Renata Grzan is a photographer who specializes in weddings, events, portraits and fine art. She has a master’s degree in theology and Christian ministry, as well as a graduate diploma of education and a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. Born in Melbourne, Australia, she is now based in the Washington, D.C., area, where she owns and operates Renata Photography. Our Sunday Visitor spoke to Grzan about her work and the importance for Catholic couples to find a wedding photographer who understands the sacramental character of marriage.
Our Sunday Visitor: Before you began your business, you were an artist and a catechist. How did this background shape your approach to photography?
Renata Grzan: Images play a very significant role in both art and theology. We’re made in God’s image, and Christ himself is the image of the invisible God, so we know that an image can express something profound and it can last forever. To be able to capture a profound experience in someone’s life and transmit it through images is very exciting to me. Being able to draw on my understanding of the power of images from the history of art and my theological studies helps me to see the deeper realities in a wedding celebration, or any event.
OSV: What difference does being a Catholic make to your work?
Grzan: I know what is unique to a Catholic wedding, and I try to make sure the true sacramental character of a wedding is captured in my photos. I find Catholic couples appreciate this because it’s hard to find in professional photographers. Too often, outside of the exchange of rings, photographers are unaware of the sacredness of what’s going on and even miss the nuptial blessing. I know all the key moments to capture and take it very seriously. The ceremony is but a moment in time, and I want my images to help couples remember the graces they received and the covenant they made.
OSV: What makes for a great photo?
Grzan: Lighting, lighting, and lighting! It’s so important. When I take pictures during the Mass I don’t use flash, and when I do, I use off-camera flash or bounce the light to create a natural look. Knowing how to place people in good light to flatter them is also important. Composition is key as well — being able to frame people and objects in a way that makes the image interesting and helps the eye go where it’s supposed to. There’s also the technical side ... knowing how to capture natural expressions and create photos where the couple looks natural and not posed. You need to keep all this in mind.
OSV: We are all drawn to beautiful images. Why?
Grzan: Beauty lifts the soul to God and inspires the heart and mind. If you can beautifully capture a wedding, or whatever you’re photographing, you’re conveying its essence. God is perfect beauty, so when we look at something beautiful, it draws us to him. As a photographer, when you can draw beauty out of everyday events, or very significant ones, and create photographic heirlooms, they can be sources of meditation.
OSV: What is your favorite kind of photography to do?
Grzan: I love to look for “hidden” things ... the gentle smile of a bride as she looks at her husband, or maybe an aspect of her dress ... the little things that come together and make the day unique. I love taking pictures of quiet details that express deeper things. I don’t tend to go for big dramatic shots. Instead, I like to capture the way a bride and groom want to remember the day so they’ll relish seeing the pictures for days to come.
OSV: Why should couples give serious thought to their wedding photography?
Grzan: A lot of reasons. First of all, quite literally, the day after the event there’s only the pictures ... the food will be eaten, the decorations gone, the flowers wilted, but the photos will last for generations. You’re not just doing it for yourself, but for your kids and grandkids. Couples need to give serious thought to who they hire. The photographer’s personality will be reflected in your images — it’s an artistic expression after all, so the photographer’s point of view, style, sensitivities, will be infused throughout. Also, the photographer, more than anyone else, will be following you around all day — make sure it’s someone who adds to your day.
OSV: Are there aspects to wedding photography that you believe people misunderstand?
Grzan: Couples often assume the photographer knows what they want. And photographers often assume they can do as they please if the couple doesn’t say anything. Communication is important — a photographer needs to have several meetings with a couple and really listen.
I think, too, there’s a general misunderstanding of what wedding photos should be. Some photographers spend a lot of time manufacturing scenes — like going out to a back ally with a trash can or railroad tracks. There’s a trend to shoot the wedding like a trashy-chic fashion spread, which misses the point. A photographer should be able to unobtrusively capture the sacredness of the ceremony and the joy of the celebration afterward.
OSV: What are the trends in wedding photography? Do you follow these trends, and what do you think of them?
Grzan:The movement now is toward more natural shots, capturing things as they happen, not just posed pictures at predictable moments. I love this, because it focuses on the uniqueness of each couple and the beauty of how each day unfolds. There are some classic poses that are timeless and clean, so I tend to have a blend.
Another trend I like is how albums are done now — more storybook-style, rather than single shots that look disconnected.
A trend I don’t like is the hyper-sexualization of the bride, posing her like a pin-up girl, hiking up her dress. What does this have to do with the sacrament of marriage?
Zoe Romanowsky writes from Maryland.