Tips + Techniques

How Jerry Ghionis Goes a Few Steps Beyond the Expected Portrait Session

November 21, 2017

By Jerry Ghionis

All Photos © Jerry Ghionis

We’ve all heard the saying “less is more” and I do believe that to be true—most of the time. I’ve built my career on simple yet striking images but sometimes, as I’ve found along the way, more is more. I very rarely photograph with the forethought of Photoshop, but sometimes there are simply some things you cannot achieve in-camera.

Eight years ago, I photographed an engagement session of wedding photographer Ryan Schembri and his wife, Jessica. The whole shoot was inspired by different movies. One of the scenes I wanted to emulate was one from Malèna, starring Monica Bellucci. (If you haven’t yet seen this movie, I strongly encourage you to watch it not only for the cinematography but also because it will make you laugh and cry.) There is a poignant moment in the film where the main character, Malèna, visits a piazza, sits down at a café and takes out a cigarette knowing that all the men surrounding her would be quick to offer a light. This is a turning point in the movie and the scene is truly iconic, which is why I’ve always wanted to immortalize it in one of my creations.

All Photos © Jerry Ghionis

Which brings me back to Ryan and Jess. For their engagement session, I placed my camera on a tripod and took a portrait of Jessica that I used as my foundation image (above). I earmarked exactly where the cigarette would be so that in each of the following images, the lighters would be in the correct position. I previsualized the entire shot in my head while posing Ryan in many different positions. Afterwards, each image was deep-etched, combined and then blended in for the final result. This image then became the inspiration for several other composites in this style.

If you want to try something like this for yourself, I encourage you to come up with a concept and then pitch it to your clients. It can be a creative collaboration that truly reflects their hobbies and personalities, or you may simply want to surprise them with your own interpretation. It’s harder to do something like this at a wedding because it does take some time to execute; it’s much easier to achieve with your portrait clients in a studio.

The portrait below, created in my studio in Melbourne, Australia, can be a great addition to your client product offerings. Every client has purchased one of these composites once they’ve seen them. After all, we sell what we show. I love that it takes a few seconds for my clients to realize that it’s the same subject over and over in the frame. And while this should not replace other products you already offer, it is different and dynamic enough to sell it in addition to your other offerings. I pitch it as wall art and as a talking piece that inspires a conversation when guests come over.

I used the existing downlights and posed my subject in many different ways. The first image was of the environment only (without her in it) at f/16 and a ¼ of a second at ISO 1600. Each shot was then photographed with a faster speed and shallower depth-of-field to avoid camera shake and subject movement without having to increase my ISO. I then deep-etched the individual photographs and built and blended the composite.

As photographers, we often get obsessed with the beauty of our female subjects. We shouldn’t forget that we should celebrate the men, too (like the image above does)! You really should shoot and sell to the male subjects as well as the couple (since individual female portraits sell themselves).

These composite-style creations can also help impress a commercial or fashion client. It’s a perfect way of not only meeting your client’s expectations but overdelivering with something they were not expecting.

Unlike most composites you see, these conceptual images are not meant to look like a real photograph, per se. They’re more meant to be a fun and simple yet striking way to create something new for your clients and yourself. Jump right in—you have nothing to lose!

Jerry Ghionis is widely regarded as one of the best wedding photographers and educators in the world. The USA Nikon Ambassador has won more awards than any other photographer at WPPI where he became the first Grand Master.