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COVER STORY
Gary Fong:
spins a wedding storyss

Gary Fong knows how to tell a good story. He creates photo essays with wedding pictures portrayed through the album. "My primary message is that wedding albums really need to tell more of a story," says Fong. "My approach is rooted in a documentary style, but with storytelling elements focusing on a graphic design influence."
 
Based in Los Angeles, Fong does double duty at the weddings, envisioning the final design
even as he shoots the wedding day. He feels a photographer's artistic sense when it comes to imagery, puts the photographer in a position to be the designer of the photo layout. "No matter how gorgeous the individual images are, if the photographer lets the couple design the album, the final presentation looks more like a scrapbook."
Once he incorporates album design, Fong says he begins to photograph while visualizing layouts in his mind. "At one wedding, skywriters drew a huge heart overhead during the
couple's ceremony. I took one image of the heart overhead, and another image of the crowd smiling upwardsand pointing. In the final album, these photos were stacked, with the crowd pointing up to the heart in the sky."

After 16 years in business, Storybook Weddings, the name Fong gave his studio to represent its type of coverage, still has the same mission on which he originated his business. "We still exclusively do weddings, providing custom album design services and creating uniquely one-of-a-kind albums."
 
FOCUS GROUP/GROUP FOCUS
In order to fit in the more traditional portraits sometimes requested, Fong offers a separate portrait album of family and friends, a departure from the strictly unposed, documentary "storybook." In this way, each volume has a clear focus. "If we incorporated portraiture into the wedding album, the story of the wedding day would be punctuated by posed groupings." Separating the two themes into different books makes for a much more captivating presentation.

"Our portraiture volume is definitely not traditional. The best portraits are totally unposed. Also, our portrait volume is heavy with detail. It begins with a selection of details of the bride, such as an entire series containing tight closeups of her shoes, one earring, her necklace, a tight shot of her holding her bouquet or rosary beads, etc. Then we incorporate a rich variety of groupings and combinations with the bride, her family and friends. In this way, the portrait volume becomes an entire story on its own."

When thinking about all of the weddings he has covered, Fong says they have all been perfect, rain or shine. "
Imagine a moment when you can look out and see all of your family and friends smiling at you.... gathered in one place to witness and celebrate your biggest day with you and your fiancee. How can any day be more perfect? With that in mind, any wedding is perfect- rain or shine. At the end of the day you two will be married, and that's the most beautiful thing I could ever imagine happening. The perfect wedding day is one where the couple simply sits back and enjoys what a spectacular event this will be for them. That day is an unbelievable rush."

A DAWNING
Storybook is run by himself and his wife Marci, with a total of four at the studio. "Marci joined us three years ago after coming to the decision (much like I did years before) that being a wedding photographer would be infinitely more enjoyable than going to medical school. We both felt that being around sick and suffering people could not compare to always being at the happiest day in a couple's life."

So after years of shooting over a hundred weddings with him, and attending nearly 50 of his seminars as well as two week-long classes, she became an impressive imagemaker. "We published her image portfolio on the Internet. The response was overwhelming. Her first wedding referral came from Clay Blackmore in Maryland. This year she is contracted to nearly one-third of our events."

Marci attended Fong's seminars which are offered in a limited number every year. This year they are presenting one week-long master class in Cape Cod, MA.

Publishing Marci's portfolio on the Internet is part and parcel for Storybook. The business is totally integrated with computer technology. "At present count we actually have 14 computers in our operation all having different uses including web authoring, digital imaging, album design, theater display and administrative duties. I can honestly say that we use technology as a critical part of the creative process."

Storybook posted its first wedding in May 1997 as a favor to a client with family members in Peru. By the next day we got dozens of e-mails, many in Spanish, from all over the world saying what great images they were. It then dawned on us what a great exposure tool this would be.

QUICK DESIGN

"For exposure purposes, we also created a specific path to navigate through before the viewer visits the "New Weddings" web page." Before web browsers get to that destination, they see loads of information about his Storybook studio.

"By the end of the first year, www.storybookweddings.com had reached over 45,000 hits-all by word of mouth referrals."

