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Holy crap. The time has arrived. I’m blogging here today thanks to Matt Kloskowski, who stumbled into my Photo Plus seminar last year. During the presentation, Matt was amused by my ramblings, texted Scott multiple times to come take a look, and presto, I now find myself in unbelievable company teaching for Kelby Training. I was asked to be a guest blogger last fall, but my wedding schedule was out of control – so I asked Brad if I could delay it a bit. Truth be told, I had no idea what to write. Truth be told, I still have no idea what to write, but I suppose I’ll figure something out along the way. When I blog, I blog photographs, not words! I find it pretty darn funny that when someone tells you that you can write about anything you’d like, writer’s block sets in like rigor mortis.

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I suppose, the first step would be to quickly let folks know who the heck I am, and why I was given the honor of guest blogging for Scott. I’ll work on the former… I’m a wedding photographer in the Philadelphia region, and I’ve been shooting professionally for a whopping 29 years. I’m only 48, so if ya do the math, I started getting “paid” for this stuff when I was a 19 year old college kid. 29 years in professional photography… there’s got to be some conversion we could do – sort of like dog years, only photographer years. It’s just about the only thing I’ve ever done for a paycheck, with the exception of the swell jobs my dad used to get me loading trucks in a meat warehouse in Newark, NJ when I was in college. Man, those jobs sucked, but I learned a ton about life.

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After 6000 assignments during a 15 year career with the Philadelphia Inquirer, and after 750+weddings (haven’t really counted), I’ve never really looked back, until recently. I’ve been pretty damn fortunate to have made a living pushing a button for all these years. While I was certainly no star in the PJ world, I did get to meet people, see places, and experience things I’m incredibly grateful for. I loved photojournalism, and while you can take me out of photojournalism, you can’t take the photojournalism out of me.

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When I first started at the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1985, the staff was ridiculously talented. I used to sneak peaks at the negs of some of those I admired most- Larry Price, Sarah Leen, Akira Suwa, Michael Viola, John Filo, Tom Gralish, and so many others. The Inquirer staff was like a Pulitzer factory.  So many great people to learn from, and be inspired by. My beat, generally, was the suburbs of Philadelphia- specifically, South Jersey. Elliot Erwitt once said, “You can take good pictures anywhere, you can even take good pictures in New Jersey.” I’d love for Mr. Erwitt to come to Deptford, NJ to shoot. He may change his mind. However, every once in a while….I’d make a picture I’d really like. Elliot Erwitt remains an inspiration to this day when I’m reminded that sometimes there’s a picture to be made just about anywhere.

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I cut my teeth shooting local news, sports, politics, and features that were incredibly eclectic. Some were fun, some were dumb, some were hard, some were easy, some were sad, some were inspiring. Yet collectively, all were part of a learning process – a cumulative experience that I still call upon. Well, with the exception of the assignment I had in Audubon, NJ… “Cliff, there’s an odor in Audubon, we need art for B-1 tomorrow, go make something, here’s the address”…. Um, huh? A photo of an odor? As assignments go, it wasn’t as bad as my friend Dan Johnson’s assignment when he had to photograph a controversial purple house out of place in an historic district… yes, they ran it in B+W. But I digress.

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In 1998, after 15 years doing what I loved, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Newspaper Guild had, well, a little disagreement, and I found myself one of the odd men out. So, I did what several self respecting out of work photojournalists do – I shot anything I could – corporate events, ad work, public relation events, grip and grins, product shots, brochures, and just about anything else for a buck- including a foray into the wonderful, wacky world of wedding photography.

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I first began shooting weddings with a massive chip on my shoulder. I thought weddings were a bit of a joke, and to some people – maybe those who’ve never shot them – they still are. However, I quickly learned that besides the fact that they were NOT a joke. The moments I was able to capture for my clients were incredibly satisfying to both the client, and myself. It didn’t take very long before I was able to plant my feet firmly on the ground from a business standpoint- developing strong relationships with venues, floral designers, musicians, and other photographers – all of which are essential to the success of anyone in the wedding biz. However, I felt like it took some time for me to evolve photographically.  I mean, I was pleasing my clients, and I was making some money, but it wasn’t until I began to learn how to use light that my style began to evolve.

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Evolution! That’s what I’ll blog about! It only took me several paragraphs of rambling nonsense, but I’m on it. Now, I’m the first to admit that some wedding photographers take themselves, and their work, way too seriously sometimes. Nonetheless, it’s still an important genre to those who need us most- the families we work for. When I first began shooting weddings, I thought I was doing pretty good work. I’d pick out 15-20 images from a wedding and included them into whatever marketing attempts I was making.

