Laura and David asked me to photograph their Breckenridge wedding in the spring. June is one of my favorite times of the year to photograph weddings here in Breckenridge. The summer rains haven’t arrived yet, and the aspens have just budded. They were a fun attractive couple, and Beaver Run is a great venue for photography.
Many of you mostly know me as a wedding photographer. Many years ago, I also worked quite a bit doing adventure travel photographer for magazines like Outside and National Geographic Adventure. While spending nearly two months traveling in Asia, I made a number or portraits throughout Tibet, China, and Nepal.
Sometimes a photograph takes a lot of planning and preparation. Other times it is just a matter of just seeing it and making it happen. I saw this monk sitting by a window inside of a monastery in the Potala Palace (the Dali Llama’s winter home) in Lhasa, Tibet. The light coming into the monastery through a dirt covered window. It made an excellent softbox. I couldn’t ask the monk directly if I could take his picture since I didn’t speak that much Tibetan, so I gestured to him and to the camera, and he nodded his approval. In order to achieve the Rembrandt lighting I was looking for, I just took a small step into the room so he turned his head away from the window just enough to allow the small triangle of light to fall on his cheek bone.
This is actually the second image I made. In the first one, the monk was smiling just a little, but I felt like it didn’t quite fit the mood of the lighting. Instead just as I lowered the camera, I made this second image in which he had a much more natural expression on his face. That is a “trick” that I have used repeatedly in my career, especially when photographing weddings. Many times the expression in the initial image looks forced, while a split second later, it is much more relaxed and natural.
90% of my wedding images don’t use a lot of specialty equipment. The vast majority of images are capture with nothing more than the camera and the right choice of lens. The image at the right is one of the exceptions. Even though I don’t shoot with a lot of extra gear, I always bring at least a couple of flashes along with some Pocketwizard radio transmitters just in case the need arises.
It started snowing after dinner at this March wedding. I knew the slow falling large flakes could potentially make a good photo. So I took out the flash and attached it to one of the radio receivers. Carin took the flash behind the couple, and after a couple of tries we ended up with this image. The single flash not only back lit the couple but also lit up the snow around them to create a really unusual image.
Carin and I are always thinking about wedding photography. Often times we get to travel to a new place for the purpose of photographing a destination wedding. Sometimes we are just travelling for fun. Last month, we visited several Caribbean Islands, including Puerto Rico. We weren’t there for a wedding, but we still wanted to do a wedding themed photo shoot, so we brought our camera gear and a dress with us and hired a model in San Juan to try out some ideas.
Model shoots can be pretty complicated from a logistical standpoint. Logistically it is every bit as complicated as photographing a destination wedding, and in some ways more so. We still have all the normal details such as scouting locations, arranging transportation and lodging, and travelling internationally with thousands of dollars worth of gear. But on a model shoot we have the added tasks of arranging for the models, stylists, etc…
When photographing a wedding, we remember that we work for the people in the photos. That means we work around their schedule and needs, and we work to create the type of images the client wants. An actual wedding is no place to be experimenting with new ideas and concepts. A model shoot is the exact opposite. We get to pick the best time of day for a particular location, and the model works for us. So unlike an actual wedding there is no pressure to create something for the client. That allows us to take bigger risks and experiment with concepts that may or may not work.
I think model shoots are one of the best tools a wedding photographer has to maintaining creativity. Photographers that are only photographing at weddings they are hired to photograph, run the risk of disappointing clients with their experimental work which may not be expected, or worse, getting into a rut of “safe shots” that limit creativity.
Read more about my philosophy on model photography in this post:
It is easy as a photographer to get lost in the process of photography and forget what really matters when it comes to the wedding images. At the typical wedding we bring assistants, second photographers, and tens of thousands of dollars in cameras and lenses in order to create the perfect image. I do believe in creating incredible artistic images that make people look their best; however, just creating beautiful images is not enough.
My goal is to also make images that are absolutely timeless. For that I create images that show genuine emotion from the day. I can’t imagine a couple that will look back at their album in 20 or 30 years and say, “Wow, wasn’t the lighting great in these photos?” I try to create images that will allow couples to look back in 20 years and relive personal emotions and memories of loved ones.
The following are some of my favorite images of timeless moments during weddings. In most of these the subjects were not even aware that a camera was there. The only set up that was done on any of these was to create situations that allow true emotion and interaction to happen.
One of the main reasons I love photographing with two photographers is for photos like this. At this wedding my assistant, Nate, was working creating formal portraits with some of the family members. With many studios, the primary photographer handles the formal portraits while the assistant photographs candids and details, but that isn’t how I like to work.
These days I mostly photograph with my wife, Carin. She will handle many of the group formals. Her excellent attention to detail makes her well suited for those types of images. While she is doing that, I am free to be on the look out for moments like the one in this image. This was not a complicated image. It was just a matter of having an assistant photographing the formals that left me free to look around for a special moment.
Photographer, Joe Buissink, once said to me, “There are no perfect pictures, only perfect moments.” Photographers can really get lost in a statement like that. When I first heard him say it, I had only photographed a handful of weddings. I thought that it was my job to create moments. However, after I had photographed a hundred or more weddings, I realized that was not the case at all. Perfect moments are all around us, and nowhere more than at a wedding.
