The One Thing…

May 27, 2013

By RF Staff

When thousands of photographers are all competing in the same market, the need to evolve, reinvent or add a service becomes essential to one’s success. We interviewed five photographers in the varying worlds of weddings, portraits, street, and rock and roll photography to find out the one thing that either revolutionized their business or gave them distinction in a sea of shooters.

Azuree Wiitala: Hooked on Instant Film

Photo © Azuree Wiitala

Chicago-based rock and roll photographer Azuree Wiitala says she tapped into a niche market when her friends, who were mostly musicians, started getting married and wanted her unique style for their albums. While Wiitala uses both film and digital to shoot weddings, she prefers to shoot her personal work with instant film. She explains, “It was only a matter of time before I incorporated the medium into my wedding work as well.” That decision has turned out to be a massive hit with her many wedding clients.

“I like the nostalgic quality instant film has as well as the immediate appeal,” explains Wiitala. “You get the satisfaction of seeing something right away like you do with digital photography, but it’s a tangible and real photograph you can hold right away. That really resonates with me, and I get such a reaction out of my brides and grooms as from their guests. People have a real association with Polaroids.”

Pat McDonogh and Matt Stone: Two is Better Than One

Photo © Liaison Wedding Photography

Pat McDonogh and Matt Stone were working as photojournalists at the Louisville, Kentucky Courier Journal in 2007, when they had a passing conversation about shooting weddings. Layoffs and furloughs had become common at newspapers, and they knew they needed a back-up plan should they get laid off.

Each had shot a few weddings individually and together they commiserated over their experiences. “It was a real grind,” recalls McDonogh. “We weren’t enjoying ourselves and it’s really hard to make good pictures when you aren’t enjoying yourself.” It was then that the two realized that many of the problems they were experiencing on their own while shooting weddings could be alleviated if they shot together.

They teamed up to create Liaison Wedding Photography to pursue a style of wedding photography—photojournalistic and storytelling—that worked with their sensibilities, realizing they could shoot weddings the way they had approached stories for the Courier Journal—“looking for unique angles, natural moments and key events.”

Of their clients, McDonogh adds, “They’re very young, very hip; they get what we’re doing.” Six years later, their business is going strong, precisely because they’ve been able to merge their photographic backgrounds and produce a style of wedding photography that works for them.  

Josh Goleman: A Portable Workflow

Photo © Josh Goleman

Josh Goleman shoots everything from music to portraits to weddings (he’s part of The Wedding Artists Collective and was one of RF’s 30 Rising Stars of 2012), and wearing so many different hats means he’s on the road most of the time and has to find creative ways to utilize his downtime on planes, trains and in cars.

For Goleman, the solution is three-fold—Lightroom, VSCO filters and solid-state hard drives. The combination of all three has allowed him to radically change his business so that he is more productive while in transit.

Solid-state hard drives sound uninteresting until you realize their impact. Because they are so much faster and more durable than conventional spinning hard drives, Goleman has no qualms about bringing them on the road. While recently on tour with American electronic musician and singer-songwriter Skrillex, for example, traveling from Hong Kong to Brazil to Mexico, the solid-state drives meant that he could download images from his memory cards and have his photos ready to edit before he even landed.

Using Lightroom and VSCO presets—which mimic films such as Fuij Superia, Kodak Tri-X and Polaroid, among others—means he can readily find the look he wants for his photos without ever going into Photoshop.

These days, he does almost all of his processing in Lightroom, including dodging and burning. “If I’m shooting a wedding in a different city or state, I know that by the time I land in New York, I’ll have a solid edit made and a first cast of color correcting done,” says Goleman. “It’s made everything much more efficient for me.”

Steven Bollman: Transitioning to Digital

Photo © Steven Bollman

Steven Bollman is a seasoned commercial and editorial photographer whose personal passion is street photography. And for the past 25 years, he shot the street with Leica M rangefinders and Contax SLRs.

Bollman was always wary of using digital technology for street work though he acknowledges that it was “advantageous to not have to worry about how many rolls of film you’re unloading or having to reload at inopportune times.” Bollman notes, however, that the small cameras ideal for street photography “always had shutter lag that I found to be way too problematic.”

For Bollman, the dramatic change in how he shot street photography came when Sony released the NEX-5 in 2010, followed by the NEX-7 in 2011. They were the first cameras that, he says, were fast enough to displace his Leicas. Now, he shoots almost exclusively with the NEX-7. He uses it in the same way he used the Leicas, with manual settings and zone focusing.  According to Bollman, “the NEX-7 isn’t just as good as the old Leicas, it’s better.” That’s because, he says, the NEX-7 has an LCD back that swivels out, which provides a host of options for shooting very low or above a crowd.

Bollman maintains that image quality is essential to his work. “Recently, I had three different files printed out onto the same sheet from a museum-quality printer that I use. There were drum scans of a 35mm image, a 2 1/4 image and an image from the Sony [NEX-7]. I couldn’t believe it. I preferred [the Sony image], especially for the clarity and tonal range. It clears the threshold for museum quality easily.” 

Doug Boutwell: The Anti-Documentary Wedding Shoot

Photo © Doug Boutwell

Doug Boutwell, a former wedding photographer who now runs Totally Rad—a software company that makes tools for photographers—was tired of the documentary style that pervaded wedding photography when he was in the business. He believed the sheer volume of shots that are usually captured at weddings take away from the uniqueness of the photos, even if they are beautiful candids. For him, less was more.

“It’s almost crass, in a way, to have 10,000 photos of every last moment of the day, the same way unedited video is boring to watch, and wedding video often is much less magical than the photography,” says Boutwell.

To combat what he called, “superfluous snapshots,” Boutwell went after a style he termed “anti-documentary.” For him, it meant slowing down and experimenting shooting a wedding with an 8 x 10 view camera for scene-setting shots and portraits. He admits it was impractical and a challenge, but far more rewarding when he got it right.