by Sam Sciarrino Published 01/12/2011
While Canadian photographer Sam Sciarrino has been in business long enough to have seen many styles come and go in weddingphotography, he's not a trend chaser. It would be just as erroneous,however, to deem his work 'traditional'. Instead, Sam's gift lies inhis ability to append the latest fashions to a framework of classicaesthetics and craftsmanship, then infuse each shot with theemotional resonance that is a hallmark of his style. It's a recipe thathas earned him professional accolades and the loyalty of his high-endclientele. "I'm creating contemporary wedding portraits that are donewell, based on fundamental, traditional qualities. It's today's styledone the right way," he says.
Sam begins by personally scouting each location for every event."That way we know that this is spot number one, that's spot numbertwo, etc," he says. While he doesn't necessarily follow this plan tothe letter on the wedding day, having a plan in place allows himto be prepared with the right lighting equipment and to workefficiently through the basic posing and compositional concepts hehas envisioned. With these fundamental elements accounted for, he'sable devote himself to the refinements that help infuse each shotwith more emotional content. "Weddings are already stressful - sothe last thing clients need is a stressed-out photographer; you haveto plan, you have to think on your feet, and you have to stay calmthrough the whole thing," he says.
While Sam arrives at each wedding in an SUV loaded with lightinggear (studio strobes, video lights, and battery-powered small flashunits are always in his arsenal) the first thing he avails himself of ateach location is the available light. "This allows us to move aroundvery, very quickly and create as much variety as possible withoutgoing into major set-ups," he says. "If we need to do set-ups though,we're prepared to start putting things up. For the family picturesindoors, we'll shoot with strobes, for example. But if we're lookingfor more fine art portraits, we'll look for available light or add somecontinuous light - it just depends on the spot and what is needed toget a good result and move quickly." The same approach applies tocreating Sam's refined 'uncandid candids,' in which he sets the sceneand lets the action unfold naturally. "We always look at where thelight is coming from," he says. "If we want somebody to walk downa sidewalk, we can have them walk down this side of the sidewalkbecause we know we're going to use that ambient light or augment itwith battery-powered light or a reflector, for instance. Once we knowthe lighting is done properly, they can have their moment."
Posing and Composition
"What makes a great bridal portrait - or any portrait, for that matter -is the posing and composition," says Sam, noting that this is all basedon what master painters used to do. "We're talking about properart compositions, so we're following the rule of thirds, consciouslycontrolling the positive and negative space, and looking for leading orimpact lines. The body composition is based on triangles. Everythingis carefully mapped. Of course, the client doesn't know that - andeven in my head I'm not really 'calculating' it per se - but when youstudy the final image, you see all these lines and how they all worktogether." While Sam gives his clients a lot of specific instructionsfor refining their poses, he also recognises that he must be carefulnot to force something that doesn't work. "I'm not a cookie-cutterphotographer. I don't pose by number; I pose by feel. Some subjectsare capable of posing like models, and then you can really go to town.Some are not - and you have to be able to handle that, too."
Expression is a key component in achieving the emotional impactthat is a defining characteristic of Sam's portraits. "I'm looking for acertain mood and I'm looking for the expression that goes with it," hesays. To achieve it, he notes, it helps to be a bit of a psychologist. "I'mnot a giddy photographer where I'm laughing and joking all the time.My style is to be somewhat controlled; we're fooling around up to apoint, but you have to say the right thing to get the right moment. Ifyou want them to laugh it up, you need to say something funny - butthat's not going to work if the feeling you want is abstract, moody,or dramatic."
The Right Clients
In a market with countless photographers scrambling fora shrinking pool of clients, the highly refined quality of hisimagery has allowed Sam to set himself so far apart that hecan rely almost solely on referrals to generate new bookings."Most of my clients come in the door knowing what theyare looking for," he says. "You might think that means they'rehigh maintenance, but that's not the case. I'm bookingclients who know what they want and really care about theirphotography." Working with these selective clients ensureshe's partnered with people willing to invest financially andemotionally in their photography. It also provides him withcreative challenges that keep him engaged in his work. "Iwant the clients who say, 'Can you start an hour earlier? I'dreally like more time.' I don't look at this as a drain on my time,I consider it an opportunity to spend some time designingimages that are going to be little bit different."
The Bottom Line
"You can't make a career of being very high-volume andcreative at the same time - I tried for 10 years," he says."Today, I want to photograph creatively as much as I can." Byprioritising quality over quantity, Sam Sciarrino has been ableto acheive this objective; he has crafted a business in whichhe shoots the kinds of images he personally enjoys andworks with the high-end clients who can afford this attentionto detail and artistry.
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