We love photography interviews and today we are excited to bring you an interview with one of the most glamorous wedding photographers out there, Jerry Ghionis! Jerry is a master at photography and a multi award winner and it is a true privilege to have him here on the CMblog today!
an interview with jerry ghionis
by Elle Walker
You found photography at a very early age, 14 if I remember correctly. How did you know that photography was where you belonged?
I was given my first camera by my brother when I was actually 15 years old and I fell in love with photography immediately. I’ve now been shooting as a professional photographer for over 20 years and starting specializing in weddings almost right away. When I began, I approached a very prominent studio at the time and assisted them for a year and a half with no pay – carrying bags and assisting any way I could at a wedding, until they finally hired me full time as a professional photographer. I’ve been photographing weddings, portraits and fashion professionally ever since.
Your use of light is incredible and one of the elements that makes your work so easily identifiable. Of all the light types you work with (candlelight, ice light, window light, harsh light, flash (on and off camera), video light etc.), how do you decide which will work best for a particular image?
I always prefer quality of lighting above a great location. I’m constantly looking for pockets of light everywhere I go. I usually look for strong directions of light no matter where it comes from – whether it’s the sun, window light, or off camera flash or video light. I use lighting as well as the subtraction of light to create depth, drama and add dimension to my images. I very much prefer to take my time and create in camera what some would achieve afterwards in Photoshop.
And I really do believe that anything can be used as a light source. During a wedding day, I will often use flashes, reflectors and continuous light sources. I do rely very heavily on the Ice Light, the continuous LED light that I created along with Westcott. It produces a beautify quality of light, but it’s also very convenient since I can carry it around with me everyone – and portability is so important at a wedding or during a portrait session.
You manage to make all of your clients look like professional models in how confident they appear in front of the camera. Can you tell us a little more about how you do this?
It’s funny, I hear from a lot of photographers that I only photograph “beautiful” couples. But I believe that what all of my clients have in common is they have a photographer that knows how to make them look and feel beautiful.
But I believe it’s the trust and confidence that you build up when you book the couple that will lead to that kind of confidence in your camera. On the day of the shoot, I’ll often quickly take some beautiful portraits of the couple, both individually and together and then show them the results right from my camera. That serves to build even more confidence in themselves and also build trust in me to the point where my clients will pretty much do anything I ask. I truly believe that it’s my communication skills that help make that happen and once they trust me, I can create the beautiful images that they booked me for.
There has been a lot of buzz and excitement surrounding the release of your ice light (www.theicelight.com), which was produced to emulate the same look as natural window light. Can you share with us a little about how you have been able to use this within your work, and how it might be used effectively across a range of genres to achieve the same beautiful results you have been able to?
I’m very excited about the Ice Light as well. It’s a continuous LED light that is completely portable and rechargeable and creates a beautiful quality of light similar to natural window light. I created the concept after being frustrated at the various video lights available on the market and just not being completely happy with any of them. When shooting with my couples at night, I always enjoyed using street signs or storefront windows to light them. There was nothing on the market that would achieve that type of lighting that I could use in any location. So I worked together with Westcott and I’m very proud of the final results. And it’s now the only continuous light that I carry with me on shoots.
It’s great in just about any situation. We’ve seen photographers use it for headshots, newborn sessions, it’s been used in music videos, on television for interviews. It’s also a great light to use for boudoir sessions as well – it’s very easy to see exactly where the shadows are falling when you are using a continuous light.
For many years now you have been passionate about teaching and empowering other photographers… Can you tell us a little more about your subscription based website ‘Ice Society’, and your current USA/UK workshops?
When I first began in the industry, there really wasn’t a great deal of educational material or resources where I could learn about wedding photography and running a business. And that’s a big reason why I am so relentless on being that educational resource for other people in the industry now. I began speaking professionally about 13 years ago and I am just as passionate about teaching as I am about shooting. I truly believe that by educating ourselves and sharing our successes and the lessons we have learned results in a better industry overall.
The Ice Society was created because of my love for the industry and wanting to continue educating and helping photographers in this community. That’s where the name came from — Ice Society – which stands for Inspire, Challenge, Educate. Each month I release new lessons that focus on posing, lighting and how to communicate effectively with your clients. I also include video footage of me working, there are anonymous online critiques of members’ images and albums, and several other features. Some members have even said that it’s just like coming to assist me on a wedding day. We celebrated our 5th anniversary in January and I am so incredibly proud of the incredible educational resource it has become. Every month there is a new chapter of information including videos, tutorials, critiques, etc. Having to share my work every month with thousands of photographers forces me not to ever become complacent. We currently have several thousand members of the Ice Society. Our plans for the future is to continue giving even more value to members and create more platforms to challenge photographers. Repetition, experience and practice will always be your best teacher. The Ice Society provides the tools for photographers to manifest those traits.
