Expressing My Personal Perspective through Wedding Photographs

Summer is the season for weddings. They start in May and for every weekend through the end of September, caterers, photographers, florists, musicians, DJs, and planners are booked solid. Two weekends ago, I attended, for instance, to my cousin’s daughter’s wedding and two weekends before that I went to the wedding of the daughter of a close friend.

Sometimes it’s hard to get an image of the wedding couple sharing what seems to be an intimate and private moment. They were between photos with the ‘official’ photographer, when I saw them caught up in laughter and snapped this image.

As a the daughter of a professional photographer, I spent countless weekends at weddings assisting my Dad behind the camera. (This was a big help when it came to planning my own wedding years later because by that time, I had been to and seen so many weddings that I knew exactly what I wanted to do for our own.) The routine was a bit different then. We could shoot three weddings in one day–morning, afternoon and evening– with either myself or one of my brothers finishing up at one wedding while my Dad went to start the next.

My cousin beamed with pride when he had his Father-Daughter dance at his daughter’s wedding. I had my Nikon pro camera with me that evening and good lens so I managed to snag this image of him when he turned on the dance floor with his daughter, the bride. Sometimes, it’s not all about the bride.

That era ended with photographer Dennis Reggie in 1980, who Ethel Kennedy had hired to ‘cover’ her daughter’s wedding. Reggie, a photojournalist, took the assignment and then hit the professional photography speaking circuit to show and tell professional photographers all over the country how he did it.  I attended one of these sessions and knew then that the art of wedding photography, as I had learned it from my Dad, was changing.

The mother of the groom is usually much more relaxed and available during any wedding but is sometimes overlooked n the ‘official’ documentation. I caught Sheila at a moment when no one else did.

When digital cameras were introduced, it changed yet again because photographers could capture literally thousands of images at the ceremony. They soon discovered that this wasn’t such a great idea because clients were overwhelmed by that many images. Too much of a good thing, you might say.

Wedding photographers have since trimmed it back to a more reasonable delivery but some still present as many as 1,500 images. Think of the editing process entailed in cropping, adjusting color, retouching, adding special effects and eliminating  all those images. The post-production often takes longer than the 12 hours wedding photographers now typically spend photographing the event. I’m not sure even National Geographic magazine photographers turn in that many images to their editors.

Toasting the Bride and Groom
Taken with my pocket point and shoot, I raised a glass to toast Yuliya and Yama at their wedding and took this image while I did,

While I rarely accept wedding assignments these days as a professional photographer (except for special clients and smaller ceremonies), I almost always take one of my cameras with me whenever I go to a wedding because I, like you, enjoy having a visual memory of that day, particularly when family is involved.  Usually I take my pocket point and shoot, or my bigger but compact trusty Canon (yes, I do own one Canon), instead of one of my professional Nikons. I seldom use my mobile phone to take the pictures even though some phones images are terrific. But when it comes to preserving those images in the form of prints (which I still make and encourage you to do) or printed albums or books, cameras produce the higher quality high-resolution images you need.

My friend the mother of the bride, was way to busy the day of her daughter’s wedding to stop for many photos, but I managed to get her beside the ‘cookie instead of cake’ table during the reception.

For me, the images I capture on that day are personal and often are not the same as those the ‘official’ photographer is shooting.  That’s because while the hired gun is busily photographing every moment of the bride and groom and the wedding party, I’m focusing on my family and friends who are there, and the moments that capture my eye from my point of view as a guest. It’s something you can do too but you must be mindful to respect the working pro so as not to get their way as they attempt to capture the ‘perfect’ photo of ceremonial kiss,  the cake cutting, send off or formal portrait of the bride and groom.

From my seat. I was able to get the groom, Matt, and one of the bridesmaids boogeying during the processional. Note the photographer in the background, Matt s brother, the officiant, and the mother of the bride enjoying the moment on the left. I love this scene because of its spontaneity.

There are ways to get those same images, from your own vantage point. I like to find a seat on the end of a row where, if I want to stand during the ceremony to grab a quick shot, I won’t block anyone’s view. And while the official photographer is off shooting the bride and groom immediately after the ceremony, you can zero in on the family, the cake table, the altar decorations, whatever it is that attracts your eye and you want to remember.

Ringbearer Brody stands beside the table bearing the Bible and center candle that belonged to my aunt. The table, also my late aunt’s, served as the altar at my cousin Anna’s recent wedding.

