Destination Wedding Photographer interviews with the Worlds Best Wedding Photographers

Interview With Dave Getzschman (Part 2)

So with a transition from a highly successful career in press photography, I was curious to know how long it took to feel comfortable shooting weddings.

“It wasn’t an easy transition. The first wedding I shot with Ben, at the end of the day I said, ‘You don’t have to pay me anything, just never make me do this again.’ And I was serious. To shoot a wedding really well, and to document it faithfully requires a certain amount of energy, enthusiasm and just willpower because after eight to 10 hours, you’re tired or your blood sugar’s low. I really fight with that as I age because at about six to eight hours, I just want to be done even though sometimes I have four more hours to go.”

“I’d say it took two years of shooting weddings to feel confident. Even after that, I was approaching them with some apprehension. That’s possibly the downside to being an associate of Ben Chrisman – you have to live up to his standards. It means I never get to take a day off or just check out. It’s motivating, but if I ever have any apprehension, it’s because I want to make sure I uphold the standards of the studio. That said, apprehension is really counterproductive to what you want to do. That’s why I arrive early, to get the jitters out. Once I’m interacting with people, taking pictures and making connections, making people laugh, then I really enjoy the job, and I can forget about my apprehension and comparing myself to other members of the studio. I can just focus on making pictures of what’s happening in front of me.”

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Dave has so many accolades and contest-winning photos to his name. I asked how he feels that these helped him with his career.

“Personal and professional growth are much more important than contest results and should be your goal. I’ve judged photojournalism contests, and I can say with absolute certainty that there’s a lot of subjectivity with the decisions that are made… if you win, there’s a good chance that if there was another judge or another day, you wouldn’t have won. Contests are also a business – it’s in the interest of the contest organizer to award as many winners as possible, to make people feel good, to get them to keep paying to enter contests. So you can’t put a lot of stock in competitions because they are so subjective and ultimately they’re just something a savvy business person is profiting from – you’re lucky if you happen to come out on top, but that should not be your goal. That said, contests ARE a good marketing tool. Accolades help give your clients confidence in you, and that’s really why if I’m entering contests. There’s a nice ego boost if I win, but it’s really the marketing boost I want – to make our clients feel like we’re relevant and still performing at or above the standards of the industry.”

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Anyone reading this will probably be aware just how many different styles there are when it comes to wedding photography. With that in mind it’s easy to see how judging can be incredibly subjective.

“That’s one of the unfortunate things, actually. A style can turn into a trend, and then everyone’s trying to replicate that trend. The best thing I did for my career was I spent two years where I cancelled all of my photo magazine subscriptions and I stopped looking at other photographers’ work. It’s really easy to look at another photographer’s work who’s been successful in your industry and go ‘OK, that’s how you do it – if I replicate that style then I’ll be successful too.’ Ultimately, you’re doing yourself a disservice because you’re not growing into your own style or giving your client something unique. And you’re probably undercutting the person you’re borrowing from. I always suggest people look for inspiration outside of their industry, especially weddings because it’s such an insular with so many clichés. I try to go to museums a lot and galleries to look at painting, sculpture, graphic arts. I look at the work of photographers in fashion and photojournalism and portraiture. I get inspired by movies. I think the last thing you want to do is compare yourself to other wedding photographers.”

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Sometimes people don’t realise how stressful shooting a wedding day is. It’s a fantastic experience and we love each one but at the end of each day we stock up on sugary treats (and maybe a bottle of wine) while we look over a few cards on the PC. I asked Dave how he relaxes after a wedding and if he has any rituals.

“I think you’ll find with age that you can just shut off, just because of physical exhaustion. If I’m shooting with a friend, I’ll probably have a drink with them and just recap what happened, but I don’t really have any rituals other than the orderly downloading and archiving of the images.”

Emily and Tarik's wedding photos from South Lake Tahoe, California

When it comes to post processing I’m fairly lucky in that Verity edits all of our images in Lightroom. I get the enjoyable task of sifting through 50-100 photos which I do some extra PhotoShopping to. Dave’s system isn’t far off our own so it seems quite familiar to me.

“I’ll shoot between 5000 and 7000 pictures. I expect my second shooter to take around 3000 to 5000 images, so it usually takes an entire day to cull those down. The client will get a gallery of 800 to 1000 photos, and from that we’ll put together a slideshow of around 60 of our favourite pictures that do the best job of telling the story of the day. We’ll then draft an album with those photos, and let the couple add additional pictures or switch out pictures they don’t like.”

“I use Photo Mechanic to edit or cull down to 1000, then I’ll take those and tone them in Lightroom. I spend a lot of time in Lightroom with each picture, though I wouldn’t encourage that – it’s just a level of pickiness that I can’t seem to give up. In the past, I’ve tried paying someone to do it, but I always end up thinking that I’ve paid this person and the pictures don’t look done. So I’ll end up going back over them myself. I try to get white balance looking consistent from picture to picture. Then I’ll PhotoShop the pictures that go into the slideshow or album. About a day PhotoShopping 50-60 images.”

“The couple will then get a gallery divided up into categories – the first is always our favourites, then getting ready, ceremony, portraits, reception, that kind of thing.”

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I asked if he would do anything different when starting out, given the chance to do it all again.

