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PPD Master Series: Robert Evans' Wonderful World of Wedding Photography

By Jeff Wignall   Wednesday March 23, 2016

Robert Evans (www.robertevans.com) is what you might call an extreme wedding photographer. While most wedding photographers get up on a Saturday morning and head across town to a local church or country club to ply their trade, Evans is just as likely to get on a plane and head across the country or to Europe or to the Caribbean. “I have traveled to over twenty different states within the United States to shoot weddings, plus Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Canada,” says Evans. He once even photographed a wedding in an airplane at 30,000 feet with Sir Richard Branson officiating, dressed as a priest.

And while most of Evans’ clients are your typical everyday wedding couples, Evans has also developed a reputation as the wedding photographer of choice among a lot of A-list celebrities. Among the famous names he has shot for: Jason Aldean and Brittany Kerr, Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton, Shania Twain, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy, Christina Aguilera, Trent Reznor, and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer.

Evans work has also been admired by audiences that most wedding photographers can only imagine. His photos have been shown on theOprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, Extra, MTV, CNN and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon — to name a few. They have also been published in a host of major publications including: USA Today, People, Playboy, Us Weekly, HELLO!, OK!, Life&Style Weekly, In Touch, Martha Stewart Living and Grace Ormonde Wedding Style magazine.

Evans’s long journey in photography actually began several years before he was aware of it. “My father passed when I was eight years old and my interest in photography commenced around age fourteen when I discovered his Minolta camera and lens collection,” he says. “As a teen I was unaware that photography was going to be my career, let alone my gift in life. It wasn't until I was twenty that I knew photography was the direction I wanted to take and not until my early thirties did I realize photography was what I was put on this earth for.”

His passion really began to blossom while in college and after several semesters of trying to juggle working full-time in various photo jobs and going to school, he knew he had to make a choice between school and starting a photo career: photography won. He had a friend who worked at a large portrait studio in the San Fernando valley and there was an opening in the wedding department and that's where his path in weddings began. “I never yearned to be a wedding photographer, I always envisioned I would shoot fashion or for Playboy, certainly not weddings,” he says. “I photographed my first wedding on my own in January of 1989 and went on to work for two more studios before opening Robert Evans Studios in January of 1994.”

Evans, a Sony Artisan, recently talked with writer Jeff Wignall  about his techniques and philosophy for shooting weddings, how he got involved in celebrity shooting and his ideas on what makes a great wedding photograph—and photographer.

PPD: What is it about weddings that makes you enjoy photographing them so much?

RE: The interesting thing about weddings is that they are all similar in many ways, yet so different. I love people, and of course the family and friends are always different from wedding to wedding. I love the thrill of the hunt, of capturing the unknown moments that will inevitably unfold throughout the wedding day. I tell my couples that I shoot ninety percent of their wedding for myself. I have to be excited at the end of the day about the images I have captured. If I am excited then they are going to love their wedding images, guaranteed. Creatively I have to please myself, I get bored shooting the same thing so I am always thinking of ways to see something different.

PPD: Is there a particular aspect of weddings, or certain moments, that you enjoy shooting the most?

RE: As I mentioned before I love the thrill of the hunt. A good photographer has to anticipate the moment and place himself or herself in anticipation of that frame. One of my favorite things to do at a wedding is spend time with my brides just prior to their walk down the aisle. Approximately thirty minutes prior to ceremony, up until she walks down the aisle, I am discreetly at my bride's side, observing and photographing the emotions leading up to her greatly anticipated walk to her groom. I photograph the nerves, the laughter and the tears leading up to the last seconds she spends as a single woman. Some of the most meaningful images on the wedding day come from this thirty minutes of my ten hour day.

PPD: You’ve photographed a lot of celebrity weddings. How did you that aspect of your work come about?

RE: My first official celebrity wedding was Duff McKagan of the band Guns & Roses in July of 1992. I was managing the wedding department for the last studio I worked for before starting my own business. The studio was in the Sherman Oaks Galleria in Southern California. Linda, Duff's finance, walked in and said she had noticed my wedding images and needed a photographer for her upcoming event. She mentioned her finance "Duff" was in a band. I was a huge Guns & Roses fan and "Duff" is a pretty unusual name. My ears perked up and I about blew a gasket when I found out it he was the same one. You have to remember this was pre-internet so I was just super excited but did nothing to capitalize on my newsworthy career kudos.  

