For many wedding photojournalists, documenting weddings is not a full-time job. In fact, they often turn their cameras elsewhere as part of other gigs, which can range from landscape and nature photography, to shooting images for newspapers, ad agencies and magazines. In addition to filling downtime during the off-peak wedding season, WPJA award winners say that the other work and practice helps to polish their wedding photojournalism craft.
Imagine an acclaimed chef relegating his dishes to that of just one country at his one restaurant. He’d be omitting a whole world of flavors, techniques and cooking styles that could be fused into his own work. He’d also miss out on experimenting in his own time, or trying out dishes for his guests at home.
It’s a similar experience for photographers switching from wedding photojournalist mode into pursuits covering other subjects. For these pros, shooting anything other than a wedding provides valuable experience—allowing them to experiment with new styles and techniques in a different environment. It also prevents a wedding photojournalist from falling into the trap that documenting one subject can bring.
Wedding photographer Mary Steinbacher sees photographing subjects other than those in weddings to be an extension of her passion for photography and life, reflected in a quote from Runner’s World that she's posted on her wall: “Make sure your autobiography is the thickest book on the shelf.” Steinbacher uses that piece of advice as a reminder to keep adding chapters to her life's story, whether it be from challenging adventures and meeting new people, to her photography career that has included travel and commercial work, stock photography and time as a staff photographer at a daily newspaper.
The diversity of the subjects Steinbacher captures helps her hone her creativity. “The more I shoot in different locations and with varied subjects the more I expand my creativity,” she explains.
Every assignment that a photographer takes on, whether it is for a wedding or otherwise, contributes to an ongoing education and training regimen. For Joseph Albright, a WPJA award recipient, the additional education comes when shooting so-called women’s photography, which includes newborn, pregnancy and early family portraits.
Albright does these photos in a mostly hands-off manner, working with the subjects outside, using natural light and minimal direction. Newborns aren’t ones to take direction very well, so there's little control to what they’ll do, and that provides an environment similar to a wedding. “We don't know what we're getting into, so we just set up and go from there,” Albright notes.
Albright also serves clients who are similar to those of wedding parties: Families looking to document a significant moment in life.
Steinbacher works on her creative style whenever she’s shooting landscapes, in particular in Wyoming, which is one of her more frequent haunts. When it’s just her, her camera and the mountains or land, Steinbacher gets into a zone where more is seen, felt and absorbed. It’s a state of mind where the creative spirit rises to a higher level, which she in turn applies to wedding photography.
“That balance of quiet and creativity makes me a better photographer with people,” she says. “It creates an internal calm where the moments and happenings of life crystallize with light, shadow, movement and emotion; it’s quite magical to be with the flow of images.”
It also helps when clients want a photographer who can capture the ambience and environment at a wedding. Her photographs of the Tetons helped a wedding party select her to shoot a destination wedding in Jackson Hole, WY, where her past experience helped her capture a dramatic shot of fog blanketing the valley as she approached the wedding site. “They want their wedding pictures, but they also want location images,” Steinbacher says. “Depending on the site, they could want a dramatic photo of the Tetons or photos of their wedding location, wherever it may be, at sunrise. Couples seem to want and appreciate their day and their location as art.”
Shooting a variety of subjects also prevents photographers from falling into a repetitive rut of churning out similar looking photos at each wedding.
“Being able to switch back and forth and having to stay on you're toes, you’re never allowed to get comfortable,” Albright concurs. “When you get comfortable, all the pictures look the same.”
As anyone who works multiple jobs can attest, the schedule can get quite hectic. It’s no different for wedding photojournalists. Aside from the time spent photographing the big day, there are hours of pre- and post-event work involved for each assignment.
It's also a matter of making sure you aren't overloaded.
Not wanting to detract from either their portrait or wedding photography, Albright and his wife, Koren, limit themselves to only a dozen weddings a year, despite requests for more. “We really pick and choose who we do weddings with,” Albright says.
The two actually find the portrait photography they do as a respite from many of the rigors of working a wedding. Consider it granting your creative mind a rest after a marathon.
— by Paul Ziobro for the Wedding Photojournalist Association