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Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show:The Best Look from the 2015 Runway

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Long Wedding Ceremonies

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A Wedding Story in 954 Parts

“Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock…” Hear that? That’s not the clock, that’s the impromptu ping-pong game that just broke out in the church as your ceremony enters its third hour. Oh, and don’t wake the guy snoring behind the altar…he just needs a little nappy before witnessing your vows.

They say that love is timeless, right? Yeah, well, love never sat through an epic marathon of nuptials in 90-degree heat while mentally tracing a Rorschach test on his neighbor’s liver-spotted head. It’s a good time to start speed-reading your way to the “I Do’s” when grandma goes down like a Sumatran rhino on the bad end of a tranquilizer gun. Not sure if your service is going a little long? Just ask those guys weeping in the corner. They’re Teamsters.

Hey, no one doubts that the wedding ceremony is the raison d’etre for your big day; just don’t let bad time management make you un-raison-able.

DON’T SHOOT UNTIL YOU SEE THE WHITES OF THEIR BLOODSHOT EYES

Photograph by Jonathan Adams, Kentucky of boy between two bridesmaids

Photo by Jonathan Adams

First, let’s get this out of the way—a wedding is the happiest moment of most people’s lives. It just doesn’t have to last a lifetime. If your ceremony includes a souvenir program and an intermission, with guys in suspenders walking up and down the aisles selling peanuts and Cracker Jacks, it might be time to make some edits.

And if guests start doing the wave? Better make those changes quickly.

Luckily, your wedding photojournalist is experienced at capturing the most significant memories of your event, and can adapt to pretty much anything. But you’ll only help yourself by keeping a tight leash on the schedule. It will allow for greater flexibility with your photographer, and you’ll have far fewer shots of guests seemingly trying to catch flies in their mouth.

The truth is, we all hope to create lasting impressions from our wedding day. So it’s completely natural to want to include as much meat in your ceremony as possible. However, by the ninth reading from Book VII of Milton’s Paradise Lost—unabridged—you’re going to be spraying your guests down with Red Bull. A beautifully-crafted three-act set of vows can be quickly ruined by the thundering craaack! as Aunt Marge peels her big moisturized face off the back of the pew. Yes, it’s a lasting impression, but mostly in the varnish.

Photograph by Peter Pawinski, Illinois of wedding ceremony in church

Photo by Peter Pawinski

WPJA member Jonathan Adams of Kentucky always makes sure to ask the officiant how long he or she expects the ceremony to last, to help with his pacing. “I’ve had three-minute ‘I do’ weddings and over-an-hour ceremonies,” says Adams.

But we’re really quibbling over minutes here, which to some might seem like a luxury.

Take those poor invitees at Ahmad ibn Tulun’s wedding, for instance. The 9th-century Egyptian ruler recorded the longest wedding ceremony in human history. It rolled throughout the entire Middle East and lasted several months. A newly found Dead Sea scroll revealed a passage from one of the guests, which read, “Day 97…Vows almost over…hope to get feeling back in my buttocks soon.”

THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT

Photograph by Kristen Schmid, Illinois

Photo by Kristen Schmid

Understand, a long celebration isn’t bad by definition, especially if it’s steeped in tradition. In some Asian cultures, the ceremony alone stretches into days, even weeks. (That’s the best argument I know against polygamy). As we speak, a full-blown Shinto ceremony is holding court somewhere in Japan, while many Pakistanis are throwing rice from sunrise to sundown. That takes a 32-ounce gulp of endurance. And if you’re planning on attending a wedding in some parts of India you better put your mail on hold for a week.

Fortunately, for those of us who reside in America, we like our rituals as we like our values lessons: quick and painless. The MTV generation has appropriated the traditional patience allotted to life-altering events and replaced it with a Pavlovian need for instant gratification. If your homily doesn’t include a pounding bass track and a sports drink pitch, you might as well be reciting James Joyce in semaphore.

So who should crack the whip? Adams suggests that the best way for a couple to keep the bus moving is to hire an experienced wedding planner instead of relying on the photographer: “As a wedding photojournalist we like to document your day and not be the director.”

But life has a way of butting in. Like Paris Hilton’s career, some things just happen without reason. Limos show up late; parking creates delays; even the main players can miss their cues. So says Chicago WPJA member Peter Pawinski. “I had a wedding at a country club in New Jersey…where the minister simply didn’t show up.” About 45 minutes later, the father of the bride called in a favor from a judge friend. “Not only does the judge show up and marry them, but he ends up…providing the most entertaining, heartfelt, and smooth ceremony I have ever photographed,” says Pawinski, “Plus he gets to be the hero of the day.”

Photograph by John Zich, Illinois of boy slouching in church pew at wedding

Photo by John Zich

The moral of the story? Always ask if your officiant has a GPS microchip implant.

