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Top 30 Rising Stars in Wedding photography-Rangefinder magazine

edited November 2013 in home
So what does it take to be a rising star?

I found a photographer, Phil Chester, while googling shooting locations in Columbus Ohio (why he showed up in a search for Columbus when he is from Oregon I will never know) and explored his site a little. The style could not be more different from my own but I was strangely drawn to it, in part, due to the processing. It is very moody with deep blacks and interesting contrast and a desaturated look.

Anyway, as I kept looking through his portfolio I learned that he was new to the game (about 2-3 years) but seemed very busy and already successful. Later on I stumbled on the fact that he was just selected as one of the top 30 rising stars-after only 2 years shooting weddings.

As I looked through the selection of talented photographers in the magazine I noticed a re-occurring "theme." Virtually all the styles are identical with many sharing the same post processing look. In addition, they are all young-somewhere between 26-33 so are they better at "feeling" the pulse of their clients/industry trend?

Is homogenization occurring in wedding photography? It certainly is in baby, senior, family shoots, etc since so many look like they were all shot by a franchise team. Is this a good thing? Is this style a lasting trend or just contemporary?

If you look though some of the photographers portfolios, you will see first dance photos with only backs and no faces visible, portraits with faces blocked/obscured by objects, photos of only the lower and upper body and the heads cropped off, huge amounts of negative space, portraits with bride and groom standing perfectly straight and stiff, etc. With very few exceptions, you can't tell where one photographer starts and the other leaves off.

Part of me is drawn to this style and I enjoy looking at it because it is so different.

So back to my question: What does it take? Is it photographing in this style and using this type of post processing? Is this style the new "it?"




  • There are actually more questions than just my first/last one. Would be great to hear as many opinions as possible since this style is a huge departure from the current and past top tens such a Ryan Brenizer, Gerry Ghionis, Cliff Mautner, Todd Laffler and others but very much inline with something Max Wanger would shoot.
  • Funny, I clicked on the link before reading your entire post. I noticed the same things! I was going ooo, ahhh and being taken in by the unique perspectives, the processing, and odd poses; including the guy doing the handstand on the dancefloor with his feet coming out of some girls chest ....lol... I would have probably hit reject on that one if it was mine. I guess that's why I suck...ha! I think the people you mention make moments beautiful (brenizer, mautner, neil vn...) and timeless. I think the new breed (i'm old at 35) is more abstract and into the fades ,washes, overexposures, and all the neat things done with photoshop to seem almost pop artsy.

    I think location has a some play in it. I have never seen places that look like some of the venues shown. I spend a lot of time trying to turn a blotchy clump of pine tress, a parking lot, or the basement of a church into a photographic marvel. Which, I do enjoy and it is rewarding when it works and when the client is impressed and says, wow where did we take that photo....

    Also, I think, I am not nearly socially medialized (made that word up) enough, not web savvy enough, I'm not hip or cool, and don't look that good in a grey t shirt and black vest. I just don't rock it. I don't think I'll ever get to shoot the black and white grainy wedding in the hot downtown hooka bar. Strangely, I'm okay with it and will keep trudging along, learn from the masters and tweak my style for me.

    I am sure what I posted here in no way answered anything you asked but at least you know that you have a friend in the confusion as to why everything that's different looks the same...lol

  • TrevTrev Moderator
    MikeZ said: Also, I think, I am not nearly socially medialized (made that word up) enough, not web savvy enough, I'm not hip or cool, and don't look that good in a grey t shirt and black vest. I just don't rock it. I don't think I'll ever get to shoot the black and white grainy wedding in the hot downtown hooka bar. Strangely, I'm okay with it and will keep trudging along, learn from the masters and tweak my style for me.
    Too funny, me neither.

  • yeah...can we just use that quote from here on out Mike?

    While I do enjoy looking at their photos, I do not see me emulating their style. I will borrow a few things and implement during a portrait session but it won't go any further.
    And believe it or not Mike, you answered more of the questions than you thought.
  • Yes! Use that as much as you want. I may make it my signature.. Lol I'm glad there were answers in there somewhere. I almost didn't post it because I felt like I was loosing it for a minute, actually!