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A year or two later, I was selecting fewer and fewer images to include into my portfolio. As the years passed, it took so much more to make the cut. A few years after that, I found myself selecting fewer and fewer images from each wedding to include into a portfolio. Jump to today. It takes quite a bit to satisfy me now. I work my ass off each and every wedding. However, I may only LOVE a few select images in an entire year. Now, before you jump to the conclusion that I completely suck, you must first understand that as time passes, as your work evolves, and as you become more critical of your own work, your standards are set by what you’ve accomplished in the past. This, in turn, makes you better, and more consistent as a professional. The few images I make per year that I love are what keeps me going in this business. If I can make one or two during the year, I’d consider it a pretty good year.  Just the feeling I get – the spine chilling sensation that occurs every blue moon – is more than enough to remind me that I thoroughly continue to LOVE being a photographer.  I don’t care whether you’re a commercial shooter, portrait shooter, or product shooter, the feeling is the same. The feeling that you just created something special. I mean, that’s why you’re even reading Scott’s blog to begin with – the passion we have for the craft.

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With this mantra, hopefully, the level of work I produce continues to evolve. I strive to reset my standards week in and week out. In essence, if I became completely satisfied with my work, I’d never evolve. The lesson here, in a half serious tone, is to hate your work sooner, rather than later! You’ll evolve faster, I promise.

Now, please don’t interpret any of this to mean that I hate everything I shoot. That’s not my message. On the contrary. It’s more about a search for the photographic holy grail – something you’ll never find. If you do, it’s time to quit. That’s my message, in a nutshell. I’ve selected a few wedding images below that I still like quite a bit, and hopefully that some people will even remember.

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Evolution of style means so many things to so many different photographers. In my opinion, the only way to develop your style is to make sure your technical abilities and fundamentals are completely, and utterly innate. Your camera needs to be an extension of your mind’s eye. If you’re too concerned with F-stops, shutter speeds,  ISO’s, focusing, and achieving accurate exposures, you’ll NEVER develop a style. If you find yourself struggling with the basics, you’ll struggle even more with composition, and other elements that make up your style. And, don’t even get me started on the subject of light. I mean, heck, light is everything. Joe McNally, a man who I admire a great deal says it best when he talks about “the language of light”. Talk about inspiration… Go see this man speak, BTW. Anyway, light is just about everything in photography. That is, everything AFTER you’ve taken care of the small stuff – exposures, lens selection, composition, and all of that other insignificant stuff. I try to create texture, dimension, and mood with my lighting. That’s what I find compelling. That’s what I try to teach.

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My goal as part of Scott’s online training team is to help empower photographers with the skillset needed to go after a style of their own. The wedding photography industry is chock full of homogenized work, and if you’re going to survive in this business, it’ll take more that a fancy blog and social networking to keep paying the bills. My friend David Williams, terrific photographer and educator from down under, preaches “skillsets before action sets”. I developed my Lighting and Skillset Bootcamp to teach just that. I’ll be sharing whatever I can with the Kelby team to drive that same message home.  I hope I’ve connected with at least a few of you out there, and I can’t thank Scott enough for the opportunity he’s given me.

You can see more of Cliff’s work at CMPhotography.com or keep up with him at his blog. And if you’re a Kelby Training Online subscriber, check out his class The Essentials of Wedding Creativity that just went up a few days ago!

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63 Comments

  1. Cliff,
    Just yesterday I watched your tutorial on kelbytraining.com and it was awesome! I love what you said about histogram (never trusted that thing anyway). I am looking forward to catching one of your workshops. I like someone who “tells it like it is”. Thanks

  2. Cliff,
    I too watched your tutorials on Kelby Training. I watched the whole series from beginning to end in one sitting… you grabbed my attention. The first image of the bride & groom at the groom’s grandparent’s headstone had tears running down my cheeks. It was a very moving image – one where you really captured an important moment in their day. This post, like the tutorials, is well worth reading/watching. Well done and I look forward to seeing more of you on Kelby Training in the future. Maybe one day I’ll even make it to the US to attend one of your workshops. Great stuff! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Incredible imagery and a great read. I absolutely love #24 here (at the headstone)! Probably one of the most evocative images I’ve seen in quite a while…

  4. Dude…you ROCK. I mean you ROCK ROCK ROCK. A true inspiration to any photographer. I wish you the best in all your endeavors!

