This week I welcome Dennis and Jaime Viera of Viera Photographics. A brilliant interview with two awesome photographers. They put a lot of time and effort into this interview and I’m sure everyone who reads it will learn a thing or two. Enjoy the interview and if you think Dennis and Jaime are cool hit the comment button below. Keep shooting, constantly experiment, shoot a roll of film, start a personal project and stay focused. Crash
Hi Dennis and Jaime,
Tell us a little bit about you? We have a 6 year old boy, a 3 year old rescue dog, a barn cat, and 7 cheeky chickens. Family is so important to us that we left a life we created in New Zealand with a home and a successful photography business there to move back and be closer to them. We love taking pictures of everything, we travel a lot and enjoy life to it’s fullest.
Where is home? Our current home is Oceanside, California.
If you could live anywhere on this awesome planet where would you build your dream home? Bay of Plenty, New Zealand
What is your current state of mind before we continue with the interview? Still thinking about the layout of that Bay of Plenty dream home…
Did you go to school to study photography? No, I studied Media Communications and Jaime studied Biochemistry.
How long have you been a photographer? I started working for my college newspaper when I was 19 I became obsessed with learning everything about photography and began an intense self-training program. When Jaime and I met in 2000, she had just purchased her first Nikon with a few lenses and has been extremely enthusiastic about photography ever since.
How long have you been a wedding photographer? I photographed my first wedding my senior year at the University of San Diego – 15 years ago. Whoa!
What or who got you started in wedding photography? I photographed my first wedding with much apprehension due to the stigmas I’d perceived about the industry and expectations from wedding clients. The groom was my college advisor so I was honored that he liked my photos enough to want me as his photographer. The experience was intense, but also highly satisfying as I had license to approach the day however I wanted. I feel fortunate to have had a positive experience from day one.
How would you describe your style? Stylish and cinematic storytelling with raw emotion
How many weddings do you average per year? 20-25
Do you have a few images you can share with us?
What type of cameras do you shoot with? Nikon film and digital, Pentax 67 II, Rolleiflex 2.8, Widelux F VII, Mamiya Universal w/127mm lens and Polaroid back, Olympus OM1…and an olympus XA when I need to go completely under the radar.
What is your favourite photography accessory, other than your camera? I recently bought an adapter that allows me to mount my Pentax 67 lenses to my Nikon camera bodies and I have a 100mm micro Pentax lens that has become a favorite simply because of how sharp it is and how beautifully it renders color and bokeh.f
If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why? Although I seldom shoot this lens if I have a prime alternative, the Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 covers most of the ranges I love to shoot and is tough to beat. Very close second, the Nikon 24mm f/1.4 for overall speed, contrast, and versatility as I tend to shoot a lot of things wider than normal.
What lighting equipment do you take on a shoot? We have a bunch of SB-800 speedlights, Pocket Wizard Flex TT5’s, a Lowell video light, and Alien Bee Einstein lighting with assorted modifiers that we bring to almost every shoot unless a more low-key approach is required. Most of the time though, we’ll just bounce/cut existing light with reflector’s or foam-core boards. We think less is more and added production doesn’t necessarily yield better image content.
Can you describe how and when you use flash, video light, reflectors and natural light during a wedding? We’re always searching for good natural light but sometimes, even good light needs a bit of help. First preference would be to use reflectors/foam core modification but if we need to light up a scene, we will with strobes and test before bringing the subject(s) in and we always try to move through concepts quickly before losing the moment.
What is your favourite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer? Adobe Camera Raw 6.5.
What is your most used Photoshop tool, plug-in, action set etc.? I don’t use Photoshop action sets to process RAW files. I prepare my file(s) in Camera Raw and have created an extensive custom library of image presets that are lens/lighting-specific. Final images are the result of layered composite images with different settings applied to each image version.
How important is Photoshop in your final images? Photoshop is a tool in the creative process that helps us complete our vision. With digital, you really have to break from being a purist as getting an image looking amazing in camera is often at the expense of information loss. We try to keep our image processing as natural as possible and, although the final image may not always feel exactly as the scene felt, the emotion we are trying to convey comes through in a way that feels believable.
Are you a Mac or PC lover? Mac but if a PC works for you, GREAT!
I finally feel I have mastered my Crash-Art workflow, can you briefly describe for the readers your photographic workflow after a wedding? Backup files, process film, organize files into job subfolders, preliminary delete-through to eliminate any obvious losers, pick winners, edit winners in Camera Raw, rename files, final edit through to eliminate weak/redundant images, process into high/low res jpegs, upload to proof site, pick music, pick slideshow, make album proof, present to client! Phew!
