February 01, 2011 — Wedding photography is certainly a lot more flexible, fulfilling and fun in the digital era than it was back in the day when I shot my first nuptials in black and white, toting a shoulder-wrenching 4 x 5 Crown Graphic and a case of Lisco double-sided sheet-film holders. Today’s incredible cameras can yield exquisite results with far greater convenience and efficiency, allowing pros to provide informal photojournalistic coverage that really captures the feeling of being there on that special day, along with the traditional, more formal pictures of the bride and groom and their entourage. However, relatively few professional wedding photographers have gotten much beyond a traditional approach when it comes to creating the end product, and the nearly infinite marketing possibilities digital capture affords.
Today virtually every pro takes full advantage of the magic of Photoshop and other digital postproduction wizardry for amazingly efficient retouching, instant color correction, general visual enhancement and maybe even a little discreet plastic surgery. But aside from these nuances and the obvious changes in clothing styles and coiffures that have occurred over the decades, the general run of wedding books, custom enlargements and framed display prints produced today are conceptually quite similar to those shot 25 years ago on film. One great way to create something truly unique and memorable is to express the full range of your creative talent by setting yourself apart from the crowd, and turning it all into cold hard cash by offering transformational fine art wedding images.
You could call this category an upscale version of traditional framed wall art taken to another level of creativity, passion and profitability. And the only tools you need to execute it are a robust post-production software application and your own imagination. To give you a more precise picture of how the dynamics and business model roll out in the real world, we interviewed an esteemed veteran wedding photographer who has made it work for him. Here’s his fascinating story:
Jim DiPerna is a native resident of Catskill, a charming Hudson River town in upstate New York, about 30 miles south of Albany. Jim was a Technical Manager at IBM for 25 years, Assistant Fire Chief of the local volunteer fire department and is currently a Technical Director for AT&T. He’s shot professionally since high school, was the yearbook photographer and was named official photographer of the Greene County Teen Pageant. Over the past 30 years he has parlayed his technical expertise, incisive eye, business acumen, people skills and local connections into a lucrative, personally fulfilling business shooting weddings, events and portraiture including: seniors, adults, maternity, and children.
Regarded as one of the most accomplished and reliable pros in this area, he’s a Canon shooter and a member of the Professional Photographic Society of New York (PPSNY). Jim constantly upgrades his skills by attending workshops and seminars given by leading pros.
“Over the years I’ve shot hundreds of weddings,” says DiPerna, “but I still get a rush when I’m packing my gear for a prime shoot. My photography business is home-based, and the vast majority of my referrals come from word of mouth, but I also attend local bridal shows to display my best work and get some productive referrals through vendors, caterers, florists and bridal shops that attend these events. As far as photography goes, I’m basically self-taught, but I always try to hook up with outstanding professionals and attend their workshops. Some who’ve influenced me directly are David Ziser, Neil van Niekerk and my old friend Louis Stettner. You’ve got to think outside the box and innovate if you expect to keep up in this field, and constantly be learning new approaches to shooting and business.”
One of DiPerna’s innovations is his wedding art transformations, as he describes here, “I’ve offered framed wall art as part of my overall package of bridal books and custom enlargements for quite a while,” he notes, “and about 70% of couples purchase one or more of these signed custom color enlargements. Over the past year I’ve expanded this category to include digitally enhanced fine art wedding images and the results are very gratifying, both artistically and in terms of my bottom line. They provide my clients with another level of my creative design, something they can treasure and display as fine art in their home, and they add another $100–200 to the package. About 10–15% of couples are willing to kick it up another notch after I show them examples of what I’ve done on my large monitor screen and offer them the option. Generally I don’t ask in advance if they want this service—I just do it with one or two images from every wedding shoot. Each digital art transformation takes me maybe 10–15 minutes as part of the editing, cropping and retouching process so it doesn’t represent a huge outlay of time and effort. Frankly, the fact that it makes people happy and feel special, is just as important to me as the financial rewards.
“I list standard wall art wedding prints in 11 x 14 and 16 x 20-inch sizes, and in digital full-frame sizes: 11 x 17 and 13 x 19 inches” DiPerna says. “There are also ancillary benefits, including differentiating yourself as a creative photographer, expressing your artistic talent and attracting more attention by displaying these images at bridal shows. Another plus is that you separate yourself from ‘Uncle Bob with a camera,’ that lovable stock character who seems to show up at most weddings, especially now that digital photography enables him to come up with some pretty good shots with his fancy DSLR.
Making Art in Post
“The software I use to create my digital art transformations is the Photoshop plug-in version of Tiffen Dfx,” he says, “although I’ve also used the less expensive Standalone version of Dfx with satisfaction. I discovered that this system emulates many of the classic Tiffen optical filters like the 812 and Glimmerglass diffusion filter in addition to providing E-Z masking, simple multiple layering and the ability to save your ‘recipes,’ so it was a logical choice.
“To get back to my own hands-on experience with wedding art transformations, I found the E-Z Mask in Dfx to be one the easiest, most intuitive and useful applications I’ve ever seen,” he says with a smile. “Also, being able to stack filters and effects for multiple layers without ever leaving the system is very convenient and saves a lot of time and frustration. Whatever system you use, check out the diffusion filters and effects, and try the rack focus depth-of-field control options that really make a big difference in creating iconic images that stand the test of time.”
Word to the Wise
“Finally, here are some words of advice to any pros who want to give fine art wedding transformations a try,” he says. “Think big, think timeless and think about what it would take to transform the ‘before’ image into something grand. Just as many of the best shooters have a clear mental image of the picture they want to create before composing the shot and pressing the shutter release, have a clear notion of where you want to take the original image before you start playing around with various filters and effects. Always save your stages so you can go back a few steps if you start moving in the wrong direction.
“Remember that it’s often easier to sell an image that has been lightly enhanced, so long as it makes a memorable statement the couple can relate to,” DiPerna says. “Tune into the client’s lifestyles and personalities so you can get a sense of whether they’ll respond to something traditional, contemporary, old-timey or over-the-top. And bear in mind that it’s never a defeat to start all over again from the original image—you have invariably learned something in the process of screwing up the first time. There are very few things in life that combine fun and profit in equal measure, but for me, digital fine art wedding transformations is one of them. Give it a try!”
To see more of Jim DiPerna’s work go to: www.vjdipernaphoto.com.
Jason Schneider is best known as a prolific writer and editor on all aspects of photography. He began his career at Modern Photography in the late ‘60s and in 1987 signed on as editor-in-chief of Popular Photography, a position he held for nearly 16 years. Considered an authority on the history of camera design and technology, he has written three books on camera collecting, is an active contributor to leading photo magazines and Web sites, and is Senior Editor of Photo Industry Reporter, one of the industry’s authoritative trade magazines.