Brent Calis on Creativity, Mastering your craft then forgetting everything and being inspired
Brent Calis lives in Montreal but comes to Toronto to photograph a lot of weddings. Here is Brent talking about his experience at this wonderful adventure of a wedding day and his approach on capturing beautiful images. The day comprised of two Wedding ceremonies at Berkeley Fieldhouse and a venue hop to a Great Gadsby inspired wedding reception at Berkeley Bicycle Club intimate wedding venue Toronto.
You came to photography from another creative field as an opera singer. How does this experience guide and inform your photography?
For years I learned the discipline required to achieve goals in an artistic realm. It takes a lot of time and patience. Opera also helped me learn how to hold the attention of hundreds of people in an audience. This is very important when trying to motivate people for some of the posed shots that I take during the day. Coming from that arts, I also learned the ability to observe situations very closely, on a deeper level. This is how I believe I am able to get the best possible candids!
What are some visual influences that have inspired your practice as a photographer?
I am a big fan of cinematography, and I have observed how people film. I try to emulate these same practices when I’m shooting. I hit the shutter at times when it seems like a bad time to take a picture. The results can be incredible at times. Capturing perfectly imperfect moments 🙂
How has photography freed you to see in different ways?
I look at most situations based on light. I observe people on a deeper level. I watch subtleties in body language that can make a big difference in pictures. I love watching people interact. Trying to take the natural things I see happening around me, and helping my couples be as natural as possible while shooting.
The wedding of Carey and Aman had several components and involved two different Berkeley Events venues. There were two wedding ceremonies at The Berkeley Fieldhouse and then the wedding party and guests traveled to 504 Jarvis Street to Berkeley Bicycle Club for the reception. What opportunities did this create for photographing the day? Additionally, what were some extra considerations you had to make?
There were two different locations along with two completely different outfits, so we had two getting ready sessions. I made sure to lie down..as did Carey and Aman, between the two events. I actually just hung out in their hotel room. This Is how I work. I’m a very open and I love people. Couples are very open to letting me in their world. This is my goal. To become a friend..someone who is along for the ride with a a camera in my hand. Not “the photographer”.
You effectively use perspective and point of view in your wedding portraits to create dramatic and compelling images. What are the stages of making this happen?
It’s all about being a guest at a wedding and not a vendor. The guests should wonder “is that guy a good friend of the couple?” That way..they allow you to enter into situations in a more candid way.
The wedding ceremony of Carey and Aman had a creative layout as the guests were inside the fieldhouse and the wedding party was just outside the french windows on the adjoining patio. You effectively used this situation to create a sense of drama and anticipation in your photos. How did you prepare for this and achieve it?
It was raining so this was a change in the plans. It actually ended being a very nice change. My goal was to show the guests in the foreground with Carey and her father walking in. This helped create depth and an understanding of the situation. The light coming in from the open doors created the perfect lighting for people walking through the aisle. I also loved that the aisle was a bit too narrow. I love imperfections that make people get out of their heads. Carey and her dad had to stagger themselves as they walked in. I loved that. Some people wouldn’t.
The wedding incorporated traditional elements from the families. How did you prepare yourself for the experience to see and tell the stories of the day?
My goal was to get the best shots possible. Getting close, but not being an eye sore for the guests. There are so many things going on in traditional weddings. Whether they are Chinese tea ceremonies, or in this case, a traditional Ismaili wedding. You have to pick and choose the moments that best represent the emotion. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and miss things. It’s important just be in the moment as if you were a guest experiencing the ceremony. Moment by moment.
The wedding portraits that you shot around the Berkeley Fieldhouse have harmony, simplicity and proportion. How do you view the setting to get this outcome?
I try not to plan too much. I try to let the people being photographed to explore the space for themselves. Usually they end up doing things I could have never imagined. I also don’t like things to be perfect. I love it when a hair is out of place. An awkward holding of a hand her. A weird face there. That’s what makes the photograph real. Not some fashion shoot for a high end magazine.
What are some of the processes you go through as you strive to get from the camera the picture that is in your head?
I work a lot on my technique outside of weddings. When I’m traveling. Shooting random events for free. I’m always working on my style. How to best capture different situations. I try to bring all of this back into my work. Then on the wedding day, I forget everything, so my creativity can be sparked by the people around me.
A photograph can document reality or be a form of artistic self-expression. What does this statement mean to you?
My primary goal is to document reality. However, it is almost impossible for people not to be affected by the very presence of me taking photographs. My goal is for people to feel so comfortable around me that they let me in. They choose to forget about me because they trust me.
You find the compelling images out of each stage of the wedding day. You make images that the wedding couple and guests could marvel at later and see the aspects and details of the day in a unique way. How have you developed your way of seeing?
I just try to take as much as I can into my experience. My photos are a way of sharing that. I’ve always looked at things based on light. Texture. Feeling. It just took me time to transfer that into my photography.
The wedding reception at The Berkeley Bicycle Club event venue was styled in a “Great Gatsby” era event decor. How did this unique wedding design inform your style of photography?
I tried to shoot in an old school style. I tried to use the natural lighting as much as possible. I let the grain take over in pictures. I allowed low light to be my friend. I let the white balance be off. I never try to get perfect white balance. Why change those beautiful tones in that venue?
Getting married in a historic mansion is a choice that has latent potential for capturing some unique wedding day images. You created these opportunities with intimate and thoughtful photographs. What were some of your processes for this?
It’s incredible how much a venue can inspire me. I loved the various rooms. I loved the textures. I loved the contrast of the bar area in the back with its different lighting. Again, I just tried to show the perspective of a guest. I made sure to walk to every corner of every room. I wanted to see the head table from every angle. I fell in love with the staircase at the entrance, so I made sure to get some shots of Carey and Aman there before the end of the night.
There is a soft romanticism in your photographs that works with the intimate wedding setting at the Berkeley Bicycle Club how was this style arrived at and was it a match for the setting?
As I said earlier, I embraced the natural tones that were created by the gorgeous woods in the venue. This helps create warmth. I also used prime lenses which allow me to take in as much light as possible. Allowing me to keep the images very soft. I also make sure not to sharpen my images in post processing. I see a lot of wedding photographs that are way too sharp. If you allow of real grain to show up in the shooting by using natural light and high Iso, the image does not need an ounce of sharpening. If anything, it needs the clarity to come down a bit.
You have worked as a photographer in the non-profit sector supporting causes with your camera. What are some of your experiences with this?
These causes have helped me learn about myself. Give back to my community. They help me meet people from all over the country. I also learn how to take better photos by taking pressure off. It’s a beautiful thing not to be hired sometimes. Our creative can grow without the pressure of a contract.