Wedding photographers used to get no respect, either from customers or other pros. It's only recently that they've been widely recognized for their multifaceted talent. In the course of a wedding day they serve as architectural photographer, documenting locations; as portrait photographer, flattering the day's key players; as product photographer, shooting a closeup of the rings; and as photojournalist, telling a story, under pressure, with pictures. One indication of wedding photographers' new status is that they are being asked to do more and more work outside their geographic bases. Another is that they earn more money than ever. So American Photo decided it was high time to give these photographic specialists some extra attention. Herewith, ten of the best and most influential wedding photographers working today.
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
During his 25-year career, Reggie has almost single-handedly redefined wedding photography. He's shot hundreds of celebrity weddings, including the marriage of Arnold Schwarzenegger to Maria Shriver and John Kennedy Jr. to Carolyn Bessette, at which he made one of the most famous wedding pictures of all time -- of the groom kissing the bride's hand as they step out of the one-room church where the ceremony was held.
Reggie earned his fame by practicing and advocating a new style of wedding photography that he called "wedding photojournalism." His approach broke from the usual stiff, posed pictures, "covering" the nuptials as a real-life event. "I am a quiet observer of the wedding," he says, "searching for moments that define the story of the day."
Location: Littleover, Derbyshire, England
The first photographer in the UK to shoot weddings with a photojournalist's style, Ascough garnered global attention when his wedding work was featured in a 2004 issue of the Washington Post. Given his style, it makes sense that Ascough cites Henri Cartier-Bresson as an influence. While many wedding photographers shoot nonstop, he often composes an image and waits for the "decisive moment."
Ascough relies on fast lenses so he can shoot by available light. That practice also lessens the need for strobe, which the photographer avoids whenever possible. Ascough's artistry often nets him assignments with British rock stars and other celebrities -- brides and grooms who are willing to trade a little glamour for more style.
Location: Beverly Hills, California
All you probably need to know about Buissink's talent is that none other than Annie Leibovitz has hired him. Twice, in fact -- once to shoot her sister's wedding, then to shoot her cousin's. Getting the nod from America's most famous photographer was "truly humbling," says Buissink. Yet in the past 12 years Buissink has shot weddings for nearly as many celebrities as Annie has portrayed, including Jessica Simpson, Barry Bonds, and Jennifer Lopez.
You'd think celebrities would be demanding clients, but Buissink says he doesn't really worry about what his customers want. He assumes that when someone hires him, it's on the basis of the work he's done and the style of that work. That work, in turn, is what Buissink likes to do, and does best. "Always remain true to yourself," he says.
Nonetheless, Buissink insists that it's very important for a wedding specialist to evolve stylistically -- to explore new ideas and techniques, and to take artistic risks. As a starting point he preaches what he practices, shooting quickly and "flowing" with the constant stream of moments that make up a wedding day. "There's nothing more gratifying than seizing the moment with your camera," says the photographer.
Location: Pleasant Hill, California
There is probably no wedding photographer working today who can make a bride feel more beautiful than Cantrell can. She studies trends constantly, knows the top gown and shoe designers, and, most important, understands what brides want. She is, in fact, at the forefront of the movement to bring glamour to contemporary wedding photography. "I just wanted brides to see in their wedding photography the type of photographs they see in the wedding magazines," Cantrell explained in a recent lecture. "No one was doing that kind of work."
Shooting nuptials like a fashion photographer, Cantrell still has the needed reflexes -- reacting to all the things that can go wrong on such a complicated, important day. "I once had to photograph a bride in a hotel restroom," she says. "The images actually won some awards!" The proof of Cantrell's talent can be seen in the way wedding photographers around the world have followed her creative lead, and in how-to books such as The Art of Digital Wedding Photography (written with Skip Cohen, Amphoto, $30).
Alisha and Brook Todd
Location: San Francisco
Just a few years ago this couple often could be found sitting in the front row of photo seminars around the country, and staying after to ask questions of the featured shooter. They clearly were paying attention: The Todds have opened a new studio in San Francisco's Hearst Building and have photographed a wedding on the Oprah Winfrey Show for a segment called "Fantasy Dreams Come True." They've also bounced back from an accident in which a deck packed with wedding guests collapsed, injuring Alisha and 30 others.
As with nearly all the other wedding photographers in our top ten, the Todds report that their clients usually let them call the shots, literally. The style that gives brides and grooms such confidence is a smooth blend of documentary and fine art. And art it is, employing everything from tilted frames, tight, often whimsical crops, and rough borders with the look of filed-out negative carriers -- not to mention prints on fiber-based paper. "We don't see things as they are," says Alisha, quoting French diarist Anaïs Nin. "We see things as we are."