WPJA photographer Kristen Schmid of Illinois offers some tongue-in-cheek yet salient advice on how to keep on the clock. “It helps if you have the ‘Bridezilla’ thing going on, because people will show up on time out of fear,” Schmid laughs. Kristen uses the term endearingly, though, adding, “The cliché is that it’s the bride’s job [to delegate], but it’s not. If everybody involved has a clear sense of what their role is and what they need to do, it helps with the entire ceremony.”

Surprisingly, more so than the length, the actual timing of the event can sap more energy than Al Gore’s 10,000 square-foot mansion. As Chicago WPJA member John Zich points out, problems occur when churches squeeze multiple weddings into a single day. “The couple books the only available slot—the first one of the day, and then have several hours to kill between the ceremony and the reception.” The downtime is often filled with a slow-mo limo tour of the city or countryside, with endless detours and photo ops, exhausting the wedding party. Says Zich, “We often suggest they pare down the list of planned stops and take a little time just to relax and refresh before the reception starts.”

GEEZ, WILL THIS ARTICLE EVER END?

Ok, let’s summarize: the more organized the planning, the less chance you’ll be burning the mid-afternoon oil. And you’ll ensure the best possible pictures from your special day. The pros agree on several tips that will help keep the ceremony running smoothly, on time and with minimal delays:

  • Always prep a backup plan. If the limo’s a no-show, have a family car at the ready. You’ll be the only bride with smushed Cheetos on her butt, but hey – you’ll be punctual.
  • Whittle the number of readings and rituals down to those that hold the most meaning to you. A love sonnet is endearing; a full Mummenschanz version of Elizabeth Barret Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?” is not.
  • When writing your own vows, think “economy.” Distill your thoughts into their most potent; their most meaningful. Avoid any passage which contains the words “And then there was that one time, where you were like so totally hot, and I’m like ‘Omigosh, I can’t believe how totally hot you are’, and you’re all ‘no way!’, and I’m like ‘way!’…”
  • Study up on 17th-century physicist Francis Hauksbee. He’s the guy who discovered capillary action, the phenomenon that keeps blood pumping upwards to your heart and brain from your legs. If you’re standing at the altar for an hour with your knees locked, you’ll be kissing marble before you ever get to kiss the bride. Keep those legs loose and you’ll be sure to avoid the gag reel.

Lastly, keep in mind that this is your day, and you (or perhaps your selfless parents, bless ‘em) are going to be paying it off for the next ten years. Or at least until there is a more equitable exchange rate for donated kidneys. You’re the one who’s ultimately in control and you can make your ceremony as long or as short as you darn well like.

And if people have a problem with that, just show them to the ping-pong table.

—by Jeff Corriveau for the Wedding Photojournalist Association

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Receiving Thanks

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The handwritten note that wedding photographer Richard Esposito received from his client was obviously heartfelt: “Our wedding photos are truly amazing. Not only did you capture our day, but you captured all the emotions. Every photo brings us back to that exact moment, letting us relive our day again.”

It’s clear from sentiments like these that wedding photojournalism is more than just pictures, or even telling a story. At the heart of what WPJA members do is touching the heart—capturing those moments that will forever resonate deeply with the wedding couple, their family and their friends. WPJA professionals are spurred on by the heartfelt thanks they consistently receive from their clients after the big day, in the form of emails, phone calls and tears. These responses, a confirmation of the deep meaning in what wedding photojournalists do, make it all worthwhile.

RELIVING THE DAY

A glance at any accomplished wedding photojournalist’s collection of testimonial notes shows that their clients’ sentiments tend to go far beyond a perfunctory, polite acknowledgement of a professional service well performed. They typically rave about “…so many beautiful moments…,” “…pictures that will forever be lasting memories…,” “…great working chemistry…,” “…your ability to see things few others can…,” and how “…you captured our personalities…,” or “…captured the pure beauty of the day and touched us….” Clearly, personality and moments are major themes of thanks, as they should be for an experienced wedding photojournalist.

Photograph by Richard Esposito, Connecticut of wedding thank you card

Richard Esposito

As the note to Esposito illustrates, most of these expressions of gratitude stem from the client’s experience of seeing the pictures and remembering the day—maybe even experiencing aspects of it for the first time.

There’s a universal reason for this: During the myriad of festivities, the couple of honor are in the proverbial eye of the hurricane—so much so that they often can’t really appreciate all that is going on around them.

“When the couple goes back and looks at the photos they kind of relive the experience,” says WPJA photographer Michelle Frankfurter, who is based outside of Washington D.C. “Most of them talk about how the day just went in a blur, and before they knew it, it was all over. They realize what they experienced but didn’t really see. It really brings all of that back to them.”

“The bride and groom eat the cake, smell the flowers, listen to the music, and ride in the limo, but they don’t see the images,” notes New York’s Malgorzata Woszczyna, who for 16 years has covered weddings with her husband and fellow WPJA member, Jack. “Afterward, when they see the pictures, they realize ‘this was the wedding,’ and that we captured the things they missed on their wedding day. This is the time they say thank you.”