Sometimes, it turns out that the images I’ve captured are ones that my family or friends also want because unless the bride and her mother (or whoever plans and directs that day) specifically point out the family member who’s never around, the best friend who traveled across country, the arrangement or setting that has special significance, the official photographer will never know to include it in their shooting list.

My aunt and uncle with my cousin Barry at his wedding reception is a special image. Only 18 months later, my aunt passed away from complications of dementia.

As a guest and/or family member, I have a history and relationship with the people gathered for this memory-making day so I know things others won’t and that is  reflected in my photographs.

I took this of Yuliya and Yama with my compact Canon while the ‘official’ photographer was shooting on the other side. Later, I used Photoshop to improve the exposure, give it a painted appearance and heighten the romantic feel of the image.

I love today’s style of photojour-nalistic wedding photography. I also love being artistically creative with the images I take at these ceremonies. But what I really love is the memories they bring to mind of the people, places and times that are unique and meaningful to me and my family.  And that’s essentially what wedding photography, whether from a hired pro or personal photographer such as myself, should be.

Going to the Chapel…

My husband and I were married 40 years ago today in what was once the First Baptist Church in Phoenix, Az. Today, the former church is listed on the National Register of  Historic Places.  I like to think that it’s because we were married there that it ended up on the registry.

We chose (mostly I did), to say our vows there because it was where my parents had been married in the same church.  Although many couples are often wed in the same church as their parents, especially if they live in the same town, neither my parents nor I was from Phoenix.  At the time of our weddings, we just happened to find ourselves in that city.

My mother and father oustide the church in Phoenix after their wedding.
My mother and father outside the church in Phoenix after their wedding.

In my parents case, my Dad, who had recently returned from World War II, was on the road with a trailer full of greyhound dogs. His oldest sister and brother-in-law raced greyhounds and travelled the country going from dog track to dog track. When my Dad came home, he was “in pretty bad shape,” as he said.  My aunt Nola and uncle Paul gave him a job as a trainer to help him put his life back together.  It meant hauling their greyhounds around the country to wherever the season was open. But before leaving his hometown of Parsons, Ks., one of my Dad’s other sisters, Gail introduced him to a girl with whom she worked with at the First Federal Savings and Loan and who she thought was “just right” for my Dad.  Her intuition was good and, as my Dad liked to put it:  “I knew she was the girl for me.”  In fact, just two weeks after they met, my Dad told his new girlfriend that if she didn’t marry him he’d rejoin the Army. Then he left with the dogs.

On their wedding day in Phoenix, my parents were pictured here, so in in love, in Phoenix' beautiful Encanto Park.
On their wedding day in Phoenix, my parents were pictured here, so in love, in Phoenix’ beautiful Encanto Park.

When he got to Phoenix, where there was a big greyhound dog track, he asked his sweetheart to come marry him there.  What a big decision for my Mom. Not only had she never traveled much further than Parsons from her tiny hometown of  Verona, Mo., but she barely knew my Dad.  She must have known he was the one for her too as she, then 25, and her oldest sister, Oleta, drove together to Phoenix. Soon after they arrived, the young couple was married in the chapel of the First Baptist Church in downtown Phoenix that stood at the corner of Monroe and Third Avenue.  They were married 65 years, until my Mother died in 2012.

Twenty-nine years later, Michael and I stood in the same church before a small group of friends and family to exchange our vows. I was working in Phoenix as a journalist, first as an intern for the Arizona Republic, then as an arts editor for the Scottsdale newspaper where my husband, Michael, also a journalist, and I met.

Michael and I exchange vows during our wedding in the santuary of the former First Baptist Church in Phoenix. The string quartet sits behind the candleabra on the left.
Michael and I exchange vows during our wedding in the sanctuary of the former First Baptist Church in Phoenix. The string quartet sits behind the candelabra on the left. My brother, Richard, then a professional photographer, captured our wedding on film for us.

When we decided to marry, we choose to do so in Phoenix where we had friends in common and where my extended family lived.  My parents once again traveled from Kansas to Phoenix for a wedding. By then, the church had vacated the building and had moved to another location. The City of Phoenix now owned it and housed some offices inside . The main sanctuary was no longer in use except for an occasional large meeting. The organ was gone and the altar had been removed. We obtained special permission to hold our ceremony there.

This style of wedding photography, marketed as 'misty's' was basically existing light exposures and popular when we were married. My father took this of us in the church on our wedding day.
This style of wedding photography, marketed as ‘misty’s’ was basically existing light exposures and popular when we were married. My father made this photograph of us in the church on our wedding day.