This image is a prime example. It was a perfect moment that I was able to photograph before she became aware that I was there. The result was an image that was not only one of the client’s favorite images from the day, it was also one of mine, and won numerous awards, including an Accolade of Excellence from the WPPI International Print competition.
I decided to start writing a serious of blog entries describing the thought process of what goes into a single image from a wedding shoot. I want readers to understand where I was coming from creatively and what went into the image technically. My goal is to explain an image every few weeks and hopefully, other photographers will pick up some unusual concepts and techniques, and potential wedding clients can see that just because an image is posed does not mean it has to be boring.
All to often when people think of a posed wedding photo, they imagine the couple, looking directly at the camera with cheesy forced smiles. That is not how I like to photograph weddings. I’d say 80% of the images I take are of people candidly interacting that are barely aware of my presence. However, when it comes time to do the posed portraits, I want to create something interesting. First and foremost, I want to make an image that is visibly appealing to me. Next, I want to create something that really fits the personality of the couple and will be something they will cherish. Lastly, I want to do something new. If not new for wedding photography in general, at least something new for me.
Karen and Cliff got married a few hours east of Seattle, Washington in the town of Leavenworth. Driving out their ceremony location, I passed these tracks, and my wife, Carin, and I both instantly knew there was some visual appeal to this spot. As soon as I saw it, I knew certain things I wanted to do. First, I wanted to use the tracks as leading lines to the couple. Second, I knew the image would be in black and white because of all the texture it contained. I also knew that if I shot this just after noon, which supposedly is a bad time for lighting, that I could accentuate the couple in their white clothing, while the trees in the background would be in their own shadow since the sun was directly behind them. From a composition standpoint, I looked for a spot where the tracks curved. This allowed the space between them to close rather than going on forever into the distance.
Those were my thoughts based on the technical attributes I wanted the image to have. From the couple standpoint, I knew they were adventurers. In fact, I had the pleasure of joining them on a climbing expedition on Mount Rainier the previous summer. I thought that rather than having them just stand on the tracks, having them hold hands and walk into the distance would symbolize the new adventure that their lives would be taking together.
The result is that although everything about this image was planned, set up, and posed, it still retains the feeling of adventure I hoped to capture.
It is said that a photographer must not only be their own biggest fan, but also their own biggest critic. I have found that this can be a difficult to balance. The inability to be critical of one’s own work, is one of the biggest obstacles new photographers face. It is hard to improve when you never see the need for improvement. On the other hand, being overly critical is a trap that those of us who have been around for a while can easily fall into.
The images below are from weddings I have photographed over the last couple of years where I finished the day feeling like I did a less than perfect job. Sometimes it was due to scheduling or weather problems the day of the wedding, and other times I just felt like I was less creative than usual. I actually didn’t sleep well after the wedding days because I felt disappointed in myself. However, after looking at the photos the next day, I realized the photos turned out just fine, and I was beating myself up for no reason.
My New Year resolution for 2013, is to maintain a better balance between criticism and appreciation of my own work. I am going to start by trying not to worry about the images from a wedding until I actually see them all on the computer a few days later. And, I will only maintain just enough self criticism as is productive to my improving as a photographer.
For the past couple of years, I have been shooting at least a couple of rolls of black and white film at nearly every wedding we photograph.
I love the unpredictable nature of film along with the almost organic feel of it. Digital photograph has become so clean, sharp, and predictable, it is fun to go back to film and not be 100% sure what will come out until I see the images a week or two later. There is something almost magical about the way film works: Photons strike small crystals of silver salts located in an emulsion on a small transparent strip of material. The photon reacts with the silver salt, driving off the salt, and leaving metallic silver behind. If as few as four atoms of the salt are transformed into metallic silver, a latent image is left on the film that can be developed. Technically it is more chemistry than magic, but it is still pretty amazing.
Of course, to be safe, the overwhelming majority of images we shoot at weddings are still digital. Digital not only has the advantage of instant feedback, but also more reliability. We don’t need to send originals to a lab for processing, and can back up the images on location. See my post regarding backing up in the field.
One of my biggest fears would be to somehow lose someone’s wedding photos while en route back to Colorado from where ever their destination wedding was. About a year ago, I wrote a very in depth blog entry regarding image backup and protection in the office. Of course that requires that the images make it safely from the destination wedding to the office. The key to any backup plan is a lot of redundancy. While in the field at a destination wedding that means duplicating not just the images but the tools needed to back them up.
For example, it does me no good to bring two portable hard drives and only one USB cable, because if the cable is lost or broken, then the hard drives become unusable. Of course if I am shooting a wedding in the U.S. there is a good chance that there is a store nearby where I could replace hard drives, cables, even a computer if need be, but that isn’t always the case elsewhere. I also cannot rely on internet access or even power, because I have photographed weddings in Nepal, where neither was available. For starts I want to walk you through my workflow.
As I said, I need backups of all my equipment, so that means two of everything. Here is the short list of what I bring for a destination wedding.
The idea is that barring my plane crashing, I can loose two out of three of my bags, and still get the couple’s images from their destination wedding back to my office in Colorado. As far as the equipment goes, if anything fails in the field, I either have backup equipment on hand, or easy access to a store that sells it. I am a lot less concerned about bringing a spear USB cable if I know there is a 24 hour Walmart across the street from the venue than I would be if the wedding was in the Caribbean. However, just like it is important to have backups of camera gear for a destination wedding, as I pointed out in this entry, it is just as important to have backups of your backup gear.