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Partying Down At The Wedding

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Weddings are a time to honor tradition, commitment and family. But as any wedding photojournalist knows, they’re also a great time for people to come together and cut loose. To capture all those spontaneous moments that will be talked about for years to come, a wedding photographer needs a quick eye and a good camera—oh, and a sense of humor doesn’t hurt either. A few award-winning WPJA members share their stories about some of the wildest, party-centric weddings they’ve ever covered.

EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

Even the most well prepared wedding photojournalist might not know when a reception will be a party-hard affair.

“I never know until I arrive if the wedding I’m at is going to rock the house or be prim and proper,” says Karen Gordon, a WPJA member from New York. “I’ve been doing this long enough to know that sometimes the couples who I think for sure will let loose have a rather dull reception, and the couples who I would never have expected to really know how to get down end up having a blast.”

Heather Mabry, a WPJA member in Texas, has a similar view. “I’ve photographed weddings in which I arrive, I get a sense of the atmosphere and the guests, and think to myself ‘this is going to be a slow one’ — and then they end up surprising me. Grandma is getting down on the dance floor and the bride and groom are doing tequila shots. You never really can tell for sure.”

So how to prepare for the unknown? Mabry, as a rule, makes sure she’s ready for anything. “Often, I’m in another room at a reception and I hear clapping or screaming or laughing and I know right away that I have to get into that other room as soon as possible,” she says. “I always have my camera on me, even when I’m on the way to the bathroom—you never know what could happen on the way!”

George Wolf, a WPJA photographer from Nevada, finds that watching the mood of the wedding itself gives the wedding photojournalist a good idea of where the reception is headed. If a wedding is a more casual affair, held outside or in a different venue from a church, “that casual atmosphere will carry over to the reception. The other clue that people might get rowdy,” he wisecracks, “is when half the crowd is holding a Corona during the actual ceremony.”

Photograph by Karen Gordon, New York of man dancing at wedding reception with drink on his head and surrounded by money

Photo by Karen Gordon

Some great photographs may come at those moments when wedding guests’ antics and tradition collide, as in a photo by Karen Gordon that placed in a WPJA contest. The picture shows a man sitting in the middle of the floor covered with money, balancing an unidentified beverage on his forehead.

“This photo was taken at the climax of a Greek wedding celebration,” Gordon remembers. “In that tradition, the guests throw money at the bride and groom and anyone else who gets in the middle of the circle. This moment was a serendipitous intersection of a guest letting loose and the money flying through the air.”

GET INTO THE ACTION

A wedding photojournalist’s focus on the bigger story, rather than one individual photo or set of posed photos, means that he or she has the confidence and the skill to get right into the thick of things without disturbing a great moment or, worse, missing it altogether.

“Shooting a reception is a lot like being at a volatile spot-news situation, like a riot or protest march,” says Wolf. “I roam around with the wide angle lens and wait for something to happen, then I pounce on the developing action.”

He continues, “as a group, I think [wedding photojournalists] are better at getting in the middle of the action and finding and capturing the emotion there. It’s a lot like getting the jubilation after a sports team wins the big championship game. You just run into the mayhem and look for good faces.”

Photograph by George Wolf, Nevada of bridal party dancing on top of limousine

Photo by George Wolf

In one case, the mayhem he captured, a bridal party dancing on top of a limo in a photo that placed in a recent WPJA contest, was definitely of the one-in-a-million variety.

“This particular photo would never have happened during a normal situation,” Wolf remembers. “But in this case, the limo driver was their friend and it was a privately owned car. So, he let them get on top. When the car got close to the restaurant everyone could hear the rowdy noise and it was just a matter of grabbing the long lens and snapping off a few quick shots while the car went past.”

Not everyone at the reception got into the spirit, however. “The funny thing is that when the limo stopped, the security at the facility came out and griped out the driver and the bridal party for twenty minutes over the liability issues. Of course, no one really cared and they ignored the complaints as much as possible.”

Heather Mabry also prepares for action whenever and wherever it arises. “I think when you’re at a wedding where people are having a great time and cutting loose, it’s really important that you be ready to capture those unscripted moments,” she says. “They always end up being some of my favorite images.”

Photograph by Heather Mabry, Texas of bridemaid performing wild dance moves

Photo by Heather Mabry

Her photo of a bridesmaid performing some wild dance moves, which placed in a WPJA contest, demonstrates this to great effect.

“I was in the room with this lively group of bridesmaids as they were getting ready,” Mabry says. “This particular bridesmaid was a ball of crazy energy. She started to demonstrate her dance moves for the reception and I knew I had to get a shot, so I put my Canon Mark II shutter on high speed and shot away. This was my favorite shot of the group because of the way her hair is in motion and because of the look on the other bridesmaids’ faces.”

The wedding photojournalist can’t hang on the sidelines if she wants to get that great shot. As Mabry says, she’s got to be in the midst of it and share the mood and excitement.

“There have been times I have been scared of getting hurt when crazy drunken groomsmen are jumping around and throwing people…but I know that I can get a great shot that way and it’s worth the risk. That is why I have insurance!” she jokes.

Karen Gordon agrees. “Wedding photojournalism is all about capturing the moment, and there’s nothing more exciting than being in the midst of a moment that is full of life, that’s uninhibited and raw in its celebration,” she says. “Few things inspire me more.”

—by Heather Bowlan for the Wedding Photojournalist Association

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Featured Photographer: Anna Kuperberg

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Anna Kuperberg has been an artist since childhood. But for a long time she didn’t know that she was destined to be a professional photographer, let alone an award-winning wedding photojournalist.

Portrait Photo of Anna Kuperberg, California

Portrait of Anna Kuperberg

She shot her first wedding while still in college, yet resisted actually marketing herself as a wedding photographer for several years, even when clients were seeking her out—the victim of a self-described “bad attitude.” Fortunately for hundreds of brides and grooms, and for the rest of us, there came a point when even she couldn’t resist fully committing to the craft any longer.

Now she is an acclaimed eight–time WPJA contest winner, and some of her photography resides in the permanent collections of the St. Louis Art Museum, the Philadelphia Art Museum, the Portland Art Museum and in numerous private holdings.

CREATIVE BEGINNINGS

Kuperberg’s family immigrated to the United States from Poland, by way of Sweden, when she was three years old. “I think in order to assimilate I needed to become very observant of people’s cultures and mannerisms, and their speech and accents,” she explains. “So I think I became kind of a people watcher early on. I’ve always been fascinated with conversations at the bus stop or whatever, so it’s not just visual.”

And there was always a strong creative element at work in her, as well as a childhood fascination with photography that competed with her equally strong interests in painting and sculpture.

Photograph by Anna Kuperberg, California of bride and groom

Anna Kuperberg is also a member of the [AG]WPJA

When she was 10 years old Kuperberg received a Kodak Instamatic, which took square pictures—a characteristic she loved. “I was always turning it diagonally, to get a diagonal horizon that went corner to corner,” she recalls. “Or I was doing experimental composition where there’s one element on the far right of the photo, another on the far left that was in the background, or taking self-portraits in the mirror with the flash popping in the photo. I was experimenting and I loved it.”

The only problem with the camera was in buying film because her allowance would only go so far. And she was really thinking about drawing and painting and clay, chalk and crayons. So, she decided she was going to be an artist, but not necessarily a photographer.

PURSUING “RESPECTABLE” PHOTOGRAPHY, AND FINDING IT

Kuperberg attended Washington University in St. Louis. “I was interested in all kinds of art—drawing, sculpture, graphic design, video and other stuff too—so I enrolled as an art major,” she says. However, she switched her major to photography after taking a class that reawakened her innate interest and talent in capturing people and events on film.

When she was 20, the summer between her junior and senior year, Kuperberg photographed her first wedding for a woman who had contacted the photography school looking for a good deal from a talented student. “I told her I had never shot a wedding before, but she was fine with that, liked my portfolio and hired me,” she remembers. The client was extremely happy with the results and referred Kuperberg to a friend who got married the following year. Two additional referrals sprang from that.

Photograph by Anna Kuperberg, California of painted hands

Photo by Anna Kuperberg

Still, Kuperberg eschewed wedding photography as a career, preferring to aim for pursuits at the time considered to be more respectable for a talented photojournalist, such as free-lance editorial photojournalism. Remember: This was the 1990s, when wedding photography was still largely known for its cheesy, clichéd posed shots. “The artists I hung out with really pooh-poohed wedding photography, as did the photojournalists, so I was really trying to get out of it,” she notes.

“My goal was to be a free-lance editorial photographer and also have a fine art career, kind of on the level of Mary Ellen Mark or Elliot Erwitt, where they’re well known in both the fine arts and photojournalism,” she explains.

Two years after college she moved to San Francisco and in 1996 earned her Master of Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute. For the next 10 years she continued to do freelance editorial work while pursuing fine artsmuseums and galleries as a fine art photographer.

“The whole time I was doing weddings on the side, but I wasn’t telling people—I would just tell them that I was a photojournalist. I have to say I was a bit of an art snob about it.”

It wasn’t until 2004 that she decided that was a “really bad attitude” about the wedding photography thing, and dropped everything else to focus on weddings as her main business.

Kuperberg says that the career adjustment was a big psychological hurdle, but what helped her make that leap was when she saw other respectable news photojournalists leave the dailies they were working for and dedicating their time to weddings. As she puts it, “I thought ‘All of these people who had been working for the Philadelphia Enquirer and the Dallas Morning News; they weren’t having a problem with it, so why should I?’”

She had always shot weddings in the photojournalistic style anyway, going back to those very first gigs in college. “I never did it traditionally or shot medium format,” she says. “I was always shooting 35mm and a lot of black and white. And I switched to digital about the time I decided to take wedding photography more seriously.”

So it turned out that weddings offered the respected photography career she had been seeking all along, with the market simply catching up, and catching on, to her style.

ENABLING DECISIVE MOMENTS

Kuperberg brings a photojournalist’s skill and artist’s eye to every aspect of a wedding. She is especially adept at capturing great moments during engagement shoots, where she employs what she characterizes as a hybrid portrait-photojournalism approach.

“Of course it’s a portrait shoot and the couple is camera aware, but there’s this decisive moment where they’re interacting with their environment, or they might be moving,” she notes.

Photograph by Anna Kuperberg, California of couple cuddling inside restaurant booth

Phtoo by Anna Kuperberg

A case in point is her Fall 2005 award-winning portrait of a couple in the booth of a restaurant. It’s a memorable shot that clearly transmits the sparks that the young lovers were throwing off that day. “There’s that spontaneous moment,” Kuperberg points out. “They know I’m there, but it’s a real moment in that they’re interacting with each other, and they’re in love, and it’s their life! They’re not models not pretending to be in love.”

She believes a skill that every good photojournalist has is the ability to interact with people so that moments like that can happen. She doesn’t necessarily spend a great deal of time with couples before the shoot, but makes them comfortable relatively quickly—an atmosphere that further develops over the course of the session.

As she explains, “It’s an approach that is sort of the way children approach people, where you’re totally non-judgmental, you’re not trying to assume who you think they are or stereotype them, but rather this very open, curious sense of wonder. That makes people feel safe and comfortable.”

Kuperberg notes that because most people tend to feel self-conscious when cameras are around, you need to make them feel safe. “It’s important that you as the photographer are not nervous or self-conscious,” she states. “If you’re enjoying the people and spending time with them, they’ll pick up on that vibe. I crack a lot of jokes and I’m kind of goofy. I figure if I’m goofy and willing to make fun of myself, then they let down their guard and they don’t feel that they have to act any particular way. It lowers barriers.”

Photograph by Anna Kuperberg, California of bride's leg while she enters a vehicle

Photo by Anna Kuperberg

The same approach also works for Kuperberg in non-portrait scenarios that are pure wedding photojournalism, when a bride is getting ready, for example. “I’ll stay quiet, but if they catch my eye I’ll still smile at them,” she says. “I still manage to try to have a reassuring presence that doesn’t cause people to become self-conscious or self-aware.”

SEEING PAST THE SYMBOL

Kuperberg sees the primary creative challenge in wedding photojournalism as transcending clichéd imagery in order to get to the essence of real feeling. Being a trained artist, it’s not surprising that she sees an analogy between this concept and the lessons provided in basic drawing classes.

“You’ve probably read these books where they tell you if you want to draw a face or a hand, what really gets in the way is you have this cartoony symbol of what a face or a hand should look like,” she explains. “And that symbol is getting in the way of you actually seeing it in the real world and drawing it accurately, or drawing what you see rather than the way you think it is supposed to look.”

She describes the mistake she sees most people make: “They’ll say ‘here’s a beautiful location; we’ve got the paint peeling on the wall, and there’s a doorway, and it’s backlit, and we have this beautiful flare,’ so they will put people in that doorway and then they will say, ‘go over there and kiss,’ but it’s a fake kiss.” And so the guts of the photo, which is supposed to be a relationship between these two people, is basically a cliché.

“I think this is where a lot of photographers drop the ball,” Kuperberg says. “They set up everything perfectly, but the emotional content is based on something that they have seen before—almost a caricature of it, rather than what is the actual chemistry between these two people.”

What is actually going on between a couple that’s natural and real? Kuperberg has found that she can discover that essence a lot better if the couple is not kissing, noting “What really shows love in a photo may be the expression on their face when they’re looking at each other, or their hands, or their body language.”

So maybe it’s good that Anna Kuperberg searched for her true muse for so many years without realizing that she was indeed a wedding photographer. Searching may be just a part of her nature as a creative artist.

Certainly, it has allowed her to transcend all of those clichéd notions about where the real story is, keeping her looking and exploring—finding and capturing the essence of love.

—by Michael Roney for the Wedding Photojournalist Association

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Everyone Is A Photojournalist

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Buyer beware: Trendy labels may be misleading, and a wedding photographer who claims to have been a “photojournalist” may not always be who you expect.

These days untold numbers of wedding photographers state in their bios that they have a background in photojournalism. Yet many do not really have any actual professional experience as photojournalists. Some have maybe published just one or two photos, or work occasionally as a freelancer for a newspaper or magazine, while others fudge their own work history and interpretation of the term in order to bolster their own image.

So what, in fact, does this label mean, and can you trust it? Does it even make a difference? When you see this claim, even on the sites of WPJA members, you should definitely ask some questions to determine whether your candidate really has the background and ability to fulfill your expectations.

A QUALITATIVE DIFFERENCE

The terms “photojournalism” and “wedding photojournalism” are used quite liberally on thousands of web sites to imply that a photographer has the skills to capture unscripted moments, tell the story of the day, and richly document events as they unfold. Many wedding photographers like to say they are photojournalists, have been photojournalists, or come from a photojournalistic background when this is not the case at all.

This practice became more prevalent in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when photographers who did not have the word “photojournalism” as a part of their marketing, had the potential of losing business. Now this term has become a more popular buzzword than ever, which certainly means you cannot take every claim of “photojournalism” at face value.

