Joseph Henry Lengson: Elegant and Sophisticated Portraits as a Goal

All images and text by Joseph Henry Lengson. Used with permission.

My name is Joseph and I’m a photographer here in Los Angeles, but I work consistently between Los Angeles and New York. I’m a fan of The Phoblographer and I’ve been a subscriber for years. I typically read The Phoblographer on my iPad/iPhone everyday but recently read on the website on my MacBook and saw that this publication offers the possibility to be featured on the website, and I got inspired to reach out to see if this could be a possibility for me!

Here is a little backstory of myself:

I initially began shooting photography at 12 years old with 35mm disposable cameras by taking pictures of my dog and getting the film developed at Wal-Mart. In high school, I discovered film photography with real 35mm, 120mm, and vintage plastic toy cameras like Holgas and Fisheye Lomography cameras, then developing it myself in a dark room in my high school. Directly following high school, I began my career as a musician and during that time traveled world-wide full-time and I set my camera aside to shift focus.

Roughly a year into traveling, I decided to invest into convenience and I purchased my first digital camera. It was a simple point and shoot Canon camera that I don’t remember the model name of. At the time it served it purpose adequately, a portable and reliable camera device, though that simple camera was no match for my passion for professional photography, which would require upgrading camera equipment.

I invested into the earliest DSLR cameras that obtained cinema capabilities, then into better cameras, and then better cameras, and more cameras… By then, years into my professional music career, my love for photography had outgrown my passion for music. I fell in love shooting the bands I was on tour with and other artists, live concerts, photojournalism travel, and lifestyle. I wistfully made a thoughtful decision to quit touring with the band and I moved back to Los Angeles to begin my journey as a photographer with intentions of either teaching English or photographing fashion. Almost immediately, I discovered those two fields were unrealistic in Los Angeles for a young photographer like me, unless I wanted to work for no pay. Almost on the brink of giving up, unexpectedly through a friend I discovered the wedding and portrait industry and began shooting for a wedding studio.

Less than a year into working here in Los Angeles for a now defunct wedding photography studio, I got moved to New York City, where the studio also had a presence and I took on the roll as studio manager and lead photographer. This position required constant travel back and forth between New York City and Los Angeles due to the fact that I was the only lead photographer the studio had.

A few years into working for this particular studio, unfortunate and bizarre circumstances arose, which prompted my rather abrupt resignation and ultimately gave me that auxiliary push to thrust into the idea of starting my own company. Though it was difficult at the time, I now have experience in what is required for this industry and how I want to run my own company, which is to be honest and passionate. Having shot and managed studios for years nationwide truly did give me the experience that is required to be in the position I am in now.

I am now able to work with clients that understand that the love two people share on their wedding day is the most cherished and important day in their lives, as well as that art and culture is incredibly important to this world. My goal is to capture those two components with respect and consideration to my clients.

Gear List:

I currently shoot as a hybrid photographer, my equipment on a normal wedding shoot consists of two film cameras and two digital cameras. My cameras are a Mamiya 645 film camera with a 80mm f/1.9 and a 55mm f/2.8, a Canon TX 35mm film camera with a 50mm f/1.4, as well as a Canon 5D Mark IV digital camera and a Canon 5D Mark II each with either a 24mm-70mm and a 70mm-200mm or varying artistic lenses such as a 35mm f/2.0, a 50mm f/1.4, or a 85mm f/1.8.

Artistic Vision:

My artistic vision is always to create elegant and sophisticated portraits of lovers in a timeless styled photographic medium. I want my client to be aware of my artistic style and vision and more importantly to be my friend before the day of the shoot so that they are comfortable with me as a photographer directing them to be my model as well as to capture them in their most vulnerable state of joy on their wedding day.

Questionnaire:

• Why did you get into photography? – It was a medium of art I had yet to completely understand. I couldn’t understand how a mechanical device could capture a setting I was seeing in real life. So I began researching the art and technology of photography and tackled film photography until I completely understood it.

• What photographers are your biggest influences? Jose Villa, Erich McVey, Stephen Shore.

• How long have you been shooting? 15 years

• Why is photography and shooting so important to you? I will be honest, I have an incredibly strong memory, but I love being reminded of memories. When I see an image I took, or an image that was taken not by me but if I was there present, I go back and reminisce about all the details that had occurred during that setting and I love it. I particularly love it when I was the one who shot the image and I go back and feel as though the subject of the image conveys love, power, and confidence.

• Do you feel that you’re more of a creator or a documenter? Why? – I strongly consider myself both. As a wedding photographer, my goal is to document the day, but I have molded my job to be half documenter and half artist. I enjoy directing and posing my subject or subjects to exhibit more than just a impartial/candid display. Even though, sincere and outspoken moments are some of the most genuine images that I love and my clients cherish, I believe there is more to be captured on a grand day such as a wedding day.

• What’s typically going through your mind when you create images? Tell us about your processes both mentally and mechanically? – My mind is incredibly calm yet exercising critical thinking constantly, which I don’t realize until the shoot is completed and I am mentally and physically drained of energy. I work with large groups, associate videographers, and daylight, so I am constantly thinking about the time of day and the position of the sun, I am also constantly thinking about the wedding coordinator and what the timeline of my day is looking like. I am constantly thinking about the bride and groom and if they are happy and checking social cues if they are willing and comfortable to be posing in grand gestures or not. I am lastly constantly thinking about my setting and location; I need to know where I am forced to be shooting, such as a church or a reception area, or if I have more freedom such as a field or vineyard, this is because I am always thinking which lens and which camera will get the best result and if my assistant or second shooter is nearby to help me with a lens change, a film reload or a light diffuser assistance.

• Want to walk us through your processing techniques? – In the morning, I’m always with the bride and my second shooter is always with the groom. Or if the venue is small, we will be close by and moving back and forth between the two. I would always have my two digital cameras on me, or if this it s truly beautiful venue with plenty of natural light, I will have one film and one digital camera on me. Depending on size of the venue, my lenses are the most important thing to me. I have two main techniques, either an extreme close up on details, or pulled far back and zoomed in, either way, I prefer to be as wide open on my aperture as possible. I particularly love compression and extreme depth of field. Editing afterwards really is the MVP to me, great color correction from the lab is typically the first thing I go off of to get an idea of what that shoot was naturally, then I edit my digital images off of the color the lab sent back. (Shout out to Richard Photo Lab.)

• Tell us about the project that you’re pitching, or your portfolio – Since this is my first pitch to The Phoblographer, I suppose it is that I came from a very dirty music industry background of photography education, to a refined elegant fine art wedding industry. That art truly is all encompassing and all illuminating by virtue of beauty.

• What made you want to get into your genre? – Contrast. By being stuck in one genre so long, it unfortunately takes a toll on your zeitgeist. Not implying that anything negative occurred during my time in the music (heavy metal) industry, just that it sort of pushed me away to learn the furthest fields away from it are. Elegant fine art does not exist in the heavy metal music industry, so inquisitive minds have a desire to learn what else is out there.

• Tell us a bit about the gear that you use and how you feel it helps you achieve your creative vision. – My main cameras are my Mama 645 medium format film camera and my Canon 5D Mark IV. Depending on shooting conditions, (light and venue) I choose the camera that will get the best result, though both cameras will always make a significant appearance at all shoots.

• What motivates you to shoot? – Love. There is so much love out there in the world and in our ever-changing society, we are obsessed with documenting it. I have an obsession with story-telling and I have found my medium for this is through photography.