Chicago Wedding Photographer Oriana Koren | ISPWP Member Spotlight

Posted by ISPWP Admin on February 20th 2015 .Comment(1)

Photographer Contact Information

Denver, Colorado, United States Photographer 503-317-2215

See This Photographer's Website

For today’s ISPWP member spotlight, we feature Chicago wedding photographer Oriana Koren of Oriana Koren Weddings.

Photographer Contact Information

Denver, Colorado, United States Photographer 503-317-2215

See This Photographer's Website

Photographer Bio

Oriana Koren Bio

Before I picked up a camera thirteen years ago, I welded a pen and dreams of being a storyteller. Over the years, I’ve found my love for rich narratives based on the inner life seeped into my picture making and found a home in documenting weddings. Oriana is a nationally published, award-winning documentary photographer, specializing in documentary wedding photography. She is a proud member of the prestigious and highly selective Wedding Photojournalist Association (WPJA), Fearless Photographers, and International Society of Professional Wedding Photographers (ISPWP) societies. Oriana Koren Weddings have been published in The Knot, BRIDES, The Chicago Sun Times, Time Out Chicago, Modern Luxury and more.

How did you get your start and why did you chose wedding photography as a career?

Before I picked up a camera thirteen years ago, I welded a pen and dreams of being a writer. In college, I studied photography with a specific focus on documentary photography and simultaneously studied creative non fiction. I have always been interested in the stories we carry with us daily, most especially the narratives of how we connect with one another. Right out of college, I was recruited by Bella Pictures to join their six week internship and those six weeks were the basic building blocks for my initial interest in wedding photography. Over the course of the six weeks, I noticed I was photographing a lot of the same weddings: the locations were different but everyone looked exactly the same which was disconcerting since I was living in Chicago amongst such a diverse population. Due to my documentary background, my feminist beliefs, and deep personal interest in representation for underrepresented groups in visual media, I realized I could tap into a niche market catering to couples who were “non-traditional”: same sex couples, interracial couples, couples of color, folks celebrating hybrid cultural weddings, feminist identified and gender role subverting couples — the stuff you don’t see lauded in the wedding industry but are very important in terms of documenting a fair and varied history of marriage in the US. Once, I realized I could forge my own path as a wedding photographer, I never looked back!

What do you offer to clients that is unique?

I am constantly pushing myself to redefine what wedding photography can be. I make images for those of us who live to push the boundaries of what is expected and what should be, to what can be. I take the idea of individuality and forging your own path to the next level. My photographs speak to those with an acute appreciation of photography and a deep appreciation of personal narrative, along with the desire to create a document of your love that is unscripted, raw, real.

How has your extensive experience in wedding photography helped you in difficult circumstances on a wedding day?

I photographed my 62nd wedding in late October 2014. If you include weddings I’ve assisted and second shot, that number is closer to 75. When you practice your craft every weekend for months at a time, years at a time, you get comfortable with the process of shooting a wedding: you know how much time you need to allot for certain moments, you know how to put nervous clients at ease, you know when to reach out to the wedding planner if events are running a little behind, you learn how to handle the logistics and logistics are everything when you’re shooting an event you can only get right once. I spend months coordinating with my clients, their planner (if they have one) and the timeline because those logistics dictate what locations and how many we can go to offsite, how long I have for each wedding, every season, in terms of golden hour because I always try to shoot some amount of portraits during golden hour — no matter what. The most important thing, however, is my technical skill. I think a lot of people take for granted how technically skilled you have to be to shoot weddings. On any given wedding I am shooting portraits, interiors, journalism, highly staged, experimentally lit editorial images, food, jewelry and floral details plus nuanced offbeat candid moments for up to twelve hours straight. That takes a great deal of on the fly creative problem solving that can’t be done if your photographer doesn’t have the basics of calculating exposure, light, and composition and framing down to a science. I pride myself on being able to master any lighting situation I am in, regardless of the continuing human activity that is occurring around me, and because of this I am able to really follow my intuition and be a step ahead of the game so I am not missing any important moments and discovering those nuanced, offbeat moments that make my clients gasp happily when they receive their images. The technical skills I have honed over the last six years of shooting weddings extensively keeps me cool, calm, and collected, able to respond promptly and carefully to the events unfolding around me on a wedding day.