“Wedding photojournalism and photojournalism are two different things,” explains Virginia-based wedding photographer Greg Gibson, who has won two Pulitzer Prizes for his images covering the 1992 Presidential campaign and the 1998 Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal. “A lot of wedding photographers take the word ‘photojournalism’ to mean storytelling, where photojournalism is really about news gathering and being the public’s witness, more so than just being a documentary photographer.” It is important to understand, that just because someone is a “wedding photojournalist” does not qualify him or her as a “photojournalist”.

There are many fine wedding photojournalists who have never worked at a newspaper, and it is clear from their portfolios, awards and legions of satisfied customers that they do an excellent job at covering weddings. Others do have a news photography background, which adds another layer of skills to their arsenal, since they have been paid to work every day, making quality images, sometimes up to six or seven days a week. Under those conditions, “There’s a much higher expectation to get the job done consistently and at a high level,” Gibson notes. “If you miss the moment and the person sitting next to you gets it, then their picture is going to be the one that gets all of the play and the attention, and your boss is going to be asking you why you didn’t get it.”

QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS

Identifying that bona fide, field-tested photojournalist is often a matter of looking beyond the biography and asking some precise, informed questions.

“It’s amazing to me how many wedding photographers try to capitalize on the ‘photojournalist’ label even though they may have extremely limited publication experience, no news reporting experience, and don’t even practice a photojournalistic approach to their wedding coverage,” states the WPJA’s founder, David Roberts. “Everyone is claiming to have a photojournalism background these days and few are willing to back it up with solid, detailed info in their bio/about page, and perhaps a collection of true photojournalism images that extend beyond photographing pee wee sports and the homeless sleeping in parks.”

For those photographers who make unsubstantiated statements of having a background in photojournalism, Roberts illustrates the possible misuse of the term “photojournalist”. “When my son was only ten years old, a local newspaper published a full page of his color sports images,” Roberts notes. “A fine accomplishment, and I’m a proud dad, of course, but neither I nor anyone else would classify my son as a photojournalist. And yet in my book, having his images published under deadline by the media puts him light years ahead of many wedding photographers now claiming they are photojournalists.”

You should also take into consideration the level at which your candidates worked. The better photographers generally move up the food chain. Usually the larger publications acquire the more credible photographers. Those who have worked at big daily newspapers are going to have more experience than those working at the weeklies.

“People who have worked on a national or high state level where they are competing with photographers from other publications certainly get a different kind of experience,” Gibson notes. “Their job security, pay and promotion are dependent on them performing at a high level very consistently.”

SURE YOU’VE BEEN PUBLISHED!

Some wedding photographers attempt to support their “photojournalist” credentials by fudging their experience in unethical ways.

Gibson notes that even since he’s been retired from journalism, he has taken pictures and sent them to his local paper, so it’s easy to get a picture in print. The frequency with which people are contributing to publications or getting assignments is a much more important qualifier than whether they have ever been published.

“When photojournalism became a buzz word, there were so many photographers whose bios said they had been published in The New York Times or Time Magazine, where the reality is that maybe they had one picture published in their career,” he says. “So the bride and groom should ask ‘How often did you get assignments from that publication?’”

And in some cases, there actually was no assignment whatsoever! Roberts points out that many times couples will submit their engagement portrait to newspapers as a wedding announcement, only to have their photographer then claim that he or she has shot for that publication.

“Some even include the names of publications to which they have paid money to run a photographer advertisement,” he notes. “That takes a lot of nerve because obviously, that’s not photojournalism…it’s paying to get published!”

DON’T BE MISLED

Of course, having that news background is not a prerequisite for every couple that is looking for their perfect wedding photographer. Ultimately, a photographer’s body of work is usually the final qualifier. But even then, looks can be deceiving unless you do some inquiry.

Regardless of the criteria most significant to you, the important thing is to not be misled by trendy claims. You have every right to expect that someone who claims to be a photojournalist really is one—a staffer at a newspaper or wire service who has been tested under fire. Do the research, ask some probing questions and you’ll truly get what you expect.

—by Michael Roney for the Wedding Photojournalist Association

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Featured Photographer: Stacey Kane

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“I was pushed into photography,” Stacey Kane says in her characteristic straightforward yet self-effacing style.

Portrait Photograph of Stacey Kane

Portrait of Stacey Kane

With very little planning and the encouragement of admirers, Kane’s transformation from photo hobbyist to full-fledged wedding photojournalist was not part of a pre-planned career path. In fact, she says that she is “forever grateful” to her friends, family and the complete strangers who offered everything from suggestions to forthright pleas that she become a professional photographer.

That cumulative “push” has clearly been a good thing for the Maine, USA-based WPJA member, judging by the multiple awards and magazine coverage that her photography has received in the mere six years since she began shooting professionally. And she would be the first to admit that she needed a nudge (or many nudges) in order to begin taking her work seriously.

While her portfolio is testament to her discerning eye for capturing timeless moments, she was the last one to see that. She says, “I never set out to be a photographer nor did I anticipate it…my friends and family were definitely more convinced of my abilities than I was!”

Planning and mapping, anticipating and preparing is simply not Kane’s style. This has worked to her advantage. Her career trajectory from scrapbooking enthusiast to award-winning photographer, has been an absolute surprise and delight to her. Kane says that she could not have planned out her career in wedding photography any better than it has turned out. Her clients are ideal and she loves her work. It shows.

NEW BEGINNINGS

Kane says that she has always had a camera in hand. Even as a young girl, she was frequently photographing the kids in her neighborhood. Recently, she was reminded of this when a childhood friend requested that she photograph her wedding. (Through multiple emails, both eventually realized that they in fact had known one another as children.) At the wedding, Kane brought a picture she had taken of the woman when she was only nine years old.

Before she started taking pictures professionally, Kane worked in the wedding industry, marketing various wedding proprietors to brides and grooms. In her spare time, she enjoyed scrapbooking. A woman who had seen her work insisted Kane show it to a friend of hers. After admiring the book, the woman insisted that she hire her to photograph her family. It took some persistence, but Kane eventually accepted. Part of her reticence was due to the fact that she was three days past the due date for her third child. A trooper at heart, Kane arrived at the photo session, on the beach no less, where she trudged through the sand with her equipment. Luckily, her son waited a few days.

Kane’s story has been one of a blossoming talent and the many people who have been impacted and have gravitated towards her work. After her first job, word of her work spread throughout town and very quickly she was spending her weekends photographing children and families. Though, she says, “I swore I would never photograph a wedding. I had been in the industry for so long and I felt like I was done with it.” That all changed after the first nuptials she photographed.

Photograph by Stacey Kane, Maine of bride and groom leaning into each other

Photo by Stacey Kane

Awarded second place in a WPJA Ceremony category, her photograph of the bride and groom leaning into one another conveys the intimacy and affection felt between the two. Kane was in the back of the church when she took this picture. “I don’t like to be noticed,” she says, which clearly does not interfere with her ability to reflect the most intimate of moments in her work.

It’s no surprise that Kane had to be coaxed into the job. The couple who hired her had seen her work at a friend’s house, and insisted that she document their big day. At the time, she expected it to be her first and last wedding. Yet, the whole experience was so fantastic that afterwards she says that there was no turning back.

WINGING IT

Kane’s tendency not to plan out and rehearse her life translates directly into her approach to photography. Ideally, she hasn’t seen the venue ahead of time and she never plans out what, when or how she’ll photograph the event. Then, when the event gets underway, she is nothing less than a virtuoso, reacting to the ever-changing lighting, mood and action surrounding her. Her subjects make myriad impromptu decisions throughout the course of the day, and Kane is ready to capture the moment when their expression or activity meets the right angle and the perfect lighting, creating a great image.

Photograph by Stacey Kane, Maine girl sliding underneath a woman's legs

Photo by Stacey Kane

Fifth place award-winner in a WPJA Humor category, her photograph of the little girl sliding underneath the woman’s legs showcases Kane’s ability to react quickly to the activity surrounding her. A Beatles cover band was playing and the mood was fun and high-spirited. Of the photo, she says, “I happened to turn around and she happened to be coming underneath at the same time.”

As a rule, she finds that when you plan out everything, you’re not prepared when something goes awry and subsequently, you’re thrown off course, so to speak. Going into a situation unscripted is a mark of her creativity. Stacey has an ability to make decisions very quickly, to react on the fly and capture that emotionally charged moment.

Photograph by Stacey Kane, Maine of wedding underneath trees and in front of a lake

Photo by Stacey Kane

Another WPJA award winner of the couple standing underneath the great trees, in front of a lake, has garnered Kane a lot of attention. After a number of magazines bid on it, Kane accepted an offer from Martha Stewart Weddings to feature the shot, along with a series of photographs taken during the same wedding.

In all her modesty, Kane would probably say that she just happened to take an award-winning photograph. Though the many admirers of her work know that there’s nothing coincidental about it. Stacey Kane’s talent is true and immutable.

—by Lauren Ragland for the Wedding Photojournalist Association

Photo Credit: WPJA Member Caroline Johnson (Portrait of Stacey Kane)

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Away From The Main Story: Wedding Sideline Shots

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Some wedding photographers may feel the need to include the bride or groom in every picture, but those photos convey only part of the day’s record. Most WPJA members will probably tell you that you’re not fully documenting the event unless you get out there on the periphery and record the subplots of the wedding day-the unique and intersecting stories of the guests as they enjoy the festivities.

We call these types of pictures “sideline shots,” and they are distinct from the standard reaction shots that you or your second shooter may capture during the walk down the aisle, the vows or the cake cutting. Sideline shots tend to be further away from the primary wedding day rituals, both geographically and thematically.

Sideline shots broaden and deepen the story of the day, and are in fact an essential part of the record. Grab some good sideline shots, and your clients will thank you.

AN ESSENTIAL PART OF THE DAY

The bride and groom may be the center of attention on the wedding day, but they’re certainly not the entire story. The day is also very much about the friends and family who have been invited to share in the joy, catch up with loved ones, and do a little partying. Or maybe a lot of partying.

What’s important to the bride and groom is indeed the social gathering they’ve created to celebrate their marriage. If it were only about them, and their relationship, then they would elope or perhaps have a small ceremony.

For many people, the wedding is a rare opportunity to get all of those closest to them together in a day and age when people are often spread out around the country and the world. And at the reception, people also tend to spread out, and in part it is the wedding photojournalist’s responsibility to troll the periphery of the event, seeking out those great moments away from the main action.

Photo by Mark Adams, Georgia of couple sitting outside church near a fire

Photo by Mark Adams

“Many of our clients hire us because we strive to document the entire day, not just the bride and groom, but all of their friends and family,” notes WPJA wedding photojournalist Mark Adams, based in Georgia, USA. “It’s a big celebration for them, they’ve invited their closest friends, and they want us to make meaningful pictures of those people closest to them. That’s hugely important.”

COVERING THE ENTIRE STORY

Given that weddings are the sum total of various smaller parts, it follows that missing what is going on away from the bride and groom would be a lapse in coverage, and that is not something that WPJA members are likely to allow. Adams figures that 30 percent to 40 percent of his shots fall into the sideline category, while Anna Kuperberg, a wedding photographer out of northern California, USA puts her ratio at near 50 percent.

Kuperberg notes that wedding receptions, like most big parties, can be chaotic. “There are ten things going on at once, there are conversations all over the place, kids are running around, there’s food, and really that’s what I like about weddings, especially when there is a lot of action and emotion,” she says. “So sideline shots are very important to telling the entire story. Without them, you really wouldn’t be covering the wedding.”

“A lot of these moments with other people—these sideline shots—are quite often photos of people and events and moments that the bride and groom didn’t get to see and experience throughout the day that they planned and orchestrated,” Adams adds. “So it’s really a great way to share with them all of the excitement and celebration.”

Grace Kim, a wedding photographer based in Washington, USA can attest to that. “The most rewarding thing is when the bride and groom say ‘I’m so glad you got that, because otherwise we would never have known… it was such a great moment.’”

ADDING DEPTH

These sideline shots are not just about achieving breadth of coverage–making sure that you’ve hunted down every last guest and taken their picture out on the fringes of the festivities. They’re really about depth, an essential ingredient to a solid photojournalistic recording of the day, as well as to the artistic resonance of the pictures.

“The story can easily become almost too homogenous. The pictures can lack diversity if every one you’re looking at is of the bride,” Adams notes. “But once you start seeing pictures of moments and emotions and other people, you start to see the richness of the wedding day.”

“We’re covering the whole event. We can always get the portraits or the ‘standard’ shots, but those alone aren’t going to tell the story of the day—how it unfolded,” Kim says.

Photo by Grace Kim, Washington of young girls at a weddding

Photo by Grace Kim

Her eighth-place winner in the Kids category of WPJA contest richly illustrates the emotion of a young girl away from the main focus of the event. One of the judges commented that it seemed to convey jealousy, insecurity, being left out, a feeling of being spurned, or simply tired, commenting that “a mark of a great image is when it asks questions and this one does that as well as makes a very universal, direct emotional point.”

Kim notes that kids are usually highly emotive and reliable subjects for interesting sideline shots, and says that the photo was taken just before the bride and groom were making their entrance near the dance floor. “I just used available light to get the shots, and I didn’t actually have to wait too long for something to happen,” she says.

WAITING AND HOPING

Assuring great sideline shots is dependent on the usual photojournalistic skills that our members have developed through their years of covering events. Those include knowledge of human nature, a drive to seek out the stories, practiced anticipation, patience and technical skill.

Adams always works with second photographers, his wife, and usually an assistant, assigning specific responsibilities to each person. “The first thing we do is go in and get all of the ‘safe shots’ – those we have to get,” he explains. “One of us will shoot the primary scene and one will shoot reactions. Once we have those, we’ll start looking for some of the more common activities near the main event. Then, we start looking around the periphery, and we start looking for great light.”

Kim, who shoots with her husband Hun, says that she always keeps her eyes open. “I’m looking at the bride and groom, but also walking around constantly so that I’m not just in one space. I’ve actually coordinated some weddings, so having done that I am also able to anticipate some of the things that might happen, so I place myself in a position where I get the shots I need.”

“It’s great because my husband and I work together, so one of us can follow the bride and groom all the time while the other goes on the sidelines and finds out what else is going on,” says Kim.

CURIOSITY AND WONDER

Kuperberg advises that capturing great sideline shots depends on staying in touch with your own sense of playful wonder and curiosity—the feelings that may have gotten you interested in photography in the first place.

“Go ahead and let that curiosity override your self-conscious perception of what you think you’re supposed to be doing,” she says, “and don’t worry too much about ‘how it’s supposed to be’ or ‘how it’s usually done.’ Follow whatever is interesting to you, whatever grabs your attention. Be in the moment and let yourself be immersed in that.”

Photo by Anna Kuperberg, Northern California boy sleeping on grass at wedding ceremony

Photo by Anna Kuperberg

Her WPJA award winner in the Kids category shows a boy who had fallen asleep on a pillow and stayed there for the entire ceremony. “The ceremony started and people just walked around him,” she remembers. She notes that the photo didn’t require special timing, but was more of a choice of angles and lenses. “The thing to make the decision about was really picking the right distance and lens in order to still have an identifiable ceremony [in the background] but out of focus,” she notes. “I wanted the focus to be on the kid.”