As far as actual workshops and seminars go, my favorite form of teach would have to be in the intimate setting of a workshop where I spend five days with a group of only 20 people. It’s an incredibly intensive experience where we spend time learning how to critique your own work, two days on posing and lighting and two days dedicated running a profitable studio and being a successful businessperson. I only hold a few workshops each year and at the moment, we only have a handful of spaces left in London, UK in August and in Boston, MA in November.
You recently said of a wedding image on your blog (16th Jan 2013) “my best photo is in my future, but for now this will do”. What would your dream photo/photo shoot entail??
My dream shoot would a personal shoot with an unlimited budget and unlimited resources and in any location.
In addition to weddings, you also produce beautiful boudoir and fashion photography. Posing plays a big part in your success within each of these genres; do you have any tips for us in how to make our subjects look and feel better in front of the camera?
I think posing has become a lost art and retained by only a few of the old school photographers. Maximizing someone’s beauty and bringing out the best in someone while hiding their weaknesses is a vitally important skill for a professional photographer. I believe too many photographers are relying more and more on Photoshop to fix problems that can be resolved in camera.
I have always considered myself to be a director who happens to be holding a camera rather than just a photographer on the sidelines. At every wedding, I capture the story that is happening and I also create beautiful moments as well. Whether the wedding was a fairytale or not, it will be remembered as one if you hire me to photograph it.
When viewing her photographs, a bride first looks to see how beautiful she is and then looks for expression, emotion and storytelling. Ironically, the bride who wants to look beautiful doesn’t want to be posed, which tells me brides want to look glamorous and natural. Emotion often beats perfection, but why not have both? It’s my goal to make my images appear as if I happened to be in the right place at the right time.
I also think it’s very important to prepare your clients before a shoot. I always need to factor in the personalities of my couples into each pose. For example, I wouldn’t pose a shy couple in a ridiculously flamboyant pose. And at the same time, I would not try to capture soft, tender moments from a couple that is larger than life. That being said, I test my couples very quickly once I begin photographing them and usually no matter who they are they end up being a “Jerry Ghionis” couple by the end of the day.
There is a quote on your ice society website that states “you don’t have to be the best, you just have to be better than last week”. How do you go about pushing yourself creatively, and raising the bar for yourself (especially with a bar that is already so high!!).
I always use my last week’s effort as my greatest inspiration and that is exactly where that mantra came from. Instead of comparing myself to what photographers around me are doing, I’m always trying to beat last week’s effort. But beyond that, if we’re talking about general inspiration, then fashion, music and cinema are my three favourite sources of inspiration.
You have achieved so much in your career already, and been so generous in sharing what you have learned with others. What are your hopes for the future in terms of both photography, and education?
I have been obsessed with photography for over half my life and will be until the day I die. The combination of continuing to shoot weddings, portraits and fashion excites me along with continuing with my passion of educating fellow professional photographers in the business and artistic sides of being a wedding photographer. I recently opened a home based studio in Beverly Hills, CA and we have a beautiful outdoor studio that I’m just beginning to use. I look forward to creating some really beautiful and unique personal projects there in the upcoming year. My wife, Melissa, and I will definitely continue our commitment to the photography and educational industry all over the world although our priorities will always be to each other. I’m looking forward to balancing what I love to do for a living with making time to enjoy life at the same.
What is one piece of advice you can give to us, that you wish you had have been told early on in your career?
Success in wedding photography and especially in performing on the wedding day is more about your communication skills and your listening skills and knowing how to read people. That will go a long way in making you a great photographer rather than focusing on how technically brilliant you are. The ability to have an endearing and attractive personality and the ability to work under pressure while still being technically proficient is especially important. You almost need to be like a chameleon. In the sense that you need to know how to be relaxed and more down to earth at a casual wedding and at the same time be able to carry yourself professionally when you’re at a high society wedding.
I encourage new photographers to be as passionate about their business as they are about their photography. Consider yourself a businessperson first who happens to be a photographer. As a business owner ask yourself, “Am I working in my business or on my business?” Surround yourself with great people – your studio is only four walls without good staff. Stop being a control freak and get some help. Educate yourself. Seminar and workshops can literally change your life. After all, knowledge is power. Don’t be too precious about the work.
When it comes to marketing your new business, you should work on marketing that costs you nothing by first asking your clients and vendors for referrals and maximizing relationships with people who can help you. Also, try a same day slide show at the reception. It’s the best direct marketing you will ever do and you can also charge good money for it. If you are going to invest in advertising, don’t think about the advertising dollars you are parting with and think instead about the return. Whenever an advertising opportunity presents itself ask yourself, “Is there a better way I can spend this money?” And finally, don’t forget to consider yourself a brand. Build it and they will come.
Finally, I have always believed that if you put an extraordinary effort into anything, you’ll get extraordinarily results. Being in your comfort zone has never been synonymous with artistic expression.
Thank you Jerry for spending some time with us today and sharing your insights with us!