Just 20 minutes west of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Ricardo Serpa, Andrew Marrero, and Jonathan Mavila run Lux Images Photo, a flourishing photo studio that specializes in photographing mitzvahs. They share a passion for photography, a passion that's infused into their carefully made albums and prints in the largely Jewish community of Weston. They won't hesitate to assure their clients that they're hoping to capture the joy and spontaneity of their family's special day, and as a result, they're taking bookings up to four years in advance.
Making it Special
Serpa, a veteran photojournalist and the studio's founder, feels that Lux's first reason for success is the images themselves. "We have a unique look and offer clients a different way of showing off their memories from our competitors. Photos from mitzvahs are just as special to our clients as those of weddings, so we treat them that way, both in the capture of the images as well as in their presentation," he says. The result of their efforts and attention is a special album of prints for their clients, with images that stand up well to current trends in the best of wedding photojournalism (which, of course, they offer, too).
"It's very rewarding for us to have clients who go crazy with smiles and laughs when they see the images, reliving the experience," says Serpa. "It feels good to witness, and as a result, it's a wonderful motivator. If you really love your work and making people happy with its labors, you'll find your customers feel the same way about you. So we capture from the heart. I hope this doesn't sound corny, but there's no replacement for how it feels when clients display emotion when reviewing the shots. I'm being paid to care, of course, that they enjoy them--but the reward goes a lot deeper than a paycheck when you see such a happy reaction."
Customer service plays just as important a role in Lux's success as their images do. Serpa ensures that Lux's professional approach to the event is thoughtful, and that they're sure to treat mitzvahs as the important day they are to each celebrating family. "You have to understand the clients' needs surrounding the mitzvah," he says. "They're dealing with huge invitation lists and many vendors, which can be exhausting and frustrating to the degree that they easily rival weddings. They're planning every detail. So we have to be flexible, and we have to let it be known that we're there to serve. We're as nice as we can be without hurting our business. We're touching people's lives with our interaction, and we never forget that. We also understand what it means to a Jewish family during this event--and as I'm not Jewish myself, this meant I had quite a bit of homework to do. I was thorough at the research point, and at present our shooting of mitzvahs offers a deliberate understanding and grasp of what a special day it is."
No Second Chances
Serpa's tenure as a photojournalist plays a large role in how their clients' mitzvahs are photographed. To get to their final look and feel, the images are captured with ambient light as often as possible, and when it's not possible, they stick to very light flash use--always bounced for softness and subtlety. Combined with fast lenses, this allows the shooter to concentrate on capturing that decisive moment within a pleasing composition, their judgment allowing them to "anticipate" candids that wow clients with their accuracy. Serpa's team knows that you don't become an event while you're hired to photograph one; they navigate the room carefully and quietly, observers who know their job.
"I shoot like I did for the newspaper," Serpa says. "You don't get a second chance, so you have to be there, unobtrusive, ready to get the moments that are important, the moments that show interaction, that tell the story. I use very fast lenses, and I'm constantly making sure I have the best angle I can have. The lighting has to be right, too. The pressure can be incredible, but the results are worth it!"
Many of the services happen on a Saturday, when the religion doesn't allow work of any kind--and that includes photographing the service. The Lux team is therefore often limited to just before-and-after shots. "Or sometimes if they do allow you in, you're in the back with long lenses and tripods," Serpa says. "Like a wedding, you have to pay close attention to a lot of factors, even when you can anticipate. My four favorite lenses for any event work are the Canon 24mm f/1.4, the 35mm f/1.4, the 50mm f/1.2, and the 85mm f/1.2. I also love the 200mm f/1.8. I shoot them near wide open most of the time."
Tips for event photographers
1. Know your client, and what they're expecting as a result. This takes homework and communication.
2. Don't interfere, but don't be so out of the way that you miss a shot. Remember that you're there to record the event, not be a part of it in an obstructive way.
3. Remember that your client has choices. Do what you have to do to be above and beyond the competitors.
Back at their studios and offices, the Lux team meets the client a few times, during the contract signing as well as during a planning meeting just before the event to be sure that hey have all of the important family members' names, their relationships, and any special requests. "If we plan carefully enough and discuss expectations, everyone's happier," Serpa remarks.
When preparing files after the event, it's a standard workflow. The Lux team shoots in RAW--that's a lot of files in regard to memory when they regularly hit 2,500 clicks per event. They process the files in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, trying to keep adjustments simple, though it still can take two to three weeks from the event to get a batch properly sorted for fine tuning, which occurs with a set of actions they've created themselves to further add uniqueness to their product's look.
"Once the proof set is ready, we present a slideshow here at the studio for the client," says Serpa. "We play music, we have hard copies of the proofs for them to take home, and an online gallery that's ready to share with their families and friends. But with all the little bells, whistles, and extras removed, the photographs drive the meeting. They have to be the most rewarding and exciting part of the review session, so we try to keep the focus on what's right in front of them."
Lux can print up to 24x36-inch prints in-house with their Canon 6400, and they also have a very busy Canon 9500 for smaller prints, all calibrated with their system through X-Rite calibrators and software. "We design albums in-house, too, and everything is custom--no prepurchased templates," Serpa says. "It's a lot of work, but we'd be a little less unique if we used prepackaged templates."
Serpa feels that the only way to run their business is to remain as organized and diligent as possible, especially with some temples allowing bookings up to four years in advance. "We're presently booking clients for 2012, so we keep booking calendars well into the future," Serpa says. "As a result, I also must try to forecast price-change needs for my business every six to 12 months. We have our price lists generated for several years in advance, but we offer discounts when appropriate and later readjust pricing in the client's favor if we find we didn't need to be so high. Photography is a rare industry like that! We also cover local weddings and destination weddings and mitzvahs, as well as in-studio and on-location family and individual portraits. Trash-the-dress and engagement sessions are also in the books. It's a lot to keep track of!"
To see more Lux Images Photo's work, go to www.luximages.com
Lux images Photo's Gear Box
• Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III and EOS 5D Mark II bodies
• Canon: 24mm f/1.4, 35mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.2, 85mm f/1.2, 100mm f/2.8 Macro, 200mm f/1.8, 300mm f/2.8, 16-35mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8.
• Canon 580EX
• Norman Allure for hot lights
• Mac Pro and Macbook Pro along with 30-inch and 23-inch Apple displays
• 1TB Western Digital hard disks
• Adobe Photoshop
• Adobe Lightroom
• Canon wide format printers (9500 and 6400)
• SanDisk memory cards