Wedding Photographer Jerry Ghionis Directs His Vision

Wedding Photographer Jerry Ghionis Directs His Vision



Jerry Ghionis

directs his vision




All images ©Jerry Ghionis

Watch the short

videos of photo

shoots by

Jerry Ghionis,


on his website.

You’ll notice he’s

off camera most

of the time, yet

Ghionis is a big

presence in the

clips. Playful and

confident, he

directs the bridal

couples with

compliments and

teasing, simultaneously


the lights or

adjusting small

details, such as

turning the bride’s

satin-clad foot

ever so slightly.


In person he’s a torpedo of energy that often

Photographers are looking for a point


explodes in a burst of infectious laughter.

Somehow he keeps everyone pumped up

and joyful, yet calm.

An Australian of Greek extraction, Ghionis

and his wife, Melissa, split their time between

Melbourne, Australia, and Beverly Hills,

Calif. They also travel extensively for his

speaking engagements, workshops, and

wedding shoots. After nearly 20 years in the

business, Ghionis is at the top of his game.

He’s been called one of the best wedding

photographers in the world, and his flair for

fashion and elegance has led to numerous

prestigious awards, including Photographer

of the Year, conferred by both Professional

Photographers of America and the Australian

Institute of Professional Photography.

Ghionis established his brand in his first

Melbourne studio, where for 10 years he and

15 employees handled more than 300 weddings

annually. In 2007, he downsized to a

boutique studio in Melbourne’s Docklands

area of Victoria Harbour, raised his prices,

and set out to conquer a new market. “I still

do weddings for suburban working-class

families, but we lean more toward corporate

couples,” he says.

About once a year Ghionis photographs a

lavish, high-profile wedding, like the one in

Rome a couple of years ago that still gives

him pause. Opulence was the defining feature

of the five-day event, which included

formal programs during gourmet lunches

and dinners in addition to ballerinas flown

in from France to perform at the ceremony.

The bride and groom were a socially prominent

couple from Dubai, and their guests were

royalty and tycoons of industry. At the bride’s

insistence, Ghionis left the festivities in Rome

for a day to accompany her and her bridesmaids

to Madrid for her bachelorette party.

“The bride was sort of obsessed with photography,

but photographing her was challenging,”

he says. “She was very distracted, so

of difference, and I think the difference

is actually knowing what you’re doing.

106 •


This four-step process works in a controlled

situation, not when you’re in a

photo jour nalistic moment when you’re

shooting at the church or reception. Use

these steps when you have time and

space to create a beautiful portrait. If you

understand lighting, posing, composition,

and storytelling, it doesn’t matter what

camera you use. After all, it’s people who

take pictures, not cam eras. I break down

my shooting into five steps that I take in

every situation I walk into.

LOOK FOR LIGHT. Many photographers

are tempted to look for location

first. Certainly a location or background

attracts me, but first I’ll always

find good light or create good light.


GROUND. Every background I choose, I

envision how it will look out of focus.

PAUSE TO POSE. Before I shoot a

single frame, I ask myself, What’s the

action? What’s the concept? What is the

couple doing here? Then I finesse. I might

tilt the head a bit more, lift a chin a little,

or bend the knees slightly. I focus on one

thing at a time. The key to your craft—and

perfection—is slow ing down. The problem

with many photographers is that we go so

fast we forget the finer points. It’s not

one big thing that people do incorrectly,

it’s a thousand little things. I focus on

hands and feet and curves, on face position,

on the little things that make a photograph



Once I’ve finessed the pose, then I work

on expression. If the emotion creates an

imperfect pose, arguably it’s the imperfection

of the pose that makes it look

real and believable.


108 •

it was kind of like posing a cat. A lot of the tips

and tricks I use to evoke emotion just didn’t

work with her. There was no raw emotion in

the air, so I made each photo classically

beautiful. I relied on classic posing, beautiful

lighting, nice composition, and storytelling,

which resulted in quite a few iconic shots.

“The other challenge of the wedding was

staying awake,” Ghionis continues with a

chuckle. “There were so many events, and the

wedding day itself started at eight in the morning

and finished at 7 a.m. the following day.”

place at the right time. “I educate my clients

beforehand so that on the day they’re a

dream to work with and listen to everything

I say. Guys are harder to direct than women

but I build trust and disarm them through

humor and empathy. Many photographers

find men challenging, but I find that’s usually

the fault of the photographer. Typically

it’s because they lack education or their personality

can’t shine through because they’re


Fashion photography inspires Ghionis and

it’s evident in his images. His style is glamorous

yet natural, a cunning ability he developed

over the years by observing brides. “A

bride who wants to look beautiful doesn’t

want to be posed. If you ask her what’s most

important about photographing her wedding

she’ll say, It’s about the story, emotion,

capturing the moment, and feelings. All that

is true, but they look at photos of themselves

and ask, Do I look beautiful? They look for

their flaws before they look to see if the

photo captures emotion or tells a story.”

