Laibel & Chana Schwartz on Photographing Jewish Weddings

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All images by Laibel and Chana Schwartz. Used with permission.

Laibel & Chana Schwartz have an incredible story on how they got into photography together. Laibel turned down archeological research to instead be a photographer while Chana worked on interior design. Somehow or another, he convinced her to shoot a wedding with him, and they were instantly hooked.

Today, they’re a special team that works on capturing the most precious moments of Jewish weddings. “The more we get to know our couples, the more reassured we feel that we’re in the right business.” they tell us in an email.

Because of the way that Jewish weddings work, they don’t function as a first shooter/second shooter team but instead with both acting as first shooters. The dynamic is well worth reading about.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you both got into photography.

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Chana: When Laibel and I were dating, he casually mentioned that we could run a photography business together. I brushed him off saying, “You have your thing, and I have mine.” Laibel’s pursuit of photography started in college while traveling around the globe researching archeological artifacts, which he had no interest in.

Rather than digging in the dirt, he started studying under the photography professor who had joined the team to document their findings. Meanwhile, I studied Interior Design at Parsons School of Design, and had every intention of starting up a residential Interior Design business. Laibel had different plans in mind for our future, and a little over a month after our wedding, he convinced me to come along for a shoot and the rest is history.

Phoblographer: What got you into wedding photography?

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Chana: There are many artists on both sides of our family that range from internationally recognized sculptors, to photographers and painters to wonderful mothers who craft art at home with their children. We were both raised with a deep appreciation for art but always given the impression that art was a way to express oneself, not a way to make a living. However, when we shot our first wedding in 2010, we realized it was the perfect medium for us to create timeless imagery and do something we both enjoy, while creating a healthy business to support our family.

Phoblographer: Let’s talk about the business side here to start. How do you go about marketing yourself to the Orthodox community? And How much of your time is actually spent shooting vs editing, marketing, etc? How does that marketing differ to the specific sectors such as Modern Orthodox, Ultra Orthodox, etc?

Chana: As business owners, we’re always striving to perfect the balance between working “in” the business, and working “on” the business. All businesses need to know their markets—who they are, where they spend time, and what they enjoy. Our market is the orthodox Jewish bride and groom, who are not of a particular “sect” or “branch”, but rather have an appreciation for the images that we create. In terms of marketing, we have so many great social platforms to showcase our work and that is how we remain on people’s minds, but the majority of our couples come from meeting us at an event or hearing about a great experience from a friend.

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Phoblographer: Besides the fact that there are ceremonies where the men aren’t allowed and vice versa, how do each of you approach shooting situations differently in a creative aspect?

Chana: Originally, one of the most challenging aspects of our weddings was to beautifully capture each part of the day while retaining a consistency throughout our images for the album. Due to the nature of a Jewish wedding, and working with our spouse, we do not shoot in the typical 1st shooter 2nd shooter roles—rather we both act as the 1st shooter, and both focus on our respective strengths. In order to keep our images in sync, we chose three words to both use as reference: clean, classic, sophisticated.

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We plan each wedding day so that we are together for details, bride and groom preparations, and individual portraits. Laibel is in charge of lighting the scene while I am in charge of posing and composition. We generally separate around two hours before the reception when Laibel begins family formals and I continue informal portraiture, additional details, room and decor shots and any other lasting memories.

When we started, there was a clear distinction between our strengths, I was naturally talented at individual and couple portraiture while Laibel’s strengths were the candid moments of the day. Over the past five years of shooting together, we have trained one another to shoot each part of the wedding process. Now we often find it difficult to distinguish whose image is whose unless there are contextual hints that give it away. Though we strive to constantly grow both as photographers and people, five years later we still revisit our three words as a reference point when scheduling sessions, designing our studio or creating our next project.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear that you use. Why do you choose it?

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Chana: We have always felt that is is less about the gear and more about how you use it. So why do we shoot Canon? Because we found an original Canon 5D on sale and it worked for us. Today we are spoiled by our canon 5D mark III’s and an array of their L series lenses but we always try to remind ourselves that art is a result of a creative process.

That being said, everything changed for us last year when we integrated the Profoto B1’s into our system. We were just beginning our new project ‘The Eternal Image’, dedicated to documenting relationships and marriages, and we had scheduled three sessions in Southern California. Due to the remote session locations, we needed something that was extremely portable but our typical tri-speedlight bracket into a large umbrella didn’t seem like a suitable option. We were shooting on a boat in the Pacific Ocean and on the cliffs of Palos Verdes and due to schedule restraints we were forced to shoot in the brightest times of the day. It was pretty much love at first shot, and since that trip we have incorporated the B1’s and our newest addition the B2 into just about everyone of our projects.

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Phoblographer: Besides Jewish weddings, you also do engagements. What do you feel is always important to capture during an engagement session?

Chana: We chose to include an engagement session into all of our wedding packages for two reasons: First, the engagement session documents a point of a relationship that is so brief and unique. It gives our couple a chance to dream up an idea that tells the story of their relationships and have fun planning and coordinating outfits. Second, and most important, is that on the session the couple gets a chance to be in front of the lens, learn a ton about posing, and gain confidence so that when they show up on the wedding day they are totally prepared and comfortable. It also gives us a chance to get to know the couple and become familiar with their personal dynamic. By the wedding day, we are already friendly with them, which makes both Laibel and I, and the couple feel comfortable.

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Phoblographer: If you had to round up 5-10 things that are absolutely essential to capture every wedding, what would they be?

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Chana: We have found that the way to have a successful wedding day is greatly dependent on the preparation that is put in beforehand. Our system starts with a custom made welcome packet that is filled with fun gifts, a wedding magazine that explains what they have to look forward to, and a few yummy treats. We then dream up an idea for their engagement session that tells the story of their relationship, after which we send them small accordion books. Before the wedding, we have the couple in our studio to show them their engagement session and get excited all over again. Most critically, we send them a customized questionnaire asking them both about the vision for their wedding and logistics that help us plan out the timing and details of their wedding day. On the morning of the wedding we dress in suit and gown, I bake homemade scones and hand it to the bride upon our arrival as breakfast for the next day. All of this is so that on the day of the wedding there is a sense of trust, allowing us photograph their relationship in a pure and unintrusive way.

Sometimes we are so excited about the wedding that we find ourselves all dressed, in the car, scones in hand and we realize that we still need to pack our gear!

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Phoblographer: What are your busiest seasons? Why?

Chana: The summer is our busiest season. There are a few time periods in the Jewish Calendar that no one has weddings, and that greatly determines the engagement-wedding cycle.

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Phoblographer: Talk to us about your absolute favorite photo that you’ve shot.

Chana: Laibel always says that he has a difficult time showing past work because every time we shoot we fall in love with our newest work and can’t imagine showing anything else. If I had to answer what our absolute favorite photo is, it is the one that we have not shot yet. It is the next opportunity to tell a story, to paint light onto a couple who that morning was not convinced of their beauty or just needed a visual reminder of their partnership. Photography for us is a way to connect with incredible people and create their story. I am sure that our absolute favorite photograph is the one we are about to take.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.