Exotic locations, beautiful people, "secret weapons," and the intrigue of romance--Laura Pineda and Tiffany White's portfolio has the makings of a James Bond blockbuster. Working together under the rubric "Alternate Angles," these two photographers have parlayed an East Coast wedding photography business into an international creative and entrepreneurial success story. Behind that success is a uniquely synergistic two-camera approach, along with seemingly inexhaustible reservoirs of energy and a piece of hardware--the Lensbaby lens, which they call their "secret weapon"--that imbues their photos with a dreamily dynamic ambiance perfectly suited to their artistic sensibility.
Alternate Angles was born with offices in Newport, Rhode Island, and Boston, Massachusetts. Pineda had earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at the New England School of Photography and worked as a wedding photographer. White had practiced speech therapy in adult rehab centers in Maine, an occupation that, while fulfilling, wasn't her dream job. After some soul-searching in the mid-1990s, White began studying photography and assisting renowned editorial and commercial photographer Seth Resnick, who taught her the principles of lighting and the imperative to take creative risks. When she began working as a freelance photographer in Boston, she met Pineda, and as the millennium arrived, the two began collaborating, specializing in weddings and family portraits.
At the time, it was uncommon in the Newport area for two photographers to work a wedding concurrently, getting coverage from alternate angles as the ceremony unfolded, but this was the team's modus operandi, and it provided the moniker for their fledgling business. In this approach, there is no lead photographer and no assistant; both work together as a seamless unit, playing off the other's vantage point in a fashion so intuitive, it verges on psychic. "We're completely in groove with one another," Pineda says. "We communicate with one another without words. Afterward, we literally have to check the actual file to see who did which image!"
"We see the same way," White adds. "When Laura shoots, I see her across the room, and I know exactly what she's focusing in on. That enables me to zero in on something else that's equally important happening at the same time."
The strategy was an instant hit with clients, and soon the two found themselves jetting off to photograph weddings and commitment ceremonies in the Caribbean, Mexico, Belize, Spain, and Switzerland, as well as in picturesque locations within the U.S., including Yosemite National Park, New England in the glory of autumn, and, closer to home, the opulent mansions along Newport's historic Bellevue Avenue. No longer the new kid on the block, Alternate Angles is now in such demand that they limit their services to only 15 weddings per year, including five international jobs. "We're booked a year and a half out," White reports. "Sometimes our clients check our schedules before they pick their wedding date, which for us is the ultimate compliment!"
Since 2003 the duo has shot exclusively Canon digital, and since 2004 they've used the Lensbaby as an integral element in their creative arsenal. The selective-focus lens enables users to select a "sweet spot" of sharp focus within the frame, transitioning to softer and softer focus as it radiates outward. It's an effect that cannot be fully replicated with post-production techniques or computer programs. White and Pineda use the Lensbaby for details of hands, eyes, lips, the wedding bouquet, and the cake, as well as what they call "mood details" such as the bride-to-be surrounded by her bridesmaids, getting ready before her big moment.
In addition to these still-life tableaus, Pineda and White also deploy the lens in action shots. As Pineda relates, "We'll be lying on the ground with the Lensbaby, looking up at the couple as they walk into the reception tent; we'll be on top of a roof getting everybody dancing down below; or we'll literally be running alongside the couple on the beach, capturing that blur of motion that pulls the viewer's eye just where we want it to go. We love getting that effect in-camera, rather than spending hours afterward trying to approximate it in Photoshop."
Significantly, they have taken the step of each carrying a dedicated Lensbaby-appointed camera with them to every shoot. "We love having access to it at all times," Pineda says, "so we can grab it at a second's notice and get the shot without having to do a lens change."
She estimates that 15 percent of the team's total shots are taken with this lens. "Those shots are on our website; we show them to prospective clients in our slideshow, and most people end up choosing a lot of those images for their final albums," she says. "It's not for everybody--some people prefer a really clean look--but we find the majority appreciate it, and some clients love the Lensbaby so much, they want us to go way over the top with it!"
Another key to the partners' success is the amount of prep time and attention they lavish on clients in pre-interviews and site visits. This emphasis on enhancing the total wedding experience carries into their technique during the ceremony and reception themselves, when they adopt a rigorously unobtrusive, photojournalistic approach. Pineda says this strategy "is about not stopping people to pose while they're in the middle of doing something. We never, ever, want to stop the moment, tell people which way to point their toes, then try to re-create something. In fact, we believe the best imagery happens when we're standing back with a 70-200mm lens on 200mm, and the couple doesn't even know we're there."
The company's popularity with clients has allowed its founders to give back a measure of the success they have achieved. They are involved with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, which raises funds for research, treatment, and support for MS patients. Currently they're engaged in a fundraiser that is taking them to New York, Connecticut, Florida, and California, where they're donating a portion of their session fees to the charity.
Clearly, this is a duo that looks at their profession's place in a bigger picture. "Love is a basic core need, like food and shelter," White says. "There will always be love, romance, commitment, and ceremony. Our clients are hiring us to create original artwork that captures the spirit of their commitment."
"And the images," Pineda adds, completing her partner's thought seamlessly, "are things people treasure for their entire lifetime, then pass down to new generations."
To see more of Alternate Angles' images, visit www.alternateangles.com
For more information about the Lensbaby family of products, visit www.lensbaby.com
A contributing critic for ARTnews and Art Ltd., Richard Speer is the author of Matt Lamb: The Art of Success (John Wiley & Sons) and has written essays and reviews for Newsweek, The Los Angeles Times, and Salon.