A Conversation with David Ziser: Master Wedding and Portrait Photographer (Part II)
B&H: You’ve gone on tour a number of times over the past few years, teaching workshops and seminars, and you've done so out of your hometown as well. What do you enjoy most about teaching and sharing your knowledge?
David: That's a great question. People tell me that I'm a fairly decent teacher. And I find that I really enjoy it. That’s kind of interesting for a guy who carefully avoided public speaking all through high school and college. Back in those days, I was the most nervous person in the room when asked to get up in front of an audience. But now that I’ve been teaching for so many years, I find that I thoroughly enjoy it.
My goal is to give photographers tools and techniques that they can use to improve their photography dramatically. I'm never talking about the latest and most expensive equipment—my tools and techniques are always down to earth, and can be incorporated very simply and easily by any photographer.
The other thing that strikes me when I'm up on stage is the knowledge that the photographers in the audience can become better photographers with many of the ideas that I'm sharing. I can get very passionate about the points I’m trying to make on stage, and I sometimes take on the persona of a Baptist preacher. That comes from the fact that I so want the photographers to understand what I'm saying, because I know that the tools and techniques that I'm demonstrating really work.
One of my favorite compliments that I've ever received was one that I got down in Birmingham, AL. A real Baptist minister came up to me after the program—he was a part-time wedding photographer—and said I could preach at his church any time! What it comes down to is this: I’m passionate about what I teach, I know it's not difficult to grasp, and I know that everybody in that audience can do what I'm doing. And, I want them to be able to do it!
B&H: You’re business is located outside of Cincinnati—not the biggest city in the world. Yet, you have—from what I hear—a lucrative business. What is it that separates you from your competition, bringing you to the level where you are today?
David: That's a pretty easy question to answer. From the earliest days of my business career, I always wanted to offer my clients the finest photography and the best customer service that they could get anywhere. In those early days I first restricted that goal to clients within the greater Cincinnati area, later to any clients in the Midwest, and then nationwide. It's also interesting to note that most of my business is still right here in the greater Cincinnati area. I really don't do many destination weddings, unless it's for another professional photographer from elsewhere in the US.
Another thing I've tried to do over the years is to build authentic relationships with my clients. That doesn't mean putting the “schmooze" on when I'm interacting with them. It means being genuinely concerned about them, their families, their jobs, their successes, and especially their wedding photography.
I've been able to develop quite a loyal following with my clients over the many years I've been in business. I photograph a lot of events for the Jewish community here in Cincinnati, Ohio which, by the way, is the birthplace of Reform Judaism for the United States of America—go figure. I began shooting the larger jobs back in the mid '80s, and my reputation continued to grow. It's interesting to note that by the late '90s there were a couple years where I was shooting more Bar/Bat Mitzvahs than weddings. Why? Because all my mid-'80 brides and grooms had kids, and called back years later for me to do the Bar/Bat Mitzvahs of their children. It's quite an honor to get that kind of phone call. These days, I'm photographing a lot of weddings of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah kids I photographed years ago. What goes around comes around, as long as you put your client first!
As I said, I think that a lot of my success comes from creating authentic relationships with my clients, and staying connected with them over these many years. It's a simple success strategy, but it has worked eminently well for me here in Cincinnati, Ohio.
B&H: You wrote a controversial article for your blog about a certain camera not being professional enough. Can you go over that in a nutshell, without stirring the pot too much again?
David: I still smile when I look back to that blog post. It was at WPPI a few years ago, and I was sitting in on Jasmine Star’s wedding program. Jasmine, as you know, is one of the new top-gun shooters out there, and has developed quite a following almost overnight. Her infectious enthusiasm, cute smile, great personality, beautiful photography, and wonderful blog have put her at the top of her field in only a few years.
Anyway, she remarked that her first wedding camera was a Canon Rebel. What stunned me was that half the audience applauded the remark. I did a blog post the next day entitled "How Much of a Professional Are You?" and raised the issue of professional-grade gear for wedding photography. I also included a Judge Joe Brown YouTube video which was cruising the Internet. Judge Joe Brown found for the plaintiff, a bride who hired a photographer that produced less-than-professional images. In that video, Judge Joe Brown made it clear—once he found out that the photographer was using the Canon Rebel—that that was not the type of gear a wedding professional should be using—him being quite a photographer himself.
