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March 4, 2010

WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER INTERVIEW: SESHU

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Written by: Lawrence
Let me be frank and say that “the top” is an illusion. There is no “top”. One could and should keep on elevating their game. That’s what inspires me most. I want my next wedding or portrait session to be better than the one I completed yesterday.”

PAST

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: In your early years of high school, were you involved in the yearbook ? What sparked your interest in photography?

SESHU: Yes, I worked at my high school’s yearbook as one of its photographers. My first camera was a Pentax ME Super (which I still have). I shot film – mostly black & white – and had it processed and printed for me. I didn’t quite get into that other aspect of photography, which is finishing  a print, until I was introduced to it by a friend in Japan. I had been studying at Waseda University as an exchange student when Robert Guarnieri who was also there and in a “camera club” invited me to shoot on the streets of Tokyo. The camera club had darkroom privileges and so I remember getting my hands wet in darkroom chemicals for the first time there. I was hooked, as I think a lot of people are when they see their first image come up magically in the tray. Ultimately, it was more the process of finding and making images that excited me about photography. As a somewhat shy child, photography was my license to inject myself into a scene. I don’t think I ever used the camera to hide behind it. It was and still remains a tool for me to connect with people and their ideas.

LAWRENCEATIENZA.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?

SESHU: Oh, yes, I still have boxes of negatives carefully stored away. I just need a reliable scanner to get them all digitized. My early subjects as I mentioned to you were people on the street – doing their thing. Street photography was so exciting to me. These days it’s very hard to do that without getting stopped and questioned. When I was pursuing a graduate degree at Indiana University in journalism, I worked for the student paper there and shot a lot of concerts. Being in a small town like Bloomington, meant having a little better access to these musicians who would come through. I wanted to see what they were like backstage, so I usually went in and hung out with them. Sometimes they wouldn’t mind and sometimes they would. I learned back then that if you didn’t ask, you didn’t get. It was a valuable life-lesson in some regards.


LAWRENCEATIENZA.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.

SESHU: I can’t say that I sought out any particular book to learn about wedding photography. As a documentary wedding photographer much of my approach is based on the kind of work I produced for newspapers and international magazines as a freelance photographer. I did very little directing then of my subjects and I do very little of it now. I feel I have remained true to what really moves me about photographing people as they are. Establishing rapport, gaining access and then immersing myself into a scene is my unique approach to weddings as it was photographing people like Keb’ Mo’ or Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. I don’t think a book can teach you diplomacy. One thing I will say that is required of documentary wedding photographers such as myself is this constant state of being curious and patient – of your subjects, your environment, the abilities of your gear … whatever. Staying curious, to motivate you to photograph people’s unguarded and perhaps honest emotions, is key. And obviously patience is required because you can’t command the right elements to align themselves in the frame. You wait for it, then when you see it evolve, you trip the shutter.

LAWRENCEATIENZA.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?

SESHU: A friend of mine who is a journalist was getting married and he approached me to photograph his wedding. I can’t even recall if I charged him for it. He and I had been friends for some time and I suppose he had liked my work. I hadn’t thought of building a bridge between editorial photography and wedding photography and now I wished I had. The second gig came my way out of sheer desperation on my part. I was working at a community darkroom in Seattle and I saw a note on the board for a wedding photographer. The couple, getting married for the second time, were not really interested in anything ornate. My style and I suppose at that time my price was attractive to them. I charged them $300. And yes, I rocked those images too. Why not?


LAWRENCEATIENZA.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?

SESHU: As an editorial photographer, I was dependent on newspapers. I attended as many journalism conventions as I could afford. Being seen and heard is so key to one’s marketing. It has all shifted online these days, but it is still very useful to connect with your peers face-to-face. So, the next set of gigs came through an editor I had met at the Neiman Conference on Narrative Journalism. I photographed for a magazine called India Today. The work was challenging and didn’t pay much at all. I figured back then that I had to make the jump to something that would sustain me. But I didn’t want to take up a genre of photography that wouldn’t move me. The fact that a wedding lends itself so well to being narrated as a story worked out in my favor. I am able to use the editorial aesthetic in a very different way for my wedding clients.

PRESENT

LAWRENCEATIENZA.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?

SESHU: As someone said, branding doesn’t mean you go out and get a logo designed. That’s a logo, not a brand. Branding to me is about how you are perceived by people around you. Creating a brand takes time and you have to believe it is a process. Expect to have up’s and down’s. Learn from both of them. I feel building a personal brand has become a lot easier with a slew of online tools like Twitter Facebook and LinkedIn . I think the first thing I would say to people wanting to create a brand is – decide on how you are going to be valuable to someone else. Find your niche. Learn about it yourself, then teach others how to solve their problems. Give without the expectation of getting anything back in return.


LAWRENCEATIENZA.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?

SESHU: I’ll repeat a mantra my friend David duChemin says all the time – “Gear is Good. Vision is Better.” Every few months, the camera manufacturers release new products into the world. It’s nearly impossible to keep up. If you are running a business, buying new gear as and when they come out is going to bankrupt you. So, I suggest you carefully evaluate your needs before you go shopping.

I am all digital now. If a client wanted me to shoot film, I can. I still have a Nikon F100 stored away. I now use a Nikon D300. I have had it now for nearly three years and it has served me really well. I bought the camera I needed, not the one I wanted. Finding myself photographing in darker venues these days, I am leaning towards a full sensor camera like the Nikon D700 or its upgrade, whatever that will be. For lenses, I use the Nikon 17-35mm a lot. I also like the look and feel of the Nikon 50mm f/1.4D and the 85mm f/1.4. Another must-have lens is the Nikon 7-200mm f/2.8 VRII. For strobes, I have upgraded to the Nikon SB-900 units. I bring these to an engagement session or a wedding.

