Brides in Trees; Cliff Mautner’s Location-Driven Wedding Photography

If you want to be carefully posed next to the beautiful fountain in the picture-pretty park, Cliff Mautner isn't the photographer you hire to shoot your wedding. But if your taste runs to the park in the dark...well, now you're talking.

"Give me anything but another picturesque park," Cliff says, and he's not kidding. "I tell that to clients at the original consult. I'm not that guy."

Cliff Mautner saw the beautiful light hitting the tree in an area called the Water Works, near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "The bride," he says, "was willing to follow my lead."
All Photos © 2008, Cliff Mautner, All Rights Reserved

Cliff's been shooting weddings for about 10 years. "I was a newspaper photographer before that--15 years with The Philadelphia Inquirer--so my wedding style was photojournalism and my approach was hands off. I felt that the wedding day was made of natural moments, and it was imperative to capture the best of them without interfering." His hands-off method was also a way to deal with the fact that he wasn't comfortable with posed portraits. He got a lot more comfortable when he realized that the best portrait moments happened when the bride and groom were allowed to be themselves. At about the same time, his aversion to parks and other clichéd locations peaked. "I worked a lot at the Rittenhouse Hotel in Philadelphia, and shot a lot of photographs in the nearby city park, Rittenhouse Square. It's a beautiful place, but I got really tired of working weddings in that square. It was the same stuff over and over. I needed to break out."

You say you want mood, even mystery? Cliff's got the place: Cairnwood Mansion, Pennsylvania. All a bride need do is walk toward the setting sun.

He ended up driving out. These days, no matter where the ceremony takes place, Cliff turns part of the wedding day into a road trip. "We get into my car and we look for light and locations." Certainly not the prettiest locations, and not necessarily what most people would consider the best light. Harsh light, contrasty light, low light, mixed light--"embrace it and use it" is
his motto. And locations? Sometimes it seems that motto is "the weirder the better."

"I was losing the light that day, and when that happens, I head for water. I know I'll get more direct sun because there are no buildings to block it." The location was Kelly Drive, along the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. "She's looking out toward the river and--this is as staged as I get--I told the groom to stand in that spot. I didn't want him to be sharp."

The light first. "I deal with the light no matter how it is--good, bad, or indifferent." Indeed, it's possible that his time with the couple may be during what's considered the worst light of the day, but he's turned that possibility into a challenge and his responsive resourcefulness into a style.

This pensive bride is in the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. "But the location isn't as interesting as what I did with the light," Cliff says. "There's daylight on her, and the camera's white balance is set on cloudy, so the tungsten light in the back goes warm." Cliff almost always prefers to shoot wide-open; he'll close down to f/3.5 or f/4 only during formal family shots.

As far as locations, Cliff says, "You've heard of the man with the plan? Well, I'm the man with no plan. We get in the car and drive, and a lot of times I have no idea where I'm going."

This signature image, shot on black and white film, is, Cliff says, "lemonade from lemons. It was a horrible rainy day, and we were working under cover most of the time. When it turned to mere drizzle we went out in the alley behind the hotel. When I saw the reflection I told them to do their thing, and I did mine with the framing. You know how Jay Maisel talks about gesture? Well, there it is: that little thing she's doing with her toe."

Which doesn't make him very popular with the videographers in the car behind him.


leonardo85's picture

These wedding phonographs are simply amazing. My friend is a San Luis Obispo Wedding Photographer and I have seen her works, she uses a lot of innovative ideas to crate magical moments for the couple.