“These sideline shots are really where you get to spread your wings a little bit and try something more creative,” Adams agrees. “You get to play a little bit. You may be roaming around looking for people sitting down or lurking in the shadows, if you will. Great light, great moments, great faces.”

ANICIPATION AND SKILL

Adams says that anticipation is a crucial skill for any wedding photojournalist who wants to be successful, and that the best photographers in the world are better at it than anyone else. It’s something to work on.

“When you look at my film, you’ll see that I have a whole series of shots where I’m just refining the composition and exposure while waiting for a great moment,” he adds. “What we look for is good light, great faces, interesting composition, and then we’ll wait for a moment to happen.”

Anticipation played a large role in Adams’ highly atmospheric and beautiful award winner of a WPJA competition, captured in warm, ambient light.

“The bride and groom had actually left to go change out of their wedding clothes, and my wife Erin was with them, so I was just roaming around,” Adams remembers. “They lit the bonfire, and there was great light, so I decided to see what I could find, and I just hung out.”

“There were some kids running around, so I got some pictures of them, and then I saw this couple, friends of the bride and groom, over there being all cute and cuddly, so I just positioned myself and waited and waited. The next thing you know, they kiss, and I’ve already framed it. I had already put myself in that position waiting for something to happen. And when that moment did happen, I was ready for it.”

Adams’ photo captures that desire the bride and groom had for something different. It showcases how different this wedding was, but also the fun and romance that highlighted their wedding celebration. The couple love it, according to Adams, because more than anything it captures that mood that they wanted for their wedding.

And that’s precisely what sideline shots can do. Although they tend to be taken on the edge of the main event, their portrayal of the subplots of the wedding day— the intersection of the scores of personalities, encounters and dreams—make them anything but peripheral.

—by Michael Roney for the Wedding Photojournalist Association

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Wedding Scene Setters: Telling A Story Through Use Of Space

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Like travel writers, wedding photojournalists have to set the scene in their pictures. These shots tell a story visually from a variety of perspectives that range from extreme close-up of details to wide shots or even panoramic views.

Scene setters are an important component of any picture story, providing a sense of place to help convey the tone and mood of the wedding day. And, when placed adeptly in your visual story, they can give the viewers a tantalizing taste of what is to come, whetting their appetites for more visual memories of the day.

There are a number of choices wedding photojournalists can use to set a scene, including lens, perspective and position. The mood of the crowd dictates many of those choices, as does the relationship of people to a place. “People act a little more formal inside a church than at an outside ceremony,” says Janelle Lowrance, a wedding photographer from the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, USA area. “People tend to mingle and interact more outside, and they seem to have more fun.”

“I can go to the same venue for two weddings and it will have a completely different feel because the personalities are different,” says Paul Johnson, a Panama City, FL, USA-based WPJA member. “Even though it may be the same location, I go to different places within the venue because the crowd is different and the relationship of people to a place varies. I follow the energy; I don’t dictate it.”

Johnson says that in order for him to convey through images what it was like to be there, he carries at least two camera bodies at all times, one with a wide lens and one with a long lens. “That way I can move in close and get wide, step back for an overall perspective, or grab another camera to go in tight on detail.”

PULL UP A CHAIR

Photo by Paul Johnson, Florida of wedding reception table and guests

Photo by Paul Johnson

In his award-winning photograph of a reception in a cabana by a pool, Johnson took the perspective of a wedding guest seated at the dinner table. “Our process of documenting a wedding is to capture the essence or feel of the day,” he says. To convey the intimate feeling in the cabana that night, Johnson chose to get down low and sandwich himself in between guests at the table to get that you-are-there feeling.

He used his Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L wide-angle lens in order to include most of the wedding guests seated at the 20-foot long table in the 40-foot-long cabana. Because of the low light—candlelight was the primary source—he shot wide open at f/1.4 with an ISO of 1600. “I was right at the edge of being able to capture detail, but I wanted the candlelight feel.” Johnson made his body a tripod by pressing his elbows close against his chest and holding his breath at the moment of shutter release. The result is an image that conveys the cozy, warm feeling in the room as the groom toasts his bride. Not only does the picture enable the couple to relive a tender moment, it also gives them a perspective they otherwise could not have had.

“It’s tricky and challenging to shoot wide and get intimate at the same time because you have to physically get in there close to the action,” Johnson notes. “In order to do that and not be obtrusive, you have to be with people for a period of time so they are comfortable with you.”

Photograph by China Jorrin, New York City of outdoor beach wedding reception

Photo by China Jorrin

In her award-winning photograph, WPJA member and New York, USA photographer China Jorrin gave a bridal couple a bird’s eye view of their reception on Fire Island, NY. Standing on the deck of a house overlooking the beachfront where the party took place, Jorrin photographed the wedding guests gathered in an oval of tungsten light. The intimacy of the small assembly is magnificently juxtaposed to the vast, darkening Atlantic Ocean in the background. “In terms of lighting, it was the magic hour—dusk—when you can still see everything without using flash,” she says. “The lighting at that moment was beautiful, and everyone was wearing white so there was no distraction.”

Reared by photographer parents, Jorrin studied filmmaking in college and worked in the film industry after graduation. While living in Paris and Prague, she took up still photography and fell in love with it. She draws from her cinematic storytelling experience and applies it to photographing weddings. “Having the film background helped me with composition and storytelling, but it’s telling the story in a different way,” she says. “Sometimes when I’m photographing a wedding I have to stop and just watch things.” Often Jorrin does that instinctively and sometimes she has to consciously remind herself to step back, because she loves details and close-up shots.

TAKING THE LONG VIEW

Lowrance feels the same way. “I really like close-up shots,” she admits, but she stresses the importance of dropping back to set the scene. Just because brides and grooms chose the location, and just because they were there doesn’t mean they have any true sense of how the venue looked on their wedding day.

“The bride and groom don’t get a chance to step back and look because they’re so involved that day,” Lowrance notes. “I like to capture things from the guests’ perspective, which gives the couple a vantage point they otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to see.” She also likes to take pictures of the venue because, she says, “a lot of money and thought goes into the venue selection, and I want them to be able to remember it.”

Photo by Janelle Lowrance, Texas of outside view of wedding reception

Photo by Janelle Lowrance

Lowrance took an outside observer’s point of view in a photograph of a cake-cutting ceremony during a wedding in the Grand Hall of the Texas Discovery Gardens in Dallas. Overlooking formal gardens, the hall boasts glassed-in corners, designed to bring the outside in. Because the cake table was situated in one of those glass corners, Lowrance went outside to shoot into the scene, while her photographer partner stayed inside to take close-up shots. She set up a tripod, mounted a 17-55mm f/2.8 lens and set a long exposure that caught some of the flash flares from guests’ cameras. “I chose black-and-white to simplify the scene and make the bride and groom stand out. They loved it.” So did the WPJA judges, who called it “Edward Hopperesque,” and awarded it third place in the cake-cutting category of the competition.

Looking from the outside in or vise-versa; or panning out to reveal the context of a scene, wedding photojournalists use the dynamic synergy of photographs taken during the course of a wedding to convey the essence of the day, as well as the genius loci, spirit of place. It’s an omnipresent perspective with surprising, delightful results.

—by Lorna Gentry for the Wedding Photojournalist Association

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Kids Dressing Up For The Wedding

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The great divide between the sexes can be witnessed a lot earlier in life than most believe. Girls and boys participating in weddings around the world demonstrate it time and time again. Frequently, little girls relish the opportunity to dress up in their finest, while the boys do so begrudgingly, kicking and screaming all the way to the altar, so to speak.

However, it doesn’t take long before that divide is bridged, and children are children again, with neither girls nor boys particularly preoccupied with their clothing. Shortly after the ceremony, they are all tugging at their outfits, finding the fastest route to the greatest fashion faux pas imaginable. The reception begins. General roughhousing ensues. Add to the mix the children’s openness and lack of inhibitions in front of a camera, and the results can be award-winning photography.

We spoke with three WPJA photographers who know a little something about capturing kids in their finery. They’ve been recognized for their work in which clothes helped to draw out the angel, rascal or prima donna in their prepubescent subjects.

THE IMAGE

What is it about little ones dressed in dainty white dresses or miniature tuxedoes? Is it that they look like smaller versions of the bride and groom? Is it the personalities that these clothes bring out? Often, the little girls bask in the spotlight, imagining themselves as the one being wed. The boys can cause a stir, fighting the constrictions of their clothing with all they’ve got. Both are a sight to behold.

Photograph by Brooke Hendricks, Washington of boy getting dressed for wedding

Photo by Brooke Hendricks

Washington state, USA, WPJA photographer Brooke Hendricks says, “Kids are easy to photograph. They’re not aware of the camera and so they’re not self conscious.” They can make for wonderful moments. A prime example of this is Hendricks’ award-winning photograph of a little boy, the ring bearer, scrunching up his face while his father adjusts his bow tie. His big personality comes through in this moment, with his displeasure and fussiness immediately evident. The image speaks volumes about what was happening when Hendricks took the photograph. We don’t even need the photographer to verify that the boy was causing a ruckus. That’s clear.

ONLY A MATTER OF TIME

Many brides put significant consideration and energy into determining the outfit scheme for their wedding party. The children who are participating in the ceremony are usually no different. Next to the bride, they often garner the most attention. It therefore makes sense to carefully choose their outfits. Keep in mind that their clothes will have a hard time making it through the entire event unscathed. Wedding photographer Gary Allen, based in North Carolina, USA, puts it bluntly, “The clothes that the kids wear are going to be trashed…and white is not easy for anyone to keep clean.”

Stereotypically, little girls love to dress up in adult clothes. A wedding provides a prime opportunity for them to shine. Unlike little boys, they may want to put on their finery hours before the ceremony has begun. In an effort to guard against any outfit disasters, some parents prefer dressing the kids moments before they’re needed to walk down the aisle.

SHINING EXAMPLES

Photograph by Gary Allen, North Carolina of ring bearers walking into room

Photo by Gary Allen

In Allen’s photograph of two ring bearers wearing white suits, the subjects look nothing less than angelic. The stream of sunlight hits them at just the right angle. Capturing them walking in-step and in matching outfits adds cohesion to the image. He notes, “Visual alliteration often helps. The fact that they’re the same size, wearing the same suit and walking in step, contributes to an interesting photograph.”

Clothes can help to bring out something in the children that wasn’t obvious before. While that ‘something’ can be characterized as difficult, it isn’t always. California, USA-based WPJA photographer Wen Chang finds that little girls see an image of themselves in their tiny gowns of silk and lace that they value. She tries to capture that and says, “I always watch the girls to see how they see themselves in their outfits. It can make for very interesting moments.”

Photograph by Wen Chang, California of flower girl smiling

Photo by Wen Chang

We can see this in her photograph of a flower girl posing for the camera as she stands next to the bride. Chang explains that at the time she and her assistant were taking group pictures of the wedding party. In regard to her beaming subject, she remarks, “She had such attitude. It was so cute.” Clearly the young girl was stealing the show.

LET CHILDREN BE CHILDREN

Humor plays a big role in capturing those quintessential images of children dressing up. Fitting a mature-looking outfit onto a small body can be a challenge and can provide hysterical moments. Hendricks notes that it’s not uncommon for the boy’s tuxedo to be a tough fit. She’s taken photographs of suits that have been pinned to the boys or that had sleeves which were hemmed with rubber bands so they wouldn’t hang down to the floor.

There’s a balance to be met between dressing children in formal clothes and not covering up their innocence. Chang has noticed how absurd little girls can look when their parents put too much make-up on them. In an attempt to get the young ones more excited in the event at hand, they may cake on the rouge.

It is more conducive to good photography to let children be children. If that means allowing them to change out of their clothing shortly after the ceremony, okay. Hendricks observes, “There’s very little hope of them being happy in their outfits.” Formal clothes can be a real hindrance on good, all-out playtime. Allowing children to be themselves (within reason) also helps create wonderful photographic moments.

Dressing boys and girls up for the special event can help create memorable, classic scenarios. It’s a tradition that does not grow old. And it’s important. Still, kids will be kids. As Hendricks notes, “You’re lucky if the kid can put it on and keep it on for the length of the ceremony. Beyond that, it’s extra.”

—by Lauren Ragland for the Wedding Photojournalist Association

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Color, Meaning And Moments: Photographing Ethnic Weddings

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Ethnic weddings, in addition to providing a change of pace from the more typical ceremonies that wedding photojournalists know well, also offer a rich visual palette and deep cultural rituals that can offer range to your portfolio.

In an ethnic wedding, you’ll probably have brightly colored, exotic garb, including capes, crowns and other visually appealing items to work with in crafting unique shots that couldn’t be replicated at more typical events. There’s also the host of rituals, venues and dances that come with each culture’s wedding celebration— all sure to provide opportunities for capturing sacred, meaningful moments.

There’s obviously some homework to do before jumping into an ethnic wedding headfirst. If you’re new to covering a certain culture’s ceremony, be sure to do some research on your own or take some extra time talking to the bride and groom, just so the ethnic wedding doesn’t seem so foreign—literally and figuratively.

BE PREPARED

Step into any traditional, American wedding, and most anyone will likely be able to figure out what’s going on and what’s coming up next. That’s not entirely so for some ethnic weddings, some which have traditions completely unrelated to other cultures. With Indian weddings, says wedding photographer Seshu Badrinath, each of the 28 states of India has their own customs and rituals, so if you’ve seen one, you likely haven’t seen them all.

How do you sort through all the options? Simple: Ask. “It comes down to having a dialogue with my clients,” says the Connecticut-based Badrinath, who grew up in India.

For example, it would be useful to know that at a Macedonian wedding service, a platno (piece of cloth), usually bought by the nunka (maid of honor), is draped over the shoulders of the young couple in a symbolic gesture of binding them together, and that before the ceremony, the nunko (best man) shaves the groom because he traditionally is thought to be too nervous to do the job himself.

Knowing generally what to expect in an ethnic wedding, building an educated understanding of the depth of history and symbolism behind the traditions, will help you capture moments that are not only exotically colorful, but infused with poignant meaning to your clients.

After doing some research on your own, ask your clients about their traditions and rituals to confirm your own understanding. How long have certain traditions been around? Why do they do them? What do they mean? Are some more important than others? Does the family place more importance on one over the others? What is the most important ritual to photograph at their wedding?

Ohio, USA-based wedding photographer Michael Barber found that talking to a bride and groom about their Macedonian wedding beforehand helped him better cover the rituals, including a close up, intimate shot of a portion of the ceremony. They told him that at one point it would be acceptable for him to get right behind the officiant—provided that he take off his shoes, since he would be stepping into a holy area.

