Mj Wilson Photography – Internationally published, female photographer for Fashion, Lifestyle Portraits, Events, Luxury Goods, Weddings, Music, Models, Actor Headshots, Corporate

I spent the Weekend with Jerry Ghionis

That sounds rather torrid, doesn’t it?! It’s actually true! Read on to hear the story.

There was a joke going around the photo community, a few years ago, when all the brilliant Australian photographers hit our shores and started winning awards at our International competitions. People marveled at how gorgeous their images were and comments were made that Australians must be “blessed with better light” than their American counterparts! What other answer could it be because we all shot the same type of events, yet their images were somehow “different” than ours. Of course we all laughed at the notion of “better light” in Australia and knew that wasn’t true….but is it?!

Well, I don’t know if they have better light in Australia or if there is such a thing called “Australian Luck” (which would be akin to “The Luck of the Irish”.) All I know is I’ve now seen the Australian “magic” happen in person and I’m here to share my story.

I have the pleasure of knowing and the honor of being able to call Jerry Ghionis my friend. (For those of you who might not know who Jerry is, he’s been named one of the top 10 Photographers on the planet! You can check his website out at JerryGhionis.com). Jerry usually wins all the top album and print awards at our yearly convention in Las Vegas (he also wins in other countries and contests as well!) I’ve quit entering albums myself because there just is no competing with the man!

I’ve known Jerry for quite a few years, have taken his seminars, and from him, I have learned not only how to shoot better photos but how to run my business better as well. I have brought many photographer friends to Jerry’s seminars and all have walked away better photographers, with a renewed sense of creativity in their work. I’ve also become “bff” with Jerry’s wife Georgina, but that’s another story in itself!

Georgie and I email each other a few times a week and it was during one of these emails that I found out that Jerry was coming to Miami, to shoot a wedding.

My first response was: “WTF?! Now he’s coming to America to steal our Brides?!” Then my rational mind kicked in and I asked… (ok, I really begged and pleaded) to be able to assist him on the wedding. I promised to be good and much to my surprise, Jerry accepted my offer!

I couldn’t wait for the wedding to happen as it was taking place in South Beach and I try to get out of Tampa as much as I can, and Miami is my choice of destinations. A wedding with Jerry and shopping with Georgie in South Beach…life doesn’t get much better than that!

Last year Jerry started having all the Weddings that he photographed, videotaped, so he could use it as a teaching aid on his I.C.E. Society website. A week before this Wedding, his videographer broke her arm so I offered my husband Kevin’s services, as he shoots video as well as photography. Jerry accepted the offer so off to Miami we both went.

I didn’t know what to expect from this weekend really. I’ve been shooting for so long and had never “assisted” anyone before. Everyone was always assisting me! I wondered if we would have an attractive couple at a great venue or end up at a tacky hotel that had bad light and purple carpet on the floor. Either way, it would be interesting to see how Jerry handled the situations.

Jerry had scheduled an Engagement Shoot with the couple on Saturday, as their Wedding wasn’t until Sunday. We all met up at the National Hotel in South Beach on Saturday afternoon and Jerry got some brilliant images while I struggled to learn how to use his video lights and Canon equipment (so much different than my Nikon gear!) The couple, Hazel and Alex, are also photographers out of the Miami area and were the nicest and most gracious couple I have ever met. They loved Jerry and his work and were willing to do whatever it took, for Jerry to get his shots. We fought the rain a little bit that afternoon but had a gorgeous sunset and some brilliant cloud formations to work with. The fact that Hazel was gorgeous and had a rockin’ body didn’t hurt matters either.

On Sunday, Kevin and I met up with Jerry for our 10am start time.

