Denver, Colorado, United States Photographer
http://www.josephmilton.com firstname.lastname@example.org 503-317-2215
We continue our on-going series of ISPWP Member Spotlights by asking Jeff Hemmerlein of Hemmerlein Photography a few questions.
How did you get your start and why you chose to do wedding photography?
I shot my first wedding about seven years ago with no intention of ever becoming a wedding photographer or shooting another wedding. Because I needed to make up a few college credits I lost when I transferred schools a friend of mine prodded me to take an intro photography course that she had just completed. I took the course and set the goal of becoming nothing more than a hobbyist and, due to my love of sports, possibly dabble in sports photography. After the semester concluded another friend of mine began taking photography courses at another school and through our conversations she asked if I would be interested in shooting her friend’s wedding. Foolishly, I agreed. The foolish part is in that I had no contract, insurance, or clue on how to shoot a wedding. But I thought since I received an A in my intro course, and a few people said my photos were “pretty good” I could hit the ground running in the professional world.
A long story short, I shot the wedding and fortunately everything went great. A few acquaintances and friends saw the photos and began to inquire about me doing wedding work for them as well. Being a shiny new college graduate my bank account was not overflowing and weddings dangled dollar signs in front of me. I took a few more weddings before I realized wedding photography was something I wanted to pursue. Not for the money, but because it was something I truly enjoyed. I officially opened my business in the summer of 2004.
Answering the question why I shoot weddings gets a bit trickier to explain. Wedding photography wasn’t something I set out to do. It just sort of happened. I have chosen to continue photographing weddings for two main reasons. First, I like interacting and photographing people. I find people to be a very interesting subject to shoot. Very unpredictable. Weddings put people on an emotional roller coaster. Everyone handles situations and issues in their own way. Some cry, some laugh, some completely break down, and yet some maintain a casual relaxed demeanor. Emotions are what make great photographs and weddings are an incredible exhibit of emotion.
The second reason ties in very closely to the first. Shooting predictable things puts me in a rut. Weddings are always presenting something new to shoot. No two couples are alike. Their personalities bring their photos to life. I need to think differently when shooting a couple that is extremely outgoing, energetic, and spends the day cracking jokes while kicking back with cold frothy beverages compared to a couple that is shy, feels less than photogenic, and is not comfortable in front of the camera.
How has your extensive experience in wedding photography helped you in difficult circumstances on a wedding day?
I stated previously I shot my first wedding without a contract or insurance. Doing that now would scare me to death. So much can go wrong. Equipment failure, losing the image files, the timeline of the wedding day can go awry. If something went wrong during my first wedding I can honestly say I have no idea what I would have done. After nearly five years of running my business I do not think much could happen on a wedding day that I would not be prepared to handle.
I had a situation this past wedding season shooting in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. Couples are given 90 minutes to use the Basilica for the ceremony and formals. Not a minute longer. The priest at this particular wedding took an abnormally long time to conclude the ceremony. We were left with 12 minutes to conclude all formals in the Basilica. This was nowhere near enough time for me to set up my lights, take test exposures, and then get everyone gathered around the altar. By the time everyone returned to the altar we had about five minutes to get the different groupings done. I had to rely on different techniques and skill sets to get the results the couple expected.
As you can imagine the couple was a bit more than stressed, the bridal party was on edge worrying they would upset the couple, and the family, besides from the parents, were oblivious to what was going on. I had five minutes to be a photographer and get through the group shots, all the while remaining calm and professional even though on the inside I was a mess. My stomach was in knots, my head was pounding, and the last person I could think about was myself. Needless to say we pulled 8 groupings together. Everyone walked out feeling as if we had just solved some of the world’s greatest problems.
I also had a heart stopping moment at a beautiful outdoor venue in Plymouth, Indiana called Swan Lake. I shoot with two cameras and had both cameras stop working as the bride and her father came around the corner to walk down the aisle. I would like to say I did not get a rush of panic shoot through every part of my body, but really, I had no reason to worry. Under the chair at the back of the aisle I had my small camera bag with backup gear. Instead of trying to fix either of the cameras I reached for my backup camera, which was all ready to go with a flash card and batteries. I would have missed half the ceremony if my equipment was in my car on the other side of the resort. Had I not befriended veteran pros when I first started and done extensive research on how to handle everything that could go wrong I would not have had my backup gear within arms’ reach, and that bride would have no images from one of the most important parts of the day.
Tell us about one or two of the more unique weddings you’ve shot.
