Local wedding photographer wants to be a fly on the wall

Tuesday, September 25, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:10 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 25, 2012

COLUMBIA — When Rachel Burlison got married last fall at Columbia Country Club, the wedding party arrived in style on the greens.

Bridesmaids in pink and groomsmen in black tuxedos lined up in their golf carts;  Burlison and her new husband were among them.


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Wedding photographer Johnny Andrew Eaker gave the signal, and the couples took off as he followed them with his camera.

“Johnny made it a race,” Burlison said. “He made the wedding a lot of fun.”

Eaker is a Columbia photographer who specializes in weddings, but not in the traditional way. He regards himself as a photojournalist who treats wedding coverage as a documentary, rather than a set of posed pictures.

“Nowadays, you have to stand out because everyone with a camera thinks they are a photographer,” he said.

His goal is to capture the real moments, but also, to be out of the way so his clients can enjoy their big day. In order to give his clients the type of attention he wants to devote to them, he does only 12 to 15 weddings per year.  

"A wedding is a scripted event, but I keep it photojournalistic,” Eaker said. “I try and remove myself from what they are doing and capture them in the genuine moments.”

Photojournalism is a developing trend in wedding photography, practiced by photographers who capture moments as they happen, rather than taking staged photographs.

The Wedding Photojournalist Association fosters a candid, documentary approach — "a distinctly artistic vision toward wedding photography," according to its website.

Many couples don't want this, but a growing number do. 

Ashley McKeown used Eaker as the photographer for her wedding last September. About a year before she set the date, her father underwent a heart transplant.

His presence at her wedding day was particularly important because of this, she said. Eaker was able to take a picture of a special father-daughter moment before the ceremony.

“Johnny captured the raw emotion of my father and I seeing each other before the wedding,” McKeown said. “It’s my favorite picture.”

Eaker said he does the best he can to make himself invisible when taking his candid photos. He shoots with a telephoto lens so he can be across the room during the ceremony and reception.

He also gets to know the couple early in the process.

“I am pretty insistent that my couples allow me to photograph their engagement session," he said. "This allows the couple to see how I work, and we build a relationship. This is key so the couple will be more at ease on the wedding day and not focus so much on the camera.”

People seem to enjoy the shots that are intimate and not posed, he said, but getting pictures of unplanned events is another story.

“For me, the most difficult thing that can occur to me on the wedding day is if a bride and groom are trying too hard to pose for the camera,” Eaker said. “Most people have grown up looking into a camera and saying 'cheese' their whole life, so it is only natural that if they see the camera, that they will do the same.”

In order to capture these moments, Eaker said he must take risks.

He sets up flash in a dark room, for instance, which could misfire and push the camera out of focus. But he hopes that separates him from photographers who take safe, staged pictures.

"If I don't get the lighting right, I will miss the moment," Eaker said. "To me the dramatic lighting and the true expressions are what sets [me] apart."

Although elements such as tight time restrictions on weddings might restrict his creativity, he said his style is to keep the experience “very laid back, photojournalism-esque, hands-off and capture the moment.”

Eaker picked up photography as a hobby in high school. He attended the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg and graduated from Columbia College as a business major.

He started out as a videographer and was co-owner of a Columbia studio called Creative Studios. Eaker left that business to venture out on his own and launched J Andrews Photographic Design.

He believes it is important as a photojournalist to be at the right place at the right time, to understand lighting and be able to create a personal style. The only way to achieve this is to practice shooting over and over again, he said.

“Photographing the first dance is probably my favorite to capture because that’s when the most real and unscripted moments happen,” Eaker said.

He is more likely to capture genuine moments if the couple is comfortable having him there and letting the wedding moments fall into place.

“I want the brides to be able to look back at an image years from now and for it to tell them exactly how they felt,” Eaker said.

The positive feedback and praise from clients is one of Eaker’s favorite aspects.

“Johnny has a talent for seeing anything out of the ordinary and a unique style,” Burlison said.

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Ryan Gavin September 25, 2012 | 1:57 p.m.

Was this a story or an advertisement? How is this news?

(Report Comment)
Jeanne Abbott September 25, 2012 | 3:05 p.m.

Ryan: That's a tough call. In doing her research, the reporter said she was not able to identify another photographer in Columbia with the same approach and style. Thus, we though it original enough to warrant a story. We would love to hear from other photographers who do take the same approach. Thanks for writing.
Jeanne Abbott, supervising editor

(Report Comment)
Ryan Gavin September 25, 2012 | 3:19 p.m.

Jeanne: I find that impossible to believe. Does the reporter and editor not have a computer with Internet access? A simple Google search for "documentary wedding photographer columbia, mo" turns up dozens of hits.

Additionally, in order to call something a growing trend, and therefore warrant a story on it, shouldn't there be SOME evidence of that being the case?

(Report Comment)
Ryan Gavin September 25, 2012 | 10:59 p.m.

I do hope to get a response to this, but seeing as how the paywall will block it out early next morning, please feel free to respond on the facebook posting of the story. Thank you.

(Report Comment)
Daniel Sava September 26, 2012 | 12:43 a.m.

This is not supposed to be a news story, obviously it was intended as a feature/personal profile,
In my opinion I think she did a great job. keep it up!

(Report Comment)
Joy Mayer September 26, 2012 | 9:46 a.m.

Hi, Ryan. Thanks for your comments, here and on Facebook. We actually had a lively conversation about this in the newsroom yesterday during our morning news meeting, and there were some editors who raised similar points to yours. (As you probably remember from working at the Missourian, we critique the heck out of our own work.) There sure isn't a defined set of "rules" about what is PR and what is journalism, but I promise these are things we're talking about, and will continue to talk about as we profile businesses.

Joy Mayer,
Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)

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