A few weeks ago, Junebug Weddings published a Photographer Spotlight profile about me and my work. It was a hoot, and a lot of fun to reflect on my past 25 years as a photographer. Here is a repost, along with some additions, below. I hope you enjoy learning a little about the man behind the camera.
Photographer Spotlight - Kevin Weinstein of Kevin Weinstein Photography
As one of the most sought-after wedding photographers anywhere, Chicago photographer Kevin Weinstein continually raises the bar of wedding photojournalism. His stunning, spontaneous images capture the unscripted moments that will never come again, and speak volumes about what makes every wedding he photographs so unique. We're thrilled to share a little bit about his life and his work with you today, and to feature him on our World's Best Wedding Photographers Hotlist.
Junebug: How did you become a photographer and what first got you into wedding photography?
Kevin: I am approaching my tenth anniversary in wedding photography and coming up on twenty-five years as a photographer this October. Two very significant events happened in my life that brought me to where I am.
The first one happened when I was in high school in San Francisco. I went to a very hippyish, very West Coast college-preparatory boarding school and lived in a dorm. During that time one of my close dorm-mates named Cory hung himself in our dorm and died. Cory and I were the two sole sophomore's elected to run and be the "big brothers" in the Freshman dorm. The Freshman had lights-out at 11, and Cory and I would stay up all night laughing, drinking and listening to Pink Floyd. When he died, I was left alone in the dorm at night. A couple of weeks later I went to the yearbook staff to get a picture of my friend to keep. The person in charge was busy so she showed me to the dark-room, put a negative in the enlarger and provided cursory instructions regarding the process. I recall her saying, “If it is too light, add time; if it is too dark, take away time.” Eight hours later I came out obsessed with photography. I then went on to work for a variety of newspapers, and to get a Bachelor’s degree in photography from San Francisco Art Institute. While studying at SFAI, I completed two very long-term traditional documentary projects on transsexual prostitutes and then teenagers living on the streets in San Francisco's Tenderloin district. The teenage series won me an award for first place in the United States in the documentary category. As a result, I was led to, and provided with a scholarship to get my Master's from the top journalism school in the country. Today I’m a photojournalist, and my focus is weddings.
The second event that led me to wedding photography happened on June 1st of 2001. I lost my job that morning due to a buy-out, was burned out with the newspaper industry and looking forward to finding a new direction. I was incredibly distraught by my time at newspapers in the 90s and felt damaged artistically and as a human being. Especially the job I had just been let go from. While searching for a new career completely away from photography, a friend of mine called from San Francisco who had just hurt her back. She was shooting a wedding for a couple of graphic designers in Wisconsin and they wanted a photojournalist to shoot their wedding in a documentary style. I had never shot a wedding before, nor attended a wedding in my life, but my friend pointed out to me that all I had to do was tell the couple’s story which was what I had always done with my photography. I shot the wedding and I loved it! It brought the style that I loved about newspaper work (candid photography), and added a whole new dimension. People were thrilled to have me present and, most importantly, I had the time to really connect with my subjects. My passion, like most photojournalists, is long-term stories. I found a marriage between my passion for photojournalism and wedding photography. A one-day photo essay. Day in the Life.
Junebug: What influences your style?
Kevin: I have always been interested in art and culture. When I was a child, I couldn’t wait to receive the National Geographic in the mail and go through the photos. They opened up my vision of the world and taught me about how other people live. Also, when a child, my favorite thing to do on my birthday was to dine at a fancy restaurant in downtown San Francisco and follow my parents in and out of galleries throughout the evening.
From the moment I picked up my first camera when I was 15, I never liked when people posed for the camera. I’ve always been a photojournalist from the beginning, I guess. My passion is shooting unscripted moments and long-term photo essays.