“That’s a tough question. It takes time to realise when you’re doing people photography that psychology is 90% of it. How you treat people and how you act around people is primary and really determines the outcome of your pictures. Proximity equals intimacy equals good people photography. I started out really shy, trying to be a fly on the wall. Eventually, I found that not caring what people think about me and trying to interact as much as possible has been better because you begin to be accepted if you make that effort. After all, you’re the only person that nobody knows. The sooner you connect with them and make them see that you’re a normal guy, or that you’re a dedicated professional, the more likely they are to let you get close to them for candid moments.”

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Even before interviewing Dave I’d seen plenty of his work and I have seen some stunning locations. He’s one of those photographers lucky enough to be requested around the world and I asked him just how many weddings he shoots out of his home state.

“It really varies from year to year. Our associate Aaron Morris has been to Greece three or four times (everyone in the studio has been to Greece except for me!). If you want to be a destination photographer, the best thing you can do is shoot a destination wedding. For my first, I had the opportunity in 2009 to shoot a wedding in Colombia. I think they had $1000, and I agreed to that low price to have a foreign wedding in my portfolio. As a thank-you, they offered to let me stay with their family and just hang out in Colombia for a week prior to the wedding. That was really fun and totally worth it for me because I got close to the family, and I think that those pictures have contributed to a lot of the destination work I’ve done. For the last couple of years, most of my work has been in California, but I’ve also been lucky enough to shoot in Mexico and Croatia and China and the Caribbean and Costa Rica. I’m always really excited when I hear I get to travel somewhere else even though I’m always happy shooting in California, where there’s beautiful light and a an array of stunning locations.”

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So where did it all start?

“I was 17 and a senior in high school. I needed to pick an elective course to study, and my dad had a camera, so I took a photography class. Because I had been drawing from a very early age, I was really excited to find photography because drawing felt like it was taking too long to me. As soon as I picked up a camera, the results were more immediate, and I was like ‘Oh, I like this!’ While I was in college studying journalism, I took pictures for the newspaper and the yearbook. I was always taking pictures at sporting events. Because I graduated from college with a journalism degree (not photography), I didn’t think that I could be a professional photographer. So, I went to that three-month summer photography programme. On the strength of my work there, I was able to get a job at a really crappy newspaper in New Mexico, where I was the only photographer on the staff.”

Somehow I can’t imagine there’s quite as many dark days over in LA as there are in Britain, but light isn’t the only challenge on a wedding day. I asked Dave what he finds most difficult when it comes to weddings.

“There’s really no shortage of challenges. Sometimes it starts as early as the getting ready, where the room is a mess of clothes and boxes and make-up. Or there’s just too many people in a small room, or the light’s not ideal. It could be the couple’s not being co-operative or is stressed out, or the co-ordinator is being demanding. I’d say the challenges really change from week to week, but probably the most challenging for me is portraiture. I think two is the hardest number of subjects to shoot. I don’t know why, but I find one or three is way easier. I just think it’s a real challenge to pose couples in an interesting way that doesn’t look artificial, that looks natural with the environment they are in… coaching them so they feel natural and they look relaxed. These are typically people who aren’t used to posing, and frequently the groom may stupid posing, so it’s really a challenge to make them feel comfortable enough that they don’t feel self-conscious. Meanwhile, you’re scrambling, looking for light and compositions and trying to keep your composure.”

Non-Sequitur

So what about free time?

“I like to travel and will go shoot with my iPhone or Holga cameras. I think this is really important to say: wedding photography is commercial photography. It’s not what you do for fun. It’s not an art. Art is a personal pursuit meant to express yourself and your feelings about something. Wedding photography is a job that you perform for a client, for whom you have creative and contractual obligations. I think everybody should be shooting on their own, whether it’s street shooting or a portrait series or fine art. Something that feeds you creatively, that encourages you to shoot more creatively when you have to in a commercial setting when you’re being paid for it. I like to use Holgas when I’m on my own because there is only one lens and two exposures. It limits the amount of dials that you have to press – you’re just shooting with your instinct rather than with your thinking mind. I like to spend time looking through photography books, I like to go to museums and galleries, I like studying metaphysics and psychology because I feel like that [offers] a better understanding of how to do my job, but also because I think people are just interesting. Travel allows me to see different cultures and lifestyles and to remind myself that despite those differences, we are all the same, sharing the same human experience, experiencing life and death and everything in between. ”

Driver Photographs Golden Gate Bridge and Reflection

Finally, I asked for just one crucial tip for start-out photographers!

“Find any core-strengthening exercise you can, whether it’s yoga or pilates or cross-fit. Establish core strength to prevent back and neck and shoulder problems, which can really limit your career and your enjoyment of it. Lift with your legs, not with your back. Research Magnum photographers, who for generations have faithfully and truthfully documented the human condition. See how you can build on the foundation they have established. If your name is as difficult to spell as Getzschman, find a pseudonym!”

I feel extremely honored that Dave gave up his free time to be interviewed by me and we cannot thank him enough for his amazing interview, I am sure everyone who reads it will feel like they have learnt a thing or two – And he has definitely inspired us to pick up our film cameras more often!

If you would like to view more on Dave then check out his website : http://www.chrismanstudios.com/chrisman-studios-photographers/dave-getzschman/

Our next one will be with another of American PHOTO Magazine’s Top 10 wedding photographers in the world Todd Laffler! Stay tuned for that next month.

– Chris

Chris and Verity Sansom are recognised for their award winning relaxed, documentary approach to Destination Wedding Photographer, covering events nationwide as well as destination weddings on request.