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FEATURED PHOTOGRAPHER:
GREG GIBSON

Photojournalist Greg Gibson has won two Pulitzer Prizes for his images covering the 1992 Presidential campaign and the 1998 Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal. He has received awards and acclaim for his photographic work during the first Gulf War in Kuwait. His pictures have been published in The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today, Time, Newsweek and nearly every major news publication in the world. Yet despite all of this high-visibility success, he found that wedding photojournalism - capturing moments and creating visual gifts that can last a lifetime - brought him back to what he loved about photography after a period when he had actually left the business.

Portrait of Greg Gibson

Greg Gibson

Greg's professional journey had humble beginnings, yet it was obvious from the start where his passions resided. While Gibson was in high school his father fell ill with a massive stroke, never to recover. "This was right before Christmas, and my mom told me that this would probably be the last Christmas I could have a really nice gift," Gibson remembers. "She told me that within reason I could have anything I wanted."

Gibson asked for a camera, which he received, and then proceeded to spend every dime he had on darkroom equipment. The passion was ignited.

"I used to play basketball and baseball in high school," Gibson says, "so I would go to the girl's game and take pictures during the first half, then get ready for my game following, and the next day I'd process the film and sell pictures of the girl's basketball players to them for date money. I'd do the same for the softball games. So, my father's illness put me on the path, and that was always an incentive for me. It got me started in photojournalism."

Gibson's father was an invalid by the time he went to college in 1980, and he had to find a job to support himself. "I went to the Raleigh News and Observer," he explains. "The editor was looking for three college kids to shoot high school sports on Friday night, which happened to be right up my alley. So, he took me on and tutored me, and that's how I got my foot in the door professionally.

"I wanted to go to photography school but it didn't work out for both financial and personal reasons &so my "photo school" began each day when I went to the paper to hang out with the photographers," Gibson recalls. " The photo staff at the News and Observer had some outstanding photographers when I arrived there that have since gone on to do great things. I had the great fortune of coming along at the right time and being mentored by some incredibly talented people."

A METEORIC RISE TO SUCCESS

Thereafter, Gibson's rise as a photojournalist was rapid. By 1984, at age 22, he was hired by United Press International (UPI) as a photo editor for North Carolina, making him one of the youngest persons to ever hold such a position with a national wire service. By 1985 he was named Photographer of the Year by the North Carolina Press Photographers Association. By 1989 he was covering The White House for the French news agency Agence-France Presse (AFP), and in 1990 he was hired by the largest news organization in the world, the Associated Press (AP). Gibson went to work covering such beats as the first Gulf War and the Clinton Presidential campaign, and his first Pulitzer Prize soon followed.

"When we won the first Pulitzer Prize in 1993, it was a team award and I didn't even know the company had entered a package with my pictures," Gibson recalls. "I was out on a bike ride with my wife and returned to a phone call from one of my colleagues giving me the news. It blew me away." The Pulitzer Prize committee had even used his photo of President Clinton talking to a small boy on a campaign stop as the signature image for the winning portfolio.

Gibson continued his White House coverage throughout the 1990s, including extensive traveling with the President around the world. Additional success followed, including numerous historic photographs and in 1999 another Pulitzer for coverage of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

LEWINSKY COVERAGE ALTERS CAREER PATH

Ironically, it was the Lewinsky affair that played a part in Gibson's turn from covering national events to wedding photojournalism.

"After covering the Monica Lewinsky story, by 2000 I was feeling a little burned out," Gibson states, "I had kind of lost my passion, as that entire experience was more 'tabloidish' than I was comfortable with. Washington is a hugely competitive place for photojournalists, and that competition is what had always drawn me to journalism, just as I had enjoyed competing in sports when I was a kid. With wire service photography, it was literally a daily competition. You were evaluated on how many pictures you got in print each day & it was called the 'play sheet.' So your performance was literally scored in a very quantifiable manner. If you didn't perform, you didn't get the big assignments, and if you didn't get the big assignments, you'd be gone soon.

"I hadn't lost any 'status' with the company. I was still doing the same big jobs I had always done. It was just something I felt inside," he notes. "I didn't feel the passion burning in my gut, and I just knew I needed to do something else for a while. When you lose your passion and enthusiasm for what you are doing it's time to get out."

So in 2000 Gibson decided to take a leave of absence in order to get out of journalism for a while. In fact, he removed himself from professional photography altogether for a year, working for an Internet business. Then he ran into Matt Mendelsohn, an old friend and colleague who had left USA Today in 1998 to concentrate on wedding photography.

"He invited me to lunch and showed me what he was doing," Gibson remembers, "and he had had been taking really beautiful pictures. He told me that I was way ahead of the game because of my experience, and that I should consider also getting into wedding photography.

"I considered it for awhile, and came to the conclusion that it wasn't photography that I didn't like, but the job I had been in," Gibson says, "so that rekindled my passion. Three days later Matt started sending me referrals. I bought a bunch of gear, shot my first couple of weddings for free. I had a credible background because of my experience and awards, so things took off. I loved it, and it was much more family friendly, with less traveling, than covering national events."