Then in 2000, I was contacted by a planner who I had worked with in the past and I was asked to submit work for a Shell corporate oil party. The client was looking for creative black and white work. I questioned the request saying all I had to fit "creative black and white work" was wedding and engagement images. The planner said that would work. Thinking this was odd, but not questioning a potential client, I sent a few albums that filled the request.

Three days later I was told that the client loved my work and that I got the job. I was told this party was on July 29th 2000 in Malibu California. Two weeks before this July date I was sitting in my studio doing some work listening to the radio, I hear a voice on the radio say,  "Rumor has it that Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston will be getting married July 29th in Malibu"..... Holy sh**! I freaked out.

I laughed, I cried, I hyper ventilated, I couldn't believe it. Later, I came to find out that they reviewed many different photographers work, much like an actor goes on an audition and I was the one they chose. Two weeks later on the Thursday prior to their wedding I was invited up to their home to meet them and talk about their wedding. I asked to photograph the rehearsal dinner on Friday, primarily so I could felt comfortable photographing them, then I shot their wedding the next day—all on film, by the way.

PPD: Is there any aspect of shooting a celebrity wedding that is more challenging than other weddings? Do you approach them differently?

RE: I treat all my couples and weddings the same way, celebrities are just people too. The only thing that can be different is the amount of freedom you have when photographing them due to the media wanting to grab an exclusive image. But celebrities have the same emotions and want the same beautiful photographs as everyone else. I just go out and do what I do best.

PPD: Do any particular celebrity weddings stand out?

RE: I have traveled all over the world photographing celebrity weddings, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Italy are some of the best locations where I have worked. One favorite memory is sitting on a blanket on the beach in Puerto Rico and having Shania Twain sit down next to me the night before her wedding. We had a relaxing enjoyable conversation for over an hour. She could have sat anywhere yet she took the time to get to know me and that spoke volumes about her character and made me feel special.  

PPD: A lot of your weddings are “destination” shoots. What are the special challenges of shooting in a travel destination?

RE: I love working in new locations, it's like having a new canvas to paint on each time. The challenge is getting there. I have been photographing destination weddings for over twenty-seven years now and as you can imagine I have been to many places around the globe. I don't look at a destination weddings as a free vacation, its not. A wedding in Cancun is not just a ten hour day it's a three-day venture and that's only if you travel to the wedding on Friday shoot the wedding on Saturday and then travel home on Sunday. I am usually gone from home four to five days for most destinations weddings, depending on the location. I charge a flat fee for the weekend plus travel. I will photograph all the events around the wedding weekend. On a typical weekend I will photograph the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner, the wedding, brunch on Sunday and sometimes golf or other excursions.

One of my favorite destination weddings was in North Hampton UK in a castle, Castle Ashby, much like the one you see on the TV show Downton Abbey. We all got to stay in the castle for three nights and four days. Castle living is just divine.

PPD: Is wedding photography today less traditional in approach than it was when you started out?

RE: Definitely. When I photographed my first wedding at twenty-one, wedding photography was a different beast. The studio I worked for was charging $750 dollars at the time. We had to make sure we shot all the assigned poses before day’s end. Then the couple would come into the studio a few weeks following the wedding to build their album. The sales person would try to get the couple to purchase each pose taken, in order to drive up the sale as their end goal. Today I think wedding photography is more organic, and the goal is to capture more moments rather than creating them.


PPD: Has the advent of mirrorless cameras changed the way that you shoot weddings?

RE: Sony Mirrorless cameras have absolutely made me a better photographer. I have been shooting Sony cameras for close to four years now with great enthusiasm and zero regret. I wasn't unhappy with my former camera company but I was never excited like I am now to shoot with my Sony cameras. One of the biggest benefits of shooting mirrorless besides a much lighter camera is the O.L.E.D. (EVF) viewfinder.

