“I had never shot a wedding before I booked my first bridal fair in Arizona. I paid for a full booth for the fair, but did not have a single wedding under my belt. “
PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM: In your early years of high school, were you involved in the yearbook ? What sparked your interest in photography?
ROBERTO VALENZUELA: During my high school years, I did not even own a camera nor did I know how to use one. My focus was 100% in long distance running for the cross-country team and track and field. One of my high school friends was always talking about photography. I remember, listening to her but not really caring for the subject matter. However, I was intrigued by her passion, maybe more so than I thought back then. It’s interesting how things work out. She became a police officer and I became a full-time photographer, photography educator and author.
PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM: Do you still have photos taken from the early years when it all started? What were your subjects? Are the digital photography pictures online to share with everyone to compare with your photography work today?
ROBERTO VALENZUELA: The first time I noticed I had aptitude for photography was when I was 16 years old in 1994. I went to Denver, CO to visit my brother when I had to spend one whole day by myself because he had to work. I decided to visit the Denver zoo and I brought my little film point and shoot camera I found by a trashcan in Tucson, AZ. I remember clearly my determination to get an amazing shot of the animals. I was patient; I waited and waited for the animals to come close to the cage. I couldn’t see the images because it was film, but I remember being super excited to develop them and see if my effort paid off. When I received the photos back, I couldn’t believe my eyes! They were awesome! Better than I had anticipated.
PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM: What books did you read at the beginning of your wedding photography career that helped you prepare for today? Title of book, author and price of book please…just messing around, the title of the books should be fine thanks to google search. Do you recall any other resources that you referred to heavily to help you prepare for the wedding photography business? We want to know what the must have resources are to fully equip ourselves when and if we ever plan to take that leap of faith into wedding photography.
ROBERTO VALENZUELA: This is an interesting question for me because it was my book experience when I was learning that propelled me to write my own books now. I honestly cannot remember how many books I read during my first years. I read quite a bit. I would spend hours and hours at Barnes and Noble and Borders reading everything and absorbing like a sponge. I cannot remember titles, sorry. What I do remember was my frustration with how I was learning. Most of the books I read, tell you what every piece of gear does or they show you beautiful photos, I wanted a system that I could follow. I needed a roadmap to see where I was, and where I could be if I keep working hard. I did not want to be given a fish, I wanted to be taught how to think and fish for myself. Because I could not find such a book, I decided to write my own. This is how I wrote Picture Perfect Practice and my most recent book, Picture Perfect Posing.
PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM: What was your very first professional wedding photography job? Was this purely out of luck that you were at the right place at the right time? How did you get your first wedding photography job? Once you had your first job under your belt was it difficult to get another wedding photography job? What did you do to acquire more work besides providing awesome images?
ROBERTO VALENZUELA: I had never shot a wedding before I booked my first bridal fair in Arizona. I paid for a full booth for the fair, but did not have a single wedding under my belt. My wife asked me, “What are you going to show?” She was so frustrated that I paid all this money we didn’t really have for a bridal fair booth when I had nothing to show. Luckily, my sister in law’s friend was getting married and her wedding was the day before the bridal fair. I asked her if she could take a chance on me and let me be the photographer. For free of course. To my surprise, she felt it was adorable how hungry for that job I was and she accepted. The wedding ended at 10:00 pm. Although, I was exhausted, I drove to Target to buy some pre-matted frames for 8×10’s and 5×7 photographs. The next morning, I decorate my booth, with the images from the wedding the night before. I booked 10 weddings during that bridal fair. : )
PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM: After your first photography job, What was the next photography gig you obtained and how did you go about your execution? Did you apply all that you’ve learned in all the photography books you’ve read? Did you buy more photography books or accessed any more photography resources to help you jump to your next big step in the game of photography? What tools do you recommend that are a must have that helped you get to where you are present day?
ROBERTO VALENZUELA: After my first job, I made so many mistakes that I lost count. I realized the challenges of a wedding were too much, and I had a long way to go in my photography skills to manage a wedding properly. I bought photographer’s training DVD’s and attended workshops. The workshops helped more than any other resource I had. Being able to ask the teacher questions and being face to face with the instructor made all the difference. My favorite workshop was Jerry Ghionis 5-day workshop. With all the learning resources on the Internet, it is easy to try to take short cut and try to learn that way. Although you can definitely benefit from Internet educational resources, the Internet is no substitute for being at a private workshop with an instructor, where the material being taught can be customized to your specific skills and needs. My suggestion on choosing a photographer to learn from is to choose a teacher that really has great reviews from previous students. Don’t just go with who ever is the popular photographer this year, or whoever is trendy now, go for someone that has a proven record of being a great educator. Do your research and choose wisely. But whatever you do, don’t let someone’s social media popularity choose for you.
PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM: What keeps the money rolling? Your brand and reputation in the wedding photography space is possibly a huge factor to your longevity? Am i right? Do you have any recommendations on brand building for weekend photographers trying to get into professional wedding photography?
ROBERTO VALENZUELA: There are hundreds if not thousands of new photographers trying to dabble in wedding photography coming into the industry every year. My advice would be for you to develop a style people could recognize. Have a clean and easy to navigate website. Most importantly, don’t show too much on your site. Instead, show wow images! If people want to see the rest of your work, they should come meet with you in person or Skype if out of town. But your website should definitely leave a stylistic mark in your prospective client’s minds.
PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM: What is currently in your photography bag? Please be as detailed as possible for those starting out photographers that want to be just like you. Are you mainly doing digital photography? From your photography equipment arsenal, what do you bring for your photography engagement sessions? What do you bring for your wedding photography sessions?
