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