Sunday, December 21, 2008

Navigating the Chaos

The argument goes like this: The caterer claims his is the most important contribution to the party because food elevates simcha and everyone remembers a bad meal. Likewise, the musician proclaims that he is the most vital participant, because, well, music elevates simcha, and without good music, nobody will enjoy themselves during the party. The photographer, however, who does his best to remain invisible throughout the event, claims the prize with the following retort to the singer and the chef: When the food is gone and the instruments are packed away, all that remains are the photos. Good photography will not elevate your simcha in the moment, but it will provide years of enjoyment and, over time, a photo album will be cherished like a family heirloom.

Simcha photography is a broad category which includes photography of weddings, bar mitzvahs, brit milah, and other life-cycle celebrations. In the world of professional photography, simcha photography ranks rather low as a measure of professional success. The work is considered repetitive and uncreative. As a veteran of more than 250 simchas, I can say that nothing is further from the truth. Photographing a Jewish wedding, for example, requires a myriad of skills to navigate the diverse stages of a chaotic and fast-paced event. The opportunity for creativity for the talented photographer is virtually unlimited.

So often I am asked to recommend a camera to someone seeking to make a new purchase. My response is always the same: it doesn't matter what kind of camera you hold in your hands. What matters most is the skill and the vision of the person holding it. Over the past 10 years, I have learned a great deal about how to photograph a family celebration. I have accumulated an archive with tens of thousands of photos, many of which still buzz with the freshness and spark of the moment they were taken. And though my cameras have evolved from film to digital, the many techniques and tricks I employ remain constant.

The purpose of this blog is twofold. First, I would like to share my experience with other photographers pursuing the same professional challenges. There is so much more to simcha photography than meets the eye. The photos may look beautiful and nearly perfect, but what does it really take to consistently produce top-quality images? Secondly, I would like anyone who is planning a simcha to look at the photos on this blog as a source of ideas for the own simcha photography. Choosing a photographer should be the most important decision of your event planning. Yes, the food and music are important, but in the end, the only one who sticks around is the photographer.