This is a post that is about paying homage to those that have given us inspiration, the pursuit of who we are as artists in the wedding photography world and a personal journey of what art and creativity means to someone who grew up in a world who had none of the above.
First, let me tell you a bit about my (Zach’s) life and how I became a photographer.
I grew up in a small town…
Really small town…
180 miles north of the Twin Cities…
Average income – $31,000
Average home cost – $55,1000
Population 1,164… (since I left, 1,163)
I spent 22 years of my life in Keewatin where there were no stoplights, just a gas station, 6 bars and a liquor store. The only reason those towns on the Iron Range (as it is called) even exist is because in the early 20th century and still today, the earth there has been mined for its rich content of iron. There is no real economy in that area except the mines, so if you are not lucky enough to work in one, you are destined for a great career in either a hard manual labor job, or working at the local McDonald’s. I wish it were an exaggeration to say that it was the most depressing place to grow up on the face of the earth, but it really is true that there seems to be no hope, no escape and no real life there at all.
The only two things that I loved growing up was my church that I spent 3 to 4 days a week at, and playing music which I was able to do there. I had no real education growing up (I got my GED when I was 21) and had no real dreams or aspirations to do anything at all. My father left us when I was 3 so it was just my mom, who usually worked multiple jobs, and my three siblings always struggling to make ends meet. Things like a college education seemed so far out of reach for us in that dark, cold place and the idea of possibility of doing something you truly loved or even becoming a small business owner wasn’t even a thought.
One day, by the grace of God, a youth pastor took me to lunch at the local Hardee’s fast food joint, and asked me a life changing question. He said “Zach, what are you doing here and why don’t you leave and go do something else?” I had never in my life thought that I could leave and do something else until that day! But in that moment, I knew in my heart that I had to go, to see what else God had for me and maybe, just maybe, do something different with my life.
I left within 3 months and have never been the same. I was fortunate to intern for 2 years at a church in Rockford, IL (hence my 815 area code phone number) and then after that, was asked by the worship leader of the internship (who cut a record deal in Nashville) to come and play music with her for a living and tour the states. It was a dream come true and opened my eyes to music like I had never seen it before – as art. I was so honored to play with some amazing musicians who took me under their wings and said, “This is great music on this record and that, listen to it, play like them, and you will do fine.” So I did. And I loved every minute of it! Finally, in my mid-twenties, I began to get exposed to culture and music that I had never known before and after a few years of touring and playing, I finally came into my own as a player and artist in the music world. I knew what I liked and was finally inspired.
So why do I say all of this on a photography blog that is about weddings and fun and marriage? Because that is the exact same way that I came into the photography world. I had never picked up a camera until my late 20′s, never went to photography school, never had a teacher who taught me how to paint, or write a poem or do anything that you would call “art.” So when my wonderful wife and I decided to give photography a go and see if we could do it for a living, I began to look everywhere I could for inspiration, for ideas, for angles and colors and light. “How is an image like that done” I would ask myself after checking out a blog, or seeing a magazine article, or watching a movie. What kind of camera and lights do different artists use” What do you say to subjects to get them to look like this or pose like that? I had no idea who I was as a photographer, only that I wanted to do it. My wife and I were very blessed early on to find, work with, and befriend some amazing photographers who were willing to share with us the how-tos in so many different aspects of art and the process. THEY helped us become who we are as artists and their inspiration has helped shape us and what we want to do with our lives.
I am going to share some images with you that were all taken by me within the first 10 months of the beginning of our photography career. These shots were done when I didn’t know much about who I was as an artist and was fast trying to figure that out. I am also going to share with you who inspired me to shoot these photos and what type of impact those photographers have had on me over the years.
We hope you enjoy this journey through our past, and we also hope that as some of you amazing, talented artists read this blog, that you would remember that everyone does not come from the same place, and all of us need mentors and someone to encourage our gifts and talents, and not squelch them out. We need more people like the ones below to help the next generation of artists continue to create something special for the people who we are so blessed to work with - our clients, friends and families.