    Sucessful photography is definitely fast paced and on the cutting edge of a lot of marketing tools and principals, I guess.

    But dang it, it shouldn't have to feel like being a stock broker on the verge of a nervous breakdown... that's what I hate. Blog this, learn this blue processing, oh, wait you don't send instant previews to my iphone while your shooting, I just want a cd, blue is out must learn light leaking...or is it lomo leaking (?) no it's my sink leaking...dammit, how much for just 30 mins at my wedding but I want you to shoot the ceremony, the formals, and the country club, your senior session was an hour why are you only showing me 20 photos-sigh.... Hey my buddy said you where really cheap...grrr, wait the blue process is back-shoulda learned it last week!!!!

    Honestly, this forum is like a break for me when I come here. It's nice learning so much and speaking to nice people. I come here alot. Probably why I have not learned that blue processing yet!
  • Trevor,

    I understand completely the dilemma you and many others face here with the NEW AGE of Photography. Plus, people wanting so much for so little, or wanting almost nothing and expecting everything. While I haven't done a wedding per se, it appears to be a lot of work. I've done many venues, lately I've experimented with Boudoir Photography, with the aid of some very good friends and I gotta tell you, it's such a departure from Weddings or the like. Extremely simple lighting set up..Many times, simple Window ambient light, other times 1 or two soft boxes...max! Sorry for the tangent, no pun intended. A thought just occurred, concerning us all, without the advent of Digital, computers, Photoshop, and the like...how many of us today, honestly would be in the field, and making a good living at it if we had only Film?...Mmmmm, interesting thought to ponder. Game changer would be an understatement. But, I'm not trying to compete or keep up with all the changes that are going on in today's Photographic arena. In any case, Trevor, MikeZ, you guys make very good points. I enjoy your take on photography, and learn from you guys and so many others here, with special thanks to Neil for this site.
  • I am certain that digital is mostly to blame for things the way they are. While it is a magnificent tool for us to see the results and adjust immediately to provide the best product; it takes food out of our mouths because anyone can pick up a digital camera and start snapping. In some cases that is all that is required to satisfy a customer. A person with a camera.

    I am a mostly visual learner. If film was all I had, this probably would not be my line of work. Or, I would be the only polaroid endorsed wedding and portrait photographer....lol...
  • edited November 2013
    I know photogs that use 3rd Party Post Production companies, such as Colorati, and swear by them. They have such a large amount of files to edit that they can't possibly manage the work flow. This allows them to merely concentrate on what, making the shot. But, they also have been dealing with said company for a period of time, and that company knows what this particular Photographer wants. Now Imagine no 3rd party photo imaging business's, photolabs and such, and we had to have a dark room for our photo processing. Talk about thinning out the herd!!
  • Mike, there are a few things on your latest comment that I don't agree with (if I read/understood what you said correctly).

    "it takes food out of our mouths because anyone can pick up a digital camera and start snapping."

    While this is true, it still takes real talent to do this job. Availability of digital photography has lead people to this art form that might not have discovered it back in the film day but most that pick up a camera will always be just point and shooters, regardless of the camera. Then there are those that want to learn more and get better for various reasons and out of this group, there are very few that have a latent talent for photography. They should rise to the top for all of us to see their work. If Ansel Adams were alive today, he would face some stiff competition.

    Those that are snapping their own pics would not have hired a pro to shoot their family events, etc. anyway (there are exceptions here but they would be statistically negligible) and those that are low cost pros will have some effect on
    your income but the clients that choose these low cost/low quality photographers don't know what they are looking for. They have low standards and quality does not play a role-they are not going to hire Neil or any top shooter because all they see is a number after the $ sign.

    Competition is tough and talent is out there but if you are good, you will get noticed.
  • I agree with your disagreement...lol... my intended message for my post, was that even though we are trying hard to produce quality images, there are people that claim to be photographers with NO real intention of learning anything but how to make a few quick, usually low-ball, dollars. In the process, they are destroying the industry to an extent (ie craigslist photogs). They do lure away a small number of customers-customers we could probably do without...lol...but I have seen an increase in chain wedding photography in my area. Mega gold super package is 1,299 with albums, two shooters and 8 hours of shooting. Going for volume to make up for price. So, there again, would these things exist if we were in a film only environment? No way to know really.