LAWRENCEATIENZA.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.

SESHU: The image of Tushima being carried by her brothers, right before she is married is one of my favorite. There is such grace and beauty in it. There is also a little drama. If you notice, one of the bride’s cousins on the upper left has turned around and is looking at her. That kind of drama cannot be orchestrated. Or, it can be, but it will feel hollow and dishonest. I saw the entourage making its way out to the altar. I remember back-peddling and shooting at the same time. I saw a chair in the foyer and grabbed it and launched myself on top of it to get the perspective I did. This is perhaps the most poignant image from the series. As a former photo editor at ESPN, I understand how images must work on the page or on the screen. Selecting them, editing them and making them sing is what I love doing.


LAWRENCEATIENZA.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?

SESHU: I work out of my “home-studio.” I have to put that in quotes because I share that space with my two kids and their toys! I prefer to photograph in an environment where my clients are going to be most comfortable – most likely their own home or a spot on the map that means a great deal to them. It can be Houston, Texas or Canton, Connecticut. It matters little to me where I go. It’s more important that my clients feel secure, open and relaxed.

LAWRENCEATIENZA.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?

SESHU: I haven’t pursued purely commercial assignments. If there is an agency out there looking to work with a photographer who can produce images with an editorial edge to them, I am it! Weddings are a seasonal business. In the off-season, November through March, this past year, I started working on my portraits website. While I knew full well that I could create portraits, I didn’t have a whole lot to show. So, I went on Twitter and found a few folks who I had known through TweetCrawls here in Connecticut, who would be willing to be photographed. The response has been great. I initially gave away 20 1/2 hour headshot sessions, all done in my “home-studio.” When people are able to see what you can produce, they are more likely to pay for it. It’s as simple as that. Starting in January, I decided I would charge $149 for a 1/2 hour session. My clients would receive one high-resolution file in exchange, with the remaining images available to them online for ordering through a gallery. They would have full rights to reuse that image in whatever way they wanted (except for purely commercial purposes). To see some examples, go here – Connecticut Headshots.


FUTURE

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM:  What are your immediate goals as a wedding photographer?

SESHU: I would love to photograph more destination weddings, especially in India. Having grown up there, I understand the culture. On a recent trip, I met with the editors of a magazine called Better Photography in Mumbai. They are currently wrapping up their first national contest to chose a wedding photographer of the year. Not being an Indian-citizen, I knew I couldn’t submit any of my work. So, they’ve asked me to be one of the judges! I also met with the folks who run a popular wedding resource online called WeddingSutra . So, it was a very successful trip.

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM:  A lot of professional wedding photographers are starting to run workshops. Will you start offering workshops in the future?

SESHU: I would love to offer workshops on photographing multicultural weddings. I know what to expect of workshops and how to approach them. Each is of course unique, but there are things that are common amongst them, too. Having attended a lot of workshops, I know how valuable or useless they can be. Structuring one isn’t easy but I do want to teach and you’ll know when the first workshop comes together.

LAWRENCEATIENZA.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?

SESHU: I am not really sure. I think visually. Every single time I’ve picked up a video camera I have enjoyed it, but I’ve always wished I had photographed the same subject with a still camera. I suspect, though, to keep abreast of technology and trends, there will be a day when I will jump out of this shell and shoot video. It’s the editing that’s a real challenge. Few know how to do it well. I have been tempted to sign up for Final Cut Pro classes just to check it out. It’s on my radar, but I am not seeking it out actively at the moment.


LAWRENCEATIENZA.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?

SESHU: Let me be frank and say that “the top” is an illusion. There is no “top”. One could and should keep on elevating their game. That’s what inspires me most. I want my next wedding or portrait session to be better than the one I completed yesterday.

What I will do and have done for the last 10 years is to continue to learn from my peers, share with my peers and perhaps teach those who are just starting out. I suggest photographers identify what kind of photography they like pursuing. It took me a while to get to weddings. But the trip has been worth it. One could fall in love instantly or the love could grow over time. I also recommend they start networking and doing so for the right reasons. There is tremendous strength in numbers. It’s a cliché, no doubt, but it is true. The synergies you will find by working together is going to propel you and “your competition” upwards. I believe this wholeheartedly, if we are all on the same page about helping each other out.

LAWRENCEATIENZA.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.

SESHU: Photography is a gift exchange. They give, we take. We give, they take. Remember, it’s not always about money. Think of ways of giving/sharing your skill with someone or a community, without expecting anything in return. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how things come back to you in different ways.

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Thank you!

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About the Author

Lawrence
Lawrence Atienza is a Jack of all Trades and Master of ALL. Whether it be in the realm of Advertising/Advertising operations with over 10+ years of experience to dabbling in the creative realm of photography and founding/writing for http://www.PhotographySILO.com, Lawrence Atienza gives his all. You can find him on Google+,Twitter and the major social media outlets.




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3 Comments


  1. Seshu is a phenomenal photographer and such a leader. He is always sharing information. Great interview and insight!


  2. Gwen – that’s such a sweet thing to say. Thank you! And Lawrence, man that was one heckuva an interview. I look forward to meeting you at WPPI 2010!


  3. Sameer Soorma

    Seshu you rock buddy! This is such great info especially for an up and coming wedding photographers. Thanks for sharing!



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