Location: New York; San Francisco
For Oth, wedding photography offers all an artist could ask for. "It fuses together the grandeur of tradition, the poignancy of emotion, and the simplicity of realism," he says. Manhattanites hire Oth to capture that confluence in an "honest" way, he says. "I have a natural shooting style that doesn't leave anything out. I watch the story unfold -- not just the main event but the quiet times, the telling details, and the unique personalities."
Having been a New York-based commercial photographer for ten years, Oth also understands how to market himself -- presenting properly, and to the right people. But even that success hinges on an identifiable style. In such a competitive environment you can't afford to be a generalist, says Oth, who prefers to shoot by existing light with fast lenses and a single camera. Nor can you afford to be jaded. Oth still looks forward to every opportunity to help a bride and groom make the big day uniquely theirs.
Stephen and Jennifer Bebb
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Stephen and Jennifer Bebb started their business as a part-time venture in 1999, and by the end of that year they'd both quit their jobs to pursue wedding photography full-time. Their lack of formal training hasn't been an obstacle to success. "I think people are drawn to our work not just because it's good, solid photography but because we bring enthusiasm and honest emotion to it," says Jennifer. "We see each wedding with a fresh eye."
The Bebbs also credit the demand for their services to "breaking the rules" of wedding photography itself. One of their stylistic signatures is a quirky, dramatic selective focus, always done just right. They know how to make negative space work for them. And they avoid auxiliary light, shooting almost entirely wide-open with prime lenses.
That said, the Bebbs pride themselves on taking their visual cues from the wedding couple. The result is that clients trust them completely on the day of the wedding -- and stop paying attention to the photographer. That, in turn, is a good recipe for better pictures.
Location: Victoria, Australia
While many wedding photographers are attracted to black and white, Ghionis loves bold color. Indeed, his strong sense of color is partly what has garnered him two "Album of the Year" awards at the annual Wedding & Portrait Photographers International convention, where he's been the winningest photographer of the last four years. But his talent also includes a sense of timing -- with a twist. "I don't believe in waiting for the moment," he says. "I believe in making the moment. I don't pose couples as much as I prompt and direct them in a way that makes them look both glamorous and natural."
Though he's based in Australia, Ghionis draws huge crowds in the U.S. as a speaker. But that fame hasn't prevented him from challenging and reinventing himself -- as a photographer and in the business sense. It helps that Ghionis manages to fuse the three things he says his clients want most in their wedding photography: artistry, candor, and a "contemporary" feeling. "Spend five minutes every day chasing the impossible," he says. "It makes all the difference."
Location: Kettle Falls, Washington
The World Wide Web has changed everything in professional photography, and no single discipline has been more affected than wedding photography. Beckstead and his wife and business parter, Kassandra, have used the Web and its associated technology to overcome what would once have been a major career obstacle: their location. They work outside a small town north of Spokane, Washington, in the rural eastern part of the state -- yet their business is thriving thanks to a classy Website that does justice to David's stylish work.
The Becksteads' site immediately conveys the highly visual nature of David's approach to wedding photography. Click on "art" and you get a choice of online galleries identified not by content but by form: "light," "dark," "lines," "motion," "shadow," and, even more photographic, "flare." The power of Beckstead's composition, his use of unusual angles and blur, and his strong sense of light and shadow clearly appeal to his clients, who often give him complete freedom on the wedding day.
Beckstead recommends that all working photographers hire a professional Web designer to create a distinctive site for them. "The Internet has helped make photographers known throughout the world, not just locally," he says. "Our industry has never been this open before."
Location: Bend, Oregon
Kubota had a career epiphany a few years ago, when he put a $10,000 wedding on his price list, thinking no couple would book at that level. He quickly learned they would. "I realized I'd been limiting my perceptions about wedding photography," he says.
It helps that Kubota offers acclaimed customer service, building a solid relationship with all his clients and always giving them more than they expect. Likewise, he stresses the importance of working with reliable professionals in every aspect of the business. Kubota should know, because he sells his own line of Photoshop actions, Kubota Image Tools.
Yet when Kubota tells brides-to-be that he will "see what you feel," it isn't just marketing talk. Working unobtrusively, Kubota has always been able to capture fresh, expressive images. "Established photographers complain about all the newbies in the business," says Kubota, a 13-year veteran. "But wedding photography has never been more creative and free."