The sanctuary was thoroughly cleaned before we began decorating the aisles and front with the holly sent to me by my aunt Imogene in Oregon, her gift for my December wedding. The organ was removed when the church left so for music, the arts editor of the Arizona Republic, where Michael was now working, gave us a string quartet for our ceremony.  We hired a minister, someone I had recently interview for an article, and was set.

With my parents on my wedding day in the Phoenix church where we both were married.
With my parents on my wedding day in the Phoenix church where we both were married.

Although I don’t know for certain, ours was probably the last wedding to take place in that church.  The city continued to use it for offices for while after, but in 1984, a massive fire took the roof and gutted the interior. It remained structurally sound but threatened with demolition, a non-profit organization, headed by Terry Goddard a former Phoenix major and state attorney general, bought and saved it in 1992. Twenty-two years later, they had the money necessary to restore it.   Now, with the rehab just completed this September, it is being marketed to businesses for commercial use.

The church is now called the “Monroe Abbey” and is an imposing structure in downtown Phoenix. Built in 1929, its Italian Gothic style, designed by George Merrill, is architecturally significant in a city otherwise dominated by Spanish style architecture. “There’s no other building like it in the Valley,” Dan Klocke, vice president of development at Downtown Phoenix Inc. has said. “Because of its scale and its uniqueness, it could potentially attract a lot of visitors to downtown.”

Just married, we leave the church through the front doors, running through a shower of rice.
Just married, we leave the church through the front doors, running through a shower of rice.

A tenant already occupies the hallowed halls of a smaller adjacent church dubbed Grace Chapel, which is connected to Monroe Abbey but wasn’t structurally damaged in the fire. Others have leased space elsewhere within the huge 40,000 square foot interior.

For those closest to the project, the resurrection of the building represents more than just saving an old church, according to Downtown Phoenix Inc.“There’s a tremendous amount of flavor and place making and just a sense of who we are, where we’ve come from that is embodied in these buildings,” Goddard has said. “I think it’s tragic when they’re lost and I think whenever we can hold onto one of the monuments of the past – that’s something we should do.”

The First Baptist Church, known now as the Monroe Abbey, is one of Phoenix' historic architectural structures, shown here in this photo from the Poenix Business Journal.
The First Baptist Church, known now as the Monroe Abbey, is one of Phoenix’ historic architectural structures, shown here in this photo from the Phoenix Business Journal.

As advocates ourselves for the preservation of historic structures, we couldn’t be more delighted that the place where we and my parents were wedded has been given new life.  It reopened this year and it’s the best 40th anniversary gift we could receive.

 

 

Love is in the Air

‘Spring, as the poet Alfred Tennyson wrote, “is a time when a young man’s” (or woman’s) “fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”  Judging from the number of wedding photos posted by friends on their Facebook pages the past couple of weeks, nothing has changed since Tennyson penned those words in 1842.  In fact, I shared a few pictures with my family members of my own parents’ wedding who were married on April 9, 1946.

My father, who passed away a year ago only three days after what would have been their 68th wedding anniversary, said that the day they were married was ‘the happiest day of my life.” They celebrated 66 anniversaries together. It’s become rare to find couples of subsequent generations who have stayed together that long and who are still so deeply in love.

On their wedding day in Phoenix, my parents were pictured here, so in in love, in Phoenix' beautiful Encanto Park.
On their wedding day in Phoenix, my parents were pictured here, so in in love, in Phoenix’ beautiful Encanto Park.

I have on the mantel of my living room fireplace a framed photo of my parents on their wedding day. They were married in Phoenix, Az., when the city had not quite reached the population of 100,000.  My father had recently returned from serving in Europe in World War II. (His unit, the 2nd Chemical Warfare Battalion saw more days in combat than any other in Europe except for one.)  Upon his discharge, he headed home for Kansas.  No sooner had he arrived than one of his older sisters introduced him to a young woman with whom she worked at the local savings and loan bank.  I think it must have been love at first sight although my Dad never put it quite that way.

My Mom poses as a USO girl where she was chosen USO queen.
My Mom poses as a USO girl where she was chosen USO queen.

My mother was a beautiful young woman who had volunteered at the local USO. She loved to dress stylishly and somehow managed to do it on her small salary as executive secretary to a bank president. She had moved after high school from her tiny hometown of Aurora, Missouri to the then prosperous railroad town of Parsons  when she received a scholarship to attend the Parsons Business College. She had excelled in the courses of shorthand (a vanishing, if not gone, art of note taking), bookkeeping and typing. After graduation, she quickly landed the job at the bank where my father’s sister also worked. His sister was convinced that my Mom was the ideal girl for her handsome, younger brother.