Photograph by Michael Barber, Ohio of bride and groom at a Macedonian Wedding

Photo by Michael Barber

Even so, the proposition made him nervous, and he only ventured into position after an uncle went there himself. The result was a stunning, dreamlike shot that shows hints of smiles forming with the bride and groom.

“That particular shot was taken at a vantage point that I would’ve never gotten at any traditional ceremony,” Barber says.

Some traditions may have certain lines that can’t be crossed. However, the WPJA members interviewed said they found such restrictions more dependent on the specific officiant and not on any culture in particular.

And, maybe most importantly, if you think you may have to take your shoes off, wear nice socks. Without holes.

CAPTURING EXOTIC AND MEANINGFUL IMAGERY

While a traditional American wedding will see a black-clad groom marrying a bride dressed in white, some ethnic weddings bust out colorful traditional clothing, as well as highly photogenic rituals employing a wide array of materials. As the documenter of the day, it largely comes down to the wedding photojournalists to commemorate those moments in ways that not only visually delight, but also ring true to the client.

WPJA member David Crane has shot his fair share of ethnic weddings in culturally diverse Southern California, USA, including Hindu, Japanese and Korean celebrations. Each brings its own palate of colors and visual traditions to the day.

For example, prior to a Japanese wedding couples often have a tea ceremony, a traditional ritual influenced by Zen Buddhism in which powdered green tea is served to a small group of honored guests wearing traditional garb. Koreans, meanwhile, come to a point during the ceremony called the peh beck, where the bride offers her new in-laws gifts of dried dates and jujubes, symbols of children. At the ceremony’s conclusion, everyone tosses the dates and chestnuts at the bride while she tries to catch them in her skirt.

Photograph by David Crane, California of hands

Photo by David Crane

Hindu weddings have heapings of colors from beginning to end. When the couple first enters the ceremony, they’re showered with flower petals, making for a wonderful photograph. The bride, meanwhile, is traditionally dressed in bright red, symbolizing happiness, while the groom has a scarlet robe and scarf.

One part of the ceremony, called the Saubhagya Chinya, involves the groom placing sindoor (holy red powder) on the bride’s forehead to welcome her into his life as his partner. He also gives her a mangalsutra (a necklace of black beads) as a symbol of his love, integrity and devotion towards her. That can be followed by the Anna-Prashana, where the bride and groom feed one another sweetmeats as a symbolic promise of fidelity.

“There are a lot of different things going on in a Hindu wedding,” Crane says.

During one such ceremony, Crane got a close-up shot of the bride’s hands decorated in henna tattoos, bracelets, rings and deep red sleeves, as she poured rice into her father’s hands to signify wealth, health, happiness and prosperity. The lavish detail plus the vibrant colors and composition all made for a stunning photo.

And while traditional Jewish weddings, given that they start after sundown, may not provide the ideal lighting situations for WPJA members, there are certainly plenty of assorted items that can be worked into interesting shots.

The signing of the ketubah, or wedding contract, offers a chance to get the bride and groom into a more isolated situation with a couple of witnesses, incorporating the signing and reactions into a photo. There’s also the shot of the couple smashing a crystal glass with their feet, symbolizing the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, or irreversibility of the union, since you can’t put shattered glass back together again.

Photograph by Bill McCullough, Texas of Jewish wedding ceremony

Photo by Bill McCullough

And there’s the huppah, a gauze-like tent covering the bride and groom that is a symbol of the home they will share. During one Jewish wedding documented by Bill McCullough, a Texas, USA-based WPJA member, the sky was dark and a large light hovered over the huppah, creating what McCullough judged to be a perfect scene and lighting conditions. “This was a gift since the rabbi didn’t allow any flash during the ceremony,” McCullough notes.

With the bride’s father standing alongside the canopy holding his daughter’s flowers, McCullough captured both the father’s pensive face and the couple going through their vows.

“I’m always trying to see things differently, it doesn’t matter what type of wedding it is,” he says.

THROWING OUT EXPECTATIONS

While its critical to understand what traditions are important and generally what to expect in an ethnic wedding, you still have to be prepared for the unexpected. As with any wedding coverage, you’ll want to approach ethnic weddings on your toes. As usual, you can’t overestimate the value of anticipating and shooting in the moment.

“You can’t go into a wedding thinking, ‘I want this shot, this shot and this shot,’” McCullough says. “I need a completely clear mind to photograph, I want the split seconds to direct me.”

In fact, not knowing exactly what will come is part of the excitement that brings people to wedding photojournalism, and can ultimately yield the original and unique shots that the practice strives to create.

“You’re always on your feet and as a [wedding] photojournalist,” Badrinath says, “you have to always look for those moments you haven’t seen before.”

Because regardless of color, clothing, exotic material, language and cultural tradition, the moment is universal.

—by Paul Ziobro for the Wedding Photojournalist Association

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Weddings Can Be Chaos

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A wedding is not just the culmination of a couple’s commitment. It’s also the final product of much planning and preparation. Yet despite the best-laid plans, your big day won’t necessarily get a free pass from Murphy’s Law. Some chaos is almost inevitable at some point along the way. Luckily, when you hire a wedding photojournalist, you have someone on hand who is an expert in capturing those moments as memorable visual stories that you’ll enjoy for years to come.

Our WPJA wedding photojournalists weigh in on their experiences with the chaos of the wedding day. They discuss how it affects their shots (for better or for worse), and share their techniques and advice for assuring great pictures despite (or maybe because of) it all!

PHOTOGRAPHER, OR ZEN MASTER?

Nobody knows better than a wedding photojournalist that wedding days can almost seem to breed disorder. At the same time, it’s possible that no one could be better prepared to deal with the unexpected.

For one thing, they’ve been behind the scenes at many other weddings prior to yours. Wedding photojournalists aren’t as intimidated by the hustle and bustle, and know how to blend into the surroundings to document the unique moments of the day. In fact, the chaos may improve their chances of taking that great photo in the first place.

Photograph by Michele Waite, Washington of men getting ready for a wedding

Photo by Michele M. Waite

Prior experience in photographing weddings means the wedding photojournalist knows how to keep calm, says Washington, USA-based wedding photographer Michele M. Waite. “Wedding days already can be such a tense time that I want to be the person that’s a calming, supportive presence.” If the wedding party is running late, for example, it works better for everyone to work within a new timeframe than to add to the stress.

Jeff Thompson, a WPJA member based in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, USA, agrees on being a calming presence. “One of my goals is to make it so people don’t have to think about photography at all on their wedding day. When I talk to potential clients, I tell them that my approach is to ‘just hang out.’ I’ll join in conversations when I feel it is appropriate and I’ll drift back and use a longer lens when I sense a more private moment.”

Chicago, IL, USA WPJA photographer Anne Ryan tries to ensure she doesn’t add to the frantic nature of the wedding by maintaining a low profile. “I try to capture everything as well as I can without drawing attention to myself,” Ryan says. “I want to get the best pictures I can without disrupting the ceremony. During the reception, I shoot a lot. I use both wide and long lenses. I don’t have to worry about being inconspicuous at the reception so I can work my way through the crowd.”

UNEXPECTED OPPORTUNITIES

Wedding photojournalists want to tell the story of your wedding day in a way that you’ll enjoy for years to come. Sometimes, the images they capture will even fill you in on what you missed—you know, while you were busy getting married.

“The bride and groom are often so busy on the wedding day that they miss out on a lot of what’s happening around them,” says Thompson. “When couples receive their photos, I often hear, ‘I don’t even remember you taking that photo’ or ‘I never knew that happened until I saw the photo.’”

Photograph by Anne Ryan, Illinois of a messy bathroom sink

Photo by Anne Ryan

Ryan agrees. She recently took a WPJA-contest winning photo of a bathroom sink, the surface of which seems covered with a mind-boggling array of make-up and beauty products. “I walked into the bathroom, into this aftermath of the bridal party getting ready and putting on all of their make-up, and I thought, I have to get a picture of this! They’re going to want to remember this.”

What seems like a potential disaster on the day, will often turn into the story you tell over and over, and an experienced wedding photojournalist will know how to capture the tell-tale chaotic mood of your day, should it surface. Waite won a WPJA contest for her photo of the groom’s party dressing on a church lawn.

“I was supposed to meet all the guys at the church after photographing the bride. Well, we all arrived and no one is there yet, the church is completely locked. The guys are standing around wondering how they’re going to get ready.”

Suddenly, they realized they had to get ready; this wedding was happening, Waite recalls. “So they decided, ‘Let’s just get ready on the lawn.’ And of course I thought, thank goodness this happened–this is an awesome photo! It went from a boring stock photo of guys adjusting each other’s ties to stripping down on the lawn!”

Again, the unique and varied experiences of wedding photojournalists are often an asset in taking advantage of a sudden, and brief, opportunity to turn chaos into substance.

“Since I am an experienced photojournalist, I’m used to covering both news and sports,” says Ryan. “Covering a wedding is actually more orderly and predictable that what I’m used to covering! My skills as a sports photographer are particularly helpful, because I can capture everything quickly as it happens.”

IT ALL COMES TOGETHER

Photograph by Jeff Thompson, Wisconsin of bride getting ready

Photo by Jeff Thompson

Sometimes, the chaos of the wedding day comes together in ways that no one can fully anticipate, which is, after all, part of the excitement. Says Thompson of his WPJA contest-winner showing bit of flurry over a necklace in the dwindling seconds before a ceremony, “I knew it was a good scene with all the people working on the necklace. I’d love to say I waited and saw the perfect composition of hands coming together and got it in one frame, but I can’t. But I wouldn’t call it pure luck either. It was just a case of anticipating what might happen and putting myself in position to capture whatever did happen.”

In the chaos department, that scene might pale when compared to another scenario Thompson documented. “I was at a Friday wedding where the ceremony was being held at one church, and was to be presided over by a pastor from a different church. As the ceremony time neared, the pastor had not yet arrived. There were many phone calls made to his cell phone and his office to no avail.”

Thompson says that he tried to document all that was going on because of this situation, and shortly after the scheduled time of the ceremony, someone was finally able to reach the pastor of the church where the wedding was being held. “He arrived in short order, met the bride and groom and improvised a ceremony,” Thompson remembers. “Though it started more than a half-hour late, the improvised ceremony went off without a hitch. It all made for great photos that will be a unique reminder of their unique wedding.”

—by Heather Bowlan for the Wedding Photojournalist Association

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Other Cameras At The Wedding

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On your wedding day you’ll probably feel like a celebrity with all the attention, adoration and fine clothes. You may expect fawning and flattery, but are you prepared for multiple cameras following your every move? More than any other event, weddings bring out the paparazzi in people. So when you walk down the aisle or cut the cake, be prepared to face a bank of cameras.

Thanks to the digital revolution, many cameras now are lighter, smaller, relatively inexpensive, and they’re showing up everywhere, especially at weddings. “For a number of guests, the way to experience a wedding is to take their digital cameras,” says Robert Mirani, a Lexington, MA, USA-based WPJA photographer. “Instant feedback is part of their experience.”

“I embrace guests with cameras,” says Matt Kim, a WPJA member in Oakland, CA, USA, “and incorporate them as part of the story of the wedding day. These guests are happy to be part of the wedding and want to remember it.”

Both Mirani and Kim say they typically see as many as 20 cameras at a wedding. In fact, Kim says at most weddings digital cameras have usurped disposable cameras.

Some brides even pack their own cameras in their purses, according to Britta Trygstad, a West Fargo, ND, USA, WPJA photographer. “They hand it to their friends so they’ll take snapshots of them,” she says. “Their friends usually yell at them for having cameras, but some people feel they have to document everything.”

IT’S ALL GOOD

With all the shutterbugs snapping pictures at the bride and groom, how does the hired professional photographer get a lens in edgewise? For the most part, wedding photojournalists say they work around the amateurs and are sanguine about them. “[People with cameras] are in my way because they love the couple,” says Kim. “It’s all good.”

Mirani adds that he sometimes works with the camera-bearing guests to make sure he and they don’t trip over one another. “It doesn’t bother me,” he states. “I just try to incorporate it in my coverage.”

Photograph by Britta Trygstad, North Dakota of bride and groom cutting the cake

Photo by Britta Trygstad

“People are going to take photos and I don’t mind,” says Trygstad. “Many times a relative will stand in the middle of the aisle and I always shoot that. I think it’s hilarious to see someone shooting away during the ceremony. At a wedding I recently photographed, a four-year-old stood up on a stool during the ceremony and took pictures, with a flash! It was a very small wedding—only about 20 people—and everyone was amused.”

All three photographers say that people taking pictures of people often make for funny, wonderful images. “For me, it’s what’s happening during the day so it’s part of the story,” Trygstad maintains. During a recent wedding at a resort near Otter Tail, MN, she took an awarding-winning photo of a little girl angling for a shot of the cake cutting. “She was so excited that she was taking pictures all day long,” Trygstad remembers. “So when she popped into the photo it seemed natural to take a picture of her taking a photo.” That image won second place in a recent WPJA competition in the Cake Cutting category.

Photograph by Matt Kim, California of grandfather photographing his wife and grandbaby

Photo by Matt Kim

At a wedding, Matt Kim spotted a grandfather trying to photograph his wife holding their grandbaby during the reception, which was held in a Sausalito, CA, USA restaurant. “He was working hard to find a good angle so he could get the San Francisco skyline in the background.” Bemused by the scene, Kim captured the moment in a WPJA award-winning photo. After all, weddings offer a myriad of moments, too many for the wedding photographer to capture alone. Therefore, guests with cameras, who are on a mission of their own to record the things most important to them, should be encouraged.

Photograph by Robert Mirani, Massachusetts of groom with bride holding microphone

Photo by Robert Mirani

Sometimes amateur photographers birddog good photo ops for the professionals, who keep an eye peeled for picture-taking activity. During the reception of a Chelmsford, MA wedding Robert Mirani photographed, the groom took the mic in a karaoke moment to sing to his bride. “He was very animated and really singing it from the bottom of his heart,” says Mirani. “His passion was such that people wanted to almost form a circle around him. That’s when guests and bridesmaids started taking pictures. I wanted not only to capture him singing to his bride, but also to capture the feeling that everyone else was enjoying it too.”

TO CONTROL OR LET IT BE?

There are times, however, when an amateur’s timing is bad. Mirani gives one example. “I was photographing from behind a bride and groom walking to their reception with everyone in the distance watching them. It was a nice moment. Then someone ran up and asked them to stop so he could take their picture. It wasn’t actually disrespectful towards the bride and groom, nor was it a violation of their space, but it did break the mood. Guests mean well, but they don’t always have a sense of what’s good for the pace and mood of a wedding.”

Should bridal couples try to control all the picture taking? “Even if a couple really wanted to control other photographers at their wedding, I don’t think they could fully do so,” says Kim. “I would discourage them from even trying because it would introduce a sour note to the day. I think guests with cameras are here to stay and will probably grow in numbers.”

However, it is important for the couple to understand the dynamics surrounding a free-for-all when it comes to photography on wedding day. Kim adds, “I tell my clients my approach is documentary, so if Uncle Joe jumps in front of me during the first kiss, they’ll receive a nice photo of the back of his head!”

