a pint. But to me that guy has, has gone over and above to just, can I meet your day just that tiny wee bit better?

I always kind of look back in the fact that as a day when you can’t turn back time and people deserve better, and I try not to get on my soapbox too much, Tony but people deserve better from the wedding than photography than an awful lot that’s being delivered out there. There’s a formula, I’ve watched so many YouTube videos and hear people talking about the formula. I’ll go and do this and take that shot, and I’ll take that shot, and I’ll take this pose and that pose. The sad fact is that every couple is different. Every wedding venue’s different. The dress is different, the groom’s outfit is different. I think I’ve got a duty to find the unusual, to find something different for that bride and groom.

That venue may have, you know, 265 weddings booked out this year. It’s my duty to make sure that there’s was 264 other brides looking and saying, why did my photographer not get a shot like that? If that means finding, climbing up a tree or wading into the sea because that’s where the best angle is going to be, then I don’t even think I go over and above I just do what needs to be done to get the shot. I had a wedding in July up in Loch [inaudible 15:37] and they’ve got beautiful jetty jotting out into the middle of the loch. when a couple book me, I use an app that shows me throughout the day where the sun’s going to be. I knew that when the sun went down on this jetty, the only way to get a sunset shot was with the jetty running sort of left to right in the frame, which meant I needed to be in the water. That was never a negotiating point. That’s where I had to be to get the light.

So you know, they booked me a year and a half before the wedding. I knew I was wading into loch that night to get the sunset. It’s just to me it’s just part of doing the job. Yes I could have stood on the jetty with the sunset on the left and the dark sky on the right hand side. Anybody could do that, absolutely anybody could do that. I needed to be guy that had the balls to take his shoes and socks off and wade into the freezing cold water.

Tony: What was the reaction on the couple’s face when you decided to do that?

Kevin: That particular couple of… the bride’s best friend’s wedding a year and a half before was when I had actually climbed a tree. I don’t know the type of tree but it’s, there isn’t a central trunk, it’s like a group of trunks growing up there where you can actually get inside this tree. The couple had been childhood sweethearts when they were kids. They were married out in the woods. This was where they went to play as kids. He said, “You know this tree is very special. We used to play hide and seek here when we were kids and we’re thinking maybe get a photograph of the two of us kind of peeking out of there, you know, from the centre of the tree.”

Again, it’s just a, well, yes I can do that. But anybody could do that. Let’s make it different. I looked at the tree and I thought, I can have you. The wee boy in me came out and I was like yes, I can have this. So I went up at 20 or 30 feet up the tree and use the wide angle lens shooting down with, my lighting assistant moving my light around to get the shot of this bride actually hiding within the tree. So when I waded into Loch [inaudible 17:50], the bride and groom were kind of prepared for the sort of stuff that I do.

Tony: I mean, you tried to tell me five minutes ago that you don’t really over deliver. Well, I would say that’s pretty much over delivering because there’s not many photographers would do something like that.

Kevin: But you know something, there should be. There really should be. I married my wife sixteen years ago and she’s the best thing that ever happened to me. You know, I look back at my wedding date it was special. It was ultimately, you know, one of the biggest days in my life. My great aunt and uncle and my uncle was like a dad to me and we lost them two years ago at the age of 90. Now they were married for 63 years Tony. It’s hard for any of us to quantify that. You think 63 years married, you know, most of the time, you know, most of my friends haven’t been alive for that length of them let alone married for it.

I’m hanging out in their living room 65.5 years down the line, it’s still that one wedding photograph that they had taken when they walked up the [inaudible 18:58], they went down to the local photographers in his studio, he stood the two of them there and he took a photograph of the bride and groom. You know, the suit my Uncle wore, you know, would have we’ve probably been decades ago, same with my aunt’s dress, but that one photograph still hangs on their living room wall and when people are gone that’s all that you’ve got left.

I never lose sight in the fact that that is something, that’s entrusted to me, to provide those memories for the children, for the grandchildren. That is not a cat’s chance in hell I would ever want any of my bride or grooms’ kids going, you skimped on your photographer didn’t you? You’re giving your photographer a bad name. I want my brides to look like they’ve just stepped out of Vogue magazine. I want my bride’s grand kids to go, you know something Gran, you looked hot on your wedding day. Now you’re 90 years old. You’re wrinkling, you’ve got white hair and false teeth, but 60 years ago, you looked damn hot.

