The Denis Reggie Experience ~ My View From the Bottom

Several months ago I started a series of articles called “The Evolution of Bridal Photography.” Part one was concentrating on the 70’s, part two on the 80’s. Then I started researching the 90’s and hit a wall. I knew that in the mid to late 90’s, wedding photojournalism started to storm the nation, and I knew that Denis Reggie is the creator of wedding photojournalism, but I couldn’t figure out how it took hold and when exactly it started to travel across the country from the East Coast. Mr. Reggie started shooting weddings photojournalistically in the late 70’s. I set the research aside and kept telling myself I’d get to it later. I decided I probably needed to call Mr. Reggie’s studio and set up a phone interview to get the info I needed, but I didn’t get around to it.

Then I was planning my trip to WPPI and picking out what classes I wanted to take, and I came across a platform class that Mr. Reggie was going to teach. I circled it and preboarded for it with great excitement. I was VERY excited to be taking a class from the photographer who shoots most of the Kennedy weddings. He shot the iconic photograph of JFK Jr. kissing his bride’s hand as they came out of the little rustic church where they were wed. That image landed on the cover of Time magazine, as well as many others, and is probably the most famous wedding photo ever.

Denis Reggie’s WPPI platform class was called “Wedding Imagery: A Case for Authenticity.” The WPPI magazine guide has a little blurb explaining each class. His blurb says the following.

Seen enough brides and grooms posed on railroad tracks for a lifetime? How about in the all-too-familiar backlit field of wheat (or weeds) with, you guessed it, another case of sun flare in the sky? Can we stand one more headless close-up image of the groom’s boutonniere on a tuxedo lapel? And does every wedding album really deserve that commercial-looking photograph of the bride’s perfectly arranged Jimmy Choo high-heeled shoes? Renowned wedding photojournalism pioneer Denis Reggie returns with a new program that emphatically says – ENOUGH! This inspirational presentation will elicit more from the hearts and minds of photographers in the discovery of authentic moments. See numerous examples of alternative imagery ideally suited for those who’ve had enough of predictable, cookie-cutter wedding imagery.

Ok, I have to admit, I AM sick of the trendy huge sun-flare blowing out photographs, and of the headless photos. These trends are just weird to me. Why is there a shot of the couple’s entire bodies but their heads are cut off? I don’t get it. So I thought, “This should be interesting.” And boy … it was … interesting.

The day of the class, I got there early (cuz I’m a nerd like that) and sat in the second row. I thought it was strange he was in such a small room, considering he IS the Kennedy photographer and the father of wedding photojournalism. I shrugged it off as the room slowly almost filled. Before he started, I told him I was writing an article about him and was wondering if there would be time after the class to talk. He said no and brushed me off.

When he launched into his presentation, I started taking notes, then switched to quoting him when I felt I needed to in order to write about the experience.

Denis Reggie

The first thing he said was, “Did you know that only twenty percent of Americans have passports? That means that twenty percent of Americans are educated, well-traveled…” Yeah, this is where I started quoting. And I was thankful I had a passport, or I would’ve felt like a complete idiot, considering how many times throughout his presentation he mentioned that his clients are more educated, better traveled, and less silly than the rest of us because they own passports.

Before I go further, I would like to state something… Is Mr. Reggie warm and fuzzy and down to earth? No. Is he absolutely a master craftsman at what he does in regards to capturing timeless, candid moments and in the use of light? Absolutely. He’s brilliant at what he does.

He continued to ask a question tied to the analogy of whether we should be shepherds or sheep and whether our clients are shepherds or sheep, meaning, are we leaders or followers. Are our CLIENTS a bunch of followers? Do they look to US as the photographer to create the memories of their day? He stated that eighty percent of the population look to their photographers to create imagined moments (because they’re followers, they’re not well-traveled, and they haven’t developed their own personalities yet), like everyone jumping in the air, or “here you go, hold these…… balloons” with the word “balloon” said in sarcastic contempt. “If she’s headless, it makes it … art. I get that those Jimmy Choo shoes cost 600 bucks, but is that our imagery? This type of photography is “wholely fictional.” As photographers, we are creating a pseudo-personality for our couples. We should quit fussing with the shoes, who cares that they cost six hundred bucks, and SHOULD be LOOKING for moments to capture.

HIS clients, on the other hand, are in that twenty percent of educated, well-traveled Americans who own passports. They shop at Wholefoods because their food is organic and there is no wax on the apples. They say, “I’m willing to pay a premium if it’s REAL.” He makes over one million dollars per year shooting nothing but weddings. And in case we forgot it, he told us a dozen more times throughout his presentation.

He had the audience chuckling at his insults of the use of balloons and the headless photographs that are so trendy. He has a kind of dry wit that works. But I still found it to be condescending and insulting. Not only to me, but to my clients. I just did a beautiful engagement session that was staged like two lovers in the 1940’s having a picnic. Was it fictional? Sure. Did my clients LOVE the result? Absolutely. And I’m sure it’ll get published within the next few months.

Although I do quite a bit of staged photography, I also take about an 80% photojournalistic approach to shooting weddings. I don’t set things up unless it’s time for family photos and portraits. Everything else if free-flowing and natural, even as our industry is swinging back toward posing posing posing. Why am I defending myself???

