This week I welcome Grant Oakes. Grant has been a wedding photographer for over 30 years and to this day he absolutely loves what he does. When not shooting weddings he is teaching photographers everything they need to know to take their photography to the next level. As I'm writing this he is conducting a workshop in the Bahamas, boy would I love to be there. He is a passionate photographer and I'm glad to feature him on the site. You will definitely walk away with a bag full of information after reading this awesome interview.
Tell us a little bit about Grant Oakes?
Well, I don’t know quite where to start.
Where is home?
Aurora, Colorado which is a suburb of Denver.
If you could live anywhere on this awesome planet where would you build your dream home?
Although I love the Rocky Mountains I also enjoy the water. I think I’d take a tranquil island either in the Caribbean or the South Pacific.
What is your current state of mind before we continue with the interview?
Excited! I’m heading off to the Bahamas to conduct a workshop that has me really jazzed! It’s going to be a real wedding at an exotic resort with a very adventuresome couple. The last day we’ll be doing an underwater session with dolphins, sort of a mother of all trash the dress sessions!
Did you go to school to study photography?
No, mostly book learned to get the basics and then seminars and trade shows to further my education.
How long have you been a photographer?
I started photographing scenic and landscapes as far back as 1975.
How long have you been a wedding photographer?
What or who got you started in wedding photography?
I had two couples in my congregation that were getting married that year and so I offered to shoot their weddings for them as a gift. After that I probably did an average of 5-6 weddings a year, mostly for friends, relatives and people that I worked with.
How would you describe your style?
I’m constantly evolving but currently most of what I do I call creative photojournalism along with a touch of fashion.
How many weddings do you average per year?
I’ve done as many as 38 but have gradually raised my prices and steadily ramped down to about 6-8 per year.
Do you have some wedding images you can share with us?
What type of cameras do you shoot with?
I’ve been a Canon shooter since I went digital back in 2001.
What is your favourite photography accessory, other than your camera?
It would have to be lenses.
If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why?
My 17-55mm is one of my favorites because I can shoot really loose with it on my 50D.
What lighting equipment do you take on a shoot?
My 580EX flash units.
Can you describe how and when you use flash, video light, reflectors and natural light during a wedding?
When I use flash, typically during the reception, I add an amber colored Stofen light modifier to the top of my flash, aim it upward or tilted slightly back, go to manual on the camera body, white balance set to Kelvin at 2,800-3,000 degrees, ISO of 2,000, shutter speed of about 1/30th or 1/40th and aperture set to f2.8. This allows for most of the exposure to come from the ambient light and the flash to provide just a little fill with the color matching that of the tungsten lighting in the room. The images typically look the way I saw the scene with my eyes rather than just blasting away with flash and looking that way.
What is your favourite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer?
My Wacom tablet.
How important is Photoshop in your final images?
Very little, since I want my images to look natural. Occasionally I might bump up the saturation just a tad but not very often.
What is your most used Photoshop tool, plug-in, action set etc.?
If I want an image to stand out a bit I’ll make a copy of the original layer, change the mode to soft light and lower the opacity to about 75%.
Are you a MAC or PC lover?
I have nothing against MAC’s but I use a PC and it suits me fine.
Do you plan on buying any new equipment and if so what do you have your eyes on?
I just purchased the Canon 50D and 5D Mark II. I might consider getting the 135mm f2.0 soon.
I finally feel I have mastered my Crash-Art workflow, can you briefly describe for the readers your photographic workflow after a wedding?
Great question! After downloading all my cards I use a program called Breeze Browser (www.breezesys.com) to do my initial edit because of it’s simplicity and speed. Once I have narrowed down my images I’ll batch renumber them and then I’ll open DPP (Digital Photo Professional) and apply my adjustments. My edit takes about 2-3 hours and my file adjustments are done in under an hour. I’ll then let the computer batch them and after that I’ll run an action to make a medium resolution set of files to upload to Pictage and then a low resolution set to make a slide show that I give my clients. I’m in the process of adapting my workflow to incorporate Lightroom to help improve the look of my images.
I use Queensberry albums, what wedding albums do you supply your clients with and do you design them yourself or outsource the design?
I have a wonderful relationship with the people at Renaissance Albums and the Soho Book is by far my and my clients favorite. The build quality is outstanding and their customer service is second to none. Occasionally I’ll design the album myself depending on my schedule but I also use www.lovestorydesigns.com. It’s owned by a friend that I helped set up in the business of designing flush mount albums for wedding photographers and she does a terrific job.