  5. Some stunning images here. Some of them remind me of the Old Masters style of art you see hanging in art galleries.

  6. Cliff, that was an outstanding guest blog! What do you mean writer’s block? You write so well. I also love the “headstone” shot…incredible moment you captured there, obviously not posed!! I am not a wedding photographer, but will rush over to Kelby Training anyway to check out your class!

    Cheers,

    Scotty
    Jakarta, Indonesia

  7. Wow, it was great to check Scott’s blog this morning to find out that it’s Cliff Mautner who’s doing the guest blog! You are the man who changed my view on wedding photography a few months ago. It’s not exactly what I do, but after a few visits to your blog, I earned a lot of respect for pro wedding photographers and a sure point against anyone stating that wedding photography is not much of an art. Thanks a lot for all the inspiration.

  8. Now that is some good stuff right there! Well done Cliff!
    The more I shoot the more I realize the satisfaction is in the progress I make each day…there really is no end point…it really is all about the journey…I understand it in my photography…now if I could just see it in my life!

  9. 29 years in the photography industry? You can certainly tell that you have enjoyed and loved those 29 years of your life with the truly amazing yet unique photos you have taken.

    Some great inspiration not only to photographers but everyone reading this blog! Have love for what you do in life to achieve the best and to be a success.

  10. Your delayed blog post was well worth the wait!! Your imagery Cliff is what photography is all about. Being able to invoke certain emotions in one still photograph and the ability to tell a story. I will definitely be bookmarking your website.

  11. Cliff, having just completed your videos on Kelby training I must say now that your one of my favourite photographers not just for your pictures you produce but your core values about photography. I will be planning to take your workshop in the near future.

  12. Hi Cliff

    As above I very much enjoyed your new KT class. Very inspiring. Your photojournalist style is truly unique and the images were amazing. Would love to see you do another Kelby Training class with more time shooting (great concept to drop you blind in a situation).

    Thanks again.

  13. Great work cliff.will follow ur work from today.
    Great to see the different style to the CA wedding photogs.greetings from Munich
    Ingoman

  14. Great post Cliff! You stated everything that I feel and can agree with about the wedding photography industry in a more cohesive way than I could have imagined.

    Thanks for the inspiring words!

  15. Cliff,

    The shot of the couple’s reflection in the puddle of water is a masterpiece. It gave me goosebumps looking at it. Thank you for sharing your wonderful work.

  16. I especially enjoyed your description of key skill set elements, how technical aspects must be innate, etc, leaving room for you to focus on creative opportunity such as “decisive moments.” Thank you for a great blog and excellent KT class.

  17. Great Post, especially being a wedding photograpger, I love learning from other wedding photographers I particularly admire. I have been a HUGE admirer of Cliff’s work for about 2 years now, ever since Ryan Brenizer (I bet he gets a guest post within the next two years) told me to check him out. Cliff’s use of light is just profound. Can’t wait to watch the training sessions, I’ll knock the whole thing out today I’m sure

  18. Hi Cliff,

    Well, you certainly got my creative juices flowing! Your post is just outstanding and motivating. It’s amazing what can happen and change when you loose your job. You took the bull by the horns and took off! What an inspiration! Your photos are just fantastic and moving! Like everyone, the headstone capture is very moving, and I also like the one where the bride is reading a note and crying … very emotional and real! Wonderful work! I haven’t seen your training yet, but I will shortly!

    Thanks for sharing with us!

    Dennis

  19. Cliff,
    There is so much wedding photography around the www these days that it’s easy to get sick of looking at it, quickly realizing that it’s just one more site with one more of the same shots of another handsome couple…blah blah blah. I’ve got to say, though, that your work is moving and soul-stirring. I literally rolled my eyes when I saw that Scott had a wedding photog today…but after looking through the write-up and images anyway, I’m very glad I did. Thanks for the inspiration and for sharing your passion with us today.

    Michael

  20. Cliff is by far one of my most favorite wedding photographers. It’s an absolute pleasure to see his classes on Kelby Training. He just rocks!

    Thanks for the guest post! A great read today!!

    RC

  21. These are some of the best wedding photographs I have ever seen. It seems like each one tells some big story which we are allowed to sneak a peak of. Thanks for sharing these.

  22. As a student of Cliff’s incredible workshop I reccomend anyone who really wants to learn about light to take his bootcamp. Even if you could care less about wedding photography you will learn light and so much more from once of the best and it will change your shooting.

