Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Is there such a thing as a "Bridezilla?" What a derogatory term!

We've all heard of the term. You know, the bride that's just "out of control." Or some are too much "in control" to where they are very difficult to work with.

I get asked all the time if I've ever had to work with a Bridezilla. It seems other brides want to know if there really is such a thing...

Unfortunately, some brides can get to be this way. Luckily, I've only had to deal with just a handful in my time. But I made the best of the situations and I think we all got along pretty well.

But I do recall one wedding where the bridesmaids were telling me that they couldn't wait for the day to be over.

That's really sad.

Afterall, this should be the happiest day for the bride and groom and their guests and bridal party should be just as happy for them. But sometimes the pressures of the day can get the best of the bride (and sometimes the groom) and they become a bridezilla.

Don't let this happen at your wedding! Just remember that even if things don't go as planned, nobody else will know this except you. Most everyone else has no clue what should happen and what shouldn't.

A recent bride told me, "We'll just go with the flow." Great attitude! If you do this, you'll be much happier at your wedding... and so will your guests and your bridal party.

I've never heard of a "Groomzilla" though... is there such a thing?

"I've Got Plenty Of Time"


I meet a lot of brides whose wedding won't happen until a year or more. Most of them know that booking the church and reception hall as soon as they can is very critical to getting the date they want. Others haven't got a clue.

I recently had a bride tell me on the phone the exact date of her wedding and which church and reception hall she was going to use. She even had the schedule figured out too. So we made an appointment to meet and after going through almost two hours of pre-wedding consultation with her, she let it slip that she hadn't even booked the church or the reception hall. So I had to ask, "Well, then how do you know for sure that your wedding date is secured?" Her answer? "Oh, it is. It's a year away. I've got plenty of time to book that."


You can't book ANYONE until the church and reception hall has been booked. Don't even bother to start interviewing other vendors until these have been secured! Until the date is set by the booking of the church and reception hall, most vendors cannot guarantee their services will be available to you on the date you would like.

And like churches and reception halls, often photographers book a year or more in advance too. We are typically the third on the list to book, right behind the reception hall and the church. And once we are booked, we are no longer available for any other weddings for that date. So locking in the photographer is really a smart thing to do.

Too often I have met with potential clients who seem interested in my services at our initial meeting and then call me up a week later to tell me that they have decided to book me only to hear me tell them I am no longer available. Within the week, someone else had come in and booked me for the exact date of their wedding so I am no longer able to help them. I feel bad when this happens and I'm sure they aren't too pleased either.

But everyone I meet, I tell them to make a decision as soon as they can because it is quite possible that someone can come in just a day later and book me for their wedding date. I know many may think this is just a "sales tactic" to get them to sign up with me, but it isn't. It happens all the time, and I just tell them to be aware of it. So when it happens, part of me wants to say, "I told you this could happen" and the other part of me thinks, "Why didn't you decide faster?"

If you find vendors you like, book them. Don't lose them to someone else. It's just a waste of time if you wait too long.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Happy Memorial Day!

Wishing everyone a Happy and Safe Memorial Day.

I'll post the next entry tomorrow.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Jump Rope, Anyone?

Sometimes you just have to improvise when athletic equipment isn't available!

These guys were having a GREAT time at one of my recent weddings. They didn't let the fact that there wasn't a real jump rope available stop them...

Now here's a novel way to spend some time at the reception...

An apple is thrown up in the air and each guy has a fork to spear it as it lands. Once you have it on your fork, you toss the apple (with the fork in it) to the next guy to your left. The end result is an apple with a bunch of forks sticking in it! A little dangerous I think, but it didn't seem to stop the guys.

I believe everyone was able to spear the apple. Quite an accomplishment really. But upon trying to go back the other way, nobody was able to do it! So I guess they can only function when they go to their left. Either that, or perhaps apples can only be speared once per person! LOL

Monday, May 22, 2006


It's very important that brides and grooms take the time to introduce their relatives to me.

Why? Because it gives me a heads up as to who the "important" people are to photograph during the day.

