Photo Prose

By Gary Rabenko

Planning a party? Some party planners can help. They organize the unorganized, keep track of all the details, and deal with all the vendors–or whichever vendors you do not want to have to deal with on a daily basis leading up to the big day of the party itself. Photography is a personal thing, and the photographer is the only vendor whose job continues long after the music stops. So many photographers feel it is best to deal directly with the client.

Recently I worked with a terrific party planner. She cared about all the details, was a constant comfort and consolation to the client, and her friendly staff got involved to solve problems. They were not just intermediate message takers. Unlike most planners, she actually cared about the photography. She did not book me. The client did. But unlike some planners who take little interest in vendors booked directly, she understood how the photography was all you have later, and she wanted the best for the client and to help the photographer do his best, so the photos would be great and everyone would look good and remember how they felt.

Some party planners definitely do not plan for the photographer, even those they recommend. Others act as if it is all about them. Which brings to mind a particular moment at a particular wedding, but which unfortunately happens all too often.

Everything was beautiful. The bride, the place, the day. Mom was nervous and this nervousness seemed to waft over everyone and everything. I usually try to do my most meaningful photos early in the photo session. But on this day, one important photo still remained to be done near the end. We had terrific shots of the bride, the groom, and the individual family members. We had many combinations–the bride with each of her siblings, three generations with the grandparents, and lots of great parent shots too. But while I had a number of bride-and-her-father shots, they were all stiff, formal, blank, or not interesting.

This was, after all, daddy’s girl. It was obvious from her first visit to my studio with her father. She made it clear by how she talked to him, and with him. He too was sentimental, sweet, and soft with her. They have a great relationship and their portraits should reflect this special relationship.

That is what a portrait is supposed to be. Not merely a shot that shows how two people look, but one that can touch the heart because it conveys the neshamah! Here we had such a wonderful relationship to show, to celebrate in pictures, to immortalize.

Good photography involves many techniques that are not always obvious. In this case, I try to have the subjects relate to each other, forget about me and the gear all around, and about any preconceived notion of what expression they should have or what they should be doing. Here the father was a challenge. The bride loved being a model, an actress, and of course a bride. She also loved being daddy’s girl. He, on the other hand, was many miles away, still focusing on pending business deals, and making sure to do all that his wife, his daughter, his sons, his parents, and possibly his party planner had told him he must do. My job was to try to get him to forget all that business and those instructions just for a moment. With his daughter before my camera, he had just been told by his wife to smile. It was one of those dumb cheese smiles. No meaning in that.

The man was truly a sentimental sort. But not that moment. So I just had to slow . . . things . . . down–take, some, time–till he forgot about the pictures, the smiles they said were needed, and everything else. That is when the magic would begin. And so after a few minutes of dumb smiles and stiff poses, we were getting somewhere. There she was, holding on close to her Tatte. For a moment there were no distractions. They were relating to each other; father and daughter. My camera was clicking. No lights were flashing, for even a flash would be a distraction and the window light was soft and painterly. This was becoming the magic they had wanted me for and started to look like the imagery they kvelled over in my studio. Yes, this was my third attempt at getting meaningful imagery of my client, the bride’s father and his little girl. The other two groups of photos anyone could do. Those were in focus, well composed, and professional looking; but they were not magic. Here, now, any moment, the magic would be in full bloom.

“HEY GARY, GET A PICTURE OF ME WITH THEM!” Everyone else must have heard those nine words. I didn’t. Honestly, I did not. I was so deep in the moment. And so were my subjects. They had started to interact, had forgotten it seemed about the camera. I was certain that if I could sustain that interaction a bit longer, while I finessed the physical angles of these two on this special day, then the photo would look as beautiful as if they were professional actors or models playing the bride and her father. Then their eyes, arms, and body language would all work together–in the moment–to support the facial expression that was perfectly illuminated in just the right way.

I did not hear her the first time, but the party planner sure got my attention with the second time. Still trying to sustain the fragile choreography of what I felt in my core could be so wonderful to them, I recall my left hand instinctively rising with fingers apart, the way one waves a child not to run into traffic. “Please, just a moment,” I blurted out, staying intently focused on my subjects along with my lens and getting one more shot, a little more . . . before it was too late! Dad dutifully turned away from his daughter and acknowledged the party planner.

The bride let go of her father. Following the lead of the lady with the clipboard under one arm and a plastic garment bag under the other, they all looked at the camera with fake grins. My flash fired once again.

The mood had been shattered with that fatal interruption. It was not possible to continue from where we had been before. The first time it is natural, the second it is fake or forced. For the briefest of moments, both subjects seemed the slightest bit startled in their own ways by this occurrence–irritated. Now was not the time or place for rational evaluation of what had just happened. And later they would forget the damage done.

The party planner quickly exited the shot, still clutching her clipboard, but making sure to chastise me to “Chill! Will you?!” I was speechless over her chilly behavior while my assistant tried to understand why she did not give me 30 seconds to finish my sequence, or how a beautiful moment could have been so needlessly butchered.

The wedding album was delivered after client consultation and image selection. It had hundreds of photos–some small, some big, and many to a page. But none were of the clipboard and garment bag! One double-page spread had only a single photo. The bride’s favorite. It was her and her father. That image, taken after my left hand went up with its fingers apart, but before the clipboard shots, was the best of the whole sequence, and nothing like any of the earlier photos of these two. That series probably took less than a minute but will be valued forever. Another 15 seconds and the image would have been just perfect!

This was her wedding. He paid me, the hotel, the caterer, and the party planner–everyone in fact. Should we not have worked together to make that shot its best? So what do you think?

Sure, many things need an immediate answer. Or as immediate as possible. The portrait session occurs on the actual wedding day. So in some ways, it is not nearly as important as the smallest answer to a trivial detail which could be significant to someone. But only one day later, suddenly the work done in those three hours prior to the invitation time magically multiply in significance. Then the photos will be important! So maybe the process should be given a little bit more respect at the time so the photographer can work his magic. Maybe real party planning includes the photo session too. Or maybe you think the party planner was right to interrupt with her request for a photo at that very moment. Your opinion please? v

Gary Rabenko may be reached at Rabenko Photography & Video Artists is located at 1001 Broadway in Woodmere.

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