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."