What wedding albums do you supply your clients with and do you design them yourself or outsource the design? We use West Coast Albums and our studio manager designs a layout for each client immediately after their proofs are released. Albums really complete the story for us.
Do you plan on buying any new equipment and if so what do you have your eyes on? Good thing about Nikon is we never need to update lenses so we can just grow our collection of specialized cameras and lenses. Next lens will be an 85mm f/1.4 as that lens is like a handheld miracle. We just signed the lease on a new office and shoot space so I’m likely to bulk out our lighting kit a bit with more modifiers and grip stuff.
How do you feel about cropping an image? I hate cropping and seldom do unless I need to slightly tweak an off-angle. Sometimes though, cropping is unavoidable, particularly with our commercial clients, so for them we shoot a bit looser than we typically would for a wedding/portrait client.
I choose photographers for these interviews because their work inspires me and gets my creative juices flowing, hence the interview. What gives you ideas and inspires you to create such amazing imagery? I’m not blissfully ignorant to the difficulties in the world in which we live - I know it’s a hard world out there – but I still think there’s an opportunity through photography to catch fleeting, beautiful moments or arrange the chaotic world in a way that is beautiful and ordered. So maybe I do have a selective naiveté that allows me to suspend reality for a second but it helps give me permission to insert myself into intimate situations that can be intimidating if you think too much about them.
What has been your most memorable assignment and why? Most recently, I had a surf shoot and decided to get in the water with the guys for some more intimate angles. I’ve surfed for 20 years but this was the first time I actually got into the surf with only a camera and some swim fins. The first of 2 shoots was an incredible workout and I only ended up getting about 20% of the usable shots I thought I would. The second shoot involved me being investigated by a juvenile leopard shark which swam underneath me and promptly freaked me directly to the beach. All in all, an amazing experience and I have a new level of respect for full-time water photographers.
If you could shoot a wedding with someone who would it be and why? While I appreciate and tend towards a photojournalistic approach, a true photojournalist would work better solo so I’d have to say Helmut Newton. I appreciate his bold, graphical, and sexy approach to fashion and think it’d be fun to shoot portraits with him – as long as he kept his pants on.
It’s almost that time for a Viera family portrait. Is there any photographer out there that you would be stoked to say – he/she took my portrait? To be perfectly honest, while I value good photography, I just can’t stand to have my photo taken. Having said that, I’d be stoked to be left with a good photo rather than an experience with some famous photographer. My good friend and fellow photographer, Brian Lima photographed our wedding and is probably the first person we’d call on for such a nerve-wracking request.
What is your favourite image you have shot recently? Can you describe its creation in regards to location, lighting, composition etc… and what the image means to you? This image was shot using my Rolleiflex 2.8 earlier this year in New Zealand. Busking or, street performing, is extremely common in New Zealand and this guy was the ultimate busker; he had picked up this broken down piano from the local 2nd had shop, fixed it up, put wheels on it and rolled it around the small town of Wanaka where he’d set up and play, this time, outside the local grocery store. The piano was in no way good as new but produced some of the most haunting sounds I’ve ever heard. I was just glad to have had the perfect camera/film setup at the perfect time of day to capture an amazingly talented anonymous musician completely handing himself over to his passion.
Do you have an assistant/2nd shooter that accompanies you on wedding assignments? We are each other’s 2nd shooters and we always have at least one assistant and often additional associate shooters for more large-scale jobs.
How many images do you average per wedding and how many do you usually present to your clients? We average about 4,000 images per wedding and our clients typically get around 1000.
Where would be your dream destination wedding? Turkey
A website and/or blog you visit often? I don’t follow too many photo-related blogs but I do check into Flavorpill quite regularly. I like their choice of what to report on for news, music, culture, etc.
How do you make the bride and groom, bridal party etc… feel relaxed in front of your camera? We use empathy. We are very awkward in front of the camera so starting the discussion off by putting ourselves in their shoes in a conversational way, typically assuages any initial nerves and then we shoot FAST before we lose their attention.
Have you ever had anything go wrong at a wedding and if so, how did you handle it? Stuff always goes wrong and you just have to work it out. One wedding our sensor sucked in a piece of lint right before the formal photos and I had to perform a quick sensor clean. The hasty cleaning actually made the sensor much worse so we had to configure and use a different camera and a slightly different approach, all at a time when I was supposed to be shooting. Luckily, Jaime and I are master distractors and Jaime was able to distract the group for the 90 seconds it took to shift to plan B. Photos were all a success though!
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about photographing weddings? Being at the mercy of the ambient light during a part of the day when you have to be discreet and can’t use lighting, or, letting go of the fact that you can’t be everywhere at once.