—by Lorna Gentry for the Wedding Photojournalist Association

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Using Music On Your Site

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Many wedding photographers use music to some degree on their Web sites. Proponents say that music helps create and enhance the emotional experience, and also serves to brand the wedding photographer’s approach to the craft.

Unfortunately, a large number of wedding photographers use music on their sites illegally, whether through a lack of familiarity with the law, a rationalization that their use is “promoting the artist,” or blatant disregard. This is ironic, since like photography, music is creative property, and the legal rights of its creators need to be respected.

And even properly licensed music has to be used carefully. The selection of songs, how and where on the site music is employed and the amount of user control are all critical factors that interact to either create a memorable experience or turn off the viewer. Plus, good pictures are good pictures with or without the music, and a bad photo isn’t going to be helped much by a song.

All of this makes the use of music an extremely important and delicate application for any wedding photographer.

MUSIC LICENSING CONSIDERATIONS

You would think that as creative professionals wedding photographers would be extremely sensitive about copyright, but that’s not always the case. In fact this is perhaps the most vexing issue when it comes to using music on Web sites, since licensing commercial songs is a topic of some complexity and great misunderstanding.

This creates a paradox that has become a real problem: While photographers are highly protective of their images, they often will cut corners illegally and use all manner of rationales to use the copyrighted songs of others without paying for them. Some think that if a client buys a CD or pays for an iTunes download, then the photographer has the right to use the song in a publicly viewable slideshow of that couple. Others believe that using less than 20 or 30 seconds of a music clip is permissible.

None of this is correct. In order to use any commercial music on your site, you must license it from the artist or from one of the major music publishing agencies, the American Society of Music Composers and Publishers (ASCAP) or Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI). Only recently have these organizations began to offer licensing models for music use on Web sites, and in all cases the agreements are somewhat complex. (See the sidebar at the end of this article for useful music licensing links.)

If you go your own way without proper licensing, you may face a stiff fine ranging into many thousands of dollars, depending on your site traffic and how you used the copyrighted music. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has been very aggressive over the last few years in suing for music piracy.

Texas, USA-based photographer Joseph Victor Stefanchik says he’s sick of wedding photographers violating copyright. “People are so crazed about maintaining their own copyright with their own clients. They’re all upset and post all over the forums. Then they turn around a break someone else’s copyright in a heartbeat,” he says. “If someone was made an example for violating this, I expect that all of this illegal use would stop.”

“Some photographers have this weird, misconstrued idea that they’re helping to promote the musician,” he continues. “You’re not working for these people. It’s a law being broken, it’s out of hand, and it needs to stop.”

Generally, for a site that is not in itself directly generating revenue, but is simply promoting your work, you can now strike a deal that involves an annual fee of a few hundred dollars plus a charge based on how many songs you’re using, whether the user has any control over them (less control is cheaper), and how many page impressions you log each year.

“For those of us who want to do the right thing, it’s difficult,” states Mark Adams, a Georgia, USA-based WPJA member who uses commercial songs on the Web site for his company, LaCour. “You look at the photography business, were you can go online and download something from Getty for the type of use you want, but for music it’s not so easy.”

Adams uses an “ASCAP Experimental License Agreement for Internet Sites & Services” for music on his site. It costs $288 annually, and allows you to use anything in ASCAP’s catalog so long as you’re not selling a product with the song itself, or allowing the user to select which piece of music is played. It covers 365,000 “user sessions” (which cannot be more than one hour in length) annually.

BMI offers a similar license that requires a $299 annual fee, plus a charge amounting to 0.0004 cents per page impression. That means that 100,000 page impressions over the course of the year would currently cost you the $299 plus an additional $40. It sounds reasonable, but the agreements are restrictive, with numerous conditions and reporting requirements, so check the ASCAP and BMI Web sites for the latest information.

COMMISSIONING YOUR OWN MUSIC

A safer, simpler and often more effective solution is to commission your own music, avoiding possible legal entanglements, with the added creative opportunity to provide a totally unique user experience.

Stefanchik commissions a classically trained pianist and composer working on an electronic keyboard to create custom music for his site. “Therefore, we own the music,” he explains. “When we present to a client after a wedding with a slide show, the musician that we’ve hired has actually seen all of their pictures, and he writes a score based on those pictures. He gives a good sense of the beginning, middle and end; how we’re trying to tell a story, the lows and highs, so it really makes sense. It’s a perfect match, instead of a random song.”

Pennsylvania, USA-based WPJA member Joseph Gidjunis has commissioned music from a local band and has included a link to them from his site. First he purchased the rights for several songs they had already recorded. “When I first started I wanted to have music and those tracks spoke to me. I felt they represented the studio well. But I also wanted to get something more fine-tuned.” So, he commissioned them to write one song specifically for the site. He paid a flat fee for the band reviewing his site, writing and recording the song, and unlimited use.

“I never wanted to get that angry lawyer letter,” Gidjunis states.

WHEN IS MUSIC USEFUL?

Assuming you’re using it legally, where and how you use music on your site are additional critical factors that can either clarify or muddy the mix.

Gidjunis notes that music helps set a mood, what emotional perspectives you pursue as a photographer and what you hope to convey to your audience. He believes that a certain rhythm, an upbeat groove or a more classic or traditional sound will add to the experience.

“You may even want to get it playing before an image even pops up to get the visitor’s attention,” he advises. “You want to get the rhythm going so that they feel whatever you want them to experience.”

Music plays completely through on his site, though he is beginning to think about whether there are parts where perhaps it shouldn’t play. “Silence can create it’s own experience, too,” he says. “That can make a different experience and evoke the emotion that you want.”

And in this day and age, Stefanchik believes that a multimedia presentation is generally expected. “As technology progresses people are going to want to be entertained even more,” he notes. “You hear music at home, in your car, on TV and on the Web.”

“A Web site is now a whole presentation,” agrees Gidjunis. “You can’t just do it with your pictures alone, and music can put your images over the top with certain clients. With the music coming into their ears and your images coming into their eyes, you will then be able to tell them ‘this is who we are and this is what we will try to do for your day.’”

Yet music alone does not make the photographer, and can even be a distraction to some. “Our computers are almost always muted here, especially when applicant sites are being reviewed for membership inclusion,” states WPJA founder David Roberts. “I find that music can be as distracting as text over a photo, a Photoshop tweak or in some cases a bad caption. I love when strong images can just speak for themselves. I just want to see good pictures. Period. I’m in the business of promoting good photographers, that is the bottom line here.” Still, he agrees that quality music can be effective when presented with great photography.

CONTROLLING THE MUSICAL EXPERIENCE

Part of using music successfully is about control, and how much of it should you give your visitors. How much user control is enough, or too much?

Gidjunis believes that as the photographer you are generating the experience, so you should have the control over how you evoke emotion for the visitors. Simply put, he recommends minimal user control. “While being able to turn the music on and off is probably a good feature, I don’t think that the user should have that much control over the initial Web site experience,” he notes. The photographer or studio should be dictating the experience just like they dictate the picture and the emotion coming from it.”

His Web site typically cycles through four tracks, with a control to stop or forward ahead to next song. “I probably have about 400 different images on the site, so I need more music so people don’t get bored listening to the same song over and over,” he notes.

Viewers landing on Adams’ LaCour site have the option to either mute the songs or let them play, as well as the choice of just clicking into the gallery of images, which ends the music.

“Most visitors like to have a little bit of control,” he says. They will go on a Web site at work, and it can open with unexpected, even jarring, loud music. When I go to Web sites and the music starts playing, I’m not necessarily looking at the site in an environment that’s conducive to visual learning, and the first thing I’m doing is looking for the stop or pause button. I don’t want the first thing people do on our site is to be looking for the mute button.”

Visitors to Adams’ site can get engaged with the pictures, with at least a couple of songs for each slideshow. “When they make that choice to click on the slide show, at that point I think most people are savvy enough to know that it is going to have music. And then they can put their headphones on, or adjust the speakers and enjoy that experience.”

Stefanchik typically uses a couple of songs on his site. “I think a volume control is about all the controls viewers need,” he opines. “If there are too many options you’ll have them worrying more about your site navigation than the pictures they should be viewing.”

He says he wants visitors to experience big, clear pictures and easy navigation, with a really sweet tune playing in the background. “It catches that sixth or seventh sense—that whole experience that you’re excited about,” he explains. “You may not know the couple from Adam, but you’re excited about their pictures, thinking ‘what can this guy do for us?’”

THE VISUAL EXPERIENCE

Given the emotional power of music, you’ve got to be careful in selecting and using it, if you decide to use it at all. You need to be thoughtful and purposeful with what you choose to do so that it has a positive impact and that it doesn’t detract from the experience you’re trying to provide.

If you’re using music, make sure you’re doing so legally, and consistently. “Stay away of going a popular route just because it is popular,” Gidjunis recommends. “Find something that is more unique to your site and stick with that. I know a lot of photographers will change music almost monthly. I have found that in keeping a more consistent tone while adding to the site, I’ve been able to convey the same experience to clients each year, and they can come back and say ‘oh yeah I remember that song.’”

—by Michael Roney for the Wedding Photojournalist Association

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Creating Timeless Images

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Weddings provide timeless memories, and everyone would agree that the best wedding photojournalism should do the same. After all, it’s only fitting that one of the most important days in someone’s life should be preserved for eternity with imagery that will always be emotionally and visually resonant to its viewers.

But what makes a truly timeless image, and what sets it apart from the cliché shots that we’ve all seen over an over again? A few of the WPJA’s members weigh in on their quests for timeless wedding photography.

TIMELESS, OR SIMPLY ICONIC?

There are certain standard wedding images that have been captured again and again throughout the decades. We all know what they are: the bride and her bridesmaids preparing for the ceremony, the father kissing the bride, the walk down the aisle, the married couple’s first kiss and many others. These images are iconic in that they’re instantly recognizable and steeped in tradition.

But many of these pictures are also clichés. They’ve been done and redone almost to the point of yawning boredom. They have been seen so many times, in one slight variation or another, that they flirt with meaninglessness, having lost so much emotional “oomph” as we’ve all become desensitized to the same imagery over time.

The quality of true timelessness, photographs that look as though they could have been created yesterday or 50 years ago, occupies another level altogether. Such images require anticipation, patience, recognition and photojournalistic skill on the part of the wedding photographer.

New York City, NY, USA-based WPJA member Jacek Wiesnowski believes that the difference between “cliché” and “timeless” is wrapped up in how you capture the moment, whether in the action, the expression of the faces or the gestures of the hands.

“In wedding photography, what’s important is not just capturing the iconic image, but how you capture it,” he says. “You need to capture emotion at the same time—not just the scene but also emotion in the face. This is what is going to make the image not only iconic, but also elegant.”

THE TIMELESS “LOOK”

In addition to an emotional resonance that will stand the test of time, a sense of timelessness can be captured through the skilful use of black & white imagery, clothing and hairstyles, and even depth of field.

Photograph by Jacek Wiesnowski, New York of bride and groom in classic dress

Photo by Jacek Wiesnowski

Wiesnowski’s contest winner successfully captured dynamic, timeless emotion, and was enhanced further by the classic, 1920s-style look chosen by the bride and groom. Like most timeless images, it looks as though it could have been captured decades ago, or yesterday.

“Black and white images are more difficult to place in a timeline,” Wiesnowski says, “but is it just that they are ‘timeless,’ or is it also that they don’t lie? In the digital age, color can be very misleading. A black and white image just tells the truth. Color can be used, or abused, to over-emphasize elements of the picture. With monochrome scene, it’s more about the moment (and people captured in it), rather then the beauty of the scenery, real or enhanced. I think that it’s the honesty of a black and white photograph that makes it timeless.”

Full depth of field also can play a part. An image shot wide open, especially with a very fast lens, is often perceived by the public as “modern” or “artistic,” even when the real reason for the shallow depth of field was the lack of sufficient lighting. “Wedding photography is especially demanding when it comes to low-light coverage,” Wiesnowski notes. “Modern technology allows us to capture scenes that would have been overlooked, or simply ignored in the past, due to technical limitations of older equipment. The use of fast lenses that were never available before, dictates the current look and feel of wedding pictures, taking it further and further away from a classic image.”

LOOKING FOR TIMELESSNESS

Our experts agree that a large part of capturing timeless moments and emotion has to do with knowing when to anticipate those moments—a highly practiced photojournalistic skill.

South Dakota, USA-based WPJA member Shalista Anderson states “Every wedding is different and every one is also the same. The same turn of events tend to happen, but you have to be in the right place and know what to look for in order to be able to catch those moments.”

Anderson believes that finding timelessness is all about being prepared, being experienced enough to be prepared, knowing where to be and knowing your couples.

Photograph by Shalista Anderson, South Dakota of bride and groom riding in a car

Photo by Shalista Anderson

Her contest-winning photo is a study in timeless Americana. “This wedding was in a tiny town with about 600 people, about 50 miles from the next town, and the couple’s getaway car was their uncle’s convertible,” she explains. “These hometown kids were just taking a cruise down main street and flipping a u-turn at the end, and I had my camera out the roof of the car, praying that I was getting something. I was driving with one hand, shooting with the other, and it came out.”

She says the image has always been one of her favorites because it sums up the whole wedding in one picture. “They’re a fun-loving couple, in a small town, sitting on the back of a convertible, carefree about everything, and that’s how the entire wedding was. That picture could have been taken 20 years ago, or 20 years from now, and the same feeling is going to come out of it.”

Catherine Hall, a wedding photographer who works out of New York and San Francisco, CA, USA, notes that it also has to do with investing in your client and seeing them as human beings—really caring about them so that you can capture something that is personal and real. “I’m really interested in getting to know my clients, understanding what’s important to them, and through the closeness they have with me they become comfortable and let me into their lives. That’s when you start to get stuff that’s going to matter 50 years from now,” she says.

Photograph by Catherine Hall, California of two girls playing outside of a church

Photo by Catherine Hall

Hall’s contest winner of two girls playing outside of the church was what she calls “a real moment” captured on the fly. She feels that the timelessness of the image is in its innocence. “I think people will feel that in ten years when they look at this,” she says. “There’s an innocence and elegance that, no matter when you look at it, it’s always going to be there. The captured moment is always going to push that emotion.”

TIMELESSNESS = SIMPLE ELEGANCE

When all is said and done, timelessness in wedding photojournalism often can be reduced to simplifying an image down to a classic emotional moment that by its very nature transcends the passage of time. “As a photographer you have to recognize those moments, little slices of life, where everything at once is happening for an incredible emotional impact,” says Hall.

To her, a timeless image is when you’re truly capturing the moment in a traditional way, making sure that you’re getting what’s there in the first place. “With all of the image manipulation tools today, people are getting very trigger-happy in terms of overworking their images and overdoing things for special effects. I would hate to see a bride’s wedding captured and made to look ‘fantastic’ now with all of these new effects, but then 10 years down the road when the novelty of the effects fades, there’s not much left there.”

