spins a wedding storyss
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
- Based in Los
Angeles, Fong does double duty at the weddings, envisioning the
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
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
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
"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."
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.
"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."
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."
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.
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."
& 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.
our March issue for these articles.
On the Fly
What can you do to protect your copyright on the Internet?
Takes the 4th
by G. Faye Guercio
STEVE LIPPMAN takes photography to the fourth dimension.
by Leigh Grimm
Enhancing beauty and fashion images with digital technology is
photographer ADRIAN GRIFFITH's territory.
& Frame Mania
by the Editors
Find out the latest on what products your favorite album and
frame companies have to offer.
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Cameras: Hasselblad 503CX,
Canon EOS A2
Albums: Art Leather and
Film: Kodak Portra 400VC, T-Max
T-Max 400CN, PMZ 1000