Esposito says that many times couples or members of their wedding party don’t really know that he’s there around them getting the pictures, covering everything that happened—at least not until they get their proofs. “A lot of times I sneak up on the action that’s happening and they don’t know that at the time. They’ll typically say they didn’t really notice that I was there, but that I still got everything that they wanted and more.”

ESTABLISHING PERSONAL CONNECTIONS

Thank you notes such as these result not only from your innate skill as a visual storyteller, but also often stem from some kind of personal connection with the clients. People who feel that they know you better are more likely to write these notes. Says Esposito, “I’ll do one wedding [for a couple] and then I’ll do their friends’ wedding, and then one of their bridesmaids’ weddings. After a few of these you get to be like part of the family, and that’s the kind of situation where you get thank-you’s more, as opposed to clients who saw me online and just booked me.”

Photograph by Michelle Frankfurter, Maryland of wedding thank you card

Michelle Frankfurter

Frankfurter notes that she usually takes her client relationships pretty seriously. In fact, “I crave it,” she admits. “For me it really means a lot, because it’s so different from working for an editorial or commercial client. That’s much more of a detached relationship. With this it’s a lot easier to get much more personally involved with it, and you really are seeking that praise.”

She explains that she comes from a small family that immigrated to the United States when she was very young. “I think there’s a part of me that wants these people’s lives – seeing the cousins, the aunts and the uncles,” she confides. “I didn’t grow up with any of that.”

Often Frankfurter even reciprocates by writing back, building further on the relationships she has forged. She talks about a wedding she shot this past June—one that generated a thank you email that went on for pages. The client lives in California, but had visited with Frankfurter before the wedding. “She’s a botanist, so we spent about two hours talking about symbiotic relationships among plants rather than the wedding,” Frankfurter remembers. “So there’s this definite intellectual connection.” So when she recently packed up all of her proofs to ship out to the client, she included a photo of two plants. Says Frankfurter, “It had nothing to do with the wedding, but I figured she’ll appreciate it.”

FINDING MEANING

To say that thank you notes are simply feel-good acknowledgements for services performed would be an understatement. In fact, for many wedding photojournalists they are a critical motivation to keep shooting and doing their best—a validation of their career, and sometimes even more.

Photograph by Malgorzata Woszczyna, New York of thank you card

Malgorzata Woszczyna

“Once you get a thank you note, you want to go and shoot [another] wedding,” says Woszczyna. “Sometimes [as a professional photographer] you may get overwhelmed with the business issues, but once you get those thank you notes, it’s all worthwhile. They keep you excited about what you’re doing.”

Esposito says that getting notes like these means that he not only fulfilled what the couple wanted, but gave them more. “I love it when people say that they can tell that I worked really hard on their wedding day,” he states. “If I didn’t get a couple of thank-you’s now and then I’d probably be wondering ‘am I doing this right?’”

Frankfurter adds that these notes tell her she didn’t just go through the motions or punch a clock. “I’m hoping that the photos are going to be very meaningful; that they’re going to age really well. Something that will be in their family. They make my day. So the notes are truly inspirational.”

GOING EVEN DEEPER

The value of receiving thanks doesn’t always end with professional satisfaction. Sometimes they go straight to the heart of your humanity, and what value you’re bringing to the world around you.

Frankfurter recalls a wedding she photographed last October—one that generated a series of bittersweet notes from the bride. She notes that the wedding day was gorgeous, and everything was just about perfect. But the bride’s mother was terminally ill. She was in a hospice and it was really touch-and-go whether she was going to make it to the wedding at all.

“On the wedding day, you’re juggling all of these different things and trying to make sure you’re covering all of your bases. When I saw that the mother was at the ceremony I was thinking that the one thing I wanted to make sure I had at the end of the day was something strong with her,” she remembers. “So it just so happened that while I was taking shots of the groom and the groomsmen, I happened to look behind me, and the bride was kind of kneeling in front of her mother…and the mother was in a wheelchair with the hospice worker in the background.”

Photograph by Michelle Frankfurter, Maryland of bride kneeling before her mother who is in a wheelchair

Michelle Frankfurter

She got the shot, and indeed it was a powerful photograph. A few weeks afterward the mother died, so Frankfurter rushed the photo to the bride to use in the memorial service. The bride subsequently sent Frankfurter a series of heartfelt thank you notes that she describes as “really moving.”

“It was one of those rare situations where you realize that this is more than a wedding photo, and more than just a job,” she says. “It’s that ability to empathize and figure out what’s really going to be important to this individual. And that’s basically what I’m trying to do with every wedding: Look at each group of people as individuals, and capture how they interact.”

Indeed, the expressions of thanks from clients can confirm and expand your role not only as a photographer, but in the world at large. Says Woszczyna, “The checks we receive keep us in business, but the thank you notes push us forward and expand our horizons. Without them we could not go on. You just can’t go for the money. You have to go with your heart.”

—by Michael Roney for the Wedding Photojournalist Association

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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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