Not having to do much but haul camera bags and hand over bodies and lenses, I got to spend the entire day watching Jerry shoot and most importantly, watching him interact with everyone from the Bride and Groom, to the Flower Girl, to the parents and then the hotel staff. Jerry never “ordered” anyone around nor did he “direct” anyone to be anywhere. He would quietly enter every room, introduce himself and then start planning his shots. He never asked permission to do anything nor did he really pay attention if staff told him that something couldn’t be done! I never once heard him raise his voice. He always spoke on a subdued level where if you weren’t right next to him you almost had to strain to hear what he was saying.

It’s funny, because I have heard Jerry speak so many times, that I could probably give one of his seminars myself! I know how he talks to his couples, I know what he says to them, as I’ve tried to emulate some of his actions or adapt them to suit my Weddings. Being there in person and seeing him do it “for real” put an entirely different perspective on things.

As we started moving into different shooting situations, I suppose it was normal for me to watch what he was doing and internally “agree or disagree” with what he was shooting. I would see him set up a shot with the Groom and Groomsmen and from where I was standing, I would say to myself: “Oh, I wouldn’t have done the shot that way. That can’t look very good.” Then, lo and behold, when I got a chance to chimp the back of his camera, I would find that the shot was frickin’ amazing! So much for my “armchair quarterbacking!”

Since we had started the day with Alex, about noon, it was time to move on to the Brides photos so we headed over to the Delano Hotel. When we entered the Bride’s hotel room, it was like I walked into a fairytale. (Remember I told you the bride was gorgeous?!) Well, not only was she gorgeous, but her dress was to die for, and the entire room was white…from the ceilings to the curtains to the bedspread to the floor. There was, of course, gorgeous, muted, natural light flooding through the windows. I said to myself: “Oh Hell No! Not only does Jerry get the gorgeous Bride but he also gets the best “white” hotel room ever, with impossibly beautiful soft light flooding it!” It simply isn’t fair! Had this been one of my Weddings, the room would have had blazing sunlight coming in one window and the walls would have been orange or green or something equally as ghastly!

The room was small and not only was Jerry, Kevin and I in there with the Bride but we also had her videographer, her flower girl, her three or four Bridesmaids, her makeup artist AND hair stylist! To move in that room required at least a half dozen people to shift places at one given time.

Hazel was nervous when we first came into the room, but as soon as Jerry shot his first image and showed it to her, she relaxed right away. Jerry then spent the better part of an hour shooting images of Hazel…in the gorgeous (‘natch) window light and with her laying down on the white chaise lounge. Again, Jerry did what he wanted to do, and wasn’t distracted by anyone or anything else in the room – it was as if Hazel and he were alone in that room. He coaxed her, he sweet-talked her (in his indubitable Jerry Ghionis way) and of course the results were amazing.

As I watched Jerry shoot Hazel something slowly dawned on me….I pulled out my cell phone and sent Georgie a text message, simply stating, that I believed that I was watching a “Wedding Album of the Year” being created, right in front of me! Right then and there I just “knew” that this was definitely going to be an album that would win huge awards.

Once Hazel had dressed and we went downstairs, we found that the Delano is a very dark and “sexy” hotel. There are lots of hidden corners and unusual furniture. But it is VERY DARK. The photographer in me took one look at the lobby and said: “There’s no way we are shooting in here….there’s not enough light to shoot.” Ah, but it’s not too dark for Jerry! We went into the deepest, darkest corners and he had me hold his video light to backlight Hazel and oh my God, the images that came out of that! Again, I couldn’t believe how my eyes were being opened up to all the shots I would have just walked away from! There were billowing floor to ceiling curtains but the front door, and all the foot traffic was behind those curtains. I asked Jerry if he wanted me to take over “crowd control” and get everyone away from the doors! (It might sound crazy, but work a Wedding with me and you’ll see this in action!) Anyhow, Jerry of course didn’t need me to do crowd control. He just laid on the ground and came away with an image that looked like no one else was even around, but Hazel.

