With four cameras swinging around her neck, Beth Ludwig moves with ease as she reaches for her Nikons and Mamiya RZ. Watching for the perfect moment between bride and groom, she knows that the canopy of shady elms contributes a perfect backdrop and lighting for a stunning cross processing photograph.
“I’m somewhat of a maverick in how I shoot and what I am looking to translate,” says Ludwig. “A lot of bridal photography is characterized by a mix of traditional posed shots and wedding photojournalism or documentary-style. I like using edgier film types and image development processing, things not normally associated with weddings. But to make this work, I must be more creative and daring in my shooting and printing.”
Islands of Influence
Degreed in business, computers, and art from Albany University, she was fortunate to train with Ken Nahoum and Robert Ammirati.
“Ken taught me close to everything about fashion and portraiture photography,” she recalls. “Robert was great for my still life and table top education. Those were electric times—the pace of work, the travel, the constant rush to create something edgier and more noticeable for the client. I had no idea it would all lead to my shooting weddings.”
After five years in Manhattan, Ludwig moved to Rhode Island and began taking on a few side projects helping fellow photographers cover weddings. “I resisted at first, knowing that I was a commercial shooter, not a wedding photographer.” A few solo weddings later and Ludwig realized she was developing a golden niche.
“Because my first wedding clients came from the creative fields—advertising, fashion, music—my brides and grooms wanted their wedding images to reflect their passion for art. Always looking to push the envelope as a commercial photographer, my use of infrared, cross-processing and unconventional sepia-tone techniques found great resonance with this artistic clientele. I was providing something not offered by other wedding photographers in my market and I was loving it.”
In 1990, Newport, Rhode Island-based Ludwig Photography was founded. With its unique leadership and creative team, the fledgling business rapidly expanded to 60 weddings a year. At its peak, Ludwig employed two assistants, a studio manager, bookkeeper, and darkroom staff.
The company offered traditional and photojournalistic images, using Nikons and Mamiya RZ. “We sent all film out to get proofed, but would print all final B&W and infrared orders in-house. I found myself pushing the creative line for each wedding, trying to outdo the one before. I was always reading the industry magazines for new ideas on developing and printing. I had found a passion in wedding photography, but was close to.
In 1997, Ludwig made a strategic decision to scale back. A new bride herself with three children on the way, she wanted to continue providing the best possible service, but needed time to perfect her technique. By reducing the number of weddings, Ludwig was able to scale up to a higher-end clientele, one appreciative of her talents. There was no repercussion as she was already turning away business.
Listening Then a Plan
During an initial in-studio meeting with bride and groom, Ludwig’s goal is to understand the couple’s vision. The couple glances through sample albums, noting what they like and what they don’t—technique, finish, film type, setting, camera angle, mood, etc.
“The most important thing is to listen to what they really want,” she explains. “I offer so many different styles, the couple has a lot of decisions to make after booking me. Many couples want an art piece from the day, something uniquely reflecting their personality. We also cover the basics: to what extent should the ceremony be covered in photojournalistic vs. traditional posed shots? Do they want me to cover the bride getting dressed or other important moments during the ceremony or reception? Is infrared of interest, or does the couple want a purely black & white record of their day?”
During the meeting, Ludwig takes copious notes, making a checklist of what to shoot. She reviews the list with the couple a week before the wedding, committing her game plan to memory so there’s no hesitation when the big day comes.
At the ceremony, Ludwig relies on one assistant. Her approach leans toward the unobtrusive, observing, not directing. She’s looking for details and emotions. I love being a fly on the wall, getting the true scene of the day, not manufacturing anything. Even with traditional poses, she tries to capture the couple in a new light.
A few weeks after the ceremony, Ludwig sends the client 4x6 and 5x5 in an oversized proof album from Light Impressions. Customers are invited to keep the proofs and work with Ludwig in designing customs albums. She also designs and makes handmade albums.