Over the past little while I’ve received quite a few lovely notes from various photographers just getting started wanting to know more about my own journey from Opera in NYC to Wedding Photography. I love hearing about other people’s journeys so I figured I may as well share my little history as well. I hope you find a few good nuggets in my little story, guys!
I discovered photography while living in NY, aspiring to be a famous opera singer. Not that photography was completely alien to me at the time; my Dad’s main hobby is and was photography. I was no stranger to his Nikon F100 and collection of lenses, but I didn’t pick up a digital SLR until a few years out of Music School.
A gadget-obsessed friend of mine had bought one, and from the moment I held that little Canon digital rebel in my hand and looked through the viewfinder, I felt that something had changed. I wanted one so badly. For the first few months I had to settle for playing with the borrowed camera, reading the manual backwards and forwards (I can’t stress enough how important it is to read your camera’s manual!) and playing with the different settings to understand how they interacted to create a perfectly exposed image.
I had told my actor friend, Carrie, how obsessed I was with this new hobby (err, our mutual friend’s new hobby that I had absorbed), and she asked me to take her headshots. I was still shooting in Aperture Priority mode back then, but I took my friend’s borrowed rebel and Sigma 24-70 lens and we actually got a few usable images from that day. Here’s one of them:
Poor Carrie. She was my early guinea pig. I must have tens of thousands of images of her on various drives around my office! But she was up for anything (as my early experiments with flash can attest!)
I realized soon after these early shoots that I needed gear of my own. Much to my Dad’s chagrin (he’s been a devoted Nikon SLR shooter for decades,) I went with Canon, more because that’s what I had been playing with than for any other reason. I rented gear from Adorama Camera Rental on 18th St. every Friday –Sunday, (a canon 40d with a 24-105 L lens), shooting as many headshots as I could during that period, and accepting donations for my ‘camera gear fund.’ Somehow it took off really quickly-I think this is more of a testament to how many artists in NYC really are starving than to my early photographic talents, but in a few short months I was able to buy my own camera and lenses: a Canon 40d with a 17-85mm IS lens and a 85 1.8. I have since sold and upgraded all of my first purchases, but more on that later…
A few shots from the first 2 years of shooting actor/singer headshots. I may have been shooting manual by then but I clearly still shot jpg only and didn’t understand white balance back then:
At that point, I still considered myself an opera singer. I was auditioning, taking lessons, gigging here and there, and shooting headshots for other singers/performers on the side to supplement my income. I was interested in photographic technique, and was avidly reading blogs on the subject while checking in Acupuncture patients at my day job. But I hadn’t yet realized that wedding photography was my calling. I still thought that I would reach a place in my opera career when I was singing with opera company x that would somehow make me happy. I kept thinking that it was the fact that I wasn’t yet singing at the upper echelon that made me miserable, not the fact that I was in completely the wrong field for my personality.
Some singer friends of mine were getting married, and they asked me to shoot their wedding. Not knowing anything about wedding photography, I said yes and threw myself into the experience. (This time adding some canon 580 speedlights to the mix, but not really understanding anything about flash.)
Here is a shot from that first wedding…
Whatever you want to call that force in the universe that brings you to your destiny, I wasn’t paying attention yet. I still fancied myself more of a singer than a photographer.
Looking back, I think that two things happened to help me find my focus. The first was switching to a notoriously technical and strict voice teacher. During our lessons, he told me that I couldn’t audition or perform for a year. This was devastating, but necessary. All of a sudden my sense of self was gone. I had identified as a singer my entire life but I was no longer able to sing! I found that I needed a creative outlet more than ever and I threw myself into photography.
The second happening that completely took me off guard and rerouted my entire life was connecting with my (now) husband while I was singing with Opera New Jersey. Somehow, meeting the man I would marry a year later and move halfway across the country with really put things into perspective. Not to mention being initiated into the wonderful wide world of wedding blogs!