Soon after, I found that my camera allowed me to learn about people and cultures other than my own. It was a license to intrude and learn about the people around me. While I am not interested in social documentary projects any longer, my camera still allows me to witness incredible moments in strangers' lives. I guess you could say I am kind of the stereotypical photographer: shy, with social anxiety, yet gregarious. And a full-fledged voyeur.
My style comes from within. It is always evolving and never the same from year to year. Some years there are minor tweaks; other years there are major overhauls to my approach and style. It is the challenges/imperfections of photography and the equipment along with my ideal outcome that push me to grow and change. I have an idea in my head how I want my images to look (color, composition, distance) and it is my job to figure out how to make that happen for my clients. If that means newer gear, or more people brought on a shoot, then that is exactly what I will do. I rarely find inspiration from other shooters. Rather, I find other's work which I admire, and use that to ignite passion to go further. Never board, always challenged.
Junebug: As one of the most popular photographers in the Chicago area you shoot at a lot of different locations. Where are your favorite locations to shoot?
Kevin: That’s hard to say because it depends on how the venue is decorated, the light, and the way the couple’s style fits in with their surroundings. Also, one venue might be great to photograph in at 5 p.m. in October, but completely different in June at the same time. Light plays a HUGE roll in everything I do. I have been to the same venues over and over again, and it is amazing how different the inside can photograph with different custom and natural lighting, décor and the energy of the people. Some of the places I’ve enjoyed shooting lately are Café Brauer and the Palmer House Hilton, which is very ornate and detailed and full of beautiful backdrops. I’ve also liked shooting at the Museum of Contemporary Art and the other museums in the city. There is also this new boutique hotel called the Elysian, which is a luxury hotel with an intimate space and has incredible décor that combines very traditional with ultra modern touches. You really have to see it to believe it. That is my true gem right now..
Junebug: We see your name on the recommendation list of many top wedding professionals. Can you tell us three that are at the top of yours?
Kevin: Again, that’s a hard question, but three that come to mind are Reva Nathan and Associates, the designers at Kehoe Designs and Heffernan and Morgan Designs. When I shoot for any of those coordinators or event designers, I know there are going to be some great detail shots coming out of those weddings. Again, each wedding is unique, and some are more over the top than others. The more custom decor, the more I feel like a kid in a candy store. But that is not to say I can't make compelling pictures at a wedding with average decor budgets.
Junebug: What is your favorite moment or tradition at weddings?
Kevin: For me, it’s probably the preparation. It has all the anticipation, excitement and even fear that makes weddings so emotional. I also like the first dance. But again, there are so many different environmental and physical elements that can change that: too small of a hotel room, bad lighting, people in my way, etc. This changes for me quite often. I’m Jewish, and I shoot a lot of Jewish weddings. I feel very at home in that environment. I understand the culture and the interactions, and I can relate to the rituals as well as to the people. Some of my favorites things to photograph are the traditional Tish and Bedeken, where the bride and groom are separated and the groom along with his family and groomsmen come dancing to the veiling of the bride.
I also enjoy photographing the Horah and the Ketubah signing. Photographing the Horah makes me reflect on my childhood celebrations. Plus, it reminds me of some of my newspaper assignments: it can be dangerous!
Junebug: What's your favorite camera? lens?
Kevin: I am addicted to prime lenses. I own zooms but they get touched several times a year (don't tell anyone), but my favorite lenses are my 35mm. 1.4, my 85mm 1.2 and my 50mm 1.2. I shoot with the 1Ds Mark 3 from Canon and a slew of lighting equipment. I still practice what my mentor preached from war photographer Robert Capa who once said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” And not supporting the use of longer lenses but reminding photographers to stop being lazy with zooms and to physically get closer — to become more connected and intimate with the people who let us into their lives.
Junebug: Do you shoot film, digital or both?
Kevin: All digital. No film. Luckily I have had the pleasure of abusing both mediums, and digital is so far superior to film I have no interest in playing old-school and tinkering with it any longer. Digital has allowed me to push an already solid style forward much faster than I ever imagined possible.
