Storytellers at Heart
by Rita Florez
Chris and Lynn Jaksa
March 01, 2010 — Five years ago, a day at work for photographers Chris and Lynn Jaksa could mean kayaking with migrating gray whales in the northern Pacific, trekking up glaciers in Alaska, camping among grizzly bears in the Rocky Mountains or floating over the Okanagan Valley in a hot-air balloon. For over a decade, the couple worked together as travel journalists for publications throughout Canada and the United States. Their cultural and adventure travel assignments instilled in them a love of the people and landscapes of the Pacific Northwest—an interest that resulted in their best-selling book and Emmy-award winning documentary film on the keepers of British Columbia’s remote lighthouses.
Today, the husband and wife team are documenting a different type of adventure: the wedding day. The couple applies their journalism experience and their expertise in editorial and landscape photography to telling the stories of their wedding clients. Whether they are shooting a mountaintop wedding in the natural setting of their hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia, or a destination wedding beneath the Eiffel Tower in Paris, they strive to meet the goals of the travel journalist: to convey a sense of time and place and make viewers feel like they were there.
“I remember our first editor telling us: ‘When the reader opens up the magazine to see your story, he should feel as if he’s traveling alongside with you,’ ” says Lynn. “And that is our purpose with wedding photography as well—to create images that take the viewers on a journey and allow them to experience not only that particular wedding day’s place and time, but also its emotion.” Chris believes that while as a photographer he needs to record the wedding day basics of who, where, when, what and how, he should also aim to answer the more complex question of why. “When our couples look through their wedding album, I want it to be like re-reading a classic novel—each time bringing back memories and emotion but also something new.”
The couple did not, in fact, have that type of photography experience at their own wedding. When they got married on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, they hired an inexpensive and inexperienced local photographer who took only 24 pictures (10 of them stiff awkward formals), shot their entire ceremony at f/16 and framed the couple with a bush behind them instead of the beach, ocean or sky. Chris was so worried when they got to San Juan for their honeymoon, he convinced Lynn to get into her wedding dress again so he could photograph her. “We were running around the cobbled streets of the city and people were yelling, ‘Where’s the groom?’ ” Lynn says. “And I just pointed to the guy wearing the khaki shorts, Tilley hat and the big camera. Chris still likes to joke that the first real wedding photos he took were of his own bride.” The whole experience gave them a new understanding and appreciation for wedding photography. “Our bad photographer was a blessing in disguise. It wasn’t until we got married ourselves that we saw how important wedding photography is and how beautiful it should be.”
The duo’s approach to wedding photography is influenced by their experience as journalists. They photograph weddings in the same way they would photograph a feature article. The first phase is research. Finding out what the clients’ expectations are and whether they are the right match for Chris and Lynn is an important step. After that, Chris and Lynn seek to understand as much as possible about the couple, their history together, their likes and dislikes, and most importantly, their connection with each other. This helps them create images that express their clients’ unique personalities. “We always want to tell a story, and every story is different because every client is different. That’s why we don’t have a set list or checklist of the images we want to take when we’re photographing the wedding,” Lynn explains. “We don’t want our clients to look at the images years from now and say, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s when someone put us in a weird pose.’ We want them to look back five years or 30 years from now and see themselves. What’s really important is that there’s truth to the images.”
The research phase also applies to locations. Once every few months, Chris and Lynn go on a “field trip” in their hometown, scouting the city for new shooting sites and different vantage points of old ones. The places get logged into their GPS so they can easily reference them and make quick decisions on the wedding day based on the schedule, timing, weather and light. The couple loves that 50 percent of their weddings take place out of Vancouver because each time they come home, they are creatively rejuvenated and can see their city with “new eyes.” When they travel for their destination weddings, they head to the library to look at travel photography books about their location and rent movies with the same setting. Then they always arrive with enough time to spend one full day prior to the event scouting. “For destination weddings in particular, we like to be over-prepared so we can be extra flexible,” explains Chris. “The bride selected that place for a reason. It is important to her, so it’s important to us. And, for us, creating environmental portraits is one of the most fun parts of the day.”