With literally hundreds of people at your wedding, it's sometimes impossible for me to figure out which people to keep an eye on throughout the evening. Sure, it's easy to figure out the bridal party because they are all dressed up in tuxes and bridesmaid dresses, but beyond that, the only way to figure out a relative often comes down to who is wearing a boutonniere or a corsage. I'd rather try to recognize people by their faces if possible.

The people I need to know most often are: mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and grandparents.

So take the time to let me know who people are. It will pay off on the long run!

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Since we are on the topic of weapons today, I thought I'd show you the first weapon I ever learned to use... the Nunchaku.

Like many other people, I was first introduced to this ancient Martial Arts weapon while watching "The Chinese Connection" starring Bruce Lee back in the 70's.

I was captivated by how fast Bruce Lee was in using this device, so the next day, I made my own version of the Nunchaku by cutting up a long piece of bamboo stick and tying the sticks together with a nylon rope. Traditional Nunchaku's were made using rope instead of the chain you see in the picture above.

Later that year, I gave a speech / demonstration in my English class during my Sophmore year in High School about the Nunchaku. I received 30 points out of 30 possible points for that speech. Fun times...

The Nunchaku is actually an old Okinawan farming tool that was modified to protect the Japanese villagers because they were not allowed to own any traditional weapons like swords. So the farmers developed the Nunchaku and other farming devices to use as weapons. These include the Bo (6 ft staff), the Kama (a sicle) and the Tonfa (now commonly known as the PR-24 or side-handle baton in the law enforcement community.)

The weapon you see above has Octagonal shaped handles and is attached by a chain with swivels. It's a modern version of the old traditional weapon. The octagonal handles are more effective than round handles because the edges will dig into bones when struck. Brutal, but remember that's why they are considered weapons!

Today, many Martial Arts students learn to use various weapons as part of their training. Although they can be dangerous and deadly, their artistic use can also be very beautiful.


Edit Update - Here's a list of the various weapons I am familar with:

1. Handguns
2. Shotguns
3. Nunchaku
4. Sai
5. Tonfa
6. Side-Handle Batons (PR-24)
7. Straight Batons
8. Bo
9. Shuriken (Throwing Stars)
10. Archery - Bow & Arrow (although I'm really lousy with this one)

Scary, huh? :)

"Shooting" Is Shooting

There are actually similarities between shooting a handgun and shooting photos!

If you squeeze the trigger of a handgun slowly by pulling straight back on the trigger rather than jerking the gun by pulling the trigger on an angle, you'll most likely hit your target as intended (provided you look down the sights properly too.) But if you pull the trigger quickly, you'll most likely jerk the gun and miss the target.

The same concept happens in photography as well. If you slowly push straight down on the shutter release rather than jab at the shutter release, you'll have steadier looking photos!

Also, exhaling while shooting steadies your shot in both handgun shooting and photography as well. Holding your breath while performing these functions will only make you "shaky."

So you may be wondering if all law enforcement personnel would make great photographers! Well, to take a great photo requires more than just steady shooting. Composition and artisitic vision is also required and that's another topic worth writing about in the future.

How I Learned to Shoot A Handgun

(photo courtesy of Smith & Wesson)

The last post about hearing protectors got me thinking about the first time I ever shot a handgun.

I was in school taking Law Enforcement classes and was told that a Security Guard class worth one credit hour was being offered to anyone who wanted to learn how to fire a handgun. It ran for two Saturdays so I thought I'd take it for fun since I had never fired a real gun before. Well, to pass the class, we were required to fire our weapons accurately by the end of the second Saturday after learning all about gun safety. But we also got to shoot on the first Saturday as well.

Most of the people in the class were security guards who were required to qualify on the range with their weapon in order to keep their jobs. Many of these people (mostly guys) had also never fired a gun before either. One of my classmates (who was a San Diego police officer) decided to take the class too... just to get a quick one hour credit. She had been an officer for several years, so she was quite familar with handguns.

When the time came to fire our weapons, we were all given 6" barrel versions of the Smith & Wesson 686 revolvers like the one depicted above (except our guns had checkered wooden grips instead of the rubber grips shown here.) These guns could chamber .357 Magnum loads, but we used .38 caliber "Wadcutter" bullets. A wadcutter is a bullet designed to cut clean round holes in paper targets (which were shaped like human silhouettes with oval target points draw on it.)

