Tom and Nicole. This is a flash composite AND a panorama, using two really awesome assistants for the lighting … Tom and Nicole.
In 1961, a young photographer named Douglas Kirkland found himself alone in a hotel room with an undressed Marilyn Monroe and a full bottle of Dom Perignon. I’ve long thought that the definition of a passionate photographer is someone who’s jealous of Douglas not for the obvious reasons, but because they dream of the photos they could have taken. The ultimate subject in front of you — unguarded, no handlers, your time measured in hours instead of minutes? This is what portrait photographers dream of.
Wedding photography, of course, is essentially the exact opposite. 98 percent of the general public would rather not be in front of a camera if they can help it, especially when they are freaking out in the back of their minds about all the things that could go wrong with such an important and complicated event. You have virtually no control over your time, the locations, ability to change everything drastically to adapt to situations, and certainly no control over wardrobe. This is the situation I deal with about twice a week … and I love it. Every little piece of it is a fresh challenge. But I’ve been so busy with this that it had been more than seven months since I was able to do a major portrait shoot for someone who’s not a client, and it’s important some times to change gears and simply let the photography come first. On a wedding day, I never want it to be about me … but everyone needs to stretch a bit. Embrace imperfection, do things virtually no couple can do on the wedding day — basically, get up to all sorts of trouble.
This is why I’ve changed the format of my workshops a bit. I always hated the idea of workshops that whisked you off to fantastic places to “build your portfolio,” since it seemed inherently dishonest — a wedding portfolio should show what a couple can reasonably expect on their wedding day. Even worse is when a workshop teacher is clearly shooting for their own portfolio. Something clicked, though, and I basically said, “Let’s do everything I hate, but tweak it.” Day 1 is about learning to deal when everything is working against you, which are essential skills for wedding photography. Day 2 is about creating the conditions where everything can work in your favor. I want everyone to walk out of there with images they love; including myself. But I’m making sure we represent ourselves honestly. No wedding dresses, to take away even the chance of honest confusion. When I shoot, it will be in such a way that participants will be able to learn how I solve problems and try to take things to the next level. When participants shoot, they can have guidance to try out new techniques, but will have enough control to honestly be able to call the images their own. I still think Day 1 is the more valuable learning experience for wedding photographers, but oh boy Day 2 is going to be fun. There are only three spots left for Day 2, I think, so make sure to claim it!
Which brings us to Valerie. She knows her way around a camera, front and back, and she likes trouble. (“No, Valerie, I don’t think we can actually hang from a suspension bridge today.”) Because she’s comfortable as a subject and willing to try pretty much everything, it was great to shoot with her on my own terms as we headed down to shoot a fantastic wedding in Baltimore. I shot with exotic equipment and all sorts of strange and difficult techniques, from the Brenizer method to freelensing to tilt-shift to hand-held exposures at a half-second to taking flattering portraits at 12mm and more. I even shot through fog despite my urge to wipe the lenses as we played with water droplets, focus, and light under a shower head (where Valerie was very, very clothed, thank you very much).
I had the freedom I so rarely get on the job, which is to do things that might turn out like total garbage. Luckily, in my mind, it didn’t.
This set was shot on both film and digital with the following gear:
See if you can figure out which shots were taken with which. I’ve put an answer key at the bottom if you’re stumped.
As always, I am stunned whenever a couple flies me into Southern California to shoot a wedding, because I think now it’s a law that you have to be a wedding photographer to be a permanent resident of the region. It means that our style, our sense of humor, and our personalities are meshing in a deep way and, right from the moment I arrived and Kim greeted Wendy and I with a batch of home-made cookies, I knew this wedding would be a joy to shoot.
Within minutes, Kim told Wendy that she felt like a “sister from another mother,” and even though we’d just met them, this really felt like a wedding I was covering for close friends. It also helped that my brother Doug was also on hand to help with the (increasingly hilarious) photo booth, so it really was a family affair.
And this doesn’t even cover the wedding, a fantastic canival-themed day designed to make sure everyone had a great time, at the school where Kim and Esteban met. They’d both been official tour guides, so they knew every inch of their wedding venue, telling me stories of when it was Howard Hughes’ defense contracting headquarters, so it was deliberately built as a sort of labyrinth in case it was invaded. That’s the sort of security I like in a wedding.
From churro stations to a crazy dance floor to a heartfelt Catholic ceremony officiated by a close friend, and their infectious laughter, the day encapsulated so many aspects of their personalities, and they meshed perfectly.