    I have many, many friends that go to chain stores for portraits and family pictures. I just grin at the shoddy work and say "that's cute." I gave up trying to explain what a portrait really is to them a long time ago. I can't make their images for 9.99 and they won't even consider my prices when that is available to them.... As you said, I am all for anyone learning photography and with whatever equipment is available to them. If it ignites a spark that is fantastic! I have no problem learning anything from anyone or even a discussion that leads to a different thought. Again, as you said it does take talent and a grasp on various concepts to produce quality work. It is just a shame that price, generally trumps talent. I feel that fact alone makes it hard for a person starting a legitimate business because of the expectation to work for cheap. Even with great attempts to educate the prospective client on what makes an image special.
  • edited November 2013
    They lure away a LARGE number of Customers MikeZ. I'll stand by my last comment, If we had to go back to Film, and our own Dark room processing, We'd all have so much work it would be mind numbing. Of course, that would assume we knew anything about Developing our own Photographs. No more chimping...WOW. That alone would scare away most photographers today. No instant gratification or adjusting and only 12-36 pics per role max...Imagine that! What!!! I have to use the camera light meter!! Where do you view the picture?? OMG ! :-) Wedding photographers today with digital cameras would have a difficult job, just think if we had to do it in Film. Gotta laugh, but it's likely more true than any of us would care to admit. But, we trudge on, and use what is at our disposal with today's technology.
  • having a quick look through them , some of them are brilliant, some are what I would consider bad, a lot I would think are set up perhaps using models. I think a lot of wedding photographers struggle unless you work really hard at it and produce something that's different to all the rest. I think people who think themselves hard done by at the fact that other so called photographers who produce crap and charge next to nothing are not being hard done by, you need to think outside the box, don't reduce your prices to try and compete, just produce better work and put your prices up. Another thing we are forgetting, the 20 or 30 images put up by the top 30 wedding photographers are their top 30 images, its their best, their very best, what's the rest of their stuff like? Is it consistent, perhaps but it wont be as good as those top 30 you just watched!
  • Oh and sometimes I crop in close, sometimes really close, but I don't chop bloomin heads off !
  • Emma case photography..that's her best?
  • edited November 2013

    I've been seeing the cutting off of the head, but only at top of head or at the forehead. Been seeing that a lot of late. Some of them are done quite well. the complete severing of the head...nah. But hey, We're all different, both photogs and clients, we like what we like. There are tons of photographers doing it now..It's more about the composition then anything. The horizontal body shot with head cropped at forehead...nice.
  • edited November 2013
    cake....I see what you mean with Emma. There are a several pics that were good to great but the rest just don't fit my idea of good photography. A photo of a hand reaching in the air is part of a portfolio? And not just once? But then I was not asked for my opinion but I did start this discussion to get some answers/ideas as to what others are thinking...
    penndragonn2001 said: There are tons of photographers doing it now
    my point exactly...but is this a long term trend (new direction) or just contemporary (short term)? Some of the framing is brilliant and I already framed a few portraits differently and the change is nice but to exclusively frame in a minimalist manner or cutting off heads, faces, etc is not art-it is imitation and badly done at that.

    My daughter does a fair job of getting blurry shots, and she takes photos with feet, arms, legs, etc cut off....maybe she should have been the main photographer at my failed attempt to run a photography business :)

    This is just my opinion ( and not all opinions are valid/equal)...I feel that not everyone selected for the top 30 should have been included...and there should have been more of a mix, a variety of style and not just clones/copies of each other.

  • edited November 2013
    Also, I really encourage everyone to look at these photographers/portfolios. Some of the photos are so bad that you will shake your head. Out of focus, blurry, out of focus and blurry, etc....it is very interesting to say the least and I am trying to wrap my head around it...


    pic 8, 9 (underexposed and raised during post?) 17 (really?), 21, 28...


    some interesting photos even if the framing and center placement gets old after the nth time...


    pic 6, 12, 15, 19. These do not belong in their portfolio BUT the rest are stunning and full of emotion.

    enough for now....

