“Fine Art Wedding Photography,”by Jose Villa & Jeff Kent. Publisher: Amphoto Books (2011).
In the interest of full disclosure, let me be clear from the outset: I have never been particularly fond of weddings. I mean, what have weddings ever done for me except result in an ex-wife, staggeringly decreased finances and hefty payments to my divorce attorney? But, my antipathy for the ceremony surrounding wedlock actually goes back much further: like many aspiring pros, when I started out as a photographer I shot a few weddings because it sounded like it would be easy money. I’m not sure in retrospect if it was dealing with the drunks and obnoxious relatives, or catering to umpteen requests for cheesy set-ups, but somehow the message came through to me loud and clear that shooting weddings would definitely not be my destiny in the photography business.
Fortunately, times and styles change, and wedding photography has gone through a radical transformation from rigid grip-and-grins and often embarrassing poses to truly creative, artistic photography that embraces everything from cutting-edge compositional and processing techniques to intriguing shooting environments as well as a fair dose of humor. Within this new age of wedding photography Jose Villa is a superstar: he’s the go-to guy for couples who want truly memorable images from their special event, as well as an in-demand teacher who shares his knowledge and techniques with aspiring shooters who pay thousands of dollars to attend his workshops in such exotic ports-of-call as Tuscany and Jalisco, Mexico.
Villa, a strong proponent of simplicity and using natural light whenever possible, has created a working style that owes as much to the traditions of both fine art and lifestyle stock photography as to the editorial look popular in 1950s and 60s fashion magazines. He strives for “realness” and although the technical information he shares in the opening sections of the book are certainly quite useful, it is getting inside the head of someone who has almost single-handedly created the “fine art approach” to wedding photography that makes this book indispensible.
In sections such as “Direction,” for example, he points out that unlike the old-school approach to weddings he doesn’t pose people “so much as directing – putting people in the right situation and then making images when it feels right. The goal is to create images in which people don’t look posed.” The 140 photos that accompany the book’s text support this thesis: Villa’s imagery consistently employs a loosey-goosey, spur-of-the-moment look, but the thought process behind it is anything but casual.
In the intriguing second chapter of the book, “The Stages of the Day,” Villa traces the entire progression with a client from beginning (engagement) to end (cocktail hour and reception), discusses his personal approach to each phase and points out how it all ties together both for successful pictures and maximum sales. In “Getting Ready,” for example, he says that “When everyone is getting ready, there is a nervous energy. I try to easy myself into the situation, capture some scene-setting images, and set a fun, collaborative tone for the rest of the day. If I do this successfully, we’ll have a great day and make wonderful photographs. If I don’t, it will be a loooooong day.” It’s fascinating to follow this process, and as you do so you come to understand that it is Villa’s unwavering empathy for his subjects that contributes greatly to his success.
Of course, Jose Villa hasn’t reached the pinnacle of wedding photography just by being a proficient, highly intuitive photographer: he’s also a whip-smart business person, employing every trick in the book (a thoroughly professional website, relationships with wedding planners and vendors, getting published in magazines, placing images in blogs) to secure his positioning at the high end of wedding shooters. His discussion of the business aspects of fine art wedding photography makes the book’s final chapter truly invaluable, especially his candid discussion of prices and how to raise them.
Look, I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever get married again. But, what I do know after reading “Fine Art Wedding Photography” is that if that time ever comes, I want Jose Villa there to shoot it!
reviewed by phh
“The A – Z of Creative Photography, Revised Edition,” by Lee Frost.Publisher: Amphoto Books (2010).
I’m a big fan of Lee Frost.He’s a prolific writer whose Photos That Sell is, to my mind, still one of the very finest guides out there to making imagery that art buyers will pay for, despite the fact that the book is now a full decade old.Around the same time that he came out with that invaluable tome he also authored the original edition of The A – Z of Creative Photography and, as he says in the introduction to the 2010 version, “Since then, quite a lot has changed in the world of photography.”Well, yes and no: the tools of the trade surely have been completely turned upside-down, and “post-production” is now an integral part of every photographer’s lexicon.But, what hasn’t changed is the never-ending quest by photographers to push boundaries, keep the creative juices flowing and make the next great image that will stop viewers in their tracks.Who better than Lee Frost to guide you in that pursuit?
n many ways, this new and improved version of A – Z reminds me of another book that I recently reviewed in these pages: Both Kevin Meredith’s Photo Op and Frost’s A – Z are crammed full with ideas and techniques that will inspire any moribund shooter to get on out there and try a fresh approach to his or her chosen craft.Their approaches differ slightly: Meredith presents 52 “projects” in no particular order culled from a lively group of contributors (as well as his own original ideas), thus making for a 1-a-week throughout the year approach if you so desire.Frost, as the book’s titles implies, offers up his 51 potential self-assignments in alphabetical order from “Abstract Art” to “Working a Scene” (hey, I thought this was the A to Z guide…I guess the marketing department decided that calling it The A – W of Creative Photography just didn’t have quite the right ring to it!).What both books share is 1) the fact that you can dive into any chapter when the mood strikes, give it a thorough read in 5 minutes or less, and be on your way to making images, and 2) they both make photography seem fun again for photographers who have perhaps gotten bogged down in a rut of producing imagery on demand for clients.