How do you feel about cropping an image?
I try to do my cropping in the camera to minimize added work on the back end but sometimes an image can look more compelling when cropped differently.
I choose photographers for these interviews because their work really inspires me and gets my creative juices flowing, hence the interview. What gives you ideas and inspires you to create such amazing imagery?
Over the years there have been numerous photographers who have influenced my work. The start to my creative approach was due to Wendy Saunders, later Gary Fong’s style got me seeing things differently. Since then there has been numerous photographers that have caught my attention such as Jerry Ghionis, Parker J. Pfister, Cliff Mautner, Mike Colon, Joe Photo, Travis Broxton and too many others to even think of listing. But perhaps the single most influential body of work that has shaped what I do today has been that of David Beckstead.
What has been your most memorable assignment and why?
In early March of 2006 I received a call from the mother of a groom and she asked if I was available to photograph her son and daughter-in-law’s wedding later that month. I was available and when she expressed relief I could tell there was something about the situation that required that I ask her why. The bride had just discovered that the malignant brain tumor she had been battling for 2 years was not responding to treatment and that she only had a few months to live. Dana passed away that November.
If you could shoot a wedding with someone who would it be and why?
David Beckstead. He has such an intuitive eye for light and lines. He sees things that simply escapes notice of everyone else. Last summer he was in Denver for one of his Shoot With Beckstead workshops and flew in a day early and came with me on one of my weddings as a second shooter. He’s doing it again this week at my Bahamas wedding (www.artandinspiration.com). I’d like to bump off Kassandra and shoot with David at one of his weddings (just kidding Kassandra, you know I love you).
Do you have an assistant/2nd shooter that accompanies you on wedding assignments?
I have an assistant that handles my gear, files and makes the slide shows on my laptop for the reception. If the contract requires a second shooter I get one of my colleagues to come be my second, generally on a trade basis but occasionally other photographers just want to see what I do and how I do it as part of their professional experience.
How many images do you average per wedding and how many do you usually present to your clients?
I typically shoot 1,200-1,500 images and narrow it down to 800-1,000.
What are your favourite three images you have shot recently? Can you describe their creation in regards to location, lighting, composition, camera settings etc, also your thoughts when creating the images and what they mean to you?
So far this is my all time favorite image. It was taken at a luxury show home that the couple were able to use for their weddings. I saw the beautiful sweeping lines of the staircase and the soft light coming in
from all around and thought it would make a great location for a good image. I positioned the couple dead center in the mosaic circle on the floor, held the camera as high over my head as I could and leaned over the
railing and took the shot. I wasn't even looking throught the viewfinder. I was using a 15mm fisheye on a Canon 20D at ISO 200, 125th sec and f5.6. The center portion of the image is used in the logo for my other
In downtown Denver next to the Westin there is this sculpture that is one of my favorite locations to take couples for wedding day sessions because of all the lines and angles I can create. On this day there was an
occasional light breeze that would kick up the veil and so I positioned the bride, had her look at me and waited until the wind did it's thing. It's featured on the home page of www.pictage.com in rotation with some of the industries biggest names. I really felt honored they requested use of the image. I used the Canon 50D, ISO 100, 1/60thsec at f8.
The bride was very petite (about 4'-10") and I wanted to use a low angle to make her a little taller, plus the lines of the railroad tracks could make for interesting perspective. I had to get back about 100' because I wanted to isolate her with a shallow depth of field. I love the feeling it creates using this technique, plus the fact the bride was such a pleasure to work with. For this one I used the Canon 20D, ISO 1600, 70-200mm at 200mm, 1/40th sec at f2.8. As a side note, the lens is a Sigma and did not have image stablization. I had to get several shots to get a sharp one because I was shooting hand held.
My favourite Crash-Art wedding adventure was in Provence, France. Where would be your dream destination wedding? The Amalfi coast in southern Italy. Maybe I’ll put together a wedding/workshop there and could have a dozen or so photographers come, hang out and shoot. It would be a blast!
How do you make the bride and groom, bridal party etc… feel relaxed in front of your Canon 5D?
I make lame jokes or poke fun at the guys. The ladies are naturals in front of the cameras, the guys though will loosen up at my vain attempts at humor.
Have you ever had anything go wrong at a wedding and if so, how did you handle it?