I’ve got a duty to do that default, you know, and it’s a personal thing to be trusted to create these memories for people. So to me it’s just what you’ve got to do. I’ve got a wedding in May and it was a huge honour. Those two girls, Gemma and Alison and a few days after the wedding, Gemma contacted me to say, I know you’ll be going through the photographs and you’ll be cutting out the ones that don’t work and stuff, if you’ve got anyone with dad will you put them aside. I said, you know, you got to appreciate that our standards and if I’ve got, you know, if there’s maybe be a wee bit of blur or if there’s a bit or movement or something doesn’t quite work, then the they called and she says Kevin, my dad passed away in the way home from my wedding. She says, I don’t care how good the photographs are, I would like them please. I sat on the phone with tears running, tears, because it’s such a powerful thing that she, that’s why she didn’t even care if the photos were out of focus, if I had to cut off his head, do you know if there was a funny angle, didn’t it matter to her. She says, I know you’ve got a lot of photographs of him, she says, but you never have enough. when I’m providing that for brides and grooms and their families, it’s far too important just to give them a half-hearted effort and say, yes, okay, it was just another day at the office. I cannot do it.

Tony: The passion you have for it shines through. I mean you clearly, you’re really passionate about it. I’m, do you, when you’re going to a new venue, do you recce the venue before and kind of find where you might be able to take some unusual shots?

Kevin: Oh man, absolutely. Yes. If it’s within, say travelling distance I will be there a week before the wedding. If it’s further away and I don’t have the opportunity, then again, embrace technology. We have, as I mentioned, the [inaudible 22:03] APP that will show me throughout the day where the sun’s going to be at certain times of the day. You’ve got Google, you know, Google Street view really can go on site and you can actually walk round about the place and see and get a better feel for it.

When I did the wedding in France, I would sit and Skype with the groom and he would say I think we’re going here at three o’clock, you know, and I was able to say, well you know, months away from the wedding date, well we could, but why don’t we come back there around seven o’clock or why can’t you go there at three o’clock because if you look across to the west, those big trees, they are going to cast a big shadow across there. It may not be particularly good for us. Whereas if we come back, the sun’s moved round 4 hours later. So it’s going to give us better light in that area. so, if I’m not able to get on site, then I’ll use everything at my disposal to recce as much as I possibly can.

Tony: Well and that completely lives with the whole thing about what this podcast is about, is doing the extra just going beyond that call the really give your customers something different.

Kevin: When I joined the army, I could have joined any regiment. I joined the Scots Guards, I joined the Queen’s personal troops, the best that I could possibly join because to me, if you’re doing something, you do it 100% or you don’t bother getting your ass out of bed that morning. it’s the same with my photography. It is a huge, huge passion for me. when I, you know, if I’m taking the photographs, when I, you know, I cry at weddings. I love doing what I do and you know, the bride’s up dancing with her dad, at some point in time I’m going to have to pay for two weddings. I’m going to be the dad up there dancing. That dad deserves the best photographs of him and his daughter, so to me it’s just doing my job. I don’t, I genuinely, and I appreciate it

Tony it’s a huge, huge compliment, I don’t think I do anything that a professional wedding photographer shouldn’t be doing. I think the fact is that the industry has accepted mediocrity and it just, you know, we’re talking about, we take some snapshots, we’ve picked some crappy, you know, vintage filter or whatever it is and say, there you go. It’s really not, it’s unimaginative, it’s not creative, it’s bland, it’s boring, it’s the same as everybody else is doing. Get off your asses. Walk round before and learn how to control lighting. Learn a we bit about posing couples. You don’t have to make them like catwalk mannequins, but learn how to interact with them and how that couple work together. You know, get them in a pre-wedding shoot. See what works for them. See whether there are very lovey dovey or if it’s the couple we had on Saturday who just want to laugh all the way through. You make the most of that. You learn how work with that and just deliver what they’re supposed to get. But as I say it, thank you very much. We just need more guys delivering.

Tony: Absolutely. You’d like to, any information you’d like to give?