Lee Frost is going to get you to look around: up (“Architectural Details”), down (“At Your Feet”) and all around (“Panning the Camera”). He’s an old hand who got his start well back in the film era (“Leaving it behind was a strange and painful experience!” he tells us) and he still has an affinity for plastic strips coated with emulsion (in the “Film Fun” section, he urges everyone to try shooting with a film camera “partly to help you appreciate just how fortunate you are to have access to the latest equipment – which makes life for the enthusiastic photographer easier than ever before.”).But, he’s certainly no dinosaur: he clearly revels in his ability to manipulate images with state-of-the-art tools in sections like “Grain is Good,” “Merging Exposures” and “Toning” (“Digital technology has undoubtedly raised the standard of photography and opened creative doors that would otherwise have been closed to many.”).And, despite his veteran status within the photographic hierarchy, he still retains some of the rebelliousness of youth: referring to compositional technique in “Break the Rules” he insists that “there is no right or wrong – only an infinite number of possibilities.If you think about what you’re doing too much and try to stick to convention, that vision will be impeded and the photographs you take will be no different than anyone else’s.”
If you’re stuck for ideas on what to shoot, feeling trapped by assignment work, lacking self-motivation or just want to have some good old-fashioned fun with new-fangled tools and techniques, you’re in luck because Lee Frost has updated The A – Z of Creative Photography just for you!
reviewed by phh
“Photo Op” by Kevin Meredith.Publisher: Focal Press (2010).
Sometimes, the hardest part of doing anything is simply getting started: you know, it’s the old “the long journey starts with the first step” thing.Well, photographers who wistfully daydream about exercising their imaginations as well as giving their creativity a good workout but lack either the proper motivation or the practical wherewithal to actually follow through on these worthy ambitions should bow down and begin chanting “We’re not worthy” since Kevin Meredith has already done the hard work for them.In Photo Op, which is subtitled “52 Inspirational Projects for the Adventurous Image-Maker,” Brit shooter Meredith has compiled a treasure trove of ideas to pique your curiosity and put the fun back into your photography (of course, what else but fun would you expect from someone who’s a Lomography fanatic?).
emember the good old days, when you shot pictures for love rather than money? Right…I don’t either.But, I guarantee you that Kevin Meredith and the other 20 Merry Pranksters of Photography who he enticed into contributing to Photo Op will not only put a smile back on your face but give your photographic creative batteries a high-voltage re-charge.To me, the real value of this book lies, then, not so much in the discussions of photographic technique (though there is certainly a more-than-adequate amount of that accompanying each of the 52 project sections) as in the ideas themselves and the related examples of how to illustrate them photographically.This makes taking that “first step” incredibly easy: flip open the book, choose a project (either in chronological order or totally at random…it doesn’t matter!) and off you go! In less than 10 minutes you could, for example, let Darren Constantino get you pumped up about creating “Pinhole” imagery; maybe you’d like to follow Meg Pickard’s passion and start using your “Camera Phone” for far more than just Facebook shots; perhaps Ricardo Ferreira’s section on “Aerial: Kite Shots” will send you running to the nearest Toys “R” Us so that you can obtain a suitable flying platform on which to launch your camera into space; or author and editor Meredith himself may inspire you to indulge in a bit of “Camera Tossing” (perhaps not to be attempted with your EOS 5D Mark II).
If some of these projects strike you as a bit too “out there” for your taste, fear not: there are a good number of more “traditional” ideas covered as well, including “Landscapes,” Architecture,” “Children” and many more.None of the book’s projects are described in voluminous detail, which is perfectly fine since that’s not the point: the whole idea is to toss a subject your way, discuss how one specific camera artist approached it, fill you in on some basics of the techniques employed and then fire you up with some resulting photos and send you on your way to execute your own interpretation of the topic.And, since there are 52 of them (a number arrived at by sheer accident? I think not!) you can spend the year tackling one a week…or, stretch things out over two years by doing one every other week…or…well, you get the idea: there’s no timetable involved, you just dive in when the mood strikes.Photo Op is, therefore, a terrific tool for getting you up off the couch and back to a time when “discovery” and “play” meant as much to you as taking photographs itself.