Being located in the Midwest most of the weddings I shoot are rather traditional. The more unique weddings have all been outdoor weddings. People are usually more relaxed being outside and they have to provide their own decorative flair as opposed to relying on the ornate atmosphere of a church.
I had the opportunity to shoot the wedding of a friend my years ago that was going to take place on his family’s large wooded property. I was excited to shoot the wedding due to the location and the unique chance to shoot someplace I had never been to before.
As the guests arrived they were escorted in a golf cart past the horse pasture and reception tent, up a small hill before finally disappearing into the woods. As they emerged from the woods on the other side of that hill they came upon the beautifully set ceremony area. The guests were welcomed by a lemonade bar that provided refreshing relief from the hot August day, and one of the extremely talented groomsmen was playing the guitar and singing.
As Coldplay’s Viva la Vida played, the groom and groomsmen processed down the hillside toward the aisle. Escorted by his father and pastor, the groom proceeded down the aisle while the groomsmen waited to escort the bridesmaids as they emerged from the tree line of a wooded pathway. The bride made the same entrance as her bridesmaids and the ceremony proceeded perfectly in a beautiful natural setting.
When the ceremony was over the guests gathered around numerous tables draped in pink tablecloths and matching umbrellas for a cocktail hour set against the horse pasture and wooded hillside. As the cocktail hour came to a close the guests made their way into the reception tent to sign the most unique guest sign-in creation I have seen at a wedding. The couple had custom cornhole boards created using the wedding colors and their initial. One of the groomsmen sang the song for the couple’s first dance, and the groom’s brother gave one of the funniest toasts I have heard. I have never heard wedding guests laugh that hard at a toast. The end of the evening had one of the most amazing sunsets coloring the sky varying shades of pink, red, and orange. The wooded natural setting of this wedding made for unbelievable photographs.
What are some of your favorite local venues and why?
I love shooting on the campus of St. Mary’s College. Many of the areas I shoot in rival the beautiful campus of the University of Notre Dame. I prefer St. Mary’s because of the ease of getting around. It is a small campus that doesn’t require too much walking, offers nice little areas that can protect the couple from the weather, and we can drive right up to the area we are going to shoot in without needing special permission to access the area. The people at St. Mary’s are great to work with as well. They are very accommodating.
The South Bend Country Club is another great venue. From a shooting perspective the banquet room has floor to ceiling windows which provides great lighting. I have been able to capture some great first dance shots using the lighting. The area around the clubhouse provides a very lax, casual environment for both a shooting environment and for the guests to enjoy. People aren’t crammed into small area. They are able to sit outside on the large balcony overlooking the first tee. The back of the clubhouse has sweeping views of the golf course and a small patio area off the bar which provides a small intimate area for portraits.
The University of Notre Dame also is a great place to shoot. The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is simply beautiful and the campus is just as picturesque. The campus has two lakes, one of the most storied football stadiums, Touchdown Jesus, and the Golden Dome. These aren’t the most picturesque but they do provide for great photos. The brick and stone architecture make for great backdrops and natural props for portraits. In general people tend to be very comfortable strolling around campus as we stop intermittently for group and bridal portraits.
It is hard to narrow my favorites down to just a few as I have found venues around the area that are fantastic. But the three venues above are giant outdoor studios. I feel like a kid in the world’s best candy store shooting at these locations.
What’s your one piece of advice for brides who are looking for a wedding photographer?
This is actually a very tough question to answer. Not because I stumped on what to say, but because I could say so much. Ultimately a bride and groom should be comfortable with the photographer’s personality and work.
A couple should realize how much time they will spend with their photographer. They will probably have meetings before the wedding, they will be with him the whole wedding day, and if an album is involved, the couple will have communications with him for some time after the wedding. If the couple doesn’t like the photographer’s personality the whole process will be painstaking. Some photographers like to control the flow of the wedding day, some like to stay completely out of the way, and some control certain things and stay out of the way during others. There are photographers that like to tell jokes, some that are laid back and seem like one of the couple’s old friends, and some that are strictly business all day. The couple needs to find the personality they want to work with. Many couples overlook this factor and unfortunately there are horror stories all over the place about disappointed brides and grooms.
The photographer’s work is another thing that the couple needs to be comfortable with. They need to make sure their expectations for the photographs mesh with the type of photos the photographer creates. Not all photographers work in the same style so what one photographer does, another may not do the same thing or provide the same service. A couple should get the type of photos they want not the type of photos a photographer tells them they should have.
Jeff Hemmerlein is the owner of Hemmerlein Photography, a South Bend Indiana Wedding Photographer.
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