What do you think of the wedding photography industry at the moment and where do you see it in 5 years from now? The wedding industry is what it is, there are total artists, formulaic money-makers, and weekend warriors. I get jaded sometimes and think, “oh my god, what a shameful, get-get, money-money industry we’re in” but there’s always been that one particular aspect of it since Dean Collins began his VHS training tapes on how to be a photo-hustler (for the record, I actually think Dean Collins is a top guy and super talented technical photographer). It think it’s in an overall, more creative place than it used to be and becoming even more so with the internet helping to bring photographers’ worldwide together in an online forum of idea sharing. Flip side is with all the idea sharing, a homogeneity can develop with a lot of people from all corners of the world delivering images that all look similar to one another. It’ll be more important than ever over the next 5 years to put your voice in your work to separate yourself from the masses.
The first photographer that comes to your mind and why? Richard Avedon. A lot of older photographers inspire me but his work is a perfect mix of raw, spontaneity and calculated, technical mastery.
A wedding photographer who inspires you? I try not to look at the competition too much because it makes my head spin. I know it could seem like a cheesy answer but…I am honestly inspired by my wife Jaime who constantly reminds me in her work that there’s always a fresh perspective and I am envious of her intuition at times which makes for good, friendly competition.
The last workshop or seminar you attended and why? Last seminar I attended was 2011 WPPI. There’s always room for improvement and you can never learn too much, so we figured we’d caravan the whole Viera Photographics family to WPPI and see what it was all about. We did come away with a lot of new ideas, vendor options, free film, and fresh thoughts but were also blown away by what a scene it all was. It was great to meet some new people and surround ourselves with all things wedding and portrait photography and it was also good to hear some established photographers share stories that we could completely relate to.
What photographic organizations do you belong to? WPJA and APA, Best of Wedding Photography, JuneBug, Style Me Pretty’s Little Black book.
One way you market Viera Photographics? We have been members of the WPJA for nearly 6 years and, after placing well in a few early competitions, gained early momentum. After that, fostering personal relationships with industry professionals and maintaining good client relationships has always been the best way for us to spread awareness of our business. The blogs definitely help too but lately, I feel that their ubiquitous presence over the industry is informing peoples’ shooting styles too much in terms of trendy processing and stock detail photos.
How important is an awesome website for your business? It’s the most important thing for us. We don’t send out or show printed portfolios; we’ll meet with clients and show album samples but all our work is displayed on our website & blog.
Do you advertise in bridal magazines? Occasionally. This year, we are in Ceremony Magazine.
If not a photographer, I would have liked to be a marine biologist studying the great white shark. What would you have been? I might have been a chef but I don’t have the quickest knife skills. I was on track to majoring in meteorology in college but realized how frustrating it would be with that degree, living in a place with the most boring weather in the country; Southern California. Jaime could have been anything, but I can see her as a Veterinarian as she loves animals and science.
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 we 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. I like photographing people on the street. I’ve been ever so slowly working on a project in one of the original Oceanside neighborhoods, trying to photograph old and new residents of the community. The Historical Society has been working with me, introducing me to members of the community. I am really trying to slow down my typical approach, shoot a larger than normal film camera (Pentax 6×7), and only take a few frames of black and white film to create an important, meaningful portrait of each person and the community as a whole. I also love photographing live music, shoes, architecture, and food. I guess there are common threads running through the work but for me, I just can’t help myself… I LOVE photography. I feel it’s important never to reach a point where you have too polished a response for why you photograph, just keep doing it and understand that you don’t always have to have a reason for why you’re photographing that can of soup or a piece of broken concrete…just photograph.
Lately I have wanted to photograph 100 strangers and great white sharks in South Africa. Is there anybody or anything you would love to photograph? I’m fascinated with the problems in our country today and have a lot of ideas for photo projects dealing with the subject of the “disappearing” middle class. There’s a good percentage of the population that is having to start their lives from scratch but at an age they should be (and rightfully so,) planning their retirement. I heard about a guy on NPR that was the financial supporter for his family and lost his job last year and has been unemployed since. He’s packing it all in and going where the jobs are, in this case to the North Dakota energy boom where he will be away from his family for months until things begin to click, living in a trailer with another person in his same situation. The human struggle is always in my consciousness and it makes the wonderful times such as weddings so much more poignant as life is all about the balance between struggle and celebration.
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? Ask yourself if you had to shoot a wedding for free, would you still give it 100% and have a great time? Weddings commonly provide a lucrative second job for photo enthusiasts that don’t really care too much for the concept of a wedding and it shows in the work. Not all weddings are an explosion of inspiration but you have to be able to find the beauty in the situation and tell the best story you can with the elements you have to work with. Also, don’t feel like you have to model your business after anything – model it after your approach and what it takes for you to do the best job you can do for your clients. Maybe you don’t shoot receptions. Fine! You’ll lose a lot of jobs but match up more accurately with your target client and the quality of the work will benefit.