I was shooting formals and my wife was doing a little bit of PJ at a wedding in Colorado Springs and both our cameras started giving us an “ERR 99” at the exact same time. I tried turning the camera off and on again, pulling the battery and replacing but it wouldn’t clear the problem so we put in new cards and kept going. When we got back home and tried to download the images her card was so badly corrupted we had to send it into a data retrieval company to get the images off. They were successful but the card was totally fried. We were shooting at the base of Cheyenne Mountain where NORAD is located, on September 9th, 2002, just 2 days before the 1st anniversary of 9/11. My only theory as to what happened is perhaps the military was conducting intensified radar tests that may have caused a small induction of current into the circuitry or CF card that caused the problem. To throw even greater mystery into the situation is that there is a geological formation underground right in the area we were in that causes major magnetic disturbances to compasses and is so strong that it’s even noted in the aviation charts to warn pilots.
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about photographing weddings?
Trying to keep the timeline flowing and keeping everyone from stealing my time with the couple when I need to get my artistic images.
What do you think of the wedding photography industry at the moment and where do you see it in 5 years from now? It’s in a state of chaos with what’s going on with the global economy and then everyone’s trying to get into the industry with an $800 camera and little to no training. Most won’t be around very long once they realize it’s not as easy as just pushing the shutter but until the market corrects itself a lot of experienced photographers will be impacted by the low balling newbies, perhaps to the point of forcing them out of business.
A wedding photographer who inspires you?
It’s almost that time of year for a Taylor family portrait. Is there any photographer out there that you would be stoked to say - he/she took my portrait?
Karen Rubin (www.karenrubin.com). She did our family portrait last May shortly after my wife was diagnosed with cancer. It was very special to us as you can well imagine. When we went back for the viewing we were all in tears by about the 3rd image that came up on the screen in her projection room.
A website and/or blog you visit often?
I keep waiting for Mike Colon and Joe Photo to do something new and inspiring.
The first photographer that comes to your mind and why?
Parker J. Pfister. In my opinion, he’s arguably the best photographer on the planet today. His versatility is incredible. In November 2006 I put together a 1 day seminar and brought in Parker. The highlight of the program was a live shootout between Parker, myself and Travis Broxton. It was a very cool day!
The last workshop or seminar you attended and why?
WPPI because if you don’t you get left behind.
Do you have any workshops or seminars planned for the future?
I’m doing one in the Bahamas about the time this interview goes live. I may do another just like it in Cabo San Lucas or Playa Del Carmen next spring.
What photographic organizations do you belong to?
WPPI and I’m also a volunteer photographer for Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep (www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org) as well as a board member.
One way you market Images By Grant Oakes?
Strictly referrals for me. High end clients almost always go with recommendations from the venues, their coordinators or other people they trust.
Do you advertise? If so where?
No print advertising, it only brings in the average client at best. Internet advertising brings in even more of the same.
How important is an awesome website for your business?
Without a great 1st impression they’ll go to the next website on their list. The first 10-15 seconds is critical. That’s why I started www.tafota.com, to create attention getting websites specifically for the professional photographer with an easy to manage interface so they can change their content anytime they wish.
If not a photographer, I would have liked to be a marine biologist studying the great white shark or a CIA agent. What would you have been?
Funny how you would have been a marine biologist. I have had a similar interest, loving SCUBA diving and enjoying the wonderful world below the surface of the Caribbean. Perhaps a concept car designer would have been my forte as well. I love fast, exotic cars.
I realize that each great photographer has a particular penchant or love for photographing a particular subject whether it be nature, portraits, sea or landscapes, shadow and light, etc. as a result I would love to have you talk about and share whatever images you feel appropriate of your own private obsession in the magical world of photography.
This is the image that started it all. I used to live near the shore on Lake Michigan and loved the sunsets we would get. I had a Practica 35mm with a 50mm f1.8 lens. I don’t remember the settings except that it was shot on slide film. I even sold a few 8x10’s in photo art galleries. It was taken in May of 1975.
My wife and I took a cruise a few years back and were supposed to photograph a wedding in Grand Cayman that was to be published in Destination I Do magazine. To make a long story short, the seas were too rough and the ship couldn’t port in Cayman so the wedding was cancelled. We took a number of images that will someday make it into a coffee table book. This one was a composite from 4 different images that were stitched together in Photoshop to form the panoramic you see. Taken with a Canon 20D with a 28-75mm at 1/320th sec, f 8 and ISO 100.
Last night of our cruise I took this one with a 15mm fisheye on my 20D at 1/13th (positioning the camera on a railing) at f2.8 and ISO 800.
