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Cliff Mautner Photography

Union League Wedding Photography

This black and white photograph, taken during a Union League wedding in Philadelphia, is one of my all-time favorites.

I enjoy sharing my thought process with these images, and I hope to provoke some dialogue with them as well. I hear the words "photojournalistic" or "wedding photojournalism" quite often when wedding photographers describe their work. Personally, I think it’s a very overused label. There certainly are a few amazing wedding photojournalists out there; however, there is a huge difference between "candid" and "photojournalism."

Anyone can take a candid image. Just make sure the subject is not aware of the camera. Candid images tend to be singular in nature, and they are sometimes out of context and a bit disconnected from the story at large. It’s crucial to follow through with capturing images to define that moment. Henri Cartier-Bresson called it "the decisive moment."

Photojournalism concentrates on a cohesive storyline. PJ also requires vision, anticipation, and reaction. I spent 15 years and shot approximately 6000 assignments for the Philadelphia Inquirer before I began my wedding career, yet I’ve never really described any of my 900 weddings as "photojournalistic." Yes, I document, I’m unobtrusive, and I do my best to capture moments in the most organic fashion possible. But that doesn’t define a photojournalistic approach. I’m involved with the day. I’ll help the bride with many things. I’ll advise her, comfort her, and I’ll make her look fantastic. Part of my job is to earn my clients' trust. When shooting an actual PJ event, I’d never prompt, stage, manipulate, or apply my influence at all. It’s clearly an ethical violation to do so. BUT THIS IS NOT A NEWSPAPER ASSIGNMENT. That said, you can take me out of photojournalism, but you can’t take it out of me. It’s still a major influence on my body of work.

If I can improve upon a situation by simply controlling the light and perhaps asking a client to do what they’re doing already in a better compositional scenario, I will. I like to say that "I set the stage for some moments, but I never stage the moments." The moments are not mine. They’re all about my clients. I’m not the photographer who wants to make them who I think they’re supposed to be. I simply want to capture who they are in the most natural way possible.

I’m a firm believer that photography revolves around the day, and the day does NOT revolve around the photography. However, in the end, if I can make a better picture with minimal intrusion or manipulation, I believe I’m obligated to do so.

This image was taken a few hours before the ceremony, during bridal prep. The bride, Kate, asked if I would photograph her while she read a letter from her groom and where she should sit to do so. I replied, "How about here in this nice light?!" I had nothing to do with the placement of her bridesmaids. That was 100% organic. I couldn’t have staged them better if I’d tried.

The emotions I was able to capture when she read the letter were just perfect and completely unprompted.

I entered it into an image competition under "bridal party," and it placed 2nd in that category at the Wedding and Portrait Photographers Internation print competition that year. It was not true photojournalism since I had a hand in placing the bride, so I could not enter it into that category.

Nikon D3 AF-S Nikkor 24-70 F2.8G, ISO 1250 F3.5 @1/160th

1/160; f/3.5; ISO 1250; 35.0 mm.