How it works is while the couple is on their honeymoon, a selection of their images are published on the Internet. "We've had couples on their honeymoon call us from Kinko's telling us they rented a computer terminal to see their images on the Internet!"

By the time they return they see a screening in Storybook's private theater, a showing just for the couple and their families. "Using my Montage album design software, they get to see on a huge screen, our initial design for their wedding storybook. So instead of being handed a stack of proofs and being instructed to make a list, they see a completed design. Then they receive a thumbnail proof of the design so they can edit the design at home."

Fong adds, "I've always made it a point to provide a huge centerfold group shot of everyone at the wedding in each album design." Using Hasselbladís new XPan 35mm camera, he gets a negative in panoramic proportions which blows up beautifully as a 24-inch centerfold in the coupleís album.

"To see everyone in your life in one huge group shot is simply overwhelming to most couples."

INTERNATIONAL STYLE
Fong has also photographed some international affairs, a market which is very new to Storybook and is cultivated exclusively by word-of-mouth referrals.

"We never did any form of advertising in our 16 years of business. Our first international event was for the daughter of a famous Hong Kong film producer. This led to a feature article in Asian Bride magazine, which led to our being recommended by the prestigious Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong."

PHOTOGRAPHER DEVELOPER
On the website, a section is dedicated to products Fong himself has helped develop. "I've been lucky to find manufacturer support as a photographer who really enjoys using technological developments in helping to aid creativity. Iíve found that the large companies are always eager to find ways of further developing the craft, yet their specialties are not necessarily dealing directly with brides or the practice of professional photography. So they are always eager for suggestions from photographers."

Fong did his first seminar with Art Leather a year and a half after starting wedding photography. "They had approached me because in my first six months, I had purchased their entire warehouse stock of their largest size of albums. Having never seen results like this before, they sent a representative.

SERENDIPITY
Other than his Montage software creation, Fong also developed a lighting product with Norman Lighting. "With the advent of new, higher speed films I discovered that most flash units were in fact too powerful, necessitating use of f16 or f22 apertures for a majority of on-camera flash images. I had been told by Bill Norman that removing the reflector was helpful in reducing the effective output by two stops. This reduction in power was the perfect solution to offset higher-speed films. What he didnít expect was the serendipitous discovery that the lighting produced by a bare-bulb head was absolutely gorgeous."

From the overwhelming response to this approach to bare-bulb lighting, he worked in with Bill Norman of Norman Enterprises to design the Gary Fong Lightsphere.

Fong prefers natural lighting in all possible circumstances. "Typically, I hate flash photography because of the harsh and cold look that electronic flash offers. This is why I prefer bare-bulb lighting in instances where I really need flash. This type of lighting looks so natural that itís hard to tell that youíve used a flash."

ONLINE & ON TRACK
Looking back to when he spent his first long hours drafting a plan for the storybook concept (actually he says it took a year of planning, conceptualizing and strategizing) Fong is glad to realize that Storybook Weddings is right on track with his original plan: to provide wedding clients with custom album designs. Itís apparent, whether itís the Internet connection, the product creations, or the storybook approach, Fong has definitely put his own spin on wedding photography.
 


photo © Gary Fong


See our March issue for these articles.

Copyright On the Fly
by Leigh Grimm
What can you do to protect your copyright on the Internet?

Lippman Takes the 4th
by G. Faye Guercio
STEVE LIPPMAN takes photography to the fourth dimension.

Breaking New Ground
by Leigh Grimm
Enhancing beauty and fashion images with digital technology is photographer ADRIAN GRIFFITH's territory.

Album & Frame Mania
by the Editors
Find out the latest on what products your favorite album and frame companies have to offer.

xx

 















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GARY FONG'S
GEAR BOX


Cameras:
Hasselblad 503CX, 903SWC, XPAN
Canon EOS A2

Lighting:
norman

Albums:
Art Leather and Montage Software

Film:
Kodak Portra 400VC, T-Max 3200,
T-Max 400CN, PMZ 1000
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