"She must have really loved me," my Father would recall years later.
“She must have really loved me,” my Father would recall years later.

They were introduced and two short weeks later, my Dad told her that he wanted to marry her.  As he put it, “I told her that if she didn’t marry me, I was going to re-enlist in the Army.” Now that was determination. Shortly after his proposal, he left town to travel with his older sister and her husband and race greyhounds.  My uncle owned a large kennel of dogs (another story for another blog post) and needed someone like my Dad to help out.  My Dad said that his sister convinced him to come with them because, in his own words, “I was a mess after the War and that helped to straighten me out.”

He wound up in Phoenix where there was (and still is) a greyhound race track.  I think he wired–rather than mailed–his beloved to come join him so that they could be married.  My mother had, by then, a little time to think over his proposal and must have loved him as much as he loved her because she accepted.  But when she asked her boss permission to take a week off to go to Phoenix for the wedding, he declined and told her that if she went she would lose her job.  She went anyway. Later, my father would tell me; “She must have really loved me to take such a chance, quit her job and go to Phoenix to marry a guy who didn’t have anything at the time.”

My mother and father oustide the church in Phoenix after their wedding.
My mother and father oustide the church in Phoenix after their wedding.

She and her oldest sister traveled down to Arizona. I don’t know if they went by car or train but they went together. It must have been quite an adventure for neither of them had ever been out of the Midwest.  I never heard the details of that trip from my mother but I’ll bet it was exciting for them both. My mother packed a gorgeous, tailored suit as her wedding dress. My aunt chose her best suit to wear as the ‘matron of honor.’

My Dad dressed in a sharp, light-colored double-breasted suit. (They don’t make those kind anymore). Whether he had brought it with him or bought it with his earnings from the dog track I don’t know. But the two of them together looked stunning and very much in love.

They were married in the chapel of the majestic First Baptist Church built in 1929 of Italian Gothic design. The church, abandoned 40 years later by the congregation, is now on the National Register of Historic Places.  It has fallen into decline after fire there in 1980 but just last year, historic preservationists and architects in Phoenix launched an effort to restore it to its former glory and re-purpose it for new use.  When my own husband and I were to be married in Phoenix, where we were both working at the time as journalists for the local newspaper, I chose to have our own wedding in that very same church.  The building was owned by the city at the time and was being used for city offices. We had to obtain permission from the city then go in and clean up the sanctuary–the chapel was closed–in order to have our ceremony there. But we did it and I’m very grateful we did.

Showered with rice, my husband and I emerge from the church in  Phoenix where we and my parents were both married.
Showered with rice, my husband and I emerge from the church in Phoenix where we and my parents were both married.

My parents were unable to pay a professional Phoenix photographer to record their wedding day. Instead I have snapshots, probably taken by my aunt with some instruction by my Dad who was leaning towards a career in photography but hadn’t yet begun it.  None exists of the ceremony itself. The few photos I have were taken outside the church entrance and at Encanto Park, a beautiful old park with a large lagoon in Central Phoenix’s still-posh Encanto neighborhood. They tell the story in themselves of a young couple, so in love, on their wedding day.

 

How to Choose a Wedding Photographer You’ll Love

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! With love in the air, what better time to talk about weddings and photography?

A short time ago, a friend of mine who lives in the Midwest, asked my advice in selecting a photographer for her daughter’s wedding next autumn. We sat down together viewed the on-line portfolios of photographers her daughter was considering.  

My own studio now accepts only a limited number of intimate, family weddings each year. Based on my years of experience and current working knowledge, I offered my friend some tips, which I’ll share here, to help in making their decision on a wedding photographer.

Your wedding is one of the most romantic days of your life.  Careful selection of your photographer will result in visual memories that you will enjoy for years to come.
Your wedding is one of the most romantic days of your life. Careful selection of your photographer will result in visual memories that you will enjoy for years to come.

Not surprisingly, foremost in the minds of most engaged couples and their parent is the price. Prices vary, depending on where you live, whether the photographer is a true professional or a hobbyist, how much experience they have, how much in demand they are and what’s included. Keep in mind that as with everything else, you usually get what you pay for. There are professional photographers out there that will fit your budget and many will work with you to come up with a plan that will satisfy your budget and your expectations.

Most of the time involved in the professional’s wedding work, and the cost, is not in the actual photographing the event.  About 7580% of a wedding photographer’s work, and thus their costs, occurs in the post-production end, in the editing, design,art and finishing process. The more photos the photographer takes, the more time that must be devoted afterwards to their preparation.

