Five years ago, yesterday, I began my journey into the crazy world of wedding photography. It’s not a decision I made on a whim and certainly not without a healthy helping of anxiety and apprehension. I became a wedding photographer because I wanted to be an artist and could not paint or draw (trust me, I tried), and because I wanted to do something that made people happy.
Let’s start at the beginning.
In 1995, I created a local fanzine called Life In A Bungalo for the sole purpose of criticizing punk bands in a public forum and obtaining free CDs and concert tickets. Every issue was painstakingly cobbled together using my antiquated Packard Bell 386 PC, a friend’s dot matrix printer and photos I shot at basement and VFW shows using disposable Fuji cameras that I stole from my job at the now defunct RX Place.
The first time I requested review passes to a concert for a larger band (I’m pretty sure it was NoFX and the Lunachicks at the Stone Pony), the publicist nonchalantly asked if I wanted a photo pass, too. I said sure, even though I had no true way of capturing the band’s visages on film. After pleading with my mother for days, she finally relented and let me borrow “the family camera.” a typical 35mm Nikon point-and-shoot that I later learned had a very sophisticated autofocus and flash system.
So began my tenure as a rock & roll photographer. From 1995 to 2007, I photographed and interviewed hundreds of bands, many of whom I considered my heroes. It was a dream come true. I cut my teeth photographing bands in some of the sleaziest (and legendary) venues in New York City, in some of the worst lighting conditions imaginable, with kids bouncing off my head and threatening to destroy my camera. But it was worth it. I learned how to frame an image for maximum impact, when to capture a musician at his or her peak of emotion and how to control the ambient light around me.
In 2007, Allison encouraged me to sell my prized possession—a rare vinyl art toy by Joe Ledbetter simply named Mr. Bunny—to an executive at HBO. I used the money to purchase my first digital camera (a Canon 30D), a lens and a flash. That evening I went to a gallery opening for artist Lori Early and began taking candid photos of the artist, guests and luminaries. I figured why not try to make some money from the images and promptly sent out contact sheets to my favorite art magazines and I got a bite and a check for $200.
From that point, I decided that I would try to sell every photo I took and began photographing every art opening, event and concert that intrigued me. I gave complimentary photos to curators and artists in exchange for connections to event coordinators, which opened up doors to the insane world of celebratory photography and the high-end event photography scene. By high-end I mean illustrious; not to be confused with high paying. I photographed presidents, actors and dignitaries non-stop for three years before I began to burn out. The truth is, people go to the types of events to be seen, not because they actually care. My photos were gorgeous and the subjects were famous, but I was struggling to capture the energy and emotion that I spent years honing with my punk rock photography.
Then in 2009, my good friend Nicole Michaelson met Jared Traum. They fell I’m love, got engaged and she demanded that I photograph her wedding. I refused. I was inexperienced in the art of wedding photography and a complete novice when it came to the business of photography. “That’s why I want you to be our wedding photographer,” she said, bluntly refusing my refusal. “I don’t want a traditional studio; I want someone who knows me and my friends and can bring a new eye and vision to a boring genre.”
I told her I’d think about it and paid a visit to my own wedding photographer, Kristen Reimer, an accomplished artist who helped me realize that wedding photography didn’t have to be stiff and cheesy. I showed her my portfolio and she told me I’d be stupid not to try a wedding. The technique is the same, she said. I just needed to grasp the timing of certain events during the day and smile a lot.
I quickly devised a plan to build a wedding portfolio. I offered a pay-what-you-wish marketing campaign via Craig’s List which stated that I would shoot a wedding for whatever the couple wanted to pay me; no questions asked and they would get all their photos. Sure it was frustrating that I had to start from square one, even though my event portfolio teemed with photographs of everyone from President Clinton to Green Day to Elie Wiesel, but I wasn’t beyond paying my dues.
A few days later, I got a call from Lori, a bride-to-be that was planning a wedding for that weekend and had reconsidered her original idea to forgo hiring a photographer. I convinced her that I wasn’t some strange scam artist, sent over a contract and was driving three hours on the Jersey Turnpike in torrential rain two days later.
When I got to the venue, the skies cleared up and I introduced myself to the groom, Ed Ward, whom I had never met before. I didn’t even know who the bride was until she came down the aisle. It was a little awkward at first, but I wasn’t going to be deterred. I worked that wedding (and every wedding thereafter) as if my life depended on it and I produced a portfolio that earned me referrals for years to come.
A few weddings later, I documented Nicole and Jared’s nuptials and all my fears were alleviated. I realized that weddings were truly a perfect storm of everything I want to photograph—joy, excitement, fun and love. I get paid to spend an entire day with amazing people that trust me to use my eye to create a collection of images of one of the biggest days of their lives. I don’t take that lightly. Five years later and GLK Photography is stronger than ever and I think I’ve grown greatly as photographer. I have, hands down, the most bad ass brides and grooms in the world and I love you all. And a huge thanks to my brilliant wife, Allison, for believing in me and helping me through this journey. I plan on shooting weddings until I can’t physically hold a camera any more. Hopefully that won’t be for a very long time.