The 'lunatic' Kiwi wedding photographer entertaining millions on TikTok with his behind-the-camera antics

Jonathan Suckling is a big name in the wedding photography business.

The Aucklander was awarded the title of Open Wedding Photographer of the Year in 2020, and has earned a reputation over the years for capturing tender moments with skill and craft.

But more recently it's his behind-the-camera persona, not just his photos, that are winning people over.

Suckling's proclivity for a dive-roll, cartwheel or breakdancing while photographing a couple on their wedding day has struck a chord on social media - and videos of his antics have earned him millions of views.

He now has more than 237,000 followers and 5.7 million likes on his TikTok videos, and business has never been better.

So just how has he done it? Newshub caught up with him to find out.

What got you into wedding photography?

So when I was in the final year of high school at Rangitoto College, I came across the work of an amazing wedding photographer called James Day, who is based in Sydney. At the time I was into photography, but I had never really considered doing it as a career or anything like that. But the second that I saw his work, I knew that that's exactly what I wanted to do.

Obviously wedding photography was a slightly less than conventional choice for a dude in high school, but I just found the work so innovative and creative and dynamic, and the second that I saw what modern wedding photography looked like, that's what I knew I wanted to do.

What do you love about what you do?

I do see wedding photography as art. A lot of people ask me, 'What do you do for your personal work? What do you do when you're not doing wedding photography?' But honestly, I only want to pick up cameras at weddings. For me, it's just one of the coolest challenges creatively to try and create some images with two people and all their friends and family have come together. You might not ever have that same group of people in the same place ever again.

Also on a wedding day there's only so much you can do, only so far you can go, and you only have so much usable light. So I really enjoy the constraints and what they allow me to do as a wedding photographer.

As an extrovert and an entertainer and a bit of a performer, I also enjoy kind of bringing a new approach to wedding photography and mixing it up a little bit. I think so often people have this idea of what weddings should look like, and it's a bit of a hangover from the days where it was all very serious. But the reality is all a wedding day really should be is two people who love each other coming together and deciding to get married and celebrating their love and their relationship with their friends and family.

So I love getting to bring a new approach to that and making the whole experience really fun for people, because I think a lot of the time people find themselves feeling a bit uncomfortable in front of the camera.

When did you start bringing your now-famous antics to your shoots?

From my first wedding, there's footage of me dancing on the dance floor with a camera, so I was always bringing my antics and my moves into the wedding day. I came across the work of this Vietnamese wedding photographer and he was doing this really strange stuff on the ground with his legs and it had gone a little bit viral. And I thought, that's not too dissimilar from what I could bring to the table - so I threw my camera to my flatmate and assistant at the time and he started rolling. And next thing you know, I post that video of what I did, and it went viral that day.

That was about seven years ago and since then, I've been recording videos of what I call the 'Suckling Special', which is where I just throw a whole bunch of passion and energy into a 60-second clip of me diving around like a lunatic and having fun. And yeah, a lot of those videos have gone quite viral since. And more recently, I've been posting some of those videos on TikTok. And you know, just last year, I managed to get from zero to about 200,000 followers in just a couple of months.

Does your approach help you take better photos?

I would say the purpose that it's serving is probably not helping me take better photos, but it helps to just loosen the vibe and the atmosphere around the photo shoot and makes the couple feel like not all eyes are on them. People can feel a little bit awkward in front of the camera, like they're being watched, and when I do that it kind of distracts them from the fact that they're having their photo taken - so they can just loosen up and enjoy each other's company and laugh at me making a fool of myself instead of feeling like they've got too much attention on themselves in that moment.

I find that bringing that kind of energy to a wedding day helps to create a bit of fun, a bit of antics and gets everybody on board to be excited to be in front of the camera. And that really shifts the dynamic when you don't need to break down those walls, because you've already relaxed and loosened everybody up. When they know that you're a fun guy who's just there to have a good time, it helps them enjoy themselves too.

Have your clients ever asked you to tone down the antics?

I think my one of my biggest skills as a wedding photographer is probably the ability to read the room really well - I'm very careful to make sure I'm not going to either under-deliver or over-deliver on that front. But a lot of my couples book me because of these antics and that kind of character that I've brought out to the online world, and they're excited for me to bring some of those moves. So I kind of have a few questions on a questionnaire where I gauge the level of interest and make sure they're going to be happy with what they get.

And the grannies love it - they always give me hugs at the end of the night.

What inspired you to show the behind-the-scenes of your wedding shoots?