  23. Thanks for the inspiring words and images. As a part-time photojournalist, I can understand your point of view when it comes to looking through the camera. I think it has shaded the way I take photos and always will.

  24. OUTSTANDING post, just OUTSTANDING. Your passion for your craft is reflected in the results. :)

  25. Cliff, I too watched your entire course on Kelby Training last night and loved it. I really gain from your straight forward teaching style which left me hungry for more. Hope to see additional courses from you on Kelby Training in the future. Also, I’ll be attending one of your workshops in the near future. Thanks!!

  26. Inspiring post and great class. I really appreciated your lesson about shooting in harsh light and still getting beautiful images. I agree with the comment about your work having an old master quality.

  27. Your photography is quite stunning. You capture the essence of the moments beautifully. I especially love the photo with the couple where you see them only in the reflection. It’s kind of magical! Great work!

  28. Beautiful images, the light is stunning in them.

    I have one comment and one question. I love the image of the little flower girl and the gentleman’s reaction behind her. If that’s not a Norman Rockwell moment, I don’t know what is.

    Secondly, one question. I’d like to know the back story behind the bride and father (?) at the cemetery.

    Thanks so much. Enjoyed your guest post.

  29. Never mind about the grave site question. Note to self: read the comments first. DOH! :o)

    • Glad to tell the story. Simply put, it’s actually the bride and groom. After the recessional, they grabbed some flowers and ran out the back of the church. I had no idea where they were going. With D3 and 70-200 in tow, I followed them into the graveyard on the church grounds. It turned out to be the groom’s grandparents. They raised him. It was the most important moment of their day. The feeling I got when I shot it is still with me today. It was such a privilege to work for those people. We’re only as good as our clients.

  30. Great blog! I love that you found what you were talking about in the middle of your writing… I tend to do that with my photography sometimes :) I’ve been shooting weddings for 1.5 years now and feel a little lost at where to go next, but reading your blog really helped me to understand that I just gotta keep pushing myself to greater things… thanks! LOVE your work!!!

    Joe

  31. Cliff,

    Great post! It’s been a while since I’ve had time to sit and watch a full class on Kelbytraining in one sitting. And for the first time in a long time, I did just that. I’ve been waiting for your class from the very first time I heard about you being on there. After seeing your website, and blog I was eager to see what you had to say. I really like your philosophy on photography and the way you approach your work.Great class, I can’t wait to see more! Thanks!

  32. I don’t comment much, but I really enjoyed your post.

  33. Nice to hear some insight from a photographer whose images actually back up the talk. No hype, just no-nonsense information that actually works in practice.

  34. Glad you had Cliff on here! He is one of the best wedding photographers out there. I heard him speak at WPPI and thought his presentation was the best at the event.

  35. I attended Cliff’s workshop in New Jersey back in April. Probably the best money I’ve spent on education since becoming a full-time professional back in 2005! Loved his honest approach and he challenges most of the typical conventions of photography we are taught in the majority of photography classes and workshops.

    Like he said, he doesn’t take it too seriously but there’s a reason he makes such wonderful images. Very refreshing – especially in the sometimes homogenous world of wedding photography.

    Let me know if you start another workshop series, Cliff. I’m there!

  36. Terrific blog today, Cliff. Your work is outstanding. The gravesite picture is one I will remember for quite awhile, similar to RC’s “little ballerina” photo. A picture speaking a thousand words, indeed!

    –John

  37. I never get enough of seeing your imagery Cliff. This is probably the fifth or sixth time I’ve seen the bride and father (?) at the head stone and it took my breath away again, as it does every time. Thank you for agreeing to join the Kelby Training team. I’m not a wedding photographer but the story line of your images is so strong that I’m certain to learn something valuable from watching your sessions. Looking forward to it!

    • Ah – Not the father I see from the comments… The compelling thing about every one of these images is that you could loose the wedding attire and the stories would still be every bit as powerful, maybe even more so. In my mind that is one of the strongest marks of a great wedding image and it’s why I never get enough of your work.

  38. Cliff, you make me want to propose to my girlfriend so that I can hire you to shoot our wedding. Great blog, and really fantastic images. You have raised the bar for what you want out of a wedding photographer. It is also very inspiring to see how you have progressed through life doing what you love.

  39. This post was inspring! Cliff…your use of varied lighting sources is so refreshing. I feel that this type of photography is few and far between! Your work makes me want to take better photographs. I will be bookmarking your site for sure!

  40. Absolutely fantastic and inspirational post! Love the photos! Note to self: must subscribe to kelbytraining.com and check out Cliff’s videos.

