Develop your own style - part 1 of 1 2

Published 01/02/2008


By Cliff Mautner

In this incredibly competitive and over-saturated marketplace in this crazy world of wedding photography, the need to stand out from the crowd is becoming more and more imperative. The digital age has allowed hobbyists, soccer moms, and just about anyone, the opportunity to foray into the field, while the number of weddings stays relatively constant. Take note of how many new photographers are battling for their share of the market. Distinguishing yourself and your own sense of style will allow you stay ahead of the curve.

I spent 15 years and shot 6,000 assignments with the Philadelphia (USA) Inquirer before I began my wedding career in 1998. The term "wedding photojournalism" was only recently popularized. It seemed to be the perfect transition for me. However, I felt my images were lacking something early on. Wedding photography wasn't as simple as just documenting the events that happened in front of me. I soon realized that I'd need to incorporate some traditional aspects into my coverage, while also making sure I continued to provide an edge to the work - which is why I was hired to begin with.

I always made fun of wedding photographers when looking at the bride and groom staring at the camera, next to the big tree and other recipe-motivated imagery. I was also critical of the trite, posed, and formulaic images that many traditionalists dwelled upon. So, I quickly realized that my overall approach and style needed to change. The bottom line was...Evolve or Die! I knew I needed to fuse styles together to create my artistic interpretation of the day, along with the traditional elements of wedding photography

Today, my style and approach is one that encapsulates the day in a photojournalistic manner, while mixing in elements of fashion and creative portraiture. I'll set the stage for moments to take place, but I won't EVER stage the moments. I'll ask a bride to get into her gown in the most flattering light available to me, but I'd never tell her how to do it. I'm not subject to the same journalistic ethics as when I was working for a newspaper, so I do take liberties with certain situations. It's for this reason, I'd never classify myself as a true wedding photojournalist since I'm not opposed to doing what I occasionally need to do, in order to make a picture


I'm perhaps best known for my ability to create texture, dimension, and mood, while encountering nearly any lighting situation from noon to midnight. I do my best to give my images an edge by placing my couples in myriad situations that are out of the ordinary. It's not uncommon for my favourite images to be captured in the harshest lighting condition, under overpasses, in gritty alleys, subway stations, or other challenging compositional scenarios that aren't always considered to be 'wedding friendly'. After all, Elliot Erwitt said, "you can make good pictures anywhere, you can even make good pictures in New Jersey"! My style is still evolving, and it's taken me 26 years to get to where I am, but there are ways to help your style evolve fairly quickly

In order to develop one's style, without question, the single most important element, in my opinion, is to make sure the technical aspects of photography are innate. Think about it - if you need to think about shutter speeds and apertures while attempting to compose an image, you've missed your moment. One needs to comprehend exposure values, and do so quickly, in order to properly and consistently expose images. In addition, it helps to use your eyes in such a way as to visualize what lens would work best in a given situation. Dorthea Lange said, "the camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera". If we can use our eyes and predict which focal length would work best for a particular image, we're then choosing the right tool to complete our vision. The goal is to 'see' with your mind's eye. Seeing with your mind's eye is a lot different than just looking through your viewfinder. In order to accomplish the former, a photographer's skill set must be secured before they can begin developing their own style. That's what my workshops are all about, but that's another story entirely!

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1st Published 01/02/2008
last update 07/02/2018 11:56:01

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