Photograph by Clinton James, Washington wedding couple under umbrella

Photo by Clinton James

The truly timeless images, those that transcend cliché, are inevitably captured rather than staged, with the wedding photojournalist staying true to the action. The best image you can capture is going to happen by itself; you just have to be ready for it, and the authenticity of the moment will make it timeless.

“It’s an image that you can look at today and be moved by it, and one that you can look at in 20 years and it will have the same effect on you, regardless of styles changes and current trends,” Anderson states. “The emotional impact is going to be the same when their grandkids look at their albums.”

—by Michael Roney for the Wedding Photojournalist Association

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Couples Seeing Each Other Before The Wedding Ceremony

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Weddings celebrate rich, time-honored tradition. Regardless of which culture, religious affiliation or country of origin the couple represents, traditional elements make their way into the wedding to one degree or another. With so many personal decisions involved in wedding planning, the results are never run of the mill, but oftentimes they’re idiosyncratic, intimate and, hopefully, incomparable.

One such decision that you may agonize over is whether to see your partner before the ceremony, or to wait for your eyes to meet on the aisle. It can put you in a conundrum.

Many consider the superstitious take on the matter—that seeing one another before the wedding bodes poorly for the marriage, and (depending on how superstitious you are) can even ruin it! No one wants that.

So, where does the photographer stand on the topic? How do the pictures vary in either scenario? Are brides and grooms moving away from the more traditional custom of waiting until the ceremony to see one another? To find out the answers to these and other questions, we talked to three award-winning WPJA members.

There’s no wrong scenario here. And the photographers all agree that there are pros and cons to either waiting until the walk down the aisle or to seeing one another beforehand. Like everything involving your wedding, this is a very personal decision, which means it weighs entirely on your individual preferences. Carefully considering each option is the best way to make the right decision.

WHAT IS ROMANCE?

There is that one moment when the bride and groom see one other, and then it is over. Will it take place in the same setting as you say your vows? Whether in a place of worship, underneath a setting sunset or against the rising tide, when you wait until the walk down the aisle to see one another, that special setting can add meaning and atmosphere to the moment.

Garrett Nudd, a wedding photographer from Florida, USA, says that the clear benefit to waiting until the ceremony is “the bride invests a lot of time and money in her wedding dress. It’s so important. It symbolizes a woman’s style and sophistication on the most important day of her life. That’s powerful when he sees her for the first time.”

Others find that no matter where they are when they see one another, it is a wonderfully romantic moment. And for some, it’s important that they’re alone when that moment comes. They may find that the eyes of all their guests make the event less intimate and therefore not as romantic. Nudd says that when he photographs the bride and groom before the wedding, “they have a more private moment than if they were to see one another for the first time during the ceremony. It also gives them a longer time to be with one another.”

Having this time to be together can help diminish the stresses of the day. The couple can focus on what’s really important, as opposed to the many details that must fall into place. As a result, they’re love for one another takes center stage. And this can happen no matter what the setting. This definitely comes across in the photographs.

PHOTOGRAPHING THE MOMENT

Photographing the moment can entail very different approaches. For example, when Nudd is photographing the couple seeing one another before the wedding, he says that he stands back from them and using a long lens, capturing them interacting. That gives them more time to simply be with one another before the action of the wedding and reception kick into gear, and allows for more varied photographs.

Oftentimes, when the couple sees one another on the aisle for the first time, the photographer is working doubly as fast to capture the bride and the groom reacting to the moment. Many wedding photojournalists handle that challenge by working with a second shooter. With one person kneeling in the front row of the guests and the other situated behind the bride in the back of the room, they are able to capture images that simultaneously show both partners, adding a valuable dimension to the coverage of the ceremony.

A MIDDLE GROUND

Wedding photographer Bianca Palmer, based in North Carolina, USA, knows from experience that some couples are able to have it both ways, allowing for photographs of them together before their wedding, without them actually seeing each other. How is this accomplished? On more than one occasion she has observed, and captured, couples talking to one another on either side of an open door, but out of one another’s range of sight. She says, “Sometimes they hold hands and exchange cards and gifts.” Wonderful, unexpected things can happen as the camera captures the couple interacting, albeit not face-to-face.

Photograph by Bianca Palmer, North Carolina of groomsman seeing the bride

Photo by Bianca Palmer

Palmer’s award-winning photograph of one of the groomsmen sneaking a peek at an astonished bride shows what can happen when things go slightly array. She explains that she had just finished photographing the bride and groom at the door when the groom’s brother swung it open. Upon seeing the picture, the bride confessed she could not muster that same expression if she tried.

A VARIATION ON THE THEME

For couples who would like their photographs before the ceremony but want the aura and mystique of the wedding setting, they can combine the two. Palmer has photographed a bride and groom who met with loved ones at the actual site of the ceremony prior to the wedding. In that instance, only close family members sat in the pews while the couple stood in the aisle. Palmer recounts that it was a very intimate and special experience for the couple, as well as for their loved ones looking on.

Photograph by Garrett Nudd, Florida of bridal party looking out the window

Photo by Garrett Nudd

Nudd’s award winning photograph shows a bride and her bridesmaids standing on a bench, taking a pre-ceremony “sneak peak” out of the window at the guests entering the building, while the bride’s father looks on from behind. The image perfectly captures the feeling of the “bride in hiding” that often fills those excited moments prior to appearing in all her glory for that dramatic walk down the aisle.

DO IT YOUR WAY

It’s unlikely that anyone has ever made seeing their fiancé before the wedding grounds for divorce. There are no rules governing when you see you first see your partner, except perhaps one: Whichever route you take, make sure it is determined solely by your vision of your wedding, and nobody else’s.

Logistical considerations, such as scheduling photographs, should never be determined by the photographer for the sake of convenience. Some may suggest to you that you should meet before the ceremony “while the makeup is still fresh” in order to get good pictures. Meeting for that reason alone would be a mistake. Be true to your heart, since you will be able to depend on your wedding photojournalist getting memorable shots no matter when you see each other.

As Nudd says, “It’s a special moment no matter how you do it.”

— by Lauren Ragland for the Wedding Photojournalist Association

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Letting Go: Photographing Intimate Moments With Parents

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In the 1950 classic film Father of the Bride, George, played by Spenser Tracy, watches his daughter Annie, played by Elizabeth Taylor, take her wedding vows and says to himself, “I realized at that moment that I was never going to come home again and see Annie at the top of the stairs. Never going to see her again at our breakfast table in her nightgown and socks…Annie was all grown up and leaving us, and something inside began to hurt.”

The scene may be fiction, but the emotion behind it is real. Throughout the wedding day, parents and their children walk a delicate line between past and future. Letting go is never easy, but it can make for dramatic photographs full of heart. Through experience and instinct, wedding photojournalists capture tender moments many bridal couples typically don’t see, giving them windows into the hearts of the people they love.

“There’s always a moment during the day when it hits the parents,” says Louisiana, USA-based WPJA member Cameron Gillie. “Sometimes it’s immediately after the father walks down the isle with the bride. But the parents’ dance is also very emotional and I’ve seen it hit the parents then.” In his experience, Gillie finds that the gravitas of the day most often impacts parents and bridal couples immediately following the ceremony. “These are always great photos—lots of hugs, joy and sometimes tears.”

Photograph by Cameron Gillie, Louisiana of father and mother crying

Photo by Cameron Gillie

When Gillie took his award-winning photograph during a summer wedding in Houma, LA, USA, he had been keeping an eye on the bride’s father, even after he walked his daughter down the aisle. When emotion swept over the parents, Gillie captured their tender faces. The moment is so candid that it seems as if Gillie was invisible to the couple; which is key in this trade. “Being as unobtrusive as you can be is the essence of photojournalism,” he says. Comparing wedding photojournalism to his work as a newspaper photojournalist, which he did for a decade, Gillie says photographing weddings requires more finesse. “It’s a dance of giving people space and getting the picture.”

IN THE MOMENT

Zoya Dicaprio, an Alexandria, VA, USA-based wedding photographer, takes a more spiritual approach to capturing intimate moments between the betrothed and their parents. “I’m constantly aware I’m in someone else’s space,” she says, “but I’m there as a vessel. Photographing a wedding is like meditating for a long time. I’m constantly in the moment, which feels good. It’s the bride and groom’s time and I feel privileged to be in their space. I’ve had to walk in really close to people at very sensitive times. When I have to do that, I try to be quick, respectful and totally in the moment.”

Photograph by Zoya Dicaprio, Virginia of father and bride dancing and crying

Photo by Zoya Dicaprio

Dicaprio’s photograph of a bride dancing with her father, which placed in the Emotion category in a WPJA competition, was a sensitive moment as such. All day, the bride’s father had been stalwart, showing no emotion whatsoever, she recalls. Then at the reception, his emotions got the best of him. “That often happens when fathers dance the first dance with their daughters,” she says. Even so, this family was so somber that the father’s sudden display of feelings was a surprise. The picture, however, didn’t elude her. “When you put experience, being in the moment, and empathy together, you see the moments come.”

Like Dicaprio, Neil Kiekhofer, a wedding photographer in Milwaukee, WI, USA was surprised by a sudden outpouring of emotion in a wedding he recently photographed. “The difference between being a good photographer and great photographer is being able to understand who you are photographing,” he says. “I had noticed that the family was close, so I was watching them and was in the right spot.”

Photograph by Neil Kiekhofer, Wisconsin of family consoling each other

Photo by Neil Kiekhofer

It happened during a Jewish wedding in Milwaukee. In Jewish weddings, the ketubah, or marriage contract, is signed prior to the wedding in a private ceremony attended by only immediate family. “Typically after the ketubah is signed, the rabbi sings and there are hugs and kisses. It was unusual for so much emotion to come out,” says Kiekhofer. “The groom’s sister teared up and her parents moved in to console her.”

Kiekhofer was touched by the family’s emotion, he says. “It reminded me of when my sister cried for me during my wedding. It’s a very special moment, a pivotal point when [a family] realizes the child has grown up.”

Empathy during a wedding is a critical component of taking intimate photographs, says Dicaprio. “Every wedding I photograph, I wonder what it will be like when my daughter, who is six, gets married. I wonder what it’s like for the mom to see her daughter get married.”

BECOMING INVISIBLE

Photograph by Christopher Record, North Carolina of bride and parents

Photo by Christopher Record

North Carolina, USA-based wedding photographer Christopher Record also caught a warm moment between a bride and her parents. The bride decided to see how the decoration of the reception hall was coming along before getting dressed. Her parents seized the opportunity to have her alone for a few minutes and gave her a bouquet of flowers and a gift. “I think the magnitude of her getting married hit them at that moment,” says Record. “They forgot about me,” he says, so no one was self-conscious. The picture won third place in a WPJA photo competition.

Capturing intimate family photographs is most effective when everyone becomes comfortable around the photographer; when they forget he or she is there. According to Record, that takes patience, time and trust. “Having done a lot of documentary photography, I’ve found that it’s possible to become somewhat invisible. You have to be patient, get to know the people, and let them know you are professional, which makes them feel comfortable. Then they forget about you. My favorite pictures are those in which the people obviously didn’t notice someone was taking their picture.”

Kiekhofer agrees and adds that photographers also have to know when to put the camera down. About his award-winning photo of the groom’s parents and sister, Kiekhofer says, “The moment was there and then it was gone. I took one or two shots and no more. If I had kept shooting they would have become self-conscious and ruined their moment”—the antithesis of good wedding photojournalism.

Throughout a wedding day, a close connection between wedding photojournalists, bridal couples and wedding parties makes beautiful, intimate photographs possible. “I don’t need a Hollywood-perfect couple and a $2 million wedding to have beautiful photographs,” says Kiekhofer. What makes for wonderful photos is “the relationship I build with the couple, and the couple’s emotions and passion for each other,” he says. “Their love is transferred to the parents and friends. The whole day is intense in a good way. There is so much beauty and love everywhere you go that it makes my job that much easier.”

—by Lorna Gentry for the Wedding Photojournalist Association

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Reception Tents: A Creative Palette

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There’s nothing quite like a wedding reception in a tent, with its uniquely informal atmosphere, customized decor and proximity to the elements outdoors.

Weddings and receptions with an outdoor component are incredibly popular in the warm months, with a tent considered de rigueur for such events considering the fickleness of nature. And, with larger, more sophisticated tent structures boasting such comforts as built-in heating, tent receptions are even taking hold in the colder seasons as well.

Yet tents are so much more than simply shelter. With the naturally soft light created by their white walls and the often-creative lighting schemes within, many wedding photojournalists tend to love tent receptions for their natural intimacy, picture-friendly conditions and creative possibilities.

THE PALETTE: CREATING YOUR UNIQUE ENVIRONMENT

One of the nicest things about tent receptions is the creative possibilities they enable. Unlike the typical reception hall, a tent is indeed like a blank slate upon which you can build your own world, creating exactly the atmosphere you desire for your grand celebration. This not only makes your reception more memorable for you and your guests, but also makes possible a unique and powerful set of visual elements that will translate to beautiful photographic memories.

Matt McGraw, a North Carolina, USA-based WPJA photographer, says that tent receptions are his favorite kind, precisely because of those creative freedoms. In fact, he states he would love to shoot a tent wedding every weekend if he could. “At a wedding I shot recently, the couple had a tent on which they probably spent $20,000 on decorations alone,” he recalls. “The ceiling was draped with white lights, flowers were everywhere, and they had a dance floor out there. It was beautiful and elegant.”

“What’s great about them is that you pretty much have a blank canvas and you can do anything,” agrees wedding photographer Linda Wallace, another North Carolinian. “You don’t have to consider the decor of a hotel ballroom, which might be a completely different style than what you want to do.”

Pennsylvania, USA-based wedding photographer Doug Benedict relates the story of the bride who was horrified when she first saw the tent that was to hold her reception, simply because it was completely bare.

Benedict encouraged her by saying it is possible to decorate in such a way that “when you’re finished [you are not] aware of the tent in any way. A lot of brides have done creative things to fill that space…[such as] lots of greenery…banzai trees, and more-so than in any reception hall, they have a lot more latitude to create a specific feel.”

TENT LIGHTING

Wedding photographers tend to love the light in tents, whether they’re shooting during the day or in the evening.

Benedict notes that with a tent, especially in the summer months, you benefit from wonderful ambient light coming through the walls until 9 o’clock, allowing most photographers to work with or without flash much longer than they would in a reception hall.

“And when it gets too dark to shoot with available light, I love lighting tents because they’re like a big soft box to shoot up into,” he says. “If I can put a light on the post of the tent 10 or 15 feet above the floor and point that thing into the top of that tent, it’s wonderful, beautiful light. From my perspective as a shooter, it’s a perfect situation.”

McGraw says he has a tendency to set up flashes everywhere, but when he shoots tent weddings and receptions he shoots a little differently in order to fully capture the atmosphere. “After the sun goes down I’ll still try to keep the ambiance. I’ll bounce lights off the ceiling, and it’s nice to stand back 50 yards away, pop the flashes, and light off the whole tent on the inside.”