  41. This a is super post. One of the exact one that you can keep bookmarked and read it everyday before beginning your work. Whatever it is.

    Seriously talented. It’s great that Matt spotted your work and you got pulled in.

    Brilliant pictures. Really. The light is wonderful in each of the photograph. I am surprised why people think Lifestyle or wedding photography is foolish.

    I had a look at your blog. Inspiring. Totally. One question – What lens do you use for Wedding photography.

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading the post. As I mentioned very inspirational.

    • Hi Girish
      Asking what lens I use is like asking what I eat for breakfast. It all depends on what’s called for at the time. I’d never want to eat the same thing all the time. I love my 85 1.4 for tight bridal portraits, I love my 28 1.4 for many different things. My 70-200 is a staple in my back for images of the bride and groom. Heck, I take 7 Nikkor lenses to each and every wedding, and I use them all. The right lens for the right situation. I’ll be talking about lens selection in my classes for Kelby Training!

  42. Cliff, you shook the ground I’m standing on. Thanks.

  43. If anyone is contemplating Cliff’s workshop, just sign up for it! I’ve just attended his July Bootcamp and his workshop far exceeded my expectations. I used to just walk around framing shots and looking at locations. I now walk around looking for light. Amazing teacher!

  44. Thanks Cliff, great blog, good to get inspired before I shoot my first ever wedding on Saturday!
    My friends are getting married on a budget and I know they aren’t expecting professional results from me (or else I’d be getting paid I guess) still pretty nervous though :s

  45. Any guy who starts his blog with “Holy crap” is all good in my book.
    Great blog and great advice.

  46. Shhh….don’t tell anyone, but I just watched one of the most inspiring and insightful lessons on the Kelby Training sight, and if you want to really improve your photography go check out Cliff’s class….

    I have been following Kelby’s blog and training site for several years. I have watched many of the lessons posted from McNally and Moose to the superb recent addition of “A day with Jay Maisel”. But I have to say, Cliff Mautner’s is one of the best.

    Because it had something to do with “weddings” I initially passed on it when posted several weeks ago. Then I read Cliff’s post, saw a few images and watched the lesson tonight. I think of myself as an environmental photographic interpreter of people and places, not to be pigeonholed into a specific genre. I would certainly not do the same of Mr. Mautner – his work is much more candid, expressive, documentary and artistic to the highest degree….he is not just a wedding photographer.

    What strikes me the most about his approach is the lack of need for all the whiz bang off camera lighting stuff and a demand for having the utmost in technical chops for your camera (if you have to think about the settings, you aren’t there yet…….). He is entirely correct, if you are worrying about having to decide what f stop/shutter speed/iso, you are going to miss the moment. And that is his secret in all the images above – the moment. Looking back on my images, the best ones are all about capturing the instant when the light, subject and emotion all come together naturally, unpoised.

    Learning to instinctively see/recognize these events as they unfold is where nothing but experience and shutter time comes into play. Go watch Cliff’s presentation on KT and you will be amazed out how much you have to learn and how easy it can be to take the next step up in further developing your craft and style.

  47. Hi Cliff, I’ve heard/seen your name come up allot over the past few years. Didn’t get was all the fuss was about. Didn’t read your post, but did see your photos. Phenom quality of light. Wonderful moments. Awesome command of framing and direction of the viewer. After all isn’t that really what its all about anyway? It’s the photograph that tells the story. And you’ve told some wonderful stories with your wedding photography. Bravo! Next time I’m at a convention or seminar that you’re at I’ll make sure to go out of my way to say hello to you.

  48. Great Blog post Cliff & very inspiring, beautiful imagery. I watched the whole series from start to finish & WOW! I always am looking for open shade & have always avoided the harsh sunlight which I am shooting with all day. Yesterday after watching your lighting tutorial I went out & shot a wedding & did some images in the sun & I must say I was pleasantly surprised with how much I like the images. Another weapon under my belt as a wedding photographer you have to works so fast sometimes you just don’t have the time to go anywhere else. Thanks again Cliff for your insight & hope to take 1 of your workshops in the future.

  49. Saw Cliffs class on Kelby training a week and a half ago and really love it. He gives to you straight and shows how he gets it done. I can say only one thing, go check out this class. Oh and Cliff, we want more!

  50. Hey Cliff

    Coming back again to this blog, I still think the photos are absolutely stunning, just makes me smile whenever I read other people posts and looking at the photographs.

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