Canon Ambassador Sanjay Jogia shares his best marketing tips for wedding photographers
Fashion-forward, urban youth captured in gritty scenes with a film aesthetic that's reminiscent of grainier days – these are not your typical wedding photographers. The couple in these photographs look creative, candid and carefree – and in Julia Blumenthal and Gil Gropengiesser they've found photographers who are kindred spirits.
Creative collaboration is a delicate balancing act. But in the photographs of German-born photography team and Canon Ambassadors Julia and Gil, who have steadily built a career capturing fresh and naturalistic portraits of weddings and couples, it's clear that two minds working together can produce images of authentic intimacy. Taking candid to new levels, this shoot saw the photographers in Barcelona, even handing over the creative reins and inviting the couple involved to film themselves for a time – making best use of the full-frame mirrorless Canon EOS R's foolproof autofocus capabilities.
Being a couple themselves helps Julia and Gil empathise with their subjects. "We really enjoy capturing the emotion and connection of two people in love," says Gil. "When you shoot a portrait of a single person in gorgeous natural light against an attractive backdrop, it's certainly nice. But if you can capture a loving couple against that same scenery – it elevates it. There's just something in the air.
"When we started building a portfolio, we began to realise there's great benefit in specialising in one subject and building your skills to the best of your abilities. That's why we said no to all the other subjects we could have potentially tackled as photographers. We decided to dedicate ourselves to capturing real emotions between real couples – it's authentic and honest."
The key to their approach is taking the time to get to know their subjects before a shoot. "We always try to make friends with the couple beforehand," Gil says. "We'll meet them in person and ask lots of questions. We'll get to know them and create an environment where they can feel relaxed."
One thing that helps keep their shoots low-key is that Julia and Gil prefer to use natural light rather than elaborate lighting rigs. "It's not necessarily that we don't like flash," says Gil. "It's more that we prefer the pictures to be honest and natural. We want to show a true depiction of how the light looked on that day at that very moment. For me, flash can sometimes feel unnatural, perhaps even obtrusive. With flash, the presence of the photographer is felt within the image and that can mean the image feels staged and posed.
"I'd also say that the less equipment you have, the more creative you can be," adds Gil. "When you keep your kit to a minimum, you can focus on the images and not concern yourself with fiddling with lights and changing lenses."
Shooting with the Canon EOS R in Barcelona
With the full-frame mirrorless Canon EOS R System, Julia and Gil wanted to test it in different lighting conditions – "morning, daylight, backlight, sunset, etc. We also wanted to shoot video. We decided that as we were around Barcelona, a city we're incredibly familiar with, that's where we would shoot." They invited a couple to the city, rented an apartment and "did the whole thing over a single day. It was stressful, but so much fun!"
Julia and Gil would usually use a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, switching between 24mm and 35mm lenses (although for their social media videos, they'll rely on the compact, 20-megapixel Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II). So how did they find the Canon EOS R?
"We went through the menu and quickly saw that it's very similar to the menu on the EOS 5D Mark IV," says Gil. "After just a little while of handling the EOS R, we got faster and better at handling it. It was amazing. The buttons are customisable, which is a massive bonus for any photographer. The camera is silent, and perhaps most importantly, the photos and video footage straight out of camera had beautiful and natural colours, and that was particularly true of the skin tones."
For the Barcelona shoot, Julia and Gil were able to pair the Canon EOS R seamlessly with their existing EF lenses, thanks to the easy-to-use EF-EOS R Mount Adapters. They also tested the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens. "The lens is super amazing," says Gil. "It's fast and incredibly sharp.
"The autofocus with the EOS R camera and the [RF 50mm f/1.2L USM] lens was simply amazing. For example, during one part of the shoot, we had the couple running towards us with backlight against them and light streaming into the lens. The conditions were potentially the worst for getting the image in focus. I was actually filming handheld and running backwards, so the whole thing should have been very difficult. But the image was always in focus and always sharp. The autofocus on this thing is like glue!"
Julia and Gil's subjects, Kenzie and Jo, happened to be friends of theirs and a couple they had worked with previously. Knowing them, and seeing first-hand how intuitive the Canon EOS R's controls are, gave them the idea to try something a little different.
"This is a very confident couple and it's easy to take photos of them," says Gil. "In fact, any photographer could take beautiful images of these two. But we tried to go one step further. After we'd played with the EOS R for a while, we realised it's probably a camera that even the most inexperienced user can feel comfortable with in order to make great images and video. That was when Julia and I temporarily gave up control and put the EOS R in the hands of the couple. Some of the images and video of this shoot were actually done by them. As a result, the pictures and footage overall feel very natural.
"We gave them the camera, told them to play with it, film themselves, do selfies and even interview each other. Then Julia and I left the room for 15 to 20 minutes. The camera handled all the focusing – they didn't need to concern themselves with that. Later on, during the editing process, when we got all the stuff they shot, we cut it together and put some music and grading on it. It worked out beautifully.
"As a complete project, we really couldn't be happier with the Barcelona shoot. The whole thing came together perfectly."
Even Julia and Gil don't normally involve their subjects quite as much as this, of course. As a partnership, they divide the workload between them on romantic travel shoots and wedding shoots. "During the wedding day, we both shoot photos and video," says Gil. "The rest is divided up between us. Julia will do all of the editing and retouching. She'll also select all of the final images. On the other hand, I tackle all of the emails, social media and marketing. We also have two assistants who will take on some of the promotion and video editing.
"The business is growing. Having assistants has helped us scale things up a little so we can do more work and take more photos. By focusing in on specific roles within the business, we can each develop our skills and really get good at them."
Julia and Gil didn't seek each other out for their complementary skills, though. The partnership evolved over time. "Both Julia and I started photography around seven years ago," Gil says. "We would photograph everything together: friends, friends of friends, street photography, travel. We did so much photography together that we got used to being in each other's company while working. It was a very natural transition to becoming a team."
They didn't plan to become wedding photographers, but shot their first wedding for one simple reason: they were the couple in their circle of friends that happened to own a camera.
"When people find out you have a big camera, you don't need to do any marketing to get your first wedding," says Gil. "The first friend will come along and ask you to either shoot their wedding or the wedding of their friend. It really wasn't our plan to become wedding photographers. But after we shot our first ceremony, we fell in love with it. We kept going and decided to try to build a profession out of it.
"It took about three years of planning and marketing, but before we knew it we were professional wedding photographers building a reputation for ourselves. It's great because for the past few years it's kept us travelling all over Europe during the wedding season, which for us is May to October. It's a lot of fun."
One of the things that can often catch out photographers who are new to taking portraits – whether it's couples or single individuals – is finding the best way to help their subjects feel comfortable in front of the camera. But Gil has some words of advice: "As a photographer, you must always work on your skills of communication and the ways in which you can comfortably build a relationship with your subject, particularly if they're not models."
He adds: "When we shoot weddings, we're thrown into a situation where we're dealing with multiple people we've never met before. Our approach is to photograph the wedding from the inside out. We want to be as close as possible to the event by building relationships.
"That happens through the craft of communication. If you learn to communicate better, your images will improve exponentially. When we're teaching in our workshops, I always recommend the book, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It's a fantastic book to read if you want to develop communication skills and will give you tips on how to make the bride and groom feel relaxed in your company, and in front of the camera."
Since Julia and Gil worked with the EOS R on this shoot, firmware updates have added additional features that make the camera even easier to use. Eye-detection AF now supports Servo AF and is now available when shooting video, regardless of your Movie AF setting, to help ensure that subjects’ eyes are always in focus.