Jessica Milberg’s classic reportage skills capture every magical smile and embrace. Whether focusing on a wedding or family moment, her experience allows her to get the best from unpredictable situations.

How would you describe your style?

My style is a mix of fine art and documentary. I’m always looking for big emotional moments, while making sure that each image still maintains strong aesthetic principles such as framing and use of light. My main photographic influence, since I first started making images in 1995, has been Nan Goldin. She was also an art student and, like me, aimed to bring to light raw human emotion and the subtlety of relationships in her work.

What’s your preferred way of shooting?

Being primarily a documentary wedding photographer means that I’m constantly shooting in different locations and light. I need to be confident and comfortable – it’s essential to my job. That being said, it’s always nice to have a bit of space to play with and I can move around like a ninja if a location isn’t too cramped. Wedding photographers often want a good amount of diffused natural light when they shoot, but not me. I’m happy to use flash as either fill or main, and I also look for ‘light gifts’, patches of strong or interesting light at a location, be it natural or artificial.

How do you capture happiness?

I wait for it. Patience is the key to making happy, compelling, emotional images. I’m fortunate that most of the time, people are very happy at weddings, but it’s about being able to read human behaviour. Both my parents were psychologists and they raised me to be very aware of people’s emotions. I think this is what helps me the most in my job. I start off by trying to make my couples and their guests comfortable with me, then I watch and listen for the funny storytellers, the joke-tellers etc.

What challenges do you face?

The first challenge is fairly universal for all photographers and I think it’s easily overcome – being able to quickly asses your subject and light and know how to make the best images with what you have available to you. It means knowing how to use a camera in its basic form, and understanding how a camera works. I learned photography before digital existed, working manually with a handheld lightmeter, and still work manual-only even now. The second challenge is more complex – working with people means working with ever-changing personalities and emotions. More often than not, people aren’t keen to have their photo taken and it’s my job to get them to relax.

What are your gear requirements?

I need my camera to be fully manual and controllable with one hand, as I’m often hanging from strange places, or perched on precarious ledges. It also needs to be light and quick. Weddings are fast-paced and full of important moments, so I need my camera to be as ready to work as I am. This goes for my glass too – I prefer prime lenses over zooms.

Why did you switch to mirrorless?

I had one main reason for switching and that was weight. I was running around for 12-18 hours straight with two enormous DSLRs, each with a heavy lens and flash attached to them. I also had pouches of batteries, cards, and spare lenses on my belt. It was killing me. I then went to an Olympus masterclass with John Nassari who said something that really stuck with me – “Use the tools appropriate for the job”. It made me realise that my kind of wedding photography didn’t require the kit I was using. It was weighing me down, I was getting tired, and it was intrusive. I researched several mirrorless systems and ultimately went with Olympus because it was the only system that ticked all of my ‘must-have’ boxes.

Jessica lives In Brighton with her husband and daughter. Having been a pro for 20 years, she now specialises in weddings, bumps, babies and family portraits. She has a BA in fine art and art history, an MFA in fine art media and spends most of her time looking for ‘beautiful ugly, the art in the everyday, the order in chaos’.

“Switching to the Olympus system has been a wonderful learning experience. The entire team have been supportive of my work, and more importantly have helped take my work to a new level with the mirrorless system. Olympus’ continued commitment to education is what has really drawn me in. I love having the opportunity to talk to young and aspiring photographers about the changing technology that can help them to achieve their goals.”

Jessica’s three Olympus essentials

Olympus OM-D E-M1 MkII

This camera has been a game changer. It’s light and I can change every setting with one hand and do it without ever having to take the camera away from my eye. Plus, thanks to the dual card slot I have the peace of mind that my images are safe, even if one card corrupts.

Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12mm f/2

I like to get right into the action to capture my subjects. This lens lets me get close and still get all the information and context to tell the story.

Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 17mm f/1.8

This is by far my favourite lens. It’s light and compact and means I can still be close enough to my subject to create emotional and intimate portraits without distortion.

Article featured in Practical Photography Magazine December issue