The rest of the day flew by. Alex and Hazel had a “First Meeting” before leaving for the Church and it was a wonderful moment to share. Alex is one of the few Grooms I have met, who was actually “into” his wife and how she looked. Too many Grooms act like it is a “chore” to actually attend their own wedding! Or they end up giving their Groomsmen more attention than their own Bride! Not so with Alex and Hazel. It was so cool to see how much in love they were with each other.

When we arrived at the Church, how do you think it looked?! Of course, you can answer that yourself by now! It was the cutest little church, with wonderful light coming through the stained glass windows. The side of the Church had wonderful shade that we used later for images.

One of the coolest things I witnessed on this day didn’t have anything to do with Jerry. When Hazel entered the church, and began her walk down the aisle, I looked over at Alex and he was mouthing the words: “Oh Wow”! He was beaming at her as he watched her come down the aisle toward him and I got completely choked up and started to cry! I haven’t cried at a wedding in many, many years!

We always get brides requesting the shot of “the groom’s face watching her as she comes down the aisle.” The sad thing is, most of the time, there isn’t any expression to catch! We’ve had to tell many a Groom beforehand to make sure to “put” some sort of emotion on his face, because she was expecting it, and we were supposed to capture it on film.

There was no such artifice going on at all during Alex and Hazel’s Wedding.

Their Minister was one of the best I’ve ever worked with. He gave a moving, personalized service that brought tears to my eyes more than one more time.

After the ceremony, Jerry spent over a half an hour with Alex and Hazel alone, doing B&G portraits in and around the Church. About a dozen family members waited by the altar, for those ubiquitous family formals, but again, Jerry didn’t address them. His attention was 100% on the couple. I thought to myself: “Oh hell no! He is not going to ignore all these family members and not shoot any altar returns?” Ignore them he did, for the time being. Once Jerry was done with Alex & Hazel inside, we moved outside for their “Bubble” exit.

Once outside, there were about 40 family members instead of the dozen that had been inside. Jerry then proceeded to spend about a half an hour shooting family formals with every different grouping requested. One shot had at least 35 people in it! It was funny when Jerry said: “Let’s just get the intimate family together for a shot” and 35 people walked up. Jerry turned to Alex and said: “This should only be siblings, parents, grandparents, etc.” Alex said: “This IS my immediate family! There are four boys and every boy has a wife and a few kids!” Jerry took it all in stride…I just handed him his wide angle lens, he backed up and he shot the image of that huge group!

Did I mention yet that most of these people didn’t even speak English?! This was a Spanish Wedding and I believe that Alex’s father didn’t speak English at all! There seemed to be no language barrier, as everyone at this Wedding was gracious, and having fun sharing this day with Alex and Hazel.

We spent about another hour at the church with Jerry just shooting Alex and Hazel together. By this time it was four or five in the afternoon and my legs were giving out on me! I had to sit down in the grass and relax for a moment or two.

Once we were done at the Church, we went back to the hotel where it was already getting dark and storm clouds were coming out. Did that stop Jerry? Of course not! We went out to the beach, with gale force winds and he created some awesome images of Hazel and her girls, Alex and his guys and Alex and Hazel together. It was so dark that I had to hold a flashlight on their faces for Jerry to focus by and then hold a flash, off camera, to light the scene. The images were incredible that he got on that beach.

Someone from the hotel then came down and told Jerry he needed to stop shooting the Bride and Groom and come take “room shots” before the guests were let into the room! I just cracked up! Here Jerry was creating these once-in-a-lifetime artistic images of the B&G and someone wanted “room shots”! I told Jerry to just give me a camera and I would go take the images for him!

Nope. Ever the consummate professional, Jerry finished up with Hazel and Alex and hightailed it up to the reception to get the room shots as requested!

Once Hazel and Alex had their first dance, we quickly ate and then it was off to work some more. Jerry wanted to go through his images from the day and create a Slideshow for them. By this time, I was really dropping. My shoes were off and I was exhausted. Drinking a bit of coffee seemed to help!