Anyway, we first shot at a distance of only 7 feet. I hit the target in the center pretty easily. But I was shocked to see how many people in the class couldn't even hit a stationery target at 7 feet away! Keep in mind, these were Security Guards who were supposed to carry handguns while they worked! I was shocked!

After shooting at 7 feet, we moved on to a distance of 21 feet. It was more difficult, but I shot pretty well.

After the class, my officer friend from SDPD asked me how I did. I shot 586 out of 600 points. She shot 584 out of 600 points! I couldn't believe it... and neither could she. So she asked me where I learned to shoot so well. So I told her that I had a lot of practice with a gun at home... playing Nintendo's Duck Hunt!

So you see... sometimes playing video games will in fact, pay off!

Eventually, I took several semesters of actual firearms training in which I had the opportunity to practice shooting every week. I became quite good at it.

To play a simulated version of Duck Hunt on your computer, click here.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Hearing Protection at Wedding Receptions

At every wedding reception, I'm bombarded by loud music.

DJ's tend to play as loud as they can and often they don't realize how loud it is since they are behind the speakers.

But photographers (and guests) are often blasted for hours because we are in front of the speakers.

So to protect my hearing, I wear the earplugs you see here. They reduce the noise level while still allowing me to hear the full frequency range. Some earplugs will block out all of the high frequencies, but not these. They are designed so that I actually get full fidelity of sound... just at a reduced level.

While attending firearms classes in college (for my evidence technician's training) I wore these earplugs instead of the big "headphone-styled" hearing protectors. I never liked those heavy things and this worked just fine. The headphone-styled protectors block out more noise, but I could never hear the rangemaster when he was giving instructions. With these, not only could I protect my hearing from the gunfire, but I could hear the instructor at the same time.

So when I attend your wedding, don't be surprised to see me wearing these during dance time. Considering I attend many weddings per year, this little accessory is really a "necessity" for me. DJ's are often surprised when they see me standing directly in front of their speakers and taking photos! I've had a number of guests look at me strangely too wondering how I'm able to withstand the noise. Well, now you know!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Light Saber Fight at The Chicago Botanic Garden

Well... not quite.

Saturday's rainy weather did not stop us from going to the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, IL. The Force was with us and we were able to shoot without a drop of rain.

But right after our photo shoot, an umbrella fight broke out between the best man (left) and the groom (right). In Star Wars tradition, umbrellas were converted to light sabers and the combatants took up their stances. The Dark Side was defeated and the Empire was safe once again.

Photoshop helped in creating this shot... motion blur for the background and glowing umbrellas complete the effect.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Can You Spot The Difference?

Here's a group photo that was taken at a wedding reception. We thought it would be funny to place all the men on one side and the women on the other... next to the signs for the restrooms!

But take a closer look at the second photo. Can you see something different on the men's side?

Yes... there's an extra person there now. How did he get there? He was "Photoshopped" in! He wasn't present at the time the photo was taken, but I was able to add him in later. To do this, many conditions were needed... a space to place him, a similar lighting condition is needed, exposure and image quality must be similar, etc.

If you look closely, you can tell he's not exactly the same as everyone else in the photo. But it's very close. It works.

To better inspect the photo, click on the photo to enlarge it. Then move your curser over the enlarged photo and wait a moment. At the bottom right of the photo, you'll see a multidirectional arrow. Click on that and the photo will enlarge again.

This is not an easy thing to do in Photoshop if you want it to be perfect. It does take some time and effort, so I don't recommend this as an alternative to getting the photo right in the first place. It's about a 15-30 minute process to work the image to perfection and it does cost extra to do this. But if the image is important enough, this is a good option to fix a group photo!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Engagement Sessions

Engagement sessions are usually informal and fun. Here's an image from a recent session this weekend. Sometimes the simpler the better.

For this one, we just decided to take some photos at a local community park. It was relaxed and the weather couldn't be better.... not too hot and not too cold. Great day for photos!