Anyway, he went on to explain that wedding photographers are shooting trendy, fictional photos for the sake of these web sites like Style Me Pretty (which he mentioned several times with contempt that made me flinch), Pinterest, and blogs, rather than trying to tell a story. The images are COMERCIAL, CONTRIVED and WITHOUT MEANING or SOUL. Then the photographers are using Photoshop to make the images even more contrived, and he said, “Photoshop is like lipstick on a pig.” It’s used to mask the lack of skill. Then he said, “Denis Reggie does not use Photoshop. He does not own Photoshop.”

Yes, you read that right, but feel free to go back and read the last paragraph again.

He went on to explain that there are two philosophies of photographers: Proactive and reactive.

Proactive photographers are creating manufactured moments by directing and concocting fashion-like fantasy illusions. (He seemed to strongly believe this is a bad thing.)

Reactive photographers capture authentic moments, have the awareness that the camera is the enemy (because once the subject is camera-aware, the moment is ruined), and capture timeless photos; timeless equaling quiet, discovery, and unawareness. It takes the ability to be quiet, sensitive, and to WAIT for the moment, to know when a moment is fine the way it is and not pushing it to the point of fiction. “The photographer is the historian, not the director.” And he gets paid $35,000 per wedding to do just this.

All of this having been said, and after being beaten over the head with the fact that his clients are educated, well-traveled and would fire him on the spot if he suggested they hold balloons because it’s absolutely ridiculous, and how he makes over one million dollars a year shooting weddings, I did learn.

I do love taking a photojournalistic approach to most of the wedding day, and I think I learned a few things from him about that. I also learned about how to control lighting and flash to flatter the model, using a wall-bouncing technique he refers to as “foofing” that he took from the famous painter Vermeer (Girl With the Pearl Earring). The lighting IS beautiful, so I’m grateful for learning that.

But mostly, it was ninety minutes of hearing over and over how contrived wedding photography has become, how much money he makes, and how his clients are better educated than ours. In fact, he ran out of time and VERY quickly sped through a slideshow of images he was supposed to be showing us as he taught us about wedding photojournalism.

As I said above, Mr. Reggie is absolutely talented and skilled in his craft of being a reactive photographer. He captures some AMAZING candid moments. I just wish we could’ve seen them for more than a fraction of a second and he could’ve talked about that more rather than being condescending.

This is just my view from the bottom. Take it or leave it.

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March 22, 2013

Yeah, guess if he was humble he'd be on his knees, but you are so much better than a egotistical windbag like him. Hope u got ur money's worth at least. Disappointing huh?

da truth
August 8, 2013

This guy is full of shite and NOT the father of wedding photoj...he is just really good about spouting his mouth off, so people noticed him while the real creatives were busy creating. Can't argue that the contrived posed industry has gotten out of control, but his portfolio was always weak as well. Finally, having money or a passport does not equate to intelligence...lots of rich people are complete fools because they have never had to think on their feet or fend for themselves...a silver spoon fed client base could be nice, but If his clients are paying him $35k per wedding, then they are without a doubt complete idiots. Oh, and what "million dollar men" host a paid workshop? I'm calling bullshit...he just wants attention.

Denis Reggie
February 5, 2016

Hi Dawn. Thanks so much for taking time to review my presentation. And I am so sorry that I was unable to meet with you afterward as I was scheduled tightly with another talk at Canon's trade show booth. My observations about the market for wedding photojournalism were just that. After 25 years of working in the wedding photography industry and learning the habits of clients for this style, I wanted to share that insight. Good luck to you in your own career. Denis Reggie

March 3, 2016

Well done. I had a very similar experience in a workshop / lecture I attended at least ten years ago in NYC's Photo Plus Expo. Kudos to this guy for riding the coattails of an image he took umpteen years ago, but his 'greater than thou' attitude is something that the '80s doesn't even want back, and a bit too Donald Trump for me. As a very good, working photographer in my own right, I didn't find his pedantic tone very positive, so my colleague and I walked out. The good news: I walked out with a stronger commitment to being someone people like having around and working with; whether or not they can afford me. So, if you've spent any moments wondering if you imagined or misinterpreted his behavior, I can assure you this was his 'authentic' self. Your work is gorgeous, by the way. I thoroughly enjoyed your galleries!

March 3, 2016

THANK YOU!!! Did you see that Denis actually commented on this blog?! I almost died. lol

Paul White
October 18, 2016

I came across your blog entry while doing an internet search on Denis Reggie. I was a full-time photographer from 1997 to 2005, a period that was dominated by Denis Reggie and his style of photojournalistic wedding photography. Like you, I followed his every move, and arranged to attend one of his seminars in Atlanta. I met him on the first day, where he reviewed my wedding images, and made several positive and constructive comments. During our meeting, he did not appear very well. The next day, at our first group meeting, one of his staff told us that Denis had been admitted to a local hospital for emergency gall bladder surgery, so the seminar was cancelled. I was never able to reschedule the seminar. It sounds like the personalities, of some of the fathers of the brides, must have rubbed off on him. It must be a big strain to constantly be on the road, at the whim of airlines and weather, as he flies all over the world to photograph these events. Did he tell the story of an overnight shipping service that lost ALL the exposed film from the Schwarzenegger/Shriver wedding? The film was finally found, had been accidentally shipped overseas. Best wishes for your continued success. Paul White Pensacola, FL

October 18, 2016

I agree that his job is very difficult and it does sound like the personalities of the wealthy rubbed off on him. He didn't sound frustrated or tired from working, he was outright arrogant and rude to me. But then I saw him at WPPI another year in the Expo and shook his hand and he was very nice. So he probably has good days and bad, like everyone else. This job is hard!

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