The bride and groom married on a boat in a beautiful ceremony but which also presented a challenges in controlling the light and exposure.
The bride and groom married on a boat in a ceremony that was beautiful but which also presented challenges in controlling the light and exposure.

I explained this the other day to a father of a groom who wondered why the photographer of his son’s wedding didn’t just download everything the next day and hand it over to them to see. To be sure, some photographers may actually do this.  If they do, they either have a very large production staff or they don’t care much about their work. RAW digital images from the camera, which is what most professionals shoot, are rarely perfect. They need color correction, exposure adjustment to bring out details in the shadows or the brighter parts of the image, called highlights. Most professionals also use a variety of ‘actions’ in their photo editing programs to punch up the color, correct complexions, brighten eyes, soften the light, or other special effects that will result in images that convey a romantic or exciting emotion.  This takes time, probably much more time than many non-pros are aware of or, perhaps, simply not willing to spend.

Following the ceremony, the wedding couple led guests in promenade preserved in this image.
Following the ceremony, the wedding couple led guests through a sculpture park in a promenade preserved in this image. Finding different points of view to create dramatic images is part of a wedding photographer’s job and talents.

Another consideration in a photographer’s price is the product. What, exactly are you getting when you contract with a photographer? And how good will the product be? By that I mean, if the photographer plans just to hand you a CD with the finished images (and be sure they are finished), will it be an archival CD? I personally discourage purchasing CDs only. The reason for this is quite simple. Technology. It changes so quickly. Prints or an album whether a book or an actual album, offer you a more permanent record of your big day. There’s no guarantee that you will be able to view or download from the CD in years to come. CD drives are already vanishing from some computers. Storing your priceless wedding images on an external hard drive or on the cloud isn’t foolproof either. For these reasons, I advise everyone to make prints or at least a printed book or album, of any event or subject that you’d like to have in years to come.

As for the albums, there are many fine products available today to couples. Professional photographers have a range of album styles that can be customized to fit you. Professional products differ from those generally available to consumers in that the quality control is much higher. The papers used in the final product are finer and often archival. The binding used is tougher. The selection of covers and designs wider and often sturdier. Reproductions of the image are held to higher standards. Quite likely, the album’s inside pages are custom designed especially for you. Yet another reason why it takes time to produce and why a professional’s cost is greater.

Compatibility is a huge factor in finding a photographer for your wedding. If you like photographer, you're going to be more relaxed and enjoy the wedding festivities.
Compatibility is a huge factor in finding a photographer for your wedding. If you like photographer, you’re going to be more relaxed and enjoy the wedding festivities.

A key factor in choosing your photographer is compatibility. How well do you communicate with the photographer and how well do they listen to you? Do they offer you advice about how to make your wedding photography go smoothly? Are they knowledgeable about the location of the wedding? Do they provide you with options for the images important to you? Do you the two of you click? Weddings can be as stressful as they are fun. The last thing you want is a photographer who’s disruptive, distracting to your guests, inappropriately dressed or imposing.

Today’s popular photojouralistic style of wedding photography means that photographers are less involved in “setting up the shots,” except perhaps for the wedding party groups. Still, your photographer should have a good working knowledge of how to make you look your best. There are little tricks and tips to how to stand, hold your hands, kiss, and cut the cake, for example, that can make a huge difference between a great image and an awkward-looking snapshot.

As a wedding photographer, you must be ready for anything, including a pair of doves about to take flight.
As a wedding photographer, you must be ready for anything, including a pair of doves about to take flight because there are no ‘do-overs’ for missed shots.

You may have friends or receive names of those who “do photography” on the side or as a weekend hobby and who are happy to photograph your wedding. They may be great but a word of caution. There are no “do-overs” when you shoot a wedding. Everything must work on command. Equipment can fail,weather can change and people can be difficult (or unfortunately sometimes drunk). Your photographer must be able to adjust to a situation quickly and still capture for you the images of your wedding day. Not all amateurs are as adept. You also don’t want to risk ruining a wonderful friendship should the photos not turn out as you had hoped.

Review the photographer’s portfolio, get together for a consult to meet and talk, study the plans available, revisit your budget, ask for referrals and then relax. If you’ve done your homework, you’re likely to end up with a photographer and wedding photographs that you’ll love.

Not your typcial wedding photograph, but this candid image of the bride seen through the beautiful hanging moss remains on my personal favorites.
Not your typical wedding photograph, but this candid image of the bride seen through the beautiful hanging moss remains on my personal favorites.