That's a good question. Obviously, knowing that these videos have a lot of viral potential and we're living in an age where if you're not posting online, you don't exist essentially - especially as a business - I realised there's a lot of potential to share these videos and gain some traction. So last year I thought I was too old for TikTok, but I decided to just give it a crack. And I'm really glad that I did, because the content went really well on there, and I actually learnt a lot about content and how to cut shortform video content through that. I wanted to put it out there and push the limits of what can be done on a wedding day.

Everyone's so obsessed traditionally with the idea of things being very strict and formal and serious at a wedding. And I kind of wanted to challenge that norm a little bit and show people that you can have fun, you know? I'm not going to be doing a dive roll mid-kiss during the ceremony. But when it comes to the photo shoot in other parts of the day, it's just a wedding day with us celebrating the love with all their friends and their family. And so I wanted to show people that you can have a bit of fun and we don't have to be 'professional' as people would like to believe.

What's the reaction been like on social media?

It's been massive, it's been huge. I've blown up on TikTok - I'm at about 230,000 followers now on TikTok. And when I was at the peak of that momentum, I had so many couples getting in touch with me, people from around the world, and I probably booked about 10 or 15 weddings just because of those videos on TikTok. And ever since then, as well, it really informs the dynamic that I have on a wedding day because I have people coming up to me and being like, 'Hey, you're that dude from TikTok aren't you?' I was photographing a couple on the street in Ponsonby the other night after a wedding, and some dude came up off the street and said, 'Hey, are you that guy from TikTok?' And yes, I was. It's been pretty crazy, the fact that people have seen my videos - and now most people refer to me as 'the TikTok-famous photographer', which has been a bit of fun.

Have you had any negative feedback?

For the most part, it's been overwhelmingly positive, which is incredible considering the the cesspit of negativity that the internet can sometimes be. But the other week I got a video reposted to an Instagram account with about 30 million followers and for some reason, just the angle and the way it landed with that audience, I had an overwhelming amount of negative feedback which is pretty funny. I think people just don't quite understand that it's a character, it's a bit tongue in cheek. This is something I'm doing for fun and something that my couples are really on board with and excited about. But the feedback was pretty hilarious. I think I've got to do like a Jimmy Fallon mean tweets edition, reading out all that negative feedback.

But it's all water off a duck's back, that negative feedback, because I know that my clients and my friends and the people who are important to me understand the nuance, they understand the bigger picture and the fact that essentially my mission in life is I want to bring as much joy to the world as possible. And especially through the format of videos and making people laugh, this is something that I'm really passionate about. So I'm not fazed by all the negativity - they just don't get it.

Have you had a lot of interest thanks to your TikTok presence?

From TikTok alone, I've probably booked about 15 or 20 weddings, and I'm busier than I've ever been. I think a big part of that is thanks to going so viral recently.

What do you hope to achieve with your social media presence?

I think my biggest dream in life really is just to bring as much joy to people as possible. Currently, photography is the vessel for that. And in the future, we might see where things go, but at the moment, I'm still really enjoying photographing weddings and and making those wedding days as fun as possible for my couples. 

What makes the perfect wedding shot?

Just got to throw a few pirouettes and dive rolls! Nah, the perfect winning shot is just where the couple is fully present and fully being themselves and actually enjoying themselves, not looking all stiff and awkward and posed in front of the camera. To make a really great wedding portrait, what I try to do is really help my couples relax, so that when they look at that image and see themselves, they see themselves being genuine, happy and enjoying themselves on their wedding day.

How many weddings have you been to?

I've probably been to over 300 weddings. I had five weddings last week, two this week - it doesn't stop at the moment and I'm still loving it. If my couples are genuine, nice people - which they all are - then I'm always excited to turn up at a wedding day and document their love and the celebration of their love with their friends and family.

What things do wedding guests do that annoy you?

Two things that people do that weddings that is annoying at times is number one, poking me and saying, 'Hey, come here, get a photo of this.' It's pretty rude to be poking someone in general, it makes you feel like a little bit of a servant rather than, you know, someone who's there working for the same cause. Another thing is when I'm trying to photograph nice natural moments and I'm kind of sneaking around trying to catch people unawares in genuine candid moments, sometimes when people see the camera they'll straight away turn and smile awkwardly because they don't know what to do and feel uncomfortable. So if a photographer's lurking around and trying to capture some nice natural moments, just forget that they're there and don't be too conscious of the camera.