“Every story needs character, setting and plot,” adds Lynn. “We try to define the first two elements with our environmental portraits and the last with our candid coverage of the events and moments of the day.”
The couple’s visual style is also inspired by the tenets of the landscape photography that was Chris’ first introduction to the medium. As a teenager, he would head out to a lake during storms to take pictures of clouds and lightning with his Canon AE-1 and then spend hours developing the images in the darkroom his father built for him in the basement. As a young freelancer, he studied mountaineer photographer Galen Rowell, and would spend days alone hiking up in the mountains, diligently awaking before sunrise to capture the alpenglow.
“Landscape photography is all about light and composition,” says Chris. “And patience,” adds Lynn, “We spent so many hours wrapped up in our sleeping bags, peering out of the tent, waiting for the light and for the perfect moment to press the infrared remote and trigger the camera which was all set up on the tripod hours beforehand.”
Chris and Lynn believe three classic “rules” of landscape photography characterize much of their wedding portraits: using near-far compositions; arranging landmarks to create leading lines, triangles and frames; and emphasizing depth and scale. “Whether we are shooting on an expansive oceanfront vista, a busy urban streetscape, or even a ballroom dance floor, we try to be conscious of finding the right perspective where we can line up all the elements to emphasize the layers of foreground, mid-ground and background,” explains Lynn. “I’m always looking for strong diagonals,” continues Chris. “If we can’t add depth through composition, we’ll try pulling out the PocketWizards and doing it with lighting. In general, Lynn shoots tight for emotion and I’m the wide-angle guy getting the big picture. Most of my favorite images are shot with the 16–35mm taking in the scope of the environment or architecture and incorporating the couple within it for scale.”
One example is an image they created of a bride and groom on Vancouver’s Burrard Bridge (see pages 12–13). As night fell, Chris and Lynn set up the camera on the tripod, lit the couple with a Lowel id video light, instructed them to hold still, and shot it with a long exposure to create light trails of the cars’ head and taillights racing past them. “This couple were very urban, very adventurous—they fell in love in the nightclubs of Vancouver and wanted an image that was about themselves and the city they loved. They later told us that standing still there wrapped around each other with the traffic and noise rushing all around them, they felt like they were in their own little world. Today, that LoveScape is one of their favorite art pieces.”
“LoveScapes” is the term one of Chris and Lynn’s clients coined to describe the huge canvases hanging in their studio that showed wedding couples within a larger dramatic land or cityscape. The phrase stuck, and LoveScapes, along with their custom-crafted albums, became a key product in Chris+Lynn Photographers’ wedding collections. “Our clients invest a huge amount of emotion, time and money in their photography. They want a beautiful, distinctive art piece they can display on their wall,” explains Chris. “Understanding that we do our best to give them a combo of cool portraits and photojournalistic coverage is why they pick us.”
Today, the couple is diversifying to offer their photography style to a small but growing child, teen and family clientele in Vancouver. They are also expanding their business to Baja, Mexico, where they are building a house and studio in the small arts town of Todos Santos, where they will offer small-group and one-on-one workshops. But weddings, especially those that involve travel, are still their first love.
“When we were in college, Chris won a trip to Paris in a photo contest and took me with him,” says Lynn. “While exploring the city, we fell in love with each other and with travel… well, that was the beginning of everything. After that, we abandoned all our well laid responsible plans of graduate schools and jumped into the world of journalism and travel and exploring and documenting people’s stories. And that’s what we continue to do today. We’re storytellers at heart. That’s what’s most important to us when we document a wedding and a couple: It’s telling their story.”
To learn more, check out Chris+Lynn Photographers’ Web site at www.chrispluslynn.com; visit their blog at www.chrisplus
lynn.blogspot.com or follow them on Twitter at @chrispluslynn.
Rita Flórez is a nationally published writer based in Columbia, MO.
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