  • Apparently you all didn't get the memo - the latest trend is to shoot through 2 to 3 layers of Saran Wrap to get that unique, out-of-focus feel.

    Or, I know -- perhaps it is signalling to the market that you have high-end, fast-enough glass that is *capable* of taking OOF images. In this age of iPhone/iPad shooters with their tiny apertures, it's actually hard to take a blurry snapshot.

    OK, last guess -- Extreme Vintage Look. As in 1890's Kodak vintage. Before all this newfangled optics stuff. It's the next logical progression for Instagram filters...

    In all seriousness, I think it is fair to highlight the seemingly declining quality of photography being lauded here. Sure, art is subjective, but it is something else to depart completely from the fundamentals of composition, exposure, lighting, posing, etc. Sometimes all in one shot! And as Rudy points out, these aren't one-off examples from some hack's fly-by-night site. They are found throughout the choice representative images from the industry's supposed rising stars.

    Regardless of whatever are the root causes that are devaluing the profession (digitization, ubiquitousness of imaging devices, increased price-sensitivity), the greatest threat I see for professional photogs these days is that this type of photography is becoming accepted as the new normal - the status quo. Obviously, these 30 stars (among countless others) wouldn't be "rising" if customers didn't continue to support what they are producing. I'm not in the wedding business, but I would assume that brides still evaluate prospective photographers' portfolios in order to choose what they would like best for their own special day. If there were no demand for this type of photography, the supply would surely dry up. Instead, industry sources like this Rangefinder publication single-out and reward this type of work, further reinforcing the trend among both consumers and other photographers trying to read the market that this is what sells.

  • Maybe they are being really clever and tapping into a market we are all unaware of? A new kind of art form perhaps? Or maybe its just crap.. I'm going with the latter. What a lot of them do well though is capture emotion and that's what I think photography is all about, emotion. And I think with all our best photos it captures a piece of us in that image. If we had 30 photographers all lined up and there was a moment, at a wedding say, each photograph would be different because each photographer would interpret that moment at a different point in time and from a different angle, which would be the right moment? the right angle? One might be the right photograph for one person but not for another, much like art. I remember visiting the tate modern in Liverpool UK a few years back to witness a piece of so called art, which was in actual fact a drinking glass on a shelf, it was titled "An oak tree", to me I couldn't get my head round it, to others it was brilliant. There is a market for everything, no matter if its a wedding photo with their heads chopped off or a glass on a shelf, some idiot, sorry somebody with an eye for art will like it. (But I don't)
  • This has been an enjoyable thread. I think we all have untapped potential for income...lol..
  • DaBears said: if customers didn't continue to support what they are producing. I'm not in the wedding business, but I would assume that brides still evaluate prospective photographers' portfolios in order to choose what they would like best for their own special day. If there were no demand for this type of photography, the supply would surely dry up
    This is certainly true but why is there support for this? Is it because it is a better way of capturing a wedding? Is it more artistic? Or could it be that just enough brides have embraced this style and it then snowballed from there. Follow this up with a few sheeple brides, and you have a huge trend on your hand and, sooner or later, no one can remember how it started. It becomes popular (like the Kardashians or some Apple Products) and no one seems to question it anymore...

  • My last take on this. If I were a Wedding photographer, and I'm not, I would be so embarrassed to show a client photos like some of the ones I've seen. If that was my best work, I'd give up photography....
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    The one photographer there - Phil Chester - caught my attention a short while back, before this article listed him.

    He did an engagement photo session, tracing the couple's day as they woke up and hung around.
    It's romantic and completely engaging. I like the naturalness of it.
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    OK, here's what I take from the images in the 30 Rising Stars article.
    There's a freshness there and a break from traditional portraiture that is quite interesting. While not all of it suits my taste, what I take from it is that *I* need to become more spontaneous and "loose" in my photographic style if I want to appeal to a younger generation as well.

