The “Original Rabenko.” I am often asked about this, which appears in my ads, cards, and promotional materials. Are you the father? No. Are there two Rabenko photographers? No. It’s more important than that!

Successful photo shoots are rarely accidents. A single photo or two can easily be an accident. But usually you won’t be happy with relying on a lucky accident for even a single shot like a headshot. Your satisfaction with any photo shoot for the most part will involve or be directly related to how both the photographer and you have approached the shoot. And this really is a case of it being all in the mind — in fact two minds — yours and the photographer’s.

Your photographer’s mind should be vibrant, energetic, curious, and creative. It must wander to consider the multitude of possibilities, still all the while retaining focus on you and your priorities. That mind must be adroit at imagining what might be. In other words, how things would look from various perspectives and alternate treatments with eager playfulness that should never wane nor waiver, even towards the end. And it should grow and evolve with every shoot.

Each subject would be considered by that mind as a pallet of emotions in the lexicon of expressions. Your photographer’s mind should delight in what could be. Its goal must never be just to create something different nor would it ever be satisfied just to do what is expected at each event. For each is different and each moment can be so much more. Of course you cannot read a photographer’s mind nor can that mind read your mind. So the more layers of confusion that each mind must wade through, the more likelihood that much of the potential to do magic will melt down to mediocrity.

My aim is always to let myself become inspired along the path of doing what is right for each client. That is a whole lot easier said than done. And in many ways that now can needlessly be made more difficult than ever.

Since I started doing photography, the goal seemed to be to do what is right for the client and for the subject. Yet if the bride is going to Google photo styles and distill from the results the kind of photos that she wants, then suddenly the photographer’s mind has little choice but to go reeling while trying to navigate the many misleading miles between what the bride really will want and the superficiality she shares in the photos she has found of others that she knows and cares little about. Her search cannot consider the conditions and all the unknown circumstances involved in the making of those photos, which rarely are at all obvious to the bride doing the search.

Do an online search of photographic styles and you will quickly see that multiple listings enumerate different styles while omitting others. You will also find that many photos fail at making obvious examples of the very style they are meant to illustrate. Multiple brides will find the same photo listed under different styles and share that photo — often from totally unrelated subject types, situations, and circumstances to that which would exist at their own weddings.

Some sites list a dozen styles and others list five or six. The same photo can, for example, appear on one site under “dramatic style,” but on another site as “illustrative style,” and yet as an “artistic style” by a third. If those writing about styles cannot agree, then surely it is confusing and a poor way to communicate to your photographer, who then would have to wade through what you are showing and to try to glean what you really are wanting.

Many photographers have limitations. Others have limited skill. Still others are out of practice or ill-equipped to implement a photo under certain circumstances. However, any of them might be very dramatic, very artistic, or very photojournalistic under other circumstances. I have learned from 43 years as a pro is that very few photographers can work by feel in the moment.

If you put a label on what you want or if you show examples of photos, then please understand that it can create many layers of isolation and confusion to someone just doing a job. That photographer’s mind must find a way to process what it’s hearing and seeing to calculate what you really will value, appreciate, or love when it is of you. They will make a quick assessment, and often will be wrong.

Consider that for the photographer, who is adept at working by feel, you are probably best answering a question I often ask: “What would you like the photos to say?” Another question that can be helpful is: “Would you like a photo session that is fast and spontaneous, or would you rather have one that is more controlled, measured, and precise?” If a person considers the photographer to be just a button- pusher, that person won’t believe there would be anything occurring in the photographer’s mind. When people think this way, it leads them to think for the photographer. This will make it difficult for even a good photographer to get them to stop thinking about the photos and enjoy what’s happening all around them.

I often start doing photography in some way that people don’t expect until they realize, “Hey, we’re being photographed!”

Sometimes I do have to start by getting people’s attention and by somehow controlling the situation, even in a loose way, otherwise it could be total chaos rather than the controlled creative chaos that can be so productive.

From my first start as a photographer I was drawn to people’s emotions and felt my job in creating any portrait was to bring out some emotion. That was my original goal then and it is always first in my mind now.

So many things have changed since then in lifestyle and technology to ease life. Yet in many ways my original goal of emotion can be more difficult than ever to understand and achieve now. Not difficult to achieve technically; the difficulty lies in getting the subject to feel rather than to think. How does a bride, caught up in the measuring, evaluating, and shopping of styles and packaging, totally free herself of those considerations when in front of the camera to be able to interact naturally? Similarly, the photographer must forget about all the technological options and all the expected styles, that in the moment are neither natural nor appropriate or flattering, in order to work most effectively and be inspired by what is happening in the moment, and which ultimately can have both photographer and subject looking best later.

So many things can be done, but first the photographer’s mind should exclude those approaches which either technically or artistically have little likelihood of success in producing imagery that will mean most later to you. I can speak from years of experience that rarely are the most prized results anything like the expectations or attempts at copying others. This was my original goal — to bring out emotion in all persons — and it still should be.

Rabenko Photography & Video Arts is located at 1053 Broadway in Woodmere. To learn more, contact, 1-888-RABENKO, 888-722-3656, or visit


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