As we sat down to look at the images, my jaw dropped again. Jerry shoots very few images. He’s not like the photographers who shoot hundreds of the same shot, over and over again. He sets up his shot, tests the light and then takes three or maybe four images and it’s on to the next setup. As I watched him downloading his images I marveled at the fact that each one looked like it had been enhanced already! The exposures were spot on and it was hard to choose which image was the “best” of each set. Jerry made sure that Kevin videotaped over his shoulder as he downloaded his images. He told us that some people actually thought that he did “major” Photoshop enhancement work to his images and he wanted to show that it wasn’t true at all. I’m here to attest to that fact…Jerry’s images come straight off the camera, looking great!

While Jerry finished the slideshow, he graced me with his camera and told me to go shoot some dancing shots. He said: “Don’t change the settings…shoot it the way I have it set up.” Of course, once in the room, I HAD to change the settings and who walks in, right as I do that?! ARGH! Busted! I laughed and apologized!

Once the Wedding was over, I figured we were done! But Oh, No! Hazel and Alex went up and changed and we moved on to do an after wedding shoot in the pool! I was dragging at this point. Georgie and I had huddled up on a hammock together and I asked Jerry if he REALLY needed my help anymore! He said no, and Kevin and Jerry spent the next hour shooting Alex and Hazel in and around the pool. Eventually I hauled my butt over there and held the video light for him once again!

Jerry finally called it a night at 1:00 am!

I can barely get up the energy, let alone the enthusiasm, to shoot a six hour Wedding for myself. This Wedding day had run over 15 hours long! Afterwards the four of us sat outside for a while, just rehashing the day. I think I was just a blithering idiot by that point because it had been such a long but exciting day. When I complained that my feet were just killing me, Georgie told me that Jerry’s regular assistant, Sally, actually assisted him with heels on! Good Lord! I had to give Sally some shit about that!! What a crazy girl!

Everyone who I’ve told this story to, wants to see these images! They are under heavy lock and key right now and are very “hush hush” because as I suspected, I think Jerry might be entering this album into competition.

After our yearly convention in February the images (and video coverage) will be featured on his I.C.E. Society website.

Aside from being an absolutely brilliant photographer and just a generally nice guy, Jerry takes his knowledge as a photographer, an artist and a business man and teaches it to others through his seminars and visual aids. He has a product called Pic Pockets which has been wildly successful as it shows people how he achieved his award-winning photos. The cards show the “before” of the area and the “after” of the shot he pulled from it along with all the technical information you need. Absolute genius, I swear!

As I mentioned earlier, Jerry started a website called “The I.C.E. Society” which stands for Inspire, Create, Educate.

The I.C.E. Society is a paid membership site where Jerry shares his photography knowledge. The site is filled with so much information and is so in-depth I haven’t even had time to peruse it all. He shows videos of his weddings, which shows “behind the scenes” coverage of him shooting and how the day progresses. He even breaks the weddings down into sections. One section will cover the men and another whole section is dedicated to the Bride. He even encourages the photographer members to submit their prints and albums for critique. He then views the work and offers them tips on how to improve.

I guess I can sum this up by saying that Jerry is the “real deal.”

Alex & Hazel and Jerry Ghionis

I don’t know any other working photographer who is so generous and giving of his time, talent and skills. Jerry works hard to perfect every aspect of his business life be it something he is creating for his couples or the knowledge he is sharing with his peers and competitors.

There is no better “continuing education” source then Jerry’s I.C.E. Society website. Jerry offers free preview memberships so you can see what all the fuss is about, before deciding to join. In all my years of photography, I’ve never seen a better resource and education site than Jerry’s I.C.E. Society. Go check it out and tell him “Mj sent you!”

Better yet, go to one of Jerry’s seminars in person. I guarantee you will walk away a “changed” person!

Love ya Jerry! And Congrats to Alex and Hazel!

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