    Look for the good stuff there and see what you can embrace for yourself.
  • edited November 2013
    Excellent take on it Neil. They're not all bad, some are actually quite good. All a matter of taste. From my vantage point in this area, that also being New Jersey, most of that type of technique, probably wouldn't fly, at least not for now. Hope my previous comment didn't come off as pompous or negative, just my observation and take on it.
  • edited November 2013
    Neil vN said: I take from it is that *I* need to become more spontaneous and "loose" in my photographic style if I want to appeal to a younger generation as well
    The fact that you acknowledge this shows character...we all must continue to evolve or go extinct.

    Neil vN said: Look for the good stuff there and see what you can embrace for yourself
    Yes, as mentioned previously, I have taken some of the framing that appealed to me and already implemented it in my last photo session while also sticking to my own style. I have also experimented with some post work

    Phil is going to be a force to be reckoned with...great style and use of light combined with good post processing. His photos pulled me in...looking at the link you provided and comparing it to his other work, you will see a change in the type of post work even if the style of photography did not change. That (change in processing) is my biggest issue with this type of post work...it is inconsistent and it hurts the flow of a portfolio (IMO)

    I am including two shots from Saturday. One shows a lot of negative space and it is a departure from my usual style.
    Second is more me but also has some processing done to it. (Same as first one)

    They may not be home runs yet but I am willing to try....I am willing to be flexible to stay up to date.

    Ambient light only.

    Expoimaging Rogue Kit with 45 degree grid used. It was to my left.
  • edited November 2013
    penndragonn2001 said: Hope my previous comment didn't come off as pompous or negative, just my observation and take on it.
    Not even in the slightest....my reason in starting this topic was to try to figure out 1) what is going on in the wedding industry, 2) get answers/opinions to/about the 30 top togs, 3) show everyone here the future trend or contemporary wedding style (we have yet to determine if this is a long term or short term change in wedding/engagement photography) 4) talking about this helps me learn (selfish, I know)

    By everyone chiming in, you are helping me come to terms with things I need to change about my own photography (selfish again...)

    Thanks to everyone that participated/commented...would love to see some photos if anyone adds some of the style elements of their (the 30 up and comers) work to your own.

    And adapting to a change is not giving in...it is evolving. Flexibility now may prevent stiffness in old age :)

  • MikeZMikeZ Member
    edited November 2013
    Neil is right. I think there is a lot of non traditional stylings in these listed photogs. I think I am afraid of being criticised for not being in a perfect third or chopping off part of a foot or arm and loosing a moment. I guess that is why we have to ultimately shoot for ourselves and capture the essence of our clients in the process. Of course there are fundamentals that will help a photo...but...

    I also agree with Frank Doorhoof who said that (paraphrasing) you can engineer a photo to someone's liking or you can artistically create an image that draws someone in. The latter will be rewarding and create success for your business.
  • Oh and Rudy...I love those shots!
  • I love the couple in the forest with the light rays coming through in Phil Chester's engagement shoot.
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    penndragonn2001 said: Hope my previous comment didn't come off as pompous or negative, just my observation and take on it.
    No, not at all.

    I did have to consider my own reply first, and find the positive in things. ;)
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    travelintrevor said: I am including two shots from Saturday.
    These look great. And I like the processing on the second .. looks "glamorous" without it being intrusively obvious.
  • I am so sick of cut-off heads! Please ..... Give it up. It's no longer trendy and I never liked it in the first place.

    The flare trend is still running its course but has a little time still.

    Some of these are impressive, some I agree are really bad. As long as the photography is good you can get away with a wide range of creativity and risk-taking and even win some new fans. If creativity and risk-taking is trying to cover for bad photography, it's not going to work.
  • MikeZ said: Oh and Rudy...I love those shots!
    Neil vN said: These look great. And I like the processing on the second .. looks "glamorous" without it being intrusively obvious
    Thank you Mike and Neil,

    The post was very easy. A layer each of purple, yellow and blue-all set to exclusion-with the opacity lowered to taste (around 10% or so). I sometimes leave out one of the colors, depending on the photo. It is the only action I run in photoshop...


  • I have very little experimentation savvy when it comes to photoshop. I can do what I need to very well, but.....what I see in my head sometimes...I would have to be a graphic designer or someting to get the effect I want. There is a lifetime skill set buried in photoshop. Thank goodness for things learned here and online over the years, action sets, and some of the successful playing I have done. :-)
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