Unsung Heroes of Wedding Photography: Fred Rogers

If you want to know anything about why wedding photography is important, a good place to start is this guy:

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Yes, Mr. Rogers. As I go forward in this industry, as, after 120 weddings or so, I can no longer see myself as a fresh young upstart, I’ve been thinking a lot about the focus of my photography, the meaning, the whys more than the hows — and it’s hard to think of a better role model than Fred McFeely Rogers.

Now, people familiar with my MacGuyver obsession may say that I was overly influenced by the television I grew up with, and you’re probably right, but hear me out. Fred Rogers was about as close as 20th Century America has to a living saint. He was one of the most famous people on the planet, but as far from a “rock star” as you could ever imagine. He lived simply, and he never lost sight of what his work was really about — primarily the education of children, but also imparting the central message that we are unique, and that our uniqueness is wonderful. And nothing got in his way — with kindness and determination, he saved public television and he saved the VCR, because they helped him do his work. If you have never seen the video of him testifying before Congress, watch it. It’s amazing — his earnestness and intelligence utterly melts away the cynicism of career politicians for one of the few times in recorded history.

He was the antithesis of cool. He was skinny and nerdy and drove an old car, and he wore the same sweater all the time. But cool didn’t matter — he had a job to do, and it was important. Watch his acceptance of a Lifetime Achievement Emmy. Watch him stand before a lot of cool people and remind them that there is something so important.

We are in the middle of a deeply weird change — wedding photography, the red-headed stepchild of artistic photography, is becoming cool. People want to do it, people look at you approvingly when you tell them that you do it for a living, heck, you aren’t even publicly shamed quite so much at art schools if you dabble in it. This is awesome, and amazing, and has opened up so many new possibilities for photography in the industry. But I always try to remind myself that what we do is more than cool. By documenting the one of the most important days in someone’s life, we are writing social history for our clients, for their friends, for their families.

I spend a lot of time at most weddings just looking for perfect expressions. These photos are rarely cool and virtually unpublishable — they don’t tell much of a story, they don’t help future brides plan their wedding, and they don’t really help other photographers learn how to take good pictures. But when a couple comes up to me and says “This is the first picture of my mother I’ve ever seen that actually looks like her!” I feel like just maybe I’ve done something important.

People let us in. At weddings, between the joy and the anxiety and sometimes the alcohol, the walls that we walk around with come crashing down. In many ways, people are most themselves. We have the opportunity to document their uniqueness, the way they express joy, and that is something I want to stay focused on. Beyond the cool portraits, the Brenizer methods and flash composites and jaw-droppingly expensive equipment, sometimes I take photos of people that look like who they are, and I love them.

As he said in his acceptance speech: “All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. … Think of the people who have helped you become who you are. Those who have cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life.” In other words, the people who we invite to share our wedding days. That is exactly the thing we have the power to document.

There’s no one way to do things. As I said, being super-cool has opened up so many new possibilities, allowing all sorts of couples to get photos that represent their style of expression. Be the Fonz of wedding photography, the Jack Kerouac, the Robert Capa, the Annie Liebowitz. I want to try to be more like the Fred Rogers.

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Photo of the Day: A Great Day to Be Married

A Great Day to be Married

Today’s photo is from a wedding I shot … today. Efficiency, that’s how I roll.

I love shooting elopements. Such simplicity, just focused on those closest to you and each other. And it was a heck of a day for it.

Three Sb-900s at left, but held together, not the sledgehammer arrangement, so that I could trigger them all with a SU-800 on a bright day.

Julie and Yoni: 5.2.10

It was a beautiful if steamy day for Julie and Yoni at the Edgewood Country Club. I loved every aspect of the decor, including a gorgeous chuppa — and I suppose I should, since Julie told me she got the inspiration from another one of my weddings! From the details to the dress, they both did a great job planning this. Since Yoni manages people on crazy deadlines for a living, I’m sure that didn’t hurt.

Yoni actually first approached me for this wedding before he was even engaged! He had a good feeling it was coming, and we’ve also had a lot of interaction with photography. He’s attended one of my workshops, helped out at a wedding, and we’re going to be working on some exciting projects once he’s back from his awesome-sounding European cruise honeymoon. So yes, I was excited to play a role in this day.

Congratulations, Julie and Yoni!

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Photo of the Day: One Last Spray

One Last Spray

The make-up artist sprays Alicia’s face so the make-up will stay in palce before yesterday’s wedding. This image was taken with free-lensing, meaning the lens was off the camera and held in my hand.

(Happy Memorial Day to my American readers!)

(EXIF and GPS)

Photo of the Day: Moment of Feeling

I love crazy portraits more than anybody, and I love well-thought-out details that reflect the couple’s sensibilities. But these moments, the connections between you and the people you love, that’s what weddings are about in the end.

(EXIF and GPS)

Recent press

It’s always nice to receive some accolades or publishing, because I neither pay for any advertising nor often submit my photos for publication. Given that, I was very excited to be placed on a list of Ten Inspirational Wedding Photographers by Adorama Camera, along with a number of people who have been international industry leaders for quite some time. Very cool!

Photo of the Day: The District Won’t Sleep Alone Saturday Night

What’s better than one of your closest college friends getting married? TWO of your closest college friends getting married to each other! That’s where I’ll be Saturday night, where, if history continues, I will manage to serve as both photographer and official performer of Kid and Play’s routine from House Party. I am elated, excited, and absolutely terrified. You see, Missy is a bit competitive, and a photo I took at our mutual friend’s wedding is pretty much the most-popular wedding photo in all of Flickr. Curse you, expectations!

I’m kidding (mostly). It’s going to be a fabulous day, and with a pair like this, I know we’re going to get expressive, hilarious photos throughout the day. You see, this wasn’t exactly your normal engagement shoot. Your normal engagement shoot doesn’t include commands like: “OK, you see those lights? I want you to stand in them like you are Kryptonian war prisoners!”

Yeah, I’m excited.

Carol and Johann: 5.1.10

There were a thousand moments when I knew I was going to get along with Carol and Johann — this is a couple that spent their rehearsal dinner performing trapeze tricks, after all — but I will always remember when he looked over my shoulder at a nearby wedding photographer and said “Hey look! That guy’s using his flash wrong!” (Yes, yes he was. Sorry about your underexposed formals, Mystery Couple). I love that my Internet presence gives me so many couples with a strong passion for photography themselves, because we can work together on a number of levels, and because this might be their one chance to actually put down a camera and enjoy themselves.

Carol and Johann had a gorgeous day at the Hyatt Harborside in Boston, the sun blazing over the skyline. They also had a hilarious priest who, during the ceremony, told us fascinating bits of Boston history and started calling out to me to make sure everything looked OK. (I gave a thumbs up). The night was devoted to fun, dancing, two fabulous cakes, great family, and a finishing treat of Jones Soda.

Congratulations, Carol and Johann!

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Photo of the Day: Marriage Can Be Freaky

Marriage Can be Freaky

I had a wonderful shoot with these two on their fifth wedding anniversary. In 2008, the groom suffered from a disease that left him paralyzed, and he had to teach himself how to walk again. As you can see, he does a lot more than walk. They loved the "Shoot the Freak" at Coney Island, and I had to deal with harsh mid-day light, so I decided to let them have some fun, solving my lighting problem at the same time.

Photo of the Day: Home Bodies

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I like the idea of starting engagement shoots in the home — if these shoots are meant to reflect a couple’s actual personality and unique love, where better than where they actually spend so much time together?

Of course, in New York, which I call an amusement park for workaholics, we tend to have less strong connections to our living spaces than in most other places, but they are still important to us.

(EXIF and GPS)