If you have not scheduled your session yet, please give me a call and let's get one in before we lose the Spring flowers!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Making All Shots Count

As a former Forensic Photographer, I learned early on in my photography career to make all my shots count.

In legal photography, every photo taken has the potential to show up in court. And, you can't throw anything away either. If you shoot it, it's evidence and must be accounted for. Even the film negatives themselves must remain whole... often the film isn't even cut into strips just to prove nothing had been tampered with!

Now in wedding photography, this isn't really necessary, but why shoot something if there isn't a good reason to shoot it?

For me, my training taught me to be accurate in my photography. Often, if I shoot 1000 unique images, perhaps only 10-20 photos may be not of the quality I like and those I may throw away. Percentage-wise, that's only 1-2 percent. Not bad really...

In addition, I often Photoshop correct and print all of the images I shoot at a wedding and give all these to my clients. Sure, it takes a lot more time to work on 1000 images than perhaps 200 images, but that's what many of my clients have come to expect from me.

Are all the images artistic shots? Of course not. Some are simply documentary shots. But they help tell the story and they are quite handy when it's time to put an album together.

Many photographers shoot a lot of images at weddings, but don't give you everything they shoot. Sometimes only the best photos are presented to their clients. That's fine for them, but not for me. If I shoot something... there's a reason I shot it and I want my clients to have it. So, most of my clients choose to receive prints of a LOT of images... most often over 750 images and sometimes over 1000 images!

It's a different way to approach a wedding and definitely different than most packages that other photographers offer. But for me and my clients, it's important to make all the shots count to tell a more complete story of the wedding day.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

How I Got Started in Photography

Well, this is my third post for the day and it's not even Thursday! (Mondays and Thursdays are my normal "posting" days.) I guess I just feel like typing today!

Not too long ago, I had a couple of people ask me how I got started taking photos. Well, it goes back to when I was a kid... perhaps around 1964 or so when my dad bought me a Kodak Brownie Bullet camera (see my past postings on Kodak Brownie Cameras.) Ever since then, I was interested in cameras even though I knew nothing about photography. I'd run around taking "pretend" photos with that camera.

Then I graduated to playing with my dad's old Argus 35mm camera and Polaroid cameras. The Polaroid was really nice because we could see pictures in about one minute! That's kind of like what we have today with digital cameras! Instant gratification... well within one minute we had gratification... lol

Then I found my dad's old Speedgraphic camera! Wow... it was like being "Jimmy Olson" from the old Superman TV series. You'd see all the old news camera guys with these huge "press" cameras. It reminded me of the old "gangster days" where all the news guys had these old monster 4x5 sheet film cameras!

My dad also had a bunch of B&W darkroom equipment and I remember him setting up a mini lab in our bathroom! I can still "smell" those chemicals whenever I think about it. Oh... and my Uncle Harry was always taking pictures too! (See my old post on Uncle Harry.)

Later, in the late 1960's my brother got one of the old Kodak Instamatic cameras. I can't recall the model number, but I remember it was really a nice camera at the time.

Around the late 70's or early 80's, I remember my cousin Albert had purchased a Canon AE-1 35mm camera and I thought that was really nice. Then several of the guys at my church purchased cameras from Minolta and Canon... I really wanted to get a "good" camera back then after seeing theirs. So in the early 1980's when I had the opportunity to travel to Hawaii on a free trip sponsored by one of the stereo manufacturers (our family owned a stereo store years ago), I purchased a Canon AE-1 Program 35mm camera to take with me. This is when I really started to learn the basics of photography. I read every photography book I could find in the library and taught myself how to take good pictures before going on the trip. I still have those photos I shot in Hawaii...

Years later, while we were still dating, my wife and I (she was my girlfriend then...) took an evening photography course that was offered at Oakton Community College. I really enjoyed that class because it gave us something to do together and I got to play with my camera! Later (after we were married), I found out that the only reason my wife agreed to take the class was because I wanted to do it. She had really no interest in it at all but did it just because I wanted to do it! Shocking! The things you do for love, I guess....

