The power of a photograph to conjure memories and emotions from the most important times in our lives is undeniable. This is especially true for wedding photographs. Since childhood, Kim Mancuso has had a fascination for the captured image and its ability to share experiences and stories. We were first introduced to Kim’s work through BB Featured Bride Kristen’s summer wedding at Trumpet at The Gate. From the intimate moments to the grand gestures, her photographs were an authentic expression of the day from beginning to end.
Kim just launched her new photography website. With the Spring/Summer wedding season just around the corner, we thought it would be a great idea to interview Kim for our Women Paving the Aisle series. Here, she talks about her professional journey, unique approach to photographing weddings, building trust with clients, and creative inspirations.
Let’s start from the beginning. When did you first know that you wanted to be a photographer?
As a child, I used to sit on the floor in my parent’s bedroom and cull through boxes and boxes of old photographs I found in their closet. It was like finding a treasure trove of goodies. I was fascinated by the fashion, the interesting people and places, and seeing family members captured in a new perspective that I hadn’t seen before. A photograph is special. It is tangible and a good photograph allows the viewer to share an experience even if they were not a part of the actual moment themselves. That was the start of my fascination with photography.
You’ve had some really cool jobs along the way – working in fashion, in television production in set design for SNL and at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece. How do you see these experiences informing your work as a photographer today?
As a photographer, by nature you are inquisitive about everything. You come from a place of studying and observing what is happening around you. Because it all is interesting, you don’t want to miss the moment when something really special could happen. This is all subtle and subconscious of course. I am constantly putting myself in the shoes of my subjects when I am shooting. How do they feel? What am I doing that could affect this outcome positively or negatively. What environment are they in? What is the mood? How is the weather? You are always “plugged in.” It is my approach to life and how I see things. To me the same level of attention, perspective and line of thinking is shared in all the work I have been blessed to be a part of. There is a sense of urgency working in television, fashion or photography. Timing, precision and thoughtfulness are paramount. If your timing is off on a live awards show, you could cut the viewer off prematurely, if you’re trending too soon or too late in fashion, sales will be affected, and ultimately, if your timing is too fast or not fast enough in life, you miss the photograph.
Have you encountered any obstacles? How did you overcome them?
Of course and it was usually when I didn’t listen to my gut! Your point of view may be different than mine and it is subjective, right? What you see, I may not see and that is what makes the world go around, (thank goodness!). All of the work I have done has been through word of mouth and referrals. By the time a client calls me, they are already familiar with my work, my style and me. Before I work with any client, I create a book of ideas; wardrobe and styling of how I think the shoot should go. Every shoot is tailored to them specifically. Once I was working with a new client and I knew off that bat we were not on the same page creatively. What she wanted me to do was not my style. It didn’t speak to me and wasn’t the type of work I related to and although I shared my concerns with her many times, ultimately I did it and regretted it. It is very personal thing to have someone shoot you and there has to be a level of trust on both sides, otherwise it just won’t work. My clients trust me and give me the freedom to create – they are hiring me for my expertise, my eye and my style. Fortunately that was an isolated incident!
When did you know that this could be your full-time job?
Ironically I always did, but was afraid to take the leap. Although I had a demanding career, I simultaneously maintained my business. It wasn’t until I began working on my new website did I see collectively what I have done over the years. I realized this was my calling all along, but I had to go through the journey I went through to get here.
Your work covers a range of genres including music, architecture and interiors, animals, and weddings of course! Wedding photography is a particular niche. Was there a particular experience that made you want to add weddings to your ouvre?
I love, “LOVE!” I am a romantic. I get so excited to have the privilege to witness the beginning of a couple’s life together. Obviously anything I am hired to do, I take great care with, but a wedding day is beyond … You have one chance to capture all the elements that go into a day that took months and months for the bride and groom to plan. If I wasn’t as organized as I was, I don’t think I could do it. Everything I have ever done has happened organically, I never sought out to be a “wedding photographer” per se. It began with people who I knew that were getting married, reaching out to me because they didn’t want a traditional wedding photographer. The fact that I did have a unique background was the very thing that attracted them to me. They also knew I was unobtrusive, easy to talk to and produced quality work. I am very honest and never try to upsell anyone. I admittedly cannot “sell my way out of a paper bag!” I let my work speak for itself.
How would you describe your style? What do you set out to capture while photographing weddings?
I don’t like labels. So I won’t say, “photo-journalist,” because of my background, I relate that to a war photographer. I have an artful eye – I know what looks good and what doesn’t. I am drawn to the essence of people and when they are not feeling comfortable. I am balanced, consistent and thorough. I cover all the beautiful details of a wedding, (dress, invitation, jewelry, flowers, venue, etc.) and then the rest just happens. I don’t get nervous, “waiting for the shot.” I let it unfold naturally because it always comes. I am very mindful of getting photographs of the families and knowing where to be standing and anticipating when a special moment will happen.
