Melani Lust is successful wedding photographer. Her speciality is
creating everlasting memories where she blends photojournalistic
effects with artistic vision. She takes on wedding projects all over
the world and she also speaks Spanish, French and Russian!
Tell us a little about yourself and your photography.
I live in Westport, CT with my husband (just married Sept. 4,
2010!), 11 year old son and 9 year old twins. I attended NYU and
received a BA in Art History with a minor in Math. I studied on a
full scholarship at NYU also for my MA in Art History, with two
specialties: 17th Century Dutch & Flemish Painting and Ancient Roman Sculpture. For both degrees I received honors and the magna cum laude award. I began studying photography in the darkroom at Jr. High at age 13. More important than my formal training in
photography and the history of art was my mother’s teaching of
compassion. Her ongoing charity work in Mexico brought me in touch
with many different aspects of the human condition and with moving
subject matter which sowed the seeds of interest in awareness,
expression, empathy and the beautiful connection between people.
This is the basis for my philosophy as a photographer. After high
school I moved to New York from my native San Diego to study modern dance at the Alvin Ailey school, after which I worked as a
professional dancer which deepened my understanding and appreciation of the human form in composition and line.
Why did you start taking photos?
I started taking photos in junior high school because of my interest
in the dynamics of moving a three dimensional line to two
dimensions, the geometry was fascinating to me and probably why I
started my BA studies as a math major (I later switched to Art
History, and changed the minor to Math).
What inspired you to turn it into
I was inspired to turn my photographic studies into a business when
I kept being asked by acquaintances to photograph them for their
businesses, or for their family portraits and thought, “I should
charge for this!” Once I formally told acquaintances I had
established a business with a tax id, insurance and a formal
business card, the phone never stopped ringing.
Why are you fascinated with weddings?
I love weddings! At no other event do you have so much emotion.
Wedding guests feel free to express the peak of emotion that they
would never express in any other situation. Fathers cry during their
speeches, mothers and sisters drink and laugh hysterically, slight
glances and winks are exchanged with atypical intensity. Everyone
comes from afar to celebrate the bride and the groom, a college
friend that a bride hasn’t seen for 5 years will be there to let her
know how much she means to her, capturing that energy and expression between them makes me feel alive.
How do you capture the love and feeling of a wedding?
To capture the love and feeling I work in two modes.
One mode is to stand back with a 200 mm or a 300 mm lens and
constantly scan the room to see if there is an interaction
developing among a group, typically there will be an intense
exchanges. When I find one, I start shooting away to capture those
candid expressions. This could be a group of friends or relatives
talking with the bride and groom during the party, just after the
cake cutting many of the elderly guests leave…this is the time
when there are often meaningful exchanges between the couple and
their older relatives. I am also “standing back” during the ceremony
and zooming in on the faces of the bride, groom, parents and
grandparents. Through experience, I know when to anticipate an
expression for each of them.
The other mode I work in is to direct the couples during their
portrait session. I love creating something special for the couple
and I typically scout out the locations to find a beautiful field,
interesting architecture, train station, or something that will make
a great backdrop near the venue. After setting up the couple with
compositin and lighting, I’ll ask the groom to whisper something
sexy in the bride’s ear, give her a little tickle, and a few other
directives which are a little bit naughty and I shall not mention
them here! Although I love the big compositional shots, my favorite
shots of all are the super close up shots of the bride and groom in
I bet you can tell me about some challenges you faced
or awkward circumstances. Tell me about some memorable moments.
One challenge I face often is with the parents and grandparents of
the bride. They have been accustomed to formal wedding portraiture
and expect me to arrive for portraits, do some table shots and
leave. I often have to speak to them before the wedding to assure
them that I do indeed take formal wedding portraits, that these are
very important to me too and they will be beautifully lit and
everyone will look great. I have to explain to them that I will not
take table shots. I capture most of the guests during the cocktail
hour and if I spend the reception capturing table shots, I will not
be able to capture the family and guests dancing, drinking and have
a great time.
One time I was photographing a bride during her preparations in the
room at the venue and the grandmother saw me photographing the shoes on the table and asked me to leave. The bride had gorgeous Manolo’s and wanted them photographed but the grandmother wanted me out of the room and didn’t understand what I was doing in the room with the bride in her robe. I left the room and the bride finally sorted it out with her grandmother and allowed me back in to photograph, but it was very uncomfortable for all of us. It is important that the brides explain to their families that I will be there photographing all day, for a minimum of 10 hours, to document the day, not just take pictures.
What are some other photographic projects you enjoy working on?
I have two projects at this time. Last year I had an exhibition of
my photographs of pre-Embargo autos in Havana, Cuba. That brought me a lot of attention and international press. I am working on documenting children’s games in Latin American culture. I began by photographing children in Havana and I am fascinated by their
creativity. I am travelling to Costa Rica in February to continue
this project. I also volunteer for CancerCare and have been
documenting their cancer survivors for the last two years. The
canvases were exhibited last March in Norwalk, CT and I will
continue to work on this project documenting these brave women and men.
What kind of a camera and lenses do you primarily use and how do you select your equipment?
I use a ridiculous amount of equipment. My backups have backups, I
never leave anything to chance!
Main Camera: Canon Mark III: incredible detail and color
Secondary Camera: Canon Mark IV: high isos, can shoot at iso 8000
when churches don’t permit flash and when the venues are dark (they
Back up cameras: Canon 5D mark II,
Canon 1D Mark II, Canon 5D
Main lens (all Canon “L” series): 70-200 mm f/2.8
Other lenses: 85 mm, f/1.2, 35 mm f/1.4, 24-70 mm f/2.8 (I have
two of these, this is my workhorse and often breaks down),
17 mm f/4 tilt shift, 14 mm f/2.8, 300 mm f/2.8 I am saving
up for a Zeiss 21 mm, can’t wait!
Flashes: Five Canon 580 ex IIs all with stands and Gary Fong Spheres, remote controls for each Lighting: Elinchrom Ranger
Quadra-for formals with the Octabox, Micro LitePanels video light, Frezzi video light
Lots of reflectors…
Can you name some tips for those who want to start a wedding photography business?
Assist and second shoot! It is so important to have an understanding
of what is going to occur on the wedding day timeline and you do not
want to miss a thing, so assisting is important to understand how
the wedding day typically evolves. Everything I learned in school
went out the window for shooting weddings. You cannot shoot at iso
100, f/16! High isos are necessary as are slow shutter speeds, you
need to show atmosphere and movement and you don’t want your
batteries burning out every 10 minutes. Wedding photographers not
only have to photograph very rapidly to not miss the shot, but they
also have to make the couple look good and feel comfortable,
comfortable enough to allow the photographer in to capture those
Thanks a lot for your generous tips and sharing your
amazingly beautiful photography, Melani!
You can check out Melani’s work and get in touch with her at her
More Wedding Photography from Melani Lust