Making a Typical Wedding Photo Shoot Atypical
by Libby Peterson
April 28, 2014 —
Brooklyn photo duo Chellise Michael and her husband Mike Busse get it all the time: “Your photos don’t look like wedding photos.” Chellise says she can’t quite put her finger on the reason, but she knows of a couple of contributing factors: she and Mike avoid cliché images at all costs, and they strive for a fine-art approach over one that is strictly documentarian.
A self-proclaimed natural extrovert who’s good with people, Chellise thought wedding photography made the most sense as a new creative endeavor after spending a year shooting mini toy figurines with her husband just for fun (read more in “Fresh Perspectives”). Transitioning from shooting quirky objects to a more traditional genre of photography meant her creative vision had to come from a different place—and it wasn’t in other people’s work. “So much of wedding photography looks the same,” Chellise says. “Once I stopped looking at other people’s work, I realized I could go against the cliché and do something different.”
In fact, she and Mike offer free engagement sessions with couples for their wedding package, and though some couples initially decline the offer, they always change their minds once they hear they won’t have to pose for cheesy jumping, kissing or hand-holding pictures. Drawn to architecture and minimalism, Chellise focuses on the scene rather than the couple first, and she builds her technique from there. “I look for shots that would look good even without the couple,” she explains, “and then I tell the couple to come into the frame.”
Chellise and Mike always shoot as a team, except when the bride and groom are getting ready; Chellise joins the bride, and Mike follows the groom. Since the duo has already had an engagement session with the couple at this point, Chellise says the shoots on the big day go much easier because they’ve already established trust that allows for authentic shots and more creative leeway on the part of the photographers.
Bride Anastasia poses for a dramatic shot in The Green Building in Brooklyn, New York, where Chellise only relied on one window of natural light. Photo © Chellise Michael
This especially came in handy when Chellise shot bride Anastasia, who gave her the green light to get as creative as possible with her portraits, taken at The Green Building in Brooklyn, New York. Luckily, Chellise had shot there before, so she knew what kind of light she could get. “I was planning it out in my head, because I knew I wanted to accentuate the texture in her veil, and I knew the mood I was going for already, too,” Chellise explains. She shot the images darker, relying solely on one window off to the side to illuminate Anastasia’s face and to lift the texture of the veil in the photo. She darkened the image slightly in post and removed a couple lone golden lights in the background to make an all-dark, dramatic image—one not typically seen in wedding albums.
Trust grants the photography duo some creative freedoms that may not be otherwise granted, but it’s also made them some good friends over the years, which comes with its own set of advantages. Having established a solid friendship with past clients Tim and Rebecca, for example, Chellise says their wedding was one of the most memorable they’ve attended, and it’s not just because it was a destination wedding in Jamaica.
Mike got his camera settings just right, as he simultaneously freezes groom Tim while he dresses and blurs Owen’s jumping from one bed to the other. Photo © Mike Busse
As usual, Mike followed Tim as he got ready for the ceremony—and the groom’s son Owen, who had boundless energy. “He was like that all day,” Chellise remembers. “Mike said he kept jumping back and forth and back and forth on the beds. He eventually decided he wanted to wear beach shorts when he walked down the aisle, and by the end of the night, he didn’t have a shirt on. Owen’s just like that, and Tim is so calm.” Mike caught the juxtaposing demeanors exactly; opening up his aperture widely and slowing down his shutter, he caught Owen just as he lept for a “perfect swan dive” from one bed to the next as Tim, captured in crisp stillness, coolly pulls on his sock.
Chellise and Mike make it a point to strive for familiarity with their clients to get the most intimate, effortless-looking photos. In fact, they sometimes become so acquainted with their clients that when Mike first walks into the groom’s room full of other groomsmen, “the groom will go up and hug him, and the other groomsmen ask, ‘Do you know each other,’ or ‘Are you guys friends?’ It’s always a funny question to answer, because we are, kind of,” Chellise says.
She divulges another secret: they only accept 20 weddings a year. “It’s not very common in New York, but by limiting ourselves a bit, we have time to really get to know the couples, and we have time to have lives of our own.” With only one or two more spots available for 2014, the time in between to unplug, reload and refresh for a bit seems to be working.
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