How important is it to hire an experienced wedding photographer?

Your photographer only has once chance to document your wedding. Just one shot. Without experience, you are not guaranteed to get useable photographs or, in some very sad cases, you might not get photographs at all. When all is said and done, your wedding photographs are a historical document: these photographs live on and become heirlooms, they become evidence of the life you’ve begun with your partner, they survive the flowers and the food and the clothing. And when you have an experienced photographer with technical acumen and a sharp eye and creative mind, you get images that allow you to actively revisit how you felt every step of the day. You also get your money’s worth. Imagine spending $400 on a student or an amateur with no experience that doesn’t deliver images to you because of technical challenges a pro can creatively take advantage of. You’ve lost money and you have no document of your wedding. But if you spend a couple grand on an experienced professional, you make a monetary investment that gives back to you over the years. It’s really that simple.

What (or who) inspires you?

I am inspired by people who are unabashedly themselves. Folks who are just fearlessly authentic who care about the people around them. Folks who realize that life is messy and openly embrace the messiness of life. I am most attracted to rule breakers, vanguards: people who know when to listen to their hearts and follow that narrative, regardless of what others may think or what they’ve been told they must do or think. Those are the kinds of people I find inspiring to be around, work with, and get to know!

What advice would you give to a couple who is looking for a wedding photographer?

1) Book the person who you love as much as you love their work. Most of us book clients up to a year and a half before their date (sometimes two years), so you want to book someone who you’ll enjoy getting to know for fifteen or more months. More importantly, you want to work with someone who wants to get to know you! If your photographer isn’t interested in getting to know you and your partner, that should be a red flag.
2) Pay attention to how your wedding photographer communicates with you during initial inquiry. Is this person responding promptly or do you constantly have to prod them for a response? Do they seem excited about getting to know more about you and your wedding day? How do you feel when you meet them in person? Communication is key. When all is said and done, you want to have someone who will communicate clearly and honestly with you throughout the process. Sometimes edits fall behind and schedules get pushed back. You want someone who will tell you these things and give you concrete solutions to your questions instead of leaving you in the dark without an email or a phone call when it matters.
3) Make sure the work speaks to you! It is vital you choose a wedding photographer who is actively making the sorts of images you envision for your wedding day. If you want romantic fine art wedding photographs with a heavy focus on portraits, don’t hire a journalistic or documentary photographer who focuses on candids and vice versa. Decide how you imagine your day to be captured and seek out photographers who are making those images. They will be your best best for your perfect fit.
4) If a photographer says they won’t be a good fit for you, accept that and keep looking. I’ve had inquiries that were looking for work that wasn’t my style, asking for images I would not have been able to deliver for them, so I had to tell them that and suggest colleagues who were making the sort of work they were looking for. Most of the time, couples are thrilled and glad for clarification and solid recommendations (I don’t recommend anyone I can’t vouch for at the end of the day). Every once in a while, someone doesn’t take it so well. I will not lie to a potential client or change my style to fit a booking. I believe that you will find the perfect fit for you with some suggestion and some research. It is vital to my work that each one of my clients feels fully comfortable with me and my work and that I also feel fully comfortable with my clients. That is how you get the best work possible from a photographer!

What are some of your favorite local venues? I have so many!

Chicago, in particular, just has some really great venues that take advantage of incredible natural light with their own unique spin. I love shooting weddings at A New Leaf, in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago. A New Leaf is a florist and event space with great light, a beautiful courtyard, and an upstairs space with exposed brick where candlelight ceremonies are often held. I also really love Salvage One in the West Loop neighborhood of Chicago. It’s a funky space filled with old salvaged antiques and bits and bobs collected from all over the city, so it’s a bit vintage, a bit quirky, and every prop you could possible want or need on your wedding day can be rented/used during your ceremony and reception. I particularly love restaurant weddings as well. When I’m not shooting weddings, I shoot a lot of food related work and spend a lot of time in restaurants. Avec, Blackbird, Carnivale, The Aviary, Sepia — some of the most beautiful spaces with INCREDIBLE food for intimate and cocktail style weddings. This particular stretch of Chicago, the West Loop, has some of my favorite locations for portraits and I know the neighborhood like the back of my hand. It’s a great place to get married if you really love good food. This year I am hoping to shoot at the Dawson, Prairie Productions, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Avec, and VenueOne!