There’s an authenticity in each of your photos. You capture these intimate moments from a couple’s wedding day in such a beautiful and authentic way. What in your approach makes this possible?
It’s truly a simple formula for me. It is everything I have said previously. I trust myself, I love the meaning behind the wedding and that excites me and I allow the day to unfold naturally and I am prepared. I know who the key family members are, what the client expects beforehand. Because I tip my hat to each and every wedding planner out there to pull off what they do, I am in close communication with them, before and during the wedding.
Each wedding venue is different from the next. Do you do any research or preliminary work before heading to the venue?
Always. I never go into anything blindly. I scour the Internet for photographs if I haven’t already been to the venue. That is absolutely part of my process. I scout areas to shoot and if possible, at what time of day would work best for lighting. Even if there are circumstances beyond my control that won’t allow a particular plan to happen, I have enough familiarity with the grounds that I can easily pivot. I remember doing a wedding in the Hamptons and I was so excited having one of the most beautiful outdoor spaces to work with. I rearranged the outside patio furniture for portrait shots, I moved plants around, (I even had the groundsman remove a dead tree!) only to end up shooting in the garage because it ended up pouring out! It was pretty cool though. They had gorgeous barn doors and because of the flat light and taking in some of the chairs from outside, it was a mini studio! It always works out!
Do you have a favorite type of wedding to shoot?
It is more about the people than the location, so I suppose I tend enjoy smaller/medium size weddings simply because I love the intimacy of feeling a part of it all.
No matter how prepared a couple is, there is going to be some wedding day jitters. What do you do to make a couple feel relaxed and comfortable in front of the camera?
By the time the wedding day comes, they is a comfortability established. I am a sensitive person, so I put myself in their shoes and try to think of what I would need in that moment, so it depends on the situation. I have been known to be a seamstress, a hair stylist, a make up artist, a comedian and even a therapist to put them at ease. Unfortunately, I am not ordained, so I have not officiated a wedding … yet!
How does it feel knowing that you are creating lasting memories for two people who are about to start their life together? What do you like most about your work?
I am sentimental and operate solely from a place of, “what would I want?” My photographs are thoughtful; I don’t shoot, shoot, shoot. When I hand over the images to a client, they have been carefully curated and edited. I want to ensure their entire day was captured properly and with a great care. Typically with the excitement of the day, many couples forget subtle moments that occurred. It is really special when they see the pictures and say, “I don’t remember this even happening!” A wedding in particular for me is very, very personal. Being a creative person, I am literally giving them something from my heart. I don’t look it as a job or a product. It is a part of me that I am sharing with them.
We have to ask, which flowers are your favorite to photograph?
Flowers are nature’s little works of art and I am always floored by the beautiful creations from Bride and Blossom. For me personally, my favorite flower is the peony. They are feminine, soft, but deeply rooted. They are full bodied, can stand alone or be gathered amongst many other flowers, they symbolize romance, prosperity, compassion and bloom in my two favorite seasons, Spring and Summer!
Which photographers do you find particularly inspiring?
On a very deep level, I always connected to Diane Arbus. For me, she had a deep connection and relatedness to people and was fascinated by individuals who were out of the ordinary and how I think of them, as “extra-ordinary.” Then there are people like Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Francesco Scavullo, Helmut Newton, Herbert Ritts, Steven Meisel, Bill Cunningham, Mario Testino, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier- Bresson, Danny Clinch and Mark Seliger. I can go on and on. I obviously admire them for very different reasons.
What do you do to stay creatively inspired?
MUSIC. Listening to music of any form is like breathing for me. I cannot live without it. I also love attending concerts, the ballet or any opera at the Met. I find watching documentaries very inspiring; learning of about others’ lives, their challenges and how they overcame them (or not). Learning about people is always the most moving and fulfilling to me.
Do you have a favorite celebrity wedding of all time?
My favorite image and couple were JFK Jr. and Carolyn Bessett. I thought the image Denis Reggie captured outside the chapel was the epitome of timelessness, love, romance and a classic beauty. It felt like we were all witness to a very private moment between the couple and their closest loved ones.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
No matter how full I am, I have to have a dessert, (or two!) and I can binge-watch Mad Men a million times and never get bored.
You finally have a free day all to yourself. How do you spend it?
My mind is always going and thinking, so even when I am not “working” I am thinking of things I want to do. A lot of people don’t really know that I have a passion for writing. I think that is something I want to explore more!
A big thank you to Kim for participating in our Women Paving The Aisle Interview Series! To see more of Kim’s work and connect with her on social media:
Categories:Blog, Luxury Wedding Expertise, Women Paving The Aisle, Your Inspiration Fix