Cover Image ©Hudson River Photographer
A few years back, a transgender friend invited me to her performance at NYC’s GLBT Expo. Wandering around, I was struck by the number of blue chip companies, including the New York Times and Morgan Stanley, that had taken booths and were pitching services. It was clear times had changed, that the once overlooked LGBT community was regarded as a significant market by major corporations.
A subset of that market is the estimated $1.5 billion dollars spent on gay weddings and related services, including photography. While you might think photography is just pointing a lens, it is a whole lot more, especially when you are charged with capturing someone’s biggest day and most personal feelings.
Kathryn Hamm and Thea Dobbs knew the gay wedding market was underserved. For Hamm, the “aha” moment came when she realized that images submitted to GayWeddings.com (of which she is president) were good, but rarely great; that some indefinable quality was lacking. Thea Dobbs, a photographer, felt photo education needed to reflect new social mores (and opportunity). Together they created The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian & Gay Wedding Photography.
It is an excellent book: a good reference, an enjoyable read. There is a quick review of photography basics (rule of thirds, lighting, unique perspective), but photo competency is presumed, and it quickly moves to the human side of things, talking frankly about the subtle issues a photographer may face with a same-sex couple.
First and foremost is a heightened and specific sensitivity. As the authors point out, many same-sex couples “have an entirely different timeline and set of experiences” than traditional couples, with “expectations, joys and fears that are related to the development of their identities as members of a marginalized group.” Their families may not support them, and in some states their unions may not be legal. They are also more inclined to opt for unusual and personal ceremonies rather than the traditional kind, reflecting their unique, often fraught journeys. A photographer who tries to force straight wedding customs upon them may lose their trust and get less than stellar pictures.
In addition to psychological differences, there are real in-front-of-the-lens differences (and similarities) to be dealt with. How do you arrange a shot with two women both in wedding gowns? A male couple wearing similar suits? How do you coax people who have learned to be very careful about displays of affection, to relax in public for great candid shots?
Hamm and Dobbs provide a lot of solid, specific advice about posing, choosing locations, and establishing mood, but like all good teachers, they work through guidance and suggestion, and inspire by showing. The book is lavishly illustrated by work from thirty-eight photographers that shows a wide range of creativity and technique. There are indoor and outdoor shots, long shots and close ups, relaxed informal images, as well as some with a more traditional feel. Tech specs are provided with each image, but are secondary to the short caption describing the setting and mood the photographer was trying to establish and capture.
The book gives photographers permission to think and see in a new way. Which is good artistically, and also smart business. In recent years, photography had taken a hit as amateurs with high-quality, easy to use digital SLR’s ate into the bread-and-butter jobs professionals once relied on. With same-sex weddings an estimated $1.5 billion market, it makes good financial sense to pay attention.
Same-sex couples are increasingly particular about choosing a photographer. Being “gay-friendly” isn’t enough anymore. A strong portfolio of same-sex engagement and wedding images is a must. The bar is moving higher and photographers need to be prepared.
The New Art of Capturing Love is a wonderful place to start. With thoughtful text and beautiful pictures of loving souls, it serves as great introduction and reference for anyone looking to tap into the burgeoning gay wedding market. And really for anyone seeking to take better pictures of people–whatever the occasion, whatever their orientation.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. (But I liked it anyway)