These pictures are the work of a famous wedding photographer, but they could easily be from a skilled pro shooting in any field: fine art, architecture, nature, or sports, for example.
Because this story isn't about wedding photography. It's about how a photographer gets to the top of the game, and about the passion for keeping current in a medium where fads, tastes, and trends change almost daily.
To learn how one artist does it, I fly to San Francisco and head through the colorful Chinatown district to the studio of Hanson Fong. Known for his portraits, wedding albums, lectures and seminars, and for his growing catalog of posing aids and instructional DVDs, Fong-he goes by Hanson-has mastered the reigning styles of wedding photography over the past 25 years, reinventing himself on a regular basis.
How does he do it so successfully? In the early '80s, he came to several realizations that ultimately ensured his growth as a photographer. "First, I was brutally honest with myself and admitted that I couldn't learn all the fine points of portraiture on my own," he recalls. "If a bride and groom were attractive and expressive, and if the conditions were perfect with good lighting and picturesque backgrounds, I could pull off an okay wedding album."
But if the bride was full-figured, the groom had a snarl for a smile, and the church had cinder block walls and fluorescent lighting, he was lost. To produce beautiful images when conditions were not, Hanson needed help.
"Over the years," he continues, "a few really talented artists have been gifted with the rare ability to light and pose faces and bodies to make them most attractive. I knew that, basically, I wasn't one of these geniuses, so it became my goal to find the masters and learn what I could from them. That's the great thing about photography: It's learnable."