Photo by Matt McGraw, North Carolina of bride and groom in a tent filled with lights

Photo by Matt McGraw

His atmospheric wide-angle photo from a recent WPJA contest beautifully conveys the special setting his clients were able to create, as well as a great moment between the bride and groom during their first dance. “That was one of the prettiest tent weddings I’ve done because of the lights,” he recalls. “I tend to shoot in wide angle at tent weddings, because you obviously want to bring more ambiance in. You’re pretty much surrounded. Your eyes go around in circles and then come back to the subject.”

Despite the overall enthusiasm, there can also be challenges in shooting tent receptions, especially if certain sides of the tent are open. One scenario arises when the sun dips below the ceiling and starts to shine directly into the tent, presenting some exposure challenges. “You’ve got lighting all over the place. One side of the tent will be really bright and sunny, while the other side is dim and ‘twilighty,’” says Wallace. “It’s a little tricky, but nothing that can’t be managed.”

Photo by Linda Wallace, North Carolina of couples dancing

Photo by Linda Wallace

She certainly handled such a situation well when she captured an award-winning shot of couples dancing against what appears to be a stark, white background. Wallace explains that the sides of the tent were open, with a golf course beyond. However, she set her exposure for the dancers in the shade and allowed the background to “blow out,” which worked perfectly for this image. “It was just a great moment,” she recalls. “These couples were spread out. I turned around and saw what was happening and managed to catch it.”

HEATING ISSUES AND OTHER DETAILS

Trouble could be lurking in the details, and with the additional creative freedom of tents comes some added responsibility to assure that your reception is successful and memorable. It comes down careful planning.

Climate control is an important consideration if your reception is taking place during the heart of summer when the air can be warm and sticky, or in a month when the outdoor temperature may be chilly. Fortunately, most tent rental agencies and party planners offer a range of heating and air-conditioning systems, which will assure that your guests stay comfortable. But again, examine every detail before committing to a particular heating or cooling scheme.

Wallace shot a reception in November that had heating issues. “It was only warm in the places where the heaters were, and everywhere else it was frigid,” she remembers. “And the people who were warm couldn’t hear anything because they had the heaters cranked up.”

“I booked a really big wedding for next year which will involve three tents that are all fully air conditioned,” Benedict explains. That’s going to be a spectacle. At some point it’s almost like having it inside a building again.”

The wedding at which McGraw captured his award-winning photo benefited from superb planning, he says. And again, it was attention to detail that made the difference. “You walked in and they had a big coatroom that was hidden from the main room. The chandeliers were made out of antlers. And they even had ‘his’ and ‘hers’ porta-johns, both of which were covered in their own tents, so you couldn’t even see them. There were Christmas lights all over the trees outside. So the detailed planning was evident all the way through.”

CREATING AN INTIMATE ATMOSPHERE

If you use a tent’s creative freedom wisely, you can assure an environment that not only reflects your own aesthetic, but also creates a sense of warm intimacy that would be difficult, if not impossible, in most banquet halls. And the direct proximity to the outdoors opens up an entirely new dynamic of atmosphere and social interaction, as individuals and small groups will wander out onto the surrounding property.

“What I really like about the whole tent idea is that you’re one step away from being outside,” says Benedict. “One of my favorite things to do at a tent reception is to go outside where there will always be people gathered on the lawn or in the woods. From a distance, at nighttime, the tent just glows, and there’s muffled music and voices. It’s got this really warm feeling.”

Photo by Douglas Benedict, Pennsylvania of couple sitting at table outside of tent

Photo by Douglas Benedict

For that reason Benedict makes it a point to leave the confines of the tent and linger outside camera in hand for opportunities that may arise. One such diversion resulted in his award-winning photograph of a couple talking romantically outside of a glowing tent. “That picture was nice because they also had the candle on the table, and I could see their faces,” he says. “It’s warm and inviting, and the bride loves that picture because it says to her that her reception was a success. She managed to create this feeling. And so much of what we do, is to try to show what this couple has spent months trying to create.”

He adds that the couple did a good job of detailed planning and didn’t let little things get to them. As he says, “They brought the blitz that day, and it really shows in the pictures.”

And if it rains? Well, bring it on! Many people would agree that there’s something romantic and cozy about being in a tent with the elements raging a few inches away. What better place to feel enclosed and protected than at your wedding?

“Receptions are all about creating the sense of intimacy—the sense of space and place,” Benedict states. “If you’re inside of a ballroom, you’re oblivious to what’s going on outside. There could be a tornado out there. And it’s the same static place no matter what is going on outside.”

Wallace says that there was one wedding she shot that had a really great indoor/outdoor feel because for several hours after the reception started there was still some light. “People hung out and watched the sunset and it was really fun, pretty and casual,” she recalls.

“All tent weddings have that magic feel to them that I think brides always look for when they get married,” McGraw says. “It sounds cliché. It’s like when you go home to your mama’s house, and you walk in, and it’s all pretty and decorated for Christmas, and you get that feeling of ‘this is absolutely beautiful.’ And the food is great…or even if it’s average it tastes great. It’s a warm feeling.”

Benedict wishes they all were outside. “It changes the dynamic. People who are looking for a more formal event may not want to have it. They want to have their event in a grand ballroom. But for the people who are not hung up on that, I think that tents give them a lot of latitude in creating the kind of event that they want.”

—by Michael Roney for the Wedding Photojournalist Association

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Featured Photographer: Brian Tsai

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Portrait of Brian Tsai

Portrait of Brian Tsai

Throughout most of his life, Brian Tsai never kept a camera too far off hand. As a result, new friends would quickly pick up on the fact that he was the shutterbug of the group. “I have always been the guy with the camera,” Tsai admits.

It turned out to be a good trait, since eventually a friend, familiar with his hobby, drew Tsai into wedding photojournalism, asking him to be a second photographer and take candid shots at her wedding. That seemed to be all it took to awaken the wedding photojournalist inside Tsai, even though he had been pursuing a more typical career path early on, with forays into architecture and, later, software engineering. That first taste led to another wedding, which led to another and another, and soon enough he had a full plate of weddings to document—enough so that in 2005 he was able to pursue wedding photojournalism as a full-time passion.

Brian Tsai at work taking wedding pictures

Brian Tsai Shooting a Wedding

Tsai’s latter career turn may not have happened given his family history. He comes from an engineering clan and earlier in his life thought of that as his main career option. At the time, he assumed that his artistic interests would be relegated to a hobby, much like his father’s dabbling into the pastime of oil painting.

A high school arts program, meanwhile, had given Tsai his first in-depth introduction to photography, teaching him the ins-and-outs of a manual camera. “That opened up a new door to something I wasn’t entirely aware of,” he recalls. He would also spend hours in the darkroom, trying to get the print just right before moving onto the next shot.

Soon after, he bought himself a Pentax K1000—the extra appendage that led family and friends to know him as “the guy with a camera.”

Even as Tsai pursued his other professions, the camera was not far from his mind and could even be incorporated into some of his work. Architecture itself is a highly visual field, and as an intern with a firm, he would at times be charged with photographing a site before a particular project was drawn up.

Tsai, however, went beyond shooting empty lots. After photographing the site for his job, he would then turn the camera on the neighborhood to incorporate a fuller picture of the area. “I would try to capture the street life and the life of the area, trying to understand the context and culture,” he recalls.

Photograph by Brian Tsai, Washington

Photo by Brian Tsai

Such a practice in the early days helped develop a photojournalistic style of shooting, where he really sought to document an entire story with each shot. Tsai’s photo at a destination wedding in Kona, Hawaii, did just that when he took a WPJA award-winning picture of a groomsman pulling the groom’s tie down to the ironing board to press some wrinkles, even while the groom tried to sip his orange juice, capturing the hectic nature of the moment.

“It all happened in a split second, and I was just there to capture it,” he says. “It was very spontaneous and very real.”

The move to photographing weddings hardly happened as quickly. After a career change to a software engineer, which he endured for about four years, he realized his creative itch needed to be scratched.

“There was something in me that was really restless, and this part of me wanted to do something really creative,” Tsai says. “At one point, I just felt that life is short and if I didn’t do it today, I would regret it.”

His first wedding soon provided that creative oasis in a relatively low-pressure situation. A college friend had already hired a traditional wedding photographer for her ceremony, but hoped that Tsai, who was also attending, could take up an extra task during the wedding.

He immediately took a liking to the craft, finding that wedding photojournalism combines aspects from sports, glamour and fashion photography while trying to tell a story. When he returned back to his home in Texas, Tsai photographed another friend’s wedding for gratis, took out an ad in the local paper, and soon referrals poured in.

SEEKING UNIQUE DETAILS…AND GOING DEEPER

Tsai particularly likes finding the unique details of weddings that traditional wedding photographers may overlook while going through their list of posed shots. “There’s usually another layer that I can communicate through photography,” Tsai says. “It could be humorous, somber, reflective or pensive, giving the photo another layer that goes below the surface.”

Photograph by Brian Tsai, Washington of flower girl between two contrasting dresses

Photo by Brian Tsai

While doing one portrait session, he noticed a stunning contrast between the flower girl’s colorful bouquet and two black-and-white dresses between her. He cropped the photo close, boiling the imagery right down to that contrast.

In another scene that could easily have been overlooked, a guitar player and trumpeter were entertaining the crowd, and the back of their music stand had two faces on it. Noticing the potential for an amusing photo, Tsai angled a shot so that the images on the music stand “replaced” the musicians’ faces.

“It created a humorous situation and I just played with that a little,” he recalls.

In addition to freeing himself from a desk job, photographing weddings has also given Tsai an excuse to travel often. He splits time between his Austin and Seattle homes, while his destination weddings have taken him to Hawaii, Jamaica, Paris and various spots in Asia.

Photograph by Brian Tsai, Washington of wedding musicians

Photo by Brian Tsai

And as much as Tsai has found wedding photojournalism to be a creative outlet for a man who once embarked upon an engineering career, he’s also found it rewarding in another way.

“I love the emails or phone calls I receive from clients, sometimes in tears, thanking me for capturing those moments that touch them,” Tsai says. “It’s humbling to think that there is some meaning to what we do.”

Judging from the body of work he has created thus far, Tsai is indeed humble when he speaks of his photos having some meaning. Those emails, phone calls and tears all suggest that he consistently strikes a deep chord in his coverage of the emotions and stories of the wedding day. It’s all a testament to Tsai’s proven skill and artistic eye.

But then again, he’s the guy with the camera—and he knows all too well what to do with it.

—by Paul Ziobro for the Wedding Photojournalist Association

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It's Not Easy Being Beautiful

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The bride steps into her wedding gown. Her mother and a coterie of bridesmaids assist her with the final touches on her hair and makeup. They primp and preen at her gown, perhaps contributing something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.

Today, the vast majority of brides invite their photographer to document the “getting ready” period, and for good reason.

Getting ready can be a monumental task for the bride and her entourage, and an event in itself. It’s a time not only during which the women share their excitement and happiness, but also one in which they can smooth out any bumps in the road that may arise, from mending an ill-fitting wedding gown to soothing an overwhelmed bride. The application of cosmetic agents, hair, skin, nail, and other treatments, final tuning of clothing and accessories; this seemingly endless array of beauty products and treatments makes for a very hectic and intense prep session.

Not until recent years has it become de rigueur for the wedding photographer to be present while the bride gets ready for the ceremony. Yet the outflow of elation, anxiety, nostalgia and hope that accompany these activities create an ideal time for your wedding photojournalist to capture those timeless moments.

Fortunately, WPJA members are veterans in skillfully observing and documenting what exactly happens behind the dressing room doors—from the trials and tribulations, to the triumphs. Their experience makes them uncommonly aware of and sensitive towards the rituals and emotions of bridal party preparation, and well-prepared to capture wonderful images without getting in the way.

THE RINGLEADER AND HER CREW

The time spent getting ready is filled with a wealth of emotions. Precisely what type of emotions, from good to bad to downright ugly, is entirely dependent on the bride. She sets the tone in the room. There are those brides who, as Massachusetts, USA-based wedding photographer David Tucker says, “are in the zone and it’s the perfect moment of their life. They’re sitting on a cloud enjoying everything.”

Based on our WPJA photographers’ insights, the majority of brides are in this “zone.” They’re in control and having a wonderful time as they prepare for their wedding. The photographer moves about the room capturing the bride talking and laughing with her bridesmaids and close relatives. She’s natural and jubilant, and that comes across in the pictures.

On the other hand, there are those brides who are overwhelmed by emotion and close to having a panic attack. Tucker is acquainted with them as well. He recently found himself stepping out of the photographer role, and into that of confidant, as he tried to comfort a nervous bride. “I let her know that I appreciated what she’s going through, that it was perfectly natural, and there’s nothing strange about it,” he says. At the time, only he and the make-up artist were in the room with her. Clearly, he is a special photographer who knows how to respond in an uncomfortable situation.

North Carolina, USA-based wedding photographer Sean Meyers observes that some bridesmaids also play an integral role in keeping everything running smoothly. Therefore, brides may prefer to have the bridesmaids present during the getting ready period. He recalls one wedding in which a trolley was to pick up the bridal party and take them to the ceremony, then on to the reception. The trolley never showed up. Not a problem. The bridesmaids were able to calm the bride down and keep her from becoming disheartened by the absentee trolley. Meyers says, in general, “The three or four of her closest friends are there to take care of the bride and that helps me.” The mood in the room stays positive and he’s able to get those emblematic photos.

THE DRESS

Photograph by Matt Kim, California of bride getting dressed with bridesmaids

Photo by Matt Kim

At another wedding Meyers photographed, the bride donned her dress, and many of its buttons promptly popped off. This could potentially be a disastrous situation, since for many, the dress is a focal point of the entire day and especially the getting ready period. As Meyers says, “It’s all about the gown…with the bridesmaids attending to her and helping her get the dress ready.” In this particular situation they had yet another job, which was to attach the buttons back to the gown. He notes that it turned out to be an easy remedy with the use of inconspicuously placed tape and pins.

Many brides spend months prior to the wedding focused on the solitary goal of losing weight. They want to look their best for their big day, and often that means fitting into a dress that may be smaller than what they typically wear. Of course, their fear is that they won’t be able to fit into the gown when the day arrives.

For some, that fear is fully realized. Photographer Matt Kim, based in California, USA, was a witness to one bride’s trying moments as she struggled to get her dress on. The results were an award-winning photograph. He says, “It’s all her. I just happened to capture her at that particular moment.” Once buttoned, the dress looked beautiful and no one seemed to notice it was a bit snug.

UNEXPECTED MOMENTS

Photograph by David Tucker, Massachusetts of the groom's mother and her friends at the beach

Photo by David Tucker

With so much going on during the getting ready period, many photographers, like Kim, simply need to be present in order to capture those wonderful timeless expressions. And when the photographer shows up unexpectedly, great pictures can also result. An excellent example of this is Tucker’s award-winning photograph of the groom’s mother and her friends at the beach with mud masks on their faces. He was sent there by the bride and groom and says, “They got a kick out of me coming there to document it.”