Same cruise, this one also taken that last night using a 70-200mm at 175mm at 125th at f4 and ISO 400.
Another composite image from our cruise when we were out to sea.
This image was at the Dunn’s River Fall in Jamaica near the port of Ocho Rios. Image was taken at 28mm, 1/4th sec at f22 and ISO 100. I stabilized the camera on a ledge to get it sharp and with the dragging of the shutter was able to produce the milky look of the falls.
A friend of mine asked me to take his portrait in our studio of his new born son. Photogenic studio strobes with a Larsen 4’x6’ soft box for the main and a standard umbrella for the fill light. Shot at f8 at ISO 100.
This is one of my grand-children done in my studio using the soft light of my north facing windows and a reflector for fill. Shot at f4 at 1/40th at ISO 400.
Is there anybody or anything you would love to photograph?
We’re raising 2 of our grand-children, Tyler is 13 and Lauren, age 4 and I feel the need to start taking pictures of them. It seems that the carpenters wife never gets her cabinets built. That’s about to change real soon.
When I was 2nd shooting I was picking everybody’s brain, I still am actually. That’s why I love these interviews so much. Every interview I learn something that makes me a better photographer. What advice do you have for somebody who wants to pursue wedding photography?
Learn the craft. Don’t just snap away with the thought of fixing it later. Get it right in the camera. Learn how to nail it, to get it dead on, exposure, white balance, composition. In the film days it cost you about $1.25 every time you moved your right index finger down. You had to get it right or you’d go broke. Think like a film shooter and you’ll excel.
At the moment I’m finding a lot of my photographic inspiration from 60's cinema and Russian fashion photographers. We know that each of us has someone or something, which inspires our life and work. Can you tell us the true basis of your inspiration?
I do get ideas from good cinema in general. Some of the movement and composition help me in what I try to capture in my photography and that’s emotion. It was good 25 years ago as it is today and will be 25 years from now.
Is there anything you would have done differently during your photographic career?
If I could go back in time, especially with what I know now, I would whisper in my ear to get serious at a much earlier time than I did. I just didn’t realize the impact photography could play in the lives of people as I do now.
Name one photographer you would like to take a portrait of?
Parker J Pfister.
Name one sports player you would like to take a portrait of?
Muhammad Ali. He was, and is such a dynamic personality.
If you could be invisible for one day with your camera...
I’d like to know what really goes on in Washington DC.
I’ve learned the most from…
David Ziser. I followed him early in my career when I started to get serious about photography, mostly from a business and presentation standpoint.
What talent would you most like to have?
To see composition more intuitively.
Something you’re still learning?
Everything. That’s what’s great about this industry, it’s constantly keeping you on your toes to keep up so it never gets boring.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My Creator, Jehovah God.
What is your greatest fear?
Something that is overrated?
Something you’re saving up for?
I have a 97 BMW 328i convertible and I’d love to move up to a 2001 M3 version (more horsepower).
What item do you wish you had designed?
The flush mount album. In about 1993 I talked to my lab about printing multiple images on both sides of the paper and having them bound like a book. They told me it couldn’t be done and I believed them. I shouldn’t have listened and instead figured out a way on my own. I could have predated all the flush mount album manufacturers by several years.
If you could have lunch with anyone who is famous who would it be?
Living? Bill Cosby. He is such an incredible individual. Dead? Job, because of his faithfulness.
Where you'll find me on a Friday night at 9 p.m.?
Most of the time renting a movie and watching it with my wife and our 2 grandkids in our presentation room on a big screen using our projector and eating pop corn.
Your favourite film (movie) of all time?
Dances With Wolves.
Who would play you in a film (movie) of your life?
I’ve been told I look a little like Errol Flynn.
First thing you would do if you won the lottery?
Pay off my house and live simple, just like I currently do. Then maybe take a little vacation with the family, maybe a drive through the west.
Which five words would your friends use to describe you?
Helpful, caring, ambitious, innovative, honest, generous.
What ambition have you not yet achieved?
This may sound a bit out of the ordinary but since I was about 8 years old I have wanted to build my own mini 2 person submarine and explore the depths. I figure an empty propane storage tank may do.
What would you like to be doing in 5 years from now?
The same things I’m doing now, shooting weddings and providing websites to photographers. Hey, I’m living the dream!
And the last question, if you had one wish…
World peace and brotherhood.
Oh one more, if someone said ‘how can I be the next Grant Oakes?’ What would you say?
Don’t try. Do your own thing and you’d probably be far more success than me.
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