To ensure brides will have the glamorous

photos they expect, Ghionis poses the couple as

a stage director works with actors. He creates

scenarios with the bride and groom cast in

the leading roles, giving them minimal instruc -

tions to keep them relaxed. Then he concentrates

on technique, such as lighting and

exposure. The key to a perfect photograph,

he says, is emotion, and he saves that for

last. Once the stage is set and he’s ready to

click the shutter, he works with the subjects

to get them to express the emotional truth of

the moment. “People say emotion beats perfection,

but it’s possible to have emotion and

perfection. You can have a beautiful pose,

beautifully lit, with beautiful emotion.”

His couples often look effortlessly lovely,

as if Ghionis just happened to be in the right

so stressed about their camera, technique, or

their inexperience. A photographer’s main

asset is his or her communication skills.

That is much more important than how

good a technician you are. In fact, it’s the

most important thing.”


In teaching others, Ghionis has found a second

passion. “I’ll never stop shooting; it’s in

my blood. But so is teaching,” he says. A few


CAMERAS: Nikon 3X, D3S, and D700 digital SLRs

years ago he launched the Ice Society, a subscription-based

educational website with a

community atmosphere. He also holds five-day

workshops in various countries that cater to

photographers of varying levels of experience.

The number of inexperienced photographers

flooding the marketplace concerns

him, he says, because so few are trained. “If

you’ve got a phone, then you’ve got a camera,

so now everyone believes they’re photographers.

And with all these apps out now

you can make an ordinary image look interesting,

so people think it’s easy. It’s a rude

LENSES: 70-200mm VR II; 24-120mm f/4; 24-70mm f/2.8; 85mm f/1.4; 50mm f/1.4;

14-24mm f/2.8; 105mm Micro; 45mm PC tilt/shift; 16-35mm f/4

FLASH LIGHTING: Nikon SB-900 Speedlights


awakening for people when they learn the

right way to take a photograph, when they

realize there’s so much more to the craft of

photography. I tell my students that three

words are their best teachers: practice, repetition,

and experience. That’s not the most

glamorous thing to say, but it’s the truth.

Taking good photos requires hard work.”

With a tone of frustration in his voice, he

adds, “The trend now is to shoot everything

backlit with weird cropping like glorified

snapshots that look like they were taken in

the 1970s. Photographers are looking for a

point of difference, and I think the difference

is actually knowing what you’re doing.”

Technology is a blessing and a curse, says

Ghionis. “On the one hand, technology is

amazing. The fact that we can shoot raw and

have the image in back of a camera immediately

to know what we’ve done right and

wrong—I mean, years ago I just wouldn’t

110 •

him. The nonprofit’s first project is to contribute

money for building an orphange

in Nepal.

In addition to philanthropy, Ghionis

recently added another line to his resume,

that of product designer. Over the years he’s

dreamed of creating a perfect light for portraits.

He partnered with Westcott to develop

it and the result is the Ice Light, a vertical

continuous-light LED that mimics daylight

and can be handheld. “I’ve been shooting with

video lights since I started out. I thought it

would be great to have a light that’s continuous,

cylindrical, portable, and easy to use.

Cylindrical because we’re vertical people, not

circles or squares like most video lights. The

Ice Light looks a little like the light saber in

Star Wars. When you see it you can’t help

but think of Darth Vader.”

Ghionis starts to giggle at the thought of

charging around with the Ice Light like the

anti-hero. “I’m pretty much a big kid,” he

admits. “That’s the best way to describe me.

I’m not too serious. An artist’s art should say

as much about the artist as it does about the

subject, whether it’s a painting, a song, or a

photograph. That’s why you have to love

what you do and be confident. If you are a

fun, fashionable kind of person, then your

photos should reflect that. When it comes to

photography, define yourself. If you don’t,

there’s no chance anyone else will. You must

photograph through the eyes of a loved one.

Above all else, if you want to be a better photographer,

then be a better person.” ■

have dreamed that would be possible, yet

here we are. The problem is that as much of

a blessing as technology is, it’s also making

us lazy. People tend to shoot rapid-fire and

overzealously Photoshop afterwards. If we

can shoot with the sensibility of film so that

every shot counts and really pay attention to

lighting, posing, composition, et cetera, it

would save so much time afterwards.”


From time to time, Ghionis donates a portion

of the proceeds from teaching to his

charity, Soul Society. “Soul Society cares for

poor, homeless, and orphaned children in

third-world countries,” he says of his nonprofit

venture, which he founded after a 2009

trip to Cambodia, where the impoverished

and orphaned children profoundly moved

Jerry Ghionis is online at

Look for Jerry Ghionis at Imaging USA 2013 in

Atlanta, Jan. 20-23. There, he’ll present a

demonstration session on weddings and lighting.

112 •

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