At the moment I’m finding a lot of my photographic inspiration from 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’m very sensitive to the light during particular seasons and this time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun angle is at it’s lowest so pretty much anytime of the day you have soft, moody light. Early winter also provides a lot of extremely high overcast which diffuses the already great light, so this time of the year is incredibly inspirational for me. I also draw a lot of inspiration from music and try to get myself in a particular headspace before shoots so the tone of the music helps inform the tone of the photography.
Is there anything you would have done differently during your photographic career? I would’ve done more photo projects while living in New Zealand. When I first arrived I was exclusively shooting film which was expensive and not easy to have processed in the remote South Island which curbed a lot of photo-enthusiasm at the time. Now, there are only a few towns that even sell film there.
If you could be invisible for one day with your camera… DMV lobby, Los Angeles.
I’ve learned the most from… May 5, 2002 onwards. That’s the day I packed it all in and moved, sight unsean to New Zealand to be with my future wife, Jaime. My life has never been the same since.
What talent would you most like to have? I prefer being quite good at a few things over being legendary at just one.
Something you’re still learning? How to be more decisive
What or who is the greatest love of your life? Toss up between my wife and my son
What is your greatest fear? Driving off a bridge
Something that is overrated? Commercial success
Something you’re saving up for? Our future. When things are going well, it’s tempting to want to splash out and buy new stuff. History tells us, however, that business is a series of financial crests and troughs so to stay afloat over a sustained period, you need to keep a level head and your eyes on the horizon. There’s no certainty in this industry no matter how successful you may currently be, I mean look at what happened to Annie Leibovitz in 2009.
What item do you wish you had designed? The Snuggie…I mean, look how happy all those people look!
If you could have lunch with anyone who is famous who would it be? Eddie Vedder or Jon Stewart.
Where you’ll find me on a Friday night at 9 p.m.? It could be on the couch watching a movie with the family, out dj’ing, having dinner with friends, or traveling.
Your favourite film (movie) of all time? I asked Oliver Stone the same question when he came to speak at the University (of San Diego) and he made me feel 2 inches tall. I can understand not wanting to be tied down to one answer but he could’ve at least given some movies that provided inspiration…oh well. I do agree it’s hard to come up with a single, definitive movie that satisfies all the tick-boxes so for me, I’ll give three movies. Submarine – excellent story of adolescence, great soundtrack, amazing cinematography. Dazed and Confused – classic with a great documentary feel. Bronx Tale – great father/son story taking place in New York in the 70′s set amongst the nefarious goings-on of the local gangs and thick with civil rights tensions. Honorable mention/guiltiest pleasure – Zoolander.
First thing you would do if you won the lottery? Pay off all of our and our parent’s debts, invest the rest in real estate, buy myself a Sportsmobile, pack us all in and drive to the tip of South America.
Which five words would your friends use to describe you? Excited, talkative, funny, dependable, indecisive
What would you like to be doing in 5 years from now? More of the same! Quality over quantity is the ultimate goal but right now, the balance is pretty good and the diversity of assignments keeps us constantly fresh.
And the last question, if you had one wish… Since world peace is never going to happen, I wish we had a giant, I mean GIANT assistant – like 18 foot tall – that could hold massive diffusion panels for us. That would be the ultimate.
Oh one more, if someone said ‘how can I be the next Viera Photographics?’ What would you say?
The most honest answer is that without my wife Jaime, our business would not be where it is today because the world of photography is not what it once was. Today, to stand out in the world of photography, you need to not only create memorable images, but you need to have your business running seamlessly in the background and this means having a lot of technical and computer proficiencies, skills in marketing and advertising, and an open mind to assimilating new technology into your business workflow – although it can be tiring having to learn all the features of the latest Photoshop update just as you’ve figured out the most recent version.
It’s extremely rare to find a single person that embodies dual personality types and is able to keep a business successful and creative at the same and, while Jaime comes close to having mastered both, together we are much greater than the sum of our individual parts in this business.
One more thing and then I’ll stop rambling…you need to be extremely passionate about photography and find yourself taking photos all the time, not just when a client is hiring you to. There’s definitely a place in the market and there always will be for photographers who do average work and have above average marketing to help them succeed. Conversely, there are tons of talented, inspiring photographers that are unable to run a business and keep their clients happy or deliver under pressure that will slip into obscurity. Forming a business plan from the very beginning – incorporating as much of yourself into this plan as possible – is the best way to stay true to yourself, be happy, and work within a healthy creative space that will foster continued love for your craft while averting early burnout. Hope that makes sense!
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