While planning our wedding, I was introduced to a new kind of photography, one that is like a live performance in so many ways! You only get one opportunity to do it right, it has to be perfect, the unexpected always happens, and it is the most emotionally charged experience-just like singing an opera! You get to do every kind of photography in one day; portrait, fashion, photojournalism, food, children, EVERYTHING! Our own wedding photographer, Melisa McKolay, was also amazingly open with me about her process. I am so grateful for her honesty!
A shot from our day:
It was during a wedding following our own that things really started to click for me. I spent the months leading up to it reading as much as I could, experimenting on my poor unsuspecting family and friends, and watching videos about flash, off camera flash, photoshop, reading books and the blogs of famous photographers. I also decided to invest in upgrading my gear from the 40d to the 5d and 5d mark ii, go from my old 17-85 craptastic plastic to the 24-70 f2.8 L and I started renting a few more wedding friendly lenses (135 f2, 70-200 f2.8) Something about this focus really showed through in the images from that wedding because all of a sudden I was booking more weddings, some of them over a year in advance (this was very, very exciting to me!) I was hooked. I think it had to do with being a bride myself and really valuing the photography so deeply. I just “got it.” Here is a shot from that wedding that really put everything in perspective for me:
In retrospect, here’s the thing I hadn’t understood about myself. I’m a homebody. I love being home with my husband. I love family time. I love a quiet evening in. I love intimate dinner parties. I love talking to people one on one and really connecting. I love being focused on work, and I’m terrible at going on vacations-I’ll always find something to work on! How I thought that my homebody, not-center-of-attention personality would be happy singing all over the world for months at a time I can only attribute to my own stubborn willfulness… But the truth is that wedding photography is the PERFECT job for my personality. I get to connect with people, with families in a special way and be a part of their most joyous occasions! I get to surround myself with beauty and love and tell their stories! I get to stay out of the limelight and help others shine in their individual, beautiful ways… I get to make art out of life! And I get to be home with my hubs. I believe that true love is a rare and precious thing and that it deserves to be celebrated, honored and cherished wherever we are lucky enough to find it.
A recent shot of Yuri and me by my super talented friend, Jen Sosa, on film <3
Because I know some of you shutterbugs will want to know, here’s what I shoot with these days:
5d mark ii
Lenses: 50 1.2 L
35 1.4 L
85 1.8 (for headshots)
24-70 2.8 L (I barely use this poor lens but I can’t seem to bring myself to sell it!)
100 2.8 IS L
70-200 2.8 IS L
Zeiss 80/2 (for the Contax)
Canon 580 exii (3)
Pocket Wizards, (not the TTL ones, and they work quite well for me)
Film: Especially Fuji 400h, 160s, and Kodak Portra 400 for color and Ilford XP2 for B&W.
Editing: LR3 and Photoshop CS4.
Monitor Calibration: Spyder. DO THIS. IT WILL MAKE YOUR PRINTS SO MUCH BETTER!
Want to learn about flash/off-camera flash? Read anything and everything by Neil Van Niekerk. And/Or do one of his workshops. He’s incredible. It becomes so simple.
Want to learn about Social Media/Marketing? Read Jasmine Star’s blog. She’s also an open book for those just starting out in wedding photography who have questions.
Want to learn about photoshop? There are lots of videos and books, but apart from taking classes and reading I found the best way to learn is just to play, play, and play. For hours. And then play some more. And then if you do want to play with actions/filters use them sparingly and at a low opacity. There’s nothing weirder than a photographer’s portfolio where every other photo from a single shoot looks like it was from a different time period.
Want to learn about Film photography? Check out Jonathan Canlas’ book and his blog FILM IS NOT DEAD. That man is so wise it’s crazy.
Best advice I can give?
Keep pushing yourself, keep trying new things, and make sure you know what you’re doing technically before you charge someone money to do it!
Have more questions for me about my journey, my technique, etc? Just drop me a line, I’m happy to help!