THE REWARDS OF WEDDING PHOTOJOURNALISM

Now Gibson puts his prodigious photojournalistic skills to work shooting 40 to 50 weddings each year around the Washington D.C. area, a focus he finds both challenging and immensely gratifying as a professional. His love for photojournalism is in full bloom.

Photograph by greg gibson, virginia of bride greeting a young boy with joy

Photo by Greg Gibson

"I've had a couple of brides whose parents who were gravely ill. In fact, they had to accelerate their wedding dates so that the parents could be around to see the wedding," Gibson notes. "When you're in that situation it's hugely rewarding to be able to give someone a gift that is truly a remembrance. I did one wedding last year where the mother was bedridden, and she watched the wedding through a window in the bedroom, with the wedding on the deck. So, it meant so much for the bride. I mean, what better gift? What I was able to do for these families was every bit as personally rewarding as anything I ever did in journalism."

TENACITY, ANTICIPATION, AND MINDFULNESS

However, Gibson notes that doing wedding photojournalism well requires a lot of work. It's being at the venue early and staying there late; keeping the camera up and constantly searching for interaction among the participants, an area where his award-winning background serves him well.

Photograph by greg gibson, virginia of an embrace

Photo by Greg Gibson

As with any kind of photojournalism, success at documenting weddings required tenacity, says Gibson. "You have to be tenacious...constantly searching," he states. "The biggest mistake that some photographers make is that they don't work situations enough. You need to stay at it. I shoot a lot of frames just searching for feeling."

Success also requires anticipation. "It's thinking about what's the next step," Gibson explains, Where do I need to be, and how is that going to come together? I don't usually pre-visit venues because I can size them up pretty quickly, thanks to my years as a photojournalist."

"Even though you're a journalist you need to have some kind of idea of the images you want to make, so when you go into a shoot you need to have some idea of what you want to accomplish. At the same time, you can't be exclusively focused on what you pre-visualized; you need to be able to react. You also have to pre-visualize things, but not to the point where you forget about anything else," he notes.

"As part of the White House press corps I accompanied president Clinton to Bosnia, where he appeared at several events with the troops there. He was in this protected bunker kind of area, and through a window framed by sandbags you could see a Marine with really big M60 machine gun. So I made note of that, figuring I could get a picture of Clinton with that guy in the background, placing the President in Bosnia. Sure enough, Clinton started heading that way, but before I got there I was grabbed by security. My competitor got through, got the photo, and I was very upset. I thought I missed the picture of the trip. At the next event, Clinton was at another event amidst a bunch of soldiers, walking down middle aisle with Wesley Clark. Still rattled by my earlier experience I got the shot of them walking straight down the isle. Meanwhile, my competitors got a balcony shot with long lenses, which compressed everything and made Clinton and Clark look like they were surrounded by hundreds of troops. That was a better picture, and the one that got into print. Because I was so caught up over having not gotten the previous shot, I never even saw the new opportunity.

"It's the same with weddings. When I first started I would beat myself up over missing one shot, like the father of the bride making a toast and turning his back to me. But I came to realize that you can't get hung up on one thing; you need to move on and be ready for the next moment, because with weddings it's not just one thing, but the whole package."

LESSONS LEARNED

Despite Gibson's success as a photojournalist, he says that he's still learning every day. "You never know it all," he maintains. "Photography is always evolving; a constantly changing medium - and you never stop learning. I want to be a sponge. I'm always willing to listen to anybody's approach or ideas. I may not always agree with them, but I will always try to absorb what I think I can utilize, and then I toss out the rest. To this day I still try to go to a couple of workshops a year with people who I think are doing interesting things."

Photograph by greg gibson

Photo by Greg Gibson

As for wedding photography, Gibson say that he's not the true "fly on the wall" that you hear associated with photojournalism. "I talk to people and laugh and make jokes because I don't want them to feel like there's a stranger in the room," he says. "When I first get to the wedding venue I do banter with the wedding party a little bit. In the D.C. area we don't do a while lot of engagement portraits, so usually the wedding day is my first interaction with them, and I want to break down the barrier."

Gibson believes that there are two schools of wedding photography: people who create beautiful images, and those who capture moments. "I don't think there's anything wrong with either side," he states. "For me, however, I love when it all comes together and you get that decisive moment - with the emotion and the light. When you look at beautiful pictures and real moments side-by-side, the real moments are going to draw you in every time. It's harder work and requires more patience to capture a real moment."

"I tell clients, especially here in DC, that it's not about the scenery, but about passion and enthusiasm," Gibson says. "If you're genuinely passionate about one another, then my job is easy."

"One of the biggest challenges to wedding photography is that all the events and scenes can be so similar," says Gibson. "It's like the movie Ground Hog Day. There's a man and woman in love, they're going to have a big party. There's the anticipation, the preparation and the celebration. Your job as a photojournalist is to capture the subtle nuances that make each day different."

— by Michael Roney for The Wedding Photojournalist Association