Junebug: Is there one thing you like to tell every bride and groom before their wedding?
Kevin: I keep it pretty simple. I know that their last week will be really stressful and full of tons of minutiae. It is like moving apartments: all the big stuff is taken care of early, and then the last weeks are filled with details details details. I truly think every client should have a planner/coordinator. I tell couples just be ready to let go on your wedding day, just let go of all the stress. About eight years ago, I had a bride who worried so much about her details that I had to edit a lot of the photos because the stress was showing on her face. Not only did I not like the final images, she wasn't pleased either. A wedding is a celebration, so have fun and relax. I, too, would be upset if some details went wrong, but on the day of your wedding, it is showtime. Go with it.
Junebug: What makes you give yourself a mental high five?
Kevin: When all the technical elements come together (the lighting, exposure etc…) and I capture more than just a moment, but THE moment. I love knowing that I have a kick-ass photo to deliver to the bride and groom. For me, photography is a process of elimination. A shoot, for me, is all about challenges, obstacles and how to work past each and every of those: the venue is too dark; there are people in my way; the subject is back-lit; I can’t get across the room quick enough; there are awful fire doors and exit signs littering my background; the layout of the room is difficult to navigate without sticking my behind in people's dinner and so forth. Not a moment goes by working an event that I don’t have at least one thing working against me. But I thrive off that. If everything was easy, perfect and challenge-free, I would be bored just showing up and clicking a button to fire off the shutter. But that is what makes my art mine, and why people invest in my work: because they like the decisions I make to tell their story. Clicking the shutter happens after a zillion decisions are made in my head (shutter speed, choice of f-stop, lens choice, distance to subject, position to the subject, lighting, anticipating key moments, etc). That is what challenges me and helps me stay creative. I enjoy knowing that I can work through whatever conditions are working against me and still get the best shots. Photography, for me, is a slightly painful process in my head. If people could witness the conversations in my head while at a wedding, I bet I would never get asked back.
Junebug: What is the best thank you that you've ever received?
Kevin: I’m grateful to have received a lot of thoughtful gifts. But I have always felt gifts are unnecessary. My clients invest well, and to me, that is my thank you gift. They love my art and need me at their wedding. But I still love a classic hand-written note. In the digital era of text, Facebook, wall posts, Twitter, email and voicemails, a card in the mail still makes me smile. I save them all!
Junebug: What gets you up in the morning?
Kevin: My art, pushing my business to the next level, and long distance running. I am an endurance runner and I have a strong and deep passion for the sport. I take an hour or more each day to go running and let go of all my daily concerns. I love the challenge, I love the speed and I love pushing myself. Everything I do in my life (business or personal) is about pushing further and further. I am always busy, rarely resting and can find something that needs attention at all hours of the day and night. I will rest when my time is up.
I am just coming back from an injury exacerbated by running (January 2008), and I love watching my improvements right now. Running gives me a way to push myself, just like with my studio. I have always been very athletic since I was a child. I am excited by challenges, goals and pushing the bar to achieve them. Before running, I was a springboard diver by age five and a platform diver by ten. I was obsessed. Soon I became an internationally competitive diver through my teenage years. When I was eleven years old, I was 3rd in the United States on the 1 meter and 13th in the United States on the 3 meter springboard. I was living in Northern California at the time, but I had outgrown my coaches and was transferred to a competitive team in Los Angeles. My coach and families started talking about the next round of the US Olympic Team Trials. And one thought came to mind: a loss of my formative years ahead. I balked and ran the other direction, and was heartbroken. I was just too young.
I always have a new project, and a goal that I’m working on. Once I achieve a goal, I take one deep breath, take myself out to dinner, enjoy the evening and wake up the next morning already looking at my “notebook” to see what I want to pursue next personally or for my business. My New Year's resolution is the same every year: to relax more (time goes by quickly). But that's the problem. There isn't enough time. And so far, every year, I break the resolution. But that's what those are for anyway.