ROBERTO VALENZUELA: I currently use Canon gear 35mm SLR full frame digital cameras. To be specific, I use the Canon 5D Mark III. I have about 10 “L” series lenses covering the whole spectrum. I use the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L the most. But I also like fast primes, such as the Canon 35mm f/1.4, the 50mm f/1.2, 85mm f/1.2 and the 100mm macro f/4.0. For flashes I use, the Canon 600 EX-RT’s I have four of them. However, think Nikon gear is equally impressive. Both companies make extraordinary products and there is not much of a difference between them. However, just recently, I started photographing all of my portraits with the Hasselblad H5D medium format digital camera. My favorite portrait lens for the Hasselblad is the 120mm HC f/4 macro lens. I bring all of my Canon gear for wedding assignments, and the Hasselblad gear for my portrait assignments.
PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM: What is your favorite image in your current photography portfolio and why? How did you approach the photographic execution? Give us a glimpse on how you construct an image from scratch.
ROBERTO VALENZUELA: If I had to pick one image I love from my weddings, it would have to be the photo taken at Wormsloe in Savannah Georgia. I love this image, because I really had to transform the location and execute my interpretation of the surroundings. Look it up the location on the Internet. The location has a dirt road and it is covered in gorgeous trees on either side of the road. The tree branches meet in the middle, creating a breathtaking tunnel of trees. I asked the driver to drive as fast as possible down the dirt road to pick up as much of the dirt as possible. I set up a wireless off-camera flash that my wife held pointed at the couple. Finally, I told my couple what to do and how to do it. When all the parts were set, it was action time. The resulting photo became an iconic image in my portfolio and a symbol of creativity related to transforming locations.
PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM: Do you have a photography studio? Is having your own photography studio space essential for a professional wedding photographer? Has any of your photography engagement sessions ever take place in a studio? If not, where do you mainly photograph the engagement sessions? Could you reveal to us 3 of your favorite locations and why?
ROBERTO VALENZUELA: I have never had a full studio for myself. I shared one with other vendors a couple of years ago, and I found it to be a waste of money. I do wish, I had a studio for shooting sometimes, but it doesn’t really make sense financially. I live and work in Beverly Hills, CA and people still don’t expect for us to have an off-site studio. We shoot weddings; weddings are on location, so why spend the money on a place just to meet clients? When I don’t feel like having the meetings at my home, I meet clients at high-end hotels.
PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM: What types of commercial gigs are you currently involved in now and how did they surface? What are your recommendations on how we photographers diversify our wedding photography offering to the marketplace?
ROBERTO VALENZUELA: Even though, I have done very well in the wedding photography business, you should never fully rely on one type of photography. I photograph women’s beauty portraits and I shoot the sets for popular TV shows. I don’t necessarily put that on my website, but I do it as a supplement to my wedding work.
PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM: What are your immediate goals as a wedding photographer? Are you planning on releasing any how-to books? What are your recommendations to people thinking about starting a photography book?
ROBERTO VALENZUELA: I already wrote Picture Perfect Practice, and I’m honored on how well the book has done. This book teaches you how to see a location for its photographic potential. It’s also about composition. Four weeks ago at WPPI 2014, I released my second book, Picture Perfect Posing. The goal for that book was to teach people the necessary skills to be able to build a pose from scratch, instead of memorizing poses. Now, I’m working on the outline for Picture Perfect Lighting. The three books will become a trilogy and hopefully sold together as well as on their own.
PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM: A lot of professional wedding photographers are starting to run workshops. Will you start offering workshops in the future?
ROBERTO VALENZUELA: Teaching is a huge passion of mine and I have been teaching since I was 18 years old. I love the craft of educating others. This year, I’m offering four workshops. My workshops this year are focused on posing individuals as well as couples. The workshops are two full days long, and they are guaranteed. If you feel like you did not learn what you wanted to learn or what I said I would teach, you can get every dollar back. I do this because I’m confident in my teaching style and effort I put in every workshop. I only take 15 to 20 people per workshop and I pay a great deal of attention to every attendee.
Here is the schedule for 2014 in the United States: You can sign up for one of these at:
Dallas, Texas: September 9 and 10
Los Angeles, California: September 16 and 17
Orlando, Florida: June 24 and 25
St. Louis, Missouri: July 29 and 30
PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM: I am sure you’ve read many articles discussing how in the future videography and photography will be one? What are your thoughts on that and how will you evolve to the new morphed medium?
ROBERTO VALENZUELA: I always want to be head of the curve. I recently invested in video gear to learn and be aware of the ins and outs of video. However, I am not going to implement video anytime soon. I need to focus on my craft and get better and better at photography. But if and when the time comes, I’ll be ready.
PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM: Ok so thinking about the future and how it is very important in any endeavor especially the professional wedding photography business. What do you suggest wedding photographers do in the future to solidify their presence in the photography industry? What will you do to ensure that you remain on top, not taking into account your photography niche?
ROBERTO VALENZUELA: Because of the nature of digital photography, it is easy to be take regular photos and think that we can make them great in post production. Many wedding photographers take photos of their couples in a scene as it is instead of using light and elements of composition to interpret the scene. I think the key to surviving and flourishing in this industry is to grow your skill so much that the photos that come out of your camera from the moment the photos are taken, are incredible and it takes your breath away. Just think that Photoshop doesn’t exist.
PHOTOGRAPHYSILO.COM: Thank you again for your time and giving back. What would you like to leave for us photographers to think about when moving forward with wedding photography for the future? If you have any words of wisdom will be appreciated.
ROBERTO VALENZUELA: Invest in your education, always keep your camera out for practice, and push yourself. Study your weak photos and understand why those photos did not work out. Develop a practice session that will help you address those weaknesses. Keep blogging and sharing your photos online. But most importantly, have a great time!