The number of people in the getting ready rooms also can have an impact on the dynamics of the moments captured by your wedding photojournalist. “An intimate group of four or five people is ideal,” Kim suggests. “If there are twenty people, it can get chaotic.” Conversely, if there are only a couple of people in the room, the scene could remain relatively uneventful.

Photograph by Sean Meyers, North Carolina of an upset flower girl

Photo by Sean Meyers

Children and spontaneity often go hand in hand. If a flower girl happens to be in the mix during the getting ready period, you’re likely to get some great pictures. Meyers found this to be true with his photo of a young flower girl who is clearly disgruntled by her mother’s attempt to fix her hair. He says that the little girl was not in the cheeriest of moods, something that can often happen when little ones are forced to dress up. Needless to say, it’s a superb image, and it adds to the breadth of emotion that comes out during the getting ready period.

A LITTLE PERSPECTIVE

It’s always important for the bride to stay relaxed and at ease during the final moments before she walks down the aisle. A good way to do so is to have people around who make you feel calm. Tucker suggests having helpers to do things you don’t necessarily need to do yourself in order to keep from feeling over-scheduled. He says, “It’s much more interesting to have that unscheduled time to focus in on what’s happening—on those feelings of anticipation, nervousness, ecstasy, panic, etc.”

As with much of the day, time is of the essence. Tucker also notes that there should be a “fair amount of time, ideally at least an hour” during this period. Too little time can create a stressed-out mood.

Ultimately, it’s about the bride enjoying herself. Kim notes, “It’s important for the brides to let her friends and loved ones take care of her. If she is good humored about whatever comes up, she can get through anything, save the groom running away!”

Indeed. A little perspective can go a long way during the early hours of the big day, as well as help complete the larger story. When the bridal march is blaring through the speakers and the bride is walking down the aisle, the gasps and wide smiles across the room will attest to her beauty. Thanks to the great wedding photojournalist backstage, everyone (including the groom, who may have been far from that scene) can have an idea as to what took place to bring her to that radiant moment.

—by Lauren Ragland for the Wedding Photojournalist Association

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Wedding Images With Depth

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Anyone who’s been to a wedding knows there’s nothing simple about the pictures. This is doubly true for a wedding photojournalist, whose goal is not to just photograph the bride, the groom, and the family and friends present, but to capture the energy and the variety of emotion that surround the event. After all, it’s called a milestone for a reason.

One of the best compositional strategies for a great photographer is to focus on images with depth. Deep photos, like any good wedding cake, are made up of multiple layers of people, objects and emotions that make for compelling photographs and, for those involved, memories that will last. A photograph with depth is complex–it shows and it tells the story. And as with many great images, it takes a little bit of luck and a lot of skill.

GO BEYOND THE ORDINARY

To get a shot with complexity, it takes “hard work,” says Joseph Gidjunis, a WPJA member in Pennsylvania, USA. “I know that’s a cheesy phrase, but a photojournalist doesn’t just accept what’s in front of them as the only answer, the only photo. We all get lazy, and it’s hard to keep the camera in front of your face and also constantly look around you and be aware of your surroundings. So when we see that one great shot of emotion, we get it and we feel like it’s done. But it’s not—there’s something going on around it, beside it; a bigger emotion coming up around that moment.”

Photograph by Jonathan Adams, Kentucky of a bride and her sister embracing

Photo by Jonathan Adams

Jonathan Adams, a WPJA member operating in Wyoming and Kentucky, USA, agrees. Looking for the larger moment helped him capture the photo that placed in a recent WPJA contest, showing a bride and her sister embracing tearfully, the bride’s face reflected in a mirror.

“I had photographed just minutes earlier the bride using the mirror for makeup, so using the reflection was something fresh in my mind. Once I got the composition I watched the expression of the sister while watching for a clear view of the bride. The moment came together and I was ready for it. I shot about 10 photos of this scene and it quickly evolved from a grab-shot moment in the first frame to a composed, clean image with more depth by the last frame.”

This strategy is one Adams often employs to catch the subtleties of the day as well as the big brush strokes of emotion. In fact, he uses an artist’s metaphor to elaborate. “I look at shooting like sketching a drawing. I shoot the scene and keep shooting while constructing and deconstructing the photograph. After I shoot the first image, I start looking for secondary elements to help tell the story—often times people looking on or reacting. I search around my main subject for things that make the image have more meaning or impact, while at the same time I’m looking to clean up my composition.”

BE PATIENT

Staying with a moment and seeing it through clearly requires not only skill in composing an image, but patience. And plenty of it.

“I am not the type of photographer that can grab a great moment from across the room with a long lens, says Adams. “What I am is the type of photographer that is great at observing cool moments, and positions and preps himself to be on top of it the next time it happens. I’ll see a moment taking place at a reception and position myself for a repeat of that moment. As soon as that happens and I get the photograph, I continue to wait and watch through the camera, with the idea that hopefully I caught the moment with the momentum going up, and it will only get better. Don’t stop shooting until you are sure the moment has gone or you have thoroughly worked the scene.”

Photograph by Matt Kim, California of family and friends laughing and crying at a wedding

Photo by Matt Kim

California, USA-based WPJA member Matt Kim found this to be the case when he took an award-winning photo of family and friends laughing, crying and, in the background, looking on with confusion. According to Kim, the photo was taken “at a reception in a rural backyard. I was scanning the crowd looking for good moments.”

“I’m not certain what happened, but my guess is that the mother of the groom, who had not been very expressive during the ceremony, finally had her emotions catch up to her and started bawling an hour into the reception. I saw her across the yard and moved quickly towards her and snapped a series of photos.”

By spying a moment-in-progress and taking initiative, Kim was able to capture more than just an overwhelmed mom—and more, it turns out, than he was even able to notice at the time.

“The main subject of course is the mother sobbing with her face in her hands, but we also see the grandfather, still happy, and family friends reacting to the joke someone must have told,” Kim notes. “Meanwhile…no one notices the mom behind them. The guy walking past in the background was completely unaware and his expression doesn’t reflect his general demeanor during the wedding day, but it’s intriguing.”

KNOW YOUR SUBJECTS

Kim knew to seize the moment when he saw the previously reserved mother let loose with her emotions. This awareness of and familiarity with your clients is essential to taking a more complex photograph. The depth is not just in the image, but also in your understanding as a wedding photojournalist of the emotions involved.

“I think depth is very useful in telling the stories more efficiently,” Kim says. “Including background, and additional players, it adds context and relationships to a single photo. And usually it’s just a matter of being aware of all the elements in a scene and working the angles to present the most complete story.”

Photograph by Joseph Gidjunis, Virginia of bride and groom kissing

Photo by Joseph Gidjunis

There’s quite a story behind the Gidjunis photo of newlyweds kissing that took first place in a recent WPJA contest. In the foreground, a woman, the groom’s mother, has thrown her hand up in the air; in the background, a younger cousin laughs at the spectacle.

“This photo was a culmination of the whole wedding, in a way,” says Gidjunis. “Throughout the day we’d seen a series of kisses by the bride and the groom, who were a bit more physical than some other couples, and it really got to be funny towards the end of the reception.”

“We’d just come off of an impromptu formal shot with some extended family and the couple started kissing again. The mother said ‘I can’t believe it, again?!’ and the son answered, ‘I married her, I put a ring on her finger, I get to do this all day long!’ So she threw up her hands, as if to say, ‘what am I going to do?’”

Because of the image’s skillful composition, we get both sides of the story in one photo. This is the appeal of an image with depth to the wedding photojournalist.

As Jonathan Adams says, “I like to see points and counterpoints, I like to see actions with reactions, moments and reasons. I always want to provide a reason for the viewer to linger longer on an image.” Quite literally, it’s this skill to perceive beyond the surface, to the deeper story, that makes an eye for depth and complex composition so valuable to the wedding photojournalist’s work.

—by Heather Bowlan for the Wedding Photojournalist Association

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Dragging The Camera Shutter

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Dragging the shutter is a basic photographic technique that is often put to highly creative use by the best wedding photojournalists. Whether depicting the bride mid-whir during a dance, or documenting a child bounding down the aisle at the church, dragging the shutter helps produce images that contain a sense of motion and bring an added dose of festivity to what, for some, already feels like a whirlwind day.

When photographers “drag” the shutter by slowing down its speed, they effectively lengthen the exposure in order to create a motion effect. Optionally, a burst of flash can then freeze the primary subject in the foreground.

By keeping the shutter open that fraction of a second longer during a flash photograph, the camera is able to pick up more ambient light from the background, producing a warmer photo with more distant detail. Otherwise, in poorly lit rooms in which wedding events are often held, such as reception and catering halls, you can end up with photos of people who look like they’re in a pitch-black cave.

The overall result is a more dynamic photo, with more storytelling possibilities. “Dragging the shutter definitely conveys the movement and dancing going on at weddings,” says award-winning photographer Justin Ide. “Otherwise, you blast them with the flash and they’re completely frozen in time,” resulting in a more static image.

AROUND WE GO: CIRCULAR MOTION

Face it: There’s a reason they call it a “wedding party” and that’s because, once the music starts, most attendees—from grandmas and grandpas down to the flower girls—take it as a cue to get down.

With all the spinning, shaking and gyrating that comes with the dancing, WPJA members often drag the shutter to show the movement of the partiers. Used with a flash, this produces a sort of controlled blurring of the background, while keeping a sharp focus on the primary subject.

Ide, a Boston-based photographer, oftentimes uses this technique during the dancing sequence of weddings, especially during traditional circular dances like the Jewish or Greek horas. “I think it adds to the festive nature of what’s happening,” he says. “I do it primarily during dancing, because it adds to the emotion and to the fact that a lot is going on.”

Photograph by Justin Ide, Massachusetts of bride dancing at wedding reception

Photo by Justin Ide

During the circle dance, when everyone’s moving from left to right in concentric circles, Ide usually rotates with the subject he’s trying to shoot, panning his camera by moving it laterally across the overall scene, to increase the background blur and to sharpen the subject. For his WPJA award-winning image, he moved from left-to-right while the bride was moving right-to-left. That allowed him to freeze her with the flash, leaving the partygoers along the side reduced to a blur.

Ide points out that the key to taking these photos is using the rear-curtain sync feature on the camera, whereby the flash goes off at the end of the exposure, rather than at the beginning of it. That allows the camera to record the motion and then freezing it at the end with a pop of the flash.

Conversely, with the front-curtain sync, where the flash goes off first and then the camera picks up motion, the motion can distort the moment you are trying to freeze.

GOING FLASH-LESS

Dragging the shutter can allow you to use the blur to your advantage, creating the effect of the subject crossing your path. This helps capture a sense of movement, an effect commonly seen in professional photographs of auto racing. Otherwise, shooting a photo at an adequate speed to stop the action produces an image that lacks that same dynamic atmosphere.

Of course, the greater focal length of a long lens increases the likelihood of noticeable camera shake and motion blur at slower shutter speeds, which sometimes may be creatively desirable. Generally speaking, a 50mm lens should be used with a shutter speed no slower than 1/50th sec for a sharp image. Going slower than that will probably yield that motion blur, whether desired or not. A 24mm lens has the same effect at about 1/25th second; a 100mm lens at 1/100th sec. George Weir, a wedding photographer based in Lancaster, PA, generally tries to get the shutter speed down to 1/15 of a second or slower with his 24mm wide lens, or down to at least 1/60 of a second with a longer lens, to create maximum blur.

During a typical wedding day, Weir finds it useful to drag the shutter to add motion at the bride’s home when she’s walking to and fro, getting ready for the big day, and while members of the wedding party come down the aisle.

Photograph by George Weir, Pennsylvania of wedding ring bearer walking down the aisle

Photo by George Weir

Weir’s award-wining photo from a recent WPJA contest was captured at St. John the Baptist Church in New York, as he hunched down below the front pew, staying out of the way during the ceremony. When the bride and groom were about to exchange their vows, the ring bearer began his approach. Weir panned the camera as the ring bearer was walking, capturing an image that blurred the guests, while catching the little boy’s intent focus on his job at hand. “It’s a total grab shot,” Weir notes. “I think and shoot it. It’s instinctive to drag the camera across.”

In post-production, Weir made sure to leave the motion-filled backdrop alone in order to preserve the atmosphere of the picture and add to the story contained in the shot. “If you crop the picture and just get a vertical shot, you get no sense of place,” he says.

Panning the camera across the scene with a slow shutter speed also turns any light source, be it candles or light bulbs, into streaks of light, which can create some cool effects. Twisting the camera in a circle during a long exposure produces circular streaks of light. Another trick to try is zooming in or out while the shutter is open, which can create some funky effects but can be difficult to nail down as planned.

BLURRING THE SCENE

Dragging the shutter at an especially slow speed of one second or more can produce some dramatic images that can really capture the ambiance of the room. Using a tripod, such photos record the furniture, decorations and other static objects while blurring the motion of the scene together.

Jennifer Sanford, a Portland, OR-based wedding photographer, usually tries to capture the overall mood of the reception by getting an image of the entire room, preferably from overhead. By opening up the shutter and mounting the camera on a tripod, she can get some psychedelic blurs worked into the photos, especially when the lighting inside is poor, as it usually is.

“It really makes a difference between my photos and the photos a guest might take,” she says.

Photograph by Jennifer Sanford, Oregon of bride and groom surrounded by blurred dancers at wedding reception

Photo by Jennifer Sanford

When the guests started dancing at one wedding she documented, a photo from the balcony captured a circular blur with the bride and groom in the middle. By borrowing some direct light from a videographer who was documenting the wedding, it gave her enough light on the newlywed couple.

“I was on the balcony and originally planned setting off my flash very subtly to freeze some of the subjects, when I saw some of his light,” Sanford says of her award winning shot.

DON’T OVERDO IT

Dragging the shutter is certainly a much-used staple for ensuring that enough ambient light can enter the pictures. “I practically always drag the shutter at the reception since it brings more detail into the background,” says Sanford.

But beyond that, this technique has the potential for overuse, adding blurs and lines that can give guests a bit of motion sickness if there aren’t enough photos to slow down the day. Dragging the shutter to add a more artistic touch should be used in modest measures, providing a nice contrast to the action photos that capture a freeze frame of, say, dancers in midair or a quick kiss between the bride and groom.

Also, despite all your practice and skill, taking photos using a technique with so many moving parts can inevitably lead to some throwaways because results will vary. So, are you willing to gamble on a moment the couple expects to see? It may be a good idea and a safe bet to pass on dragging the shutter for some of the wedding’s most poignant moments.

“Keep it simple,” Weir advises, “and don’t overdo it.” And always remember: The skill of true wedding photojournalists is measured by what techniques they employ in-camera.

—by Paul Ziobro for the Wedding Photojournalist Association

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