What’s your favorite part of the wedding day to photograph?

When a couple chooses to, the first look is my favorite part of the day to photograph. It’s my favorite part for no other reason than it gives a couple a solid twenty to thirty minutes ALONE, which is a rare occurrence on a wedding day. I find couples who opt to do a first look are much more calm throughout the rest of the day because they have opportunity to come together in gratitude before saying their vows. I also love photographing dancing because I get a chance to do a little dancing too!

What kinds of weddings do you love to photograph?

I love photographing weddings that buck “tradition” and subvert the idea that there is only one way to get married. I also really love restaurant weddings because I shoot in restaurants often and I love good food — it’s a match made in heaven for me!

How would you describe your style of photography?

I adhere to the documentary tradition. Documentary is primarily concerned with narrative, or a complete story of a significant event captured truthfully and objectively, using candid photography. In simpler terms, I do not pose my images at all. About 90% of the day is candid, the other 10% consists of family groupings and portraits, and I prefer to use suggestion to create the “posing” I am looking for in those images. I shoot unobtrusively and I am able to photograph this way effectively because of the time I spend getting to know each couple (and their respective families) the months leading up to shooting your wedding. My images are offbeat, a little quirky, and driven by emotion.

What do you find is the biggest challenge in wedding photography?

Staying true to yourself and your style. Right now, there is one big style dominating the industry and as such, many couples looking for wedding photographers are being bombarded with that style as the ideal to which they measure all wedding photographer’s work. It can be difficult to make the decision to do the opposite and stick with it. It would be easy to switch my style and possibly gain more bookings and interest from that switch, but my aesthetic is one which is informed by documentary photography, feminism, cultural representation, anthropology…I’ve put a lot of thought into the work I do and I have trained accordingly to make work for a very specific group of couples. Only I can make the images I make and I am very, very proud of that.

Do you do “destination weddings?” If so, what are your favorite destinations?

I do shoot destination weddings! I lived in Tokyo, Japan back in 2008 so I am very, very fond of Asia and would love to photograph destination weddings this year and next year in Tokyo, Japan and Koh Samui, Thailand. I’ve been dying to shoot some destination weddings in Hawai’i, particularly Kauai and Hilo and Tulum, Mexico. I grew up in South Florida so tropical destinations feel like home to me!

What do you do for fun when you’re not shooting weddings?

I love hiking! I like to be out in nature to recharge my batteries and get away from my computer. I also really love collecting cookbooks and cooking my way through them. And I journal daily to practice being introspective!

Have you found any products, services, or seminars that have made a difference to your photography or your business?

I only use Totally Rad products for editing my images. I swear by them! In particular, I use Replichrome I & II. TR makes the most perfect film emulation presets for LR I’ve had the pleasure of using — and I’ve tried them all. You really can’t tell the difference. I also love using their Original presets for quick, easy everyday editing. Every single one of my images is processed in some way with Totally Rad presets — they’ve allowed me to develop a signature post production style no one else has and I love it!

What would you say was the biggest reason for your success?

No matter where I go or what successes I have, I always make it a point to say thank you to the people who helped me along the way: vendors who have recommended me, photographers and agencies I’ve assisted and interned with, clients who entrusted me to photograph their weddings when I was just starting out, colleagues who connected me to people in the industry. I haven’t come this far without the help of others, I try to never lose sight of that. That sort of kindness has been essential to my success.

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Oriana Koren February 21st 2015 at 08:18 AM

Thanks so much, Joe! The spotlight looks fantastic :)

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