Call Catherine Hall a wedding photographer and you’re missing the picture. Literally. Like the shot of a society matron in full makeup expertly hefting an assault rifle, or the one of the wizened old man, an unemployed coal miner, with the word “hate” tattooed on his knuckles, or the little girl in a sparkly tutu running alone through the white-‐on-‐white of the Burning Man playa.
Wait – knuckle tattoos? Burning Man? How do they fit into the gauzy, idealized world of the wedding photographer?
Browse through Hall’s startlingly eclectic portfolio and you find the answer – that for this gifted photographer, every
snap of the shutter, whether in a glittering ballroom or on an alkaline plain, is a fresh chance to tell a great story.
“For me photography is figuring out how to see the world in a different way,” said Hall, who is renown for the authentic warmth and sophisticated style she brings to wedding photography. “With a camera I’m always exploring, always looking for a new way to push into the unknown.”
Extreme Light and Grit
With Burning Man, it was mission accomplished. Nothing could be further from the pomp and polish of a wedding day than Black Rock City, the ephemeral community that rises up each year in the stark Nevada desert. Hall first attended the gathering in 2004, expecting it to be a one-‐time experience.
“It was before I was a professional photographer and I was interested in building up my portfolio,” she said. “But once we were there, I just fell in love with the event and now I’ve been seven times.”
Inspired by the ingenuity all around her, and exhilarated by the rough shooting conditions – extreme heat and light, wind-‐driven sand and grit -‐-‐ Hall spent her time either shooting or protecting her gear
“From a photographer’s standpoint there is so much imagery at Burning Man that’s gorgeous and unique,” she said. “And I like being challenged – harsh and difficult shooting gets my blood pumping.”
Lighting the Fire
It was an indirect challenge that first set Hall, then a high school student, on what would become her career path. At the end of a photo class in which she had done so well that she was given her own special section in the end-‐of year-‐show, Hall overheard her teacher first praise, and then dismiss her.
“He was talking to one of the parents and I heard him say I was a really good photographer but that I didn’t have what it takes to make it as a professional,” she said. “It was one of those defining moments when you either buy into it and shrink down, or you say screw you, I can make it. It lit a fire under me.”
That fire led Hall to her current role as a premiere wedding and event photographer. In a field often riddled with cliché, Hall’s photos capture the glamour inherent in a wedding, while revealing the small and intimate moments that give the event its heart. From the formal shots of the wedding party to the ceremony and reception photos, Hall’s goal is to tell the stories of the people involved.
“The secret is to not take things too seriously,” she said of her knack for getting even large groups to look relaxed and comfortable. “You’re asking people to do things that are awkward and unnatural and the best way to break through is to get everyone laughing and joking about it.”
Often when Hall asks her subjects to perform a specific task, that’s not the shot she’s after. “I’m much more interested in the reaction that comes next – the way they’ll look at each other and laugh and have a private moment as a couple,” she said. “The in-‐between moment, that’s the one that’s authentic, and that’s the one that will tell the real story.”
The Tools for the Task
From the start Hall has shot with a Canon. These days it’s a Mark III. Her lenses, mostly zooms, include a 16-‐35mm f/2.8, a 24-‐70mm f/2.8, a 70-‐200mm f/2.8, 135 mm f/2.0, and also a 85mm f/1.2. For editing she works in Adobe Lightroom 5 and Adobe Photoshop, and also uses Nik Software and Kubota Imaging Tools.
And of course there’s her Wacom Intuos tablet. “It’s the one tool I can’t function without,” Hall said. “It’s as important to my work as Photoshop at this point.”
Ruthless (and Artistic) Editing
For Hall, getting the shot is just the beginning. The real work, the artistry, is in the edit, which starts with discarding the vast majority of the hundreds of images she captures on a shoot.
“It’s hard because sometimes we get attached to shots that aren’t the best ones to use,” she said. “You have to be ruthless.”
Next, with her Intuos tablet as a catalyst, she takes the literal image of what the camera saw and coaxes each photo into the intangible realm of emotion.
“When I’m shooting I’m doing everything to get it as right as possible in the camera,” Hall said. “But there are definite limitations, and I feel like Photoshop and the Wacom tablets have allowed us to take things to the next level.”
With its pressure-‐sensitivity and custom brushes, the Intuos frees Hall from the limitations of the mouse and offers her a painter’s canvas. And though Hall consciously pushes her images to the extreme, she’s careful to never cross the line into artifice.
“Now we can be artists as well as image makers,” she said. “At the end of the day I feel very much like a painter creating something more than a mere photograph.”
The interface of the Intuos gives Hall the tools to transform the technical precision of her shots into that great intangible
– an artist’s individual style. It’s there in her wedding work, where each event has a distinct flavor and flair, and it’s there in her personal work, an ever-‐growing portfolio of what fascinates her.
Hall’s photos of Burning Man, which include an evocative series about children at the event, capture both the desert’s wind-‐blasted grit and the saturated, almost ethereal light.
“The way I can make a cohesive body of work with a signature style is how I treat the (images) when I get back home,” she said. “That’s the area where the photographer leaves off and the artist begins.”