Anyway, in my post I continue to raise the question of professionalism if you're shooting a Canon Rebel as your primary wedding camera. The bottom line for me was—not really! My post was flooded with over 100 comments within 24 hours! Half the commenters wanted to hang me from the highest yardarm, and the other half came to my defense because they felt the same way I did. Hey, a Canon Rebel can take a great photograph, but it's sure not the gear a wedding professional should be using if they want to do the best job for their clients. If you're shooting a wedding with the same gear that a lot of the wedding guests are using, how can you call yourself a professional? That isn’t to say that I can't take great photographs with the Canon Rebel—I'm sure I can. But I also want my gear to help me stand out from the crowd, distinguishing myself as a wedding professional shooting a job. I suspect you're going to get many more comments on this remark too. I did a follow-up post the following week, which went into even more detail about professionalism, but it received far fewer comments.
B&H: Wedding & Portrait photography is sometimes frowned upon by today’s young “artist” and photography-school graduates. Why do you think that is, and what do you have to say to them?
David: You know, this type of thinking has been going on for years, with many young shooters thinking that upon graduation they should be hired by National Geographic. Hey, I think ambitious thinking is a great way to reach our goals, but I think we need to pay our dues along the way, too.
Many young photographers and photography-school graduates really don't see wedding photography as a legitimate form of photography. They see themselves pursuing the higher, more esoteric aspects of photography, as the term 'photographic artist' implies. Frankly, I think there are a lot less of those kinds of photographers out there working today, making a lot less money than wedding shooters.
I think that everyone needs to realize that good photography is good photography—whether it be fine art, great portraiture, or outstanding wedding photography. It's all about how you see in your 'mind's eye' and feel in your heart that helps you compose the image and tell the story. And wedding photography is about what you feel in your heart and your soul as you look through the viewfinder, and transfering that emotion to the finished image for your client. Art is art—wedding photography, portrait photography, any kind of photography—‘nough said.
B&H: Any future projects, books or tours that you can share with us?
David: As a matter of fact, I can give you an update. I was just given the “go-ahead” from Kelby Media to produce my second photography book. It will be entitled "Make Your Lighting Exciting," and will discuss all aspects of lighting, lighting gear, and techniques that photographers need to know to create their most exciting images ever. If you follow DigitalProTalk.com, I occasionally float a post or two that will be incorporated into the book.
B&H: What is the David Ziser legacy?
David: I have to tell you, I've never really thought much about a Ziser legacy. My two children have never had a big interest in photography, and that's OK, because I've never pushed that with them. I want them to excel in their own life passions.
I guess I would like my legacy to be that David Ziser always worked hard to produce exciting images, always strove to give his clients the best wedding photography they could find anywhere, and that he loved sharing his art and his craft with passionate photographers everywhere.
I think that about does it. I really thank B&H for the opportunity to share my thoughts on these questions today, and I really wish all the B&H Insights readers continued success in their photography pursuits.
Let me also do a quick blog for my upcoming convention, PhotoPro Expo 2012, which will be held on Super Bowl Weekend, right here in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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The speaker lineup is amazing, and is—hands down—one the best of any convention for 2012. These superstars include Photoshop guru, Scott Kelby; wedding photographer extraordinaire, Jerry Ghionis; Pulitzer Prize-winning legend, Vincent LaForet; marketing genius, Sarah Petty; high-school-senior-shooter phenom, Kirk Voclain; NYC fashion photographer, Lindsey Adler, top commercial shooter, Joel Grimes; industry guru, Skip Cohen; and that's just to name a few!
February 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6th 2012, you will have the opportunity to attend the Midwest’s most exciting photographic event of the year. Plan to make PhotoPro Expo your photographic education destination for 2012. The convention is taking place near downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. Accommodations have been reserved at the 4-Star Marriott RiverCenter Hotel, right next to the Convention Center.
PhotoPro Expo will also be hosting the largest photographic trade show in the Midwest. With nearly 100 booths on the floor, you can expect to see some of the top vendors from around the country!
The Expo trade show will also be hosting a two-day, 4-Bay Model Shoot-Out sponsored by Westcott, a first for a convention of this size. Add to that a fully-juried photographic print competition, over $15,000 in prizes and awards, Flash Clinic & Help Desk, Coach’s Corner Image Review, and a Super Bowl Tailgate party Sunday night. You can't afford to miss this event!
OK, how much does it cost? Good question! A convention like this with the 16-speaker talent lineup can run as high as $600. But the cost of PhotoPro Expo 2012, with our GIFT Promo Code PPEBH12, will reduce your cost to only $159 for all three days! That's right, only $159! That makes it a "no-brainer" to attend. PhotoPro Expo 2012 is not only the best education destination for 2012, but the absolute best value education destination as well.
Please check it out at www.photoproexpo.com, and don't miss this special savings opportunity. It expires in a week, so act now to reserve your space. And don't forget to make your hotel reservations right away too—the hotel will definitely be sold out if you wait.
Remember, use Promo Code PPEBH12 to register for only $159, and save yourself $120 off the regular price of $279. Offer expires 1/22/12!
We hope to see you there!