So, since she had no real interest in photography, I took over her Nikon FE camera and kept it for myself after we got married!

I used that Nikon camera for many of the weddings I shot when I first got started in wedding photography. I still have that camera today.

After we moved to San Diego, I went back to school to study Evidence Technology and had many college classes in crime scene photography along with learning how to process film in B&W and Color.

I had the opportunity to do a lot of photography work while working for three law enforcement agencies in San Diego. It was here that I really honed my documentary photography skills.

Years later, I was recommended by my old college professor to take over his position and teach Crime Scene photography at my old school, but he ultimately decided to stay on teaching an extra year or so and by that time, we ended up moving back to the Chicago area, so I never did it. That would have been fun though...

So that's the story of how I got into photography. It's really been a lifetime of interest in photography, now that I think about it.

Never thought I'd end up as a professional wedding photographer though. I always thought I'd end up as a professional musician. I never thought I'd end up doing law enforcement work either, but that's another story for another day. But I don't regret being a wedding photographer. I really love what I do today!

Practice Makes Perfect...

I know there are quite a few professional wedding photographers that check my blog regularly because many of them have told me so. To me, that's very cool.

Recently one of them told me that he really liked my blog because it inspires him in his business. That's great! It seems my blog is helping not only my clients and future clients, but also other pros as well.

So to those who check my blog and shoot professionally... here's some advice... "Practice Makes Perfect" and "Network With Others."

This is why you'll find me on the photography forums, attending seminars, organizing get-togethers with our peers and reading photography magazines. Sure, you may say, "Russ has been shooting professionally since 1990... what more does he need to learn?" Plenty more!!

There's always new things to learn about photography and new techniques developed that will improve your shots. Keep learning! And building a solid foundation from practice and experimentation will only improve your shots.

In addition, build your business skills and people skills as well. If you can't find the business or can't relate to people, it doesn't matter one bit that you may be the best photographer in the world. Nobody's going to want to hire you because they don't know you exist or because they can't relate to you.

That's my advice to succeed in the photography business.

I'm still learning... and I'm still practicing...


Steel Drums in a "Pro" Band

I was reviewing some of the images I shot in the past and came across these photos of a band that incorporated the Steel Drum as part of their sound.

I was hired to photograph the wedding reception of a client that had gotten married in the Carribean (I think that's where they got married) and then decided to have a reception for their family and friends here in the US. So of course it made sense to hire a band that played music that fit the theme of the Carribean.

This was a good band and having even just one Steel Drum player really made the difference. Too bad more bands don't incorporate Steel Drums in their music. This band didn't play all their songs in this style, but the ones they did were really the songs that shined.

Can you imagine the kids from River Trails Middle School eventually starting bands that incorporated this sound? They could "own" the market! :)

Monday, May 01, 2006

Steel Drums

My wife and I had the good fortune to attend a performance by the River Trails Middle School's Steel Drum Band this past Friday.

Music instructor Steve Flowers arranged for the kids to play at Peetie's Gourmet in Mount Prospect during dinner hour. Not only did the kids from the school play a number of tunes, the kids who had graduated from the school last year were also invited to join the group to play a number of songs as well. My daughter was part of last year's group and so we were there to listen to her play.

The kids did a great job and the place was packed. I'd say the kids play as well as many other Steel Drum bands I've heard in the past and this includes some professional bands I've heard while working as a pro photographer.

Steve Flowers is not just an ordinary music teacher. He was one of a group of teachers who had won a bunch of prizes from Oprah Winfrey two Christmas' ago during the 2004 "Oprah's Favorite Things" show! Click here to see a video segment from the show featuring Steve Flowers and the River Trails Middle School's Bucket Band. My daughter was one of the kids in this band as well.

Steve Flowers is one of three music instuctors at the school which also include orchestra director Ann Forman and band director Todd Smith. My daughter has had all three instructors as she was also part of the orchestra and Jazz band.

Music is an important part of a child's development and I encourage everyone to support the music programs in the schools. Too often, music and art programs are eliminated from schools because of budgetary issues. Let's keep the arts alive in our schools and support these programs!