Here is my first image.
This shot comes from the inspiration of a photographer that most other photographers know quite well. Jeremy Cowart. Jeremy was cool enough to let me come and assist him on a number of hi-profile shoots back before we had even begun shooting pro. When I saw what Jeremy was able to do with light, I was absolutely amazed. We would rig all this elaborate lighting and he would shoot this amazing stuff right in the camera that was awesome. So I thought, “what if we did this at a wedding, and brought some of that type of lighting style on-location the day of?” A lot of where we went in the beginning was due to that inspiration. If you are unfamiliar with Jeremy’s work, you can view it HERE.
Shot number two.
This image many of you may know from our old blog header. This shot was taken when we had been shooting pro for about 9 months. The main inspiration for this type of shot is definitely Parker J Pfister. I saw this video of Parker back when we first started out and the video was of him shooting a wedding back in 2004. In the video, he shoots this great, 3 hour, day of the wedding session with the bride and groom and takes them all over the place in Chicago. In one of his set-ups, he takes this shot:
When I saw how he took one element of the grooms neck line and then put the bride in the background AND shot it at f/22, that was really eye opening for me. It made me think more outside the box than ever before and made me want to take photos that were powerful and creative. Obviously the lighting on our shot is more Jeremy Cowart Inspired, but the composition style is very Parker Pfister. What I really loved was how he let you in to the wedding day on that video so you could see how he worked and how he created his images. You can view Parker’s work HERE.Thanks Parker for letting us use your shot!
Shot number three.
This final image is heavily inspired by a great friend of mine, Evan Baines. Evan was there from very early on and has been a real driving force behind my images specifically. We used to send shots back and forth after shoots and critique them and Evan would push me to try different styles, not shoot everything cookie cutter, get out of the box with lighting and really made me think of things that I had never thought of, or read about before. He was really encouraging to me and has definitely been one of the biggest influence on my photography technique and style in more ways than I can mention in one post. You can view Evan’s amazing work HERE.
So what about being totally original and creating your own art in this industry and that whole discussion that often comes up in the photography world? Check out some quotes from some amazing painters and shooters below!
“It is OK to climb the wall of art on the ‘copycat ladder’ as long as your goal is to one day come into your own as an artist.” - Wolfgang
“To be totally honest, I don’t know if I work that hard at being original. I wish I could say otherwise, but I’m just gonna keep it real. I’m quite open about how editorial/fashion photography influences my work , but I will admit I don’t look to other wedding photographers for ideas. I like to work through the process of making each wedding a mini editorial shoot and challenge myself to make fashionable, lifestyle photography appear at every wedding. Sure, I see other photographers whose work appears quite similar to something I’ve done in the past, but it was never mine to begin with. I’ve never invented a pose. I’ve never invented an interaction. Everything I’ve done has been done, literally, for eons. Boys and girls have been leaning, kissing, arching, laughing, bending, knotting, being fierce from the beginning of time and to think I own any signature pose would be completely foolish. Furthermore, I find myself challenged to push my limits if I’ve done something too often the same way. This is what keeps me alive. And different.” – Jasmine Star
Because these different artists that we mentioned were so open with their work and styles of shooting, we were able to become who we are today as photographers. We are so grateful to all the great shooters, many of which were not mentioned here, that have inspired and helped us with our business. Thank you!
The reason that we wrote such a long post about our journey through coming into our own in photography and art, is because we hope and pray that others will take the time to share, to teach and to give to those that need help. Like that youth pastor did for me so long ago. We hope that those mentioned in this blog are flattered that we looked up to them and that you are encouraged to bless others like they did. There simply is not enough time in our lives to waste it on anything but giving, helping and encouraging and we hope that this blog has persuaded you to do likewise!
Leave a comment and let us know who has inspired you! A teacher? A pastor? A parent? And a bit about how that changed you.
We know we say this a ton, but let us know what we can do for you and for your business, and we would love to make ourselves available to you!!