Kevin: For photographers, don’t get hung up on gear. I hear so many photographers talking about this camera and that camera and which one’s better, which one’s not? Your camera’s are rubbish, mine’s a lot better. There is not a bad camera on the market nowadays. The big camera manufacturers, Nikon and Canon, I’m a Fuji user, I jumped from Canon to Fuji. Sony. There’s none of them producing a bad camera or they would not be in business. There’s none of them producing a really bad lens or they would not be in business. When to use lighting.

You know that is, that’s the biggest issue I see in the industry that we don’t know how to light people. We use flash and we get scared by it and it’s really not that hard to play with it. You know, practice it. Get, you know, if you’re walking your dogs as I do, get a camera, get a flash in your pocket and getting practice [inaudible 26:06]. From a bride’s point of view, lease, please, please get the best photographer and you can possibly afford. I’ve realised that everyone is on a budget but when I see someone saying we skimped on the photographer because I wanted a chocolate fountain. Well we went to the candy cart because you know my friend has got a new digital camera at Christmas so he said he’ll photograph the wedding for free. You know something, let your friend with the camera be a guest and invest the money and getting the best photographer that you possibly can.

[inaudible 26:41] and you Google bad wedding photography or wedding photography disasters, don’t think it can’t happen to you because speaking, you know, from a personal point of view, I am the one of the guys who gets the phone call on a Friday to say the photographer hasn’t shown at this venue, can you come along? You know, my photographer has phones to say he needs to go into his real job tomorrow so he can’t afford to get off for my wedding. So get a professional. Get someone whose style you absolutely love. As a day, you cannot turn back time. I was sitting in a bridal shop a couple of days ago and she admitted that she went with a family friend because she was pressured into it and her words were, if I could turn back time, I would stand my ground, tell my friends and family, no, I’m getting a professional to do it.

Tony: Well, I mean I’ve done hundreds of weddings and so I’ve therefore seen hundreds of photographers. I couldn’t agree with you more than what you just said. I’ve seen photographers ranging from pretty poor to pretty good and yes it does make such a difference having a good photographer who knows what he’s doing, has a good manner with the guests, that can make such a difference.

Kevin: Oh, very much so. You can look at your wedding photographer, we spend more time with the bride than anybody else. If the flower people come and drop off the flowers, and I’m not criticising other suppliers that you know you need them, but they will come along, they’ll drop things off. The cake’s there we are there when you’re still getting your hair in curlers in the morning and your makeup is just starting to be applied. We are there when you’re dancing the night away. You’re up with your intended photographer because that needs to be someone that you can quite happily spend that length of time on your big wedding day with that, that you can trust to be there, to not be too intrusive, but to take control when you need them to and to look after you because ultimately it’s a bride’s day and you need someone that’s going to be there with you in mind and that needs to be someone that you can gel with for the whole of that day.

Tony: Kevin, I wish you continued success and with a passion you have for it, I’m sure that that success is going to continue.

Kevin: Thank you very much. Appreciate it. again, if I can thank [inaudible 28:58] for the compliment, to suggest my name as it’s a massive, massive compliment you very, very much.

Tony: No problem. I look forward to maybe meet meeting new one day.

Kevin: Fingers crossed mate.

Tony: Thanks Kevin.

Kevin: Thank you. Take care Tony.

Tony: Bye.

Kevin: Bye. Bye.

Tony: Next week in episode four of Exceeding Expectations, we take a trip over to Milwaukee where we meet Greg Sadler, president and co-founder of Reason I, Owe. He does a lot of content production, public speaking, philosophical counselling and he’s the editor of Stoicism Today and he tries to make philosophy more accessible for the common man, tries to make it a lot less pretentious. He has hundreds of hours, probably thousands of hours of videos on YouTube of various different philosophers and schools of philosophy. So if that’s something that’s of interest to you, you know, do check him out. he does a lot of things for his students, goes way beyond what most university professors typically do for their students and he tries to make things much easier for his students to understand what he’s putting across but also for them to retain that information. so you’ll hear a lot more about Greg in next week’s episode of Exceeding Expectations. Thank you for listening. I’d love you to subscribe and if you could leave a review on iTunes, that would certainly exceed my expectations are. See you very soon.

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