January 01, 2012 — One thing you notice when first talking with Jason Groupp is that he is a true no-nonsense, straight shooter. For instance, when I asked him if he would consider his style more photojournalistic he immediately replied with a strong “No!” Groupp went on to explain that even with potential clients he tells them up front, “‘If you are looking for pure photojournalistic photography, it’s not me.’ So they need to look elsewhere. My style is more along the lines of strong portraiture.” He prefers a planned and posed approach to better capture the relationship of the people he is photographing.
Groupp developed a passion for photography in his teens. “Photography started out as a part-time job in high school, but I fell in love with it. A few years later, through a friend of a friend, I started shooting weddings.” He went on to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Photography program with a primary focus on fashion and commercial work, but continued shoot weddings for Rockland County’s Bass Photography. After graduation, Groupp started doing commercial work, which led him to clients that included Conair/Cuisinart and J. Crew. “During this time I found that a lot of what I was doing in commercial and especially fashion images could be applied to my wedding images. This was something that really gave my images a very distinct editorial style.” The images he began creating are what many see as more along the lines of what would be found in a high-end fashion magazine rather than a wedding album. Not surprisingly, this look became increasingly popular among couples looking for a unique look and also won him a spot in The Knot’s 2007 “Best of Weddings” photographers.
Today The Jason Groupp Studio is located on the 10th floor of an art building in New York’s Chelsea district. Since nearly all his wedding photography is done on location throughout New York City, I had to ask why he still maintains his studio. “Sure, I’m not crazy about writing that [rent] check every month and have considered working without a studio, but being located in New York City means it’s just a taxi ride to anywhere I need to go. Plus I still do commercial work, something that really requires a studio.”
Having seen some of the images from his popular I Heart New York sessions, I asked how he came up with the idea. “New York is such a great city with so many unique backdrops; it was only natural to use it.” Groupp went on to add how he always felt inspired working in New York and, considering the popularity of his I Heart New York signature product, especially with higher end clients, it is what you would have to call a great idea.
“These sessions are about being inspired by the same place that produced Alfred Steiglitz photos of the Flat Iron Building and the opening credits of Woody Allen’s Manhattan,” Groupp writes on his
The concept seems to have struck a chord with brides. Couples come from as far away as Australia for these sessions. “It’s been really good,” Groupp says. “Today I only shoot between 15 and 20 weddings a year. And, with the exception of a few, all are shot right here on the streets of New York. Keep in mind this does take planning and effort. We don’t just go and take a quick photo. To get the look I want takes some doing. We choose the location, provide the makeup, select the clothes, set up proper lighting and all else needed so the image conveys the a sense of intimacy and the connection between the couple and also the location.”
Groupp uses Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLRs and only three Canon L lenses, all at fixed focal lengths—24mm f/1.4L, 50mm f/1.2L, and 85mm f/1.2L. “When I started as a photographer, I was using medium-format gear and fixed lenses. When we went to SLRs I used a zoom lens, but it just wasn’t the same. So I changed over to fixed lenses and was much happier with the results.”
When asked if he uses an assistant, or prefers shooting solo Groupp offered his own unique take on this. “I usually have an associate as a second shooter. And I believe in treating them as partners not employees. When they work with me I will split part of the proceeds with them, something I believe goes a long way in retaining them once they gain experience.”
Asking what he might suggest to others just starting out and looking to get into wedding photography. “Learn the basics. Too often new photographers think they can just go out, buy expensive equipment and they’re ready to go. There’s a lot more to it. To be a really good photographer you really need to understand exposure, use of f-stops and, most importantly, how to light a subject to achieve a certain look. All this is not something that just happens. It takes time to learn the knowledge needed to create quality images. And in this very competitive market, that is the one thing that sets you apart from your competition.”
Groupp also points out that business is a key element to success these days. “If I had to start again, I would definitely take a business course. This is one area many photographers tend to ignore, and doing so only makes it harder in the long run.”
Change is the one constant in the world of photography, something Groupp is readily aware of. "A few years ago I never thought I would be shooting video with a DSLR, but there's a growing market out there for video. So I decided to start a new video business in 2010." With all the changes he has seen in the last decade alone, it was only fitting that I ask where he sees himself in 10 years. After pondering for a mo-ment he replied, "I will probably be more in the background running the business rather than doing most of the shooting. Today clients seem to be looking for photographers closer to their own age, and in 10 years I'll be into my 50s and no longer a 30 or 40-something photographer. So I can see my associates doing more and more of the shooting." Although he did admit he would still find the occasion to have camera in hand, Groupp believes this is the best path toward continued success.
Among his favorite photographers is Arthur Fellig, who was given the nickname Weegee—a phonetic rendering of the word Ouija, as in Ouija board—because he would arrive at scenes only minutes after something happened. "Aside from his images, I also like a favorite expression of Weegee's,” says Groupp. “ ‘Keep your eyes open. If you see anything, take it. Remember, you're [only] as good as your last picture.’ ” With several new signature products under development and an in-credibly successful business, Groupp is certainly as good as his last picture. And if history holds true, you won't need a Ouija board to tell you that The Jason Groupp Studio will continue to be successful well into the future.
Jason Groupp will be teaching the Platform Class, “What’s Your Signature? The Evolution of the IHNY Session,” at WPPI 2012 on Sunday, February 19, from 9:00-11:00 a.m.
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