The ability to be able to look through the viewfinder of my camera and change my aperture, shutter speed, or ISO and see the effects of those adjustments change in real time is simply a game changer. To be able to review the image I just captured without my client watching me look at the back of my camera makes me look and feel more confident. I frequently focus in manual and use focus peaking to see exactly where my point of focus is in my shot. I now have absolute confidence that eyes are tack sharp and I do not have to worry about the autofocus locking on the wrong area of my frame.

In-camera WIFI is also huge, allowing me to send images directly from my camera right to social media in seconds allowing me to be first to the punch when I see new trends at my weddings. There are so many mirrorless features that I can go on about, I say if you don't own a Sony camera go rent or buy one and you will fall in love.

PPD: What Sony cameras and lenses are you shooting with?

RE: Currently I am using a Sony a7R II, a7S II and an a6300 for my wedding, sports and personal work. My Favorite lenses are the new Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM, the FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM, the Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA (I call this lens, the lens I didn't know I needed until I bought it) and I love my FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS for sports. (I will be purchasing the New G Master 70-200 2.8 in May when it is released.)

PPD: Lens bokeh is something that is talked about a lot when it comes to portraiture. Do you have a favorite lens that has a particularly pleasing bokeh for wedding portraits?

RE: Hands down it’s the new Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM. Prior to the recent release of the G Master 85mm the A mount 85mm f/1.4 Carl Zeiss Planar T* was my favorite. The new lens is my go to portrait lens. I love how sharp this lens is and how it distorts my backgrounds when shot wide-open or at larger apertures. If you love bokeh you should really take a serious look at his lens.

PPD: It would seem like lighting can be very challenging when it comes to weddings. Technically is that one of the most challenging aspects of shooting a wedding?

RE: Beautiful light is the most important quality to a great image next to capturing the perfect moment. Knowing how to see, use and manipulate light to your advantage can be the difference between a great photograph or just a picture. Light sets the mood and can help dictate the emotion of a photograph. On the wedding day I almost always use several different light sources, available, flash, continuous LED light, and ambient light. In many cases a combination of two and sometimes three types of lighting. It's very important to know more than just available light. Knowing how to make light work for you opens up the opportunity to wider breadth of work and versatility as a photographer.  


PPD: When you are shooting receptions, do you use flash often or do you work primarily with the existing light?

RE: Today we use a combination of available light and on-camera flash during the receptions. With mirrorless cameras like the Sony A7 SII I have been shooting more available light at my receptions and letting my second photographers shoot flash to offer my clients two different looks. During the reception we try to take advantage of the lighting in the reception room by mixing the available room lights or colored LED lighting with our on camera flashes in order convey images that look as the eye sees the room during the event.

PPD: In your career you’ve shot more than a thousand weddings. In what ways has your approach to wedding photography changed or grown?

RE: In my twenty-seven years photographing weddings I have definitely become more confident and comfortable photographing weddings. Over the years many clients and assistants have said I make photographing a wedding seem effortless. My approach has changed in a few ways. One way that it has changed is that my work is much more free flowing and creative than my traditionally posed work from my early days in wedding photography. Secondly, I have learned to pave the way to shoot what I want, not what I get. I do this by educating my clients on the benefits of seeing each other prior to their ceremony, and completing all personal and family photographs before they walk down the aisle, as well as educating them on all the things that can make them run late on their wedding day. The result is a better experience for the bride and groom, their family and friends, and most importantly, their wedding photographer.

PPD: Your personality is often described at easy-going and pleasant. Are those important qualities for a wedding photographer in particular?

RE: Absolutely! Nobody wants an abrasive jerk photographing their wedding. I think it's important that you love your photographer’s work, but more importantly, you must love your photographer. Hire a photographer you would invite to your wedding, even without his or her camera. An easygoing, calming presence can make an impactful difference in the quality and quantity of your wedding images. You could hire the most amazing artistic photographer, but if there is something that rubs you the wrong way about them, you're never going to give them what they want and it will reflect in your images.  

PPD: Do you see wedding photography as a promising career opportunity for young photographers?

RE: Photography is far more competitive today than it was twenty-seven years ago when I photographed my first wedding, however if you have a unique eye and a good business sense I think you can make a go of it. I have supported myself one-hundred percent as a wedding photographer since I was nineteen years old. I do think if you are going to move forward as a wedding photographer you are going to need to know video as well. Video is the future of visual art and if you do not learn it you will get left behind.


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