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Jerry Ghionis: Seeing The World Differently

The wedding and portrait photographer marries perfect light with creative previsualization with room for spontaneity, and the result is flawless images
Jerry Ghionis

“At every wedding, I try to take some close up portraits of my bride with m 85mm f/1.4 lens,” says photographer Jerry Ghionis. “She looked like a Persian princess, and there was so much detail in her headpiece and in the bodice of her dress so I wanted to include all of that. I love shooting with a strong direction of light in order to accentuate highlights and shadows, and that creates depth and dimension in an image. The shallow depth of field brings attention to her beautiful blue eyes and also ensures that the background doesn’t take attention away from her face.”

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It’s not every day that you see a photographer quickly create a striking black-and-white portrait of a model standing in the entrance of a parking garage that rivals many portraits shot in professional studios. But that’s exactly the kind of magic that participants experience at a wedding and portrait photography workshop with Nikon USA Ambassador and WPPI Grand Master Jerry Ghionis. His signature style involves a flawless blend of finding the most perfect light a location has to offer, carefully thought-out posing and creative in-camera cropping, which has attributed to him being regarded as one of the world’s top five best wedding photographers. Working as a team with his wife, Melissa, the duo were warm, welcoming and lots of fun to spend the day with at the recent Nikon School workshop, just steps from the beach in Santa Monica, California, where we learned more about the wedding, portrait, boudoir and fashion photographer.

Digital Photo Pro: You received your first camera at age 15 and have said that you became obsessed with photography from that point on. How did your style develop?

Jerry Ghionis: I was an avid hobbyist from the age of 15 when I first received my camera until I turned 20 years old. And during that time, I had no real bias toward a particular genre. I tried everything and anything—from photographing people to landscape to sports, etc. When I decided I wanted to become a professional photographer, I thought about going into fashion photography since it felt very glamorous to me. But then I decided that wedding photography seemed to be a more realistic way to make a living as a photographer. And being a wedding photographer would also give me a more well-rounded experience because you’re actually photographing multiple genres of photography in one day while under pressure. My style developed pretty quickly because I understood early in my career I was a proactive photographer rather than a reactive photographer. By that, I mean that I was impatient to wait for a moment and I was happy to help create the moment when it was needed. So my style was and still could be defined as glamorous and natural. I create images that combine the beauty of a great pose with the natural feel of a candid moment.

Jerry Ghionis
Jerry Ghionis: Although I usually consider myself a proactive photographer, I am also a reactive one as well when the situation is right for it. I really enjoy anticipating moments found. Unbeknownst to the bride, the flower girls were playing underneath her long veil. It was a windy day so I had a feeling something might happen. Then a gust of wind blew up, pressing the veil into the little girl’s nose and made her giggle.

DPP: What inspired you early on compared to what inspires you now, 20 years after launching your professional career?

Ghionis: My biggest source of inspiration has always been movies, fashion and the music industry. One photographer who I began aspiring to early in my career is Herb Ritts. And I can still see his influence in my work. I’ve always loved his simple, clean, dynamic portraiture and his use of strong light.

DPP: At your workshop, you covered five steps to better photographs. Would you discuss the importance of each step and how to achieve them?

Jerry Ghionis
Jerry Ghionis: Although this looks like a photojournalistic moment, it would not have happened unless I directed the images preceding it. I noticed throughout the day that the bride and her father had a very close relationship. So when the bride was fully dressed and about to walk into the room where everyone was waiting to see her as a bride, I told her to walk in and only have eyes for her father. It prompted a great reaction from both of them and resulted in mom hugging her daughter as the dad took off his glasses to wipe away tears.

Ghionis: There are five steps that I follow in this order when creating a dynamic portrait:

  1. Light. First, you must find the light. Unfortunately, many inexperienced photographers will choose the beauty of location instead of finding a scene with beautiful lighting.
  2. Location. Once I’ve found the right light, I then choose my location or background. I allow the background to help guide me in finding a pose or action for the photograph.
  3. Pose. It’s at this point that I create a concept for my subjects. I loosely pose my subject in a way that takes advantage of the lighting and location that I’ve already found. I then roughly set them up in a position. If I want my couples to look natural, I give them a reason to be there, such as whispering in each other’s ear or perhaps sharing a romantic kiss.
  4. Exposure/Technique. Before finalizing my pose, I get my technique right. That means determining the ISO, aperture and shutter speed based on my environment. I always shoot in manual so that I have complete control over my exposure and so I can get it all right in-camera.
  5. Expression. Now that I have a correct exposure, all I need is an action or reaction. Remember, I’ve already placed my couple in the best possible light, and I’ve roughly positioned them in the scene. I know what I’m looking for from the couple because I’ve conceptualized the image, but at the same time, I’ll also allow for spontaneity.

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