Photographer Jennifer Childress is known throughout the Philadelphia area for her work. I am so happy to say that today’s post is all about Erin Proud’s go-to photography gal. Let me tell you, her photos are gorgeous, and she truly has innovative ways of capturing the moments, details, and places that are such an important part of your engagement and wedding day.
Below, Jennifer revisits the classes and professional experiences that influenced her to become a photographer (she shot her first wedding at 18!); talks about how she frames your pictures so that Philly’s architecture doesn’t consume the frame as well as her favorite photos to take throughout the day you say “I do.” Of course there’s more info and photos (!), so feel free to read on.
Without further ado, meet Philly favorite Jennifer Childress.
Going to the Chapel: Can you talk a little bit about your background and why you wanted to become a photographer?
Jennifer Childress: I’ve always felt that it was what I was meant to do. I took my first photography course in sixth grade and I absolutely loved it. I was good at it too. In high school I took the three courses that my school offered and finished before senior year, but because I had such a passion for it, and such a talent for it, they created “advanced independent study photography” so that I could continue. As a rebellious teenager, with everyone telling me that I should be a photographer, I tried to convince myself for awhile that I wanted to do something else, but really, it’s the only thing I’m meant to do.
At eighteen, right before I graduated high school, I shot my first wedding. That was the first of seven weddings I shot that year, and I’ve been doing it ever sense. That was in 1993, so I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years now.
The thing that gives me the most pleasure – even though this isn’t the easiest job – is that I’m giving people memories. I get messages from people all the time thanking me for getting so many photographs of a family member who has now passed away, saying how glad they are to have the pictures of him or her. That’s why I also do things like take photos of terminally ill kids at CHOP. I see photography as a gift I get to give people; I get to hand something to them that they will get to have forever. It’s a memory.
GTTC: You mention that you started your career by working for a newspaper followed by a number of years spent photographing architecture and interior design. How did those experiences enhance your skills as a wedding photographer?
JC: I got a job working for a newspaper when I was seventeen as a stringer, which means that they give you a beeper and when something happens you have to go out and takes photos. For this I was taking pictures of mostly scenes like fires and accidents. At the architecture and interior design firm I shot pictures of buildings and design as well as learned a lot about product placement. I think those experiences have given me perspective when I’m working with a couple to frame the scenery that they are posing in front of. If they’ve chosen to have pictures taken at a place with really interesting architecture, they’re going to want photos that highlight themselves as well as capture the backdrop. I take a lot of shots where the couple is standing in front of some really strong or grandiose architecture, or in a really beautiful field or garden. It also gave me the perspective for details shooting of flowers, the dress, shoes, invitations, table decorations, etc.
GTTC: Why do you enjoy photographing weddings in the Philly area?
JC: It’s not that I specifically do Philadelphia weddings; I also do destination weddings all around the world. In fact in a couple of weeks we’re going to Mexico to shoot a wedding, and that’s always a lot of fun too. But Philadelphia is my stomping ground, and that means that I know where to take people for the kinds of cool shots they’re looking for at their engagement session and wedding day.
GTTC: You mention that you have a photojournalistic approach. Can you explain your photography style and what couples should keep in mind?
JC: I would say that I’m a mix of traditional and photojournalistic. One thing couples always want on their wedding day is a portrait session. For those, I’ve found that people really feel the most comfortable and get the best shots when I’m giving them a fair amount of direction. Without it, people feel awkward and don’t really like the result. So I guide them; I put them in positions and lighting where they look good, and they get to show their personality and love for each other through their emotions. This is one of the reasons why I include an engagement shoot in all of my wedding packages: I want people to get a feel for and become comfortable with the type of direction that is necessary, and then get to see the results.
The reception is where I really let my photojournalistic eye take over. People are naturally relaxing and having a lot of fun at the reception, and you see people’s personalities showing through. I like to engage with that and capture the mood and emotions of the event as well as each traditional event that occurs.
GTTC: What are some of the most iconic places that couples should plan to visit with their photographer for wedding or engagement photos? What about hidden gems?
JC: The Art Museum is the most popular place for couples to take pictures. People like it because it is deeply rooted in the Philadelphia community. I like it because it has great architecture and gardens. We can go to that one place, and I can make you look like you’re in a city, in a garden, and at a beach I’ve learned over the years how to shoot at the Art Museum in a way that nobody else does. I spend a lot of time looking for unique spots and change it up for each couple, so that even if there are a bunch of other couples there with photographers trying to take pictures, we will still have a lot to do.
Sport stadiums are a hidden gem. A lot of people don’t know, but if you’re a huge Philadelphia sports fan you can rent out the venue and do a whole photo shoot there. (More info: Citizens Bank Park & Lincoln Financial Field)
Other hidden gems: alleyways in old city, Moshulu, the Merchant Exchange building, and inside the square at City Hall. It seems like it would be really dark and dreary, but if you light it properly it can be really cool.
GTTC: Can you describe a couple of photos that couples can’t miss taking during their sessions?
JC: I’m known for the window shots I do of my brides. I use the backlighting that comes from the window to make the bride literally glow, and it highlights the details of her wedding dress. I do like taking pictures that highlight all the details that the couple spent so much time on – the dresses, flowers, table settings, cards, etc.
I also obviously take a lot of traditional photos of the bride and groom and wedding party, but I try to be unique and use motion. I have them run towards the camera, or all jump together, or have the groom spin around the bride. When you get people moving you get them to show character and emotions that you wouldn’t see otherwise.
GTTC: Do you have a story (and photos!) about a couple that you really enjoyed shooting in the Philly area?
JC: I’ve worked with one family for four different weddings, and they’re like family now. The eldest daughter, Jennifer, got married and used a big studio, and because of circumstances beyond their control, they never received their pictures. So when their son Tommy was getting married they were really nervous, because they didn’t want to lose the pictures from another day of memories. They wanted a more personal experience, and we got along really well. They loved the pictures, and ended up booking me again for three more of their childrens’ weddings. Like I said we are now very close – they call me to take photos of their babies, and I did head shots for one son who is an actor. I’ve been telling Jennifer to put her dress on and we’ll go out and do a wedding re-shoot for her and her husband.
Photos of the bride and groom dancing as well as those where the bride’s veil is blowing effortlessly in the wind may or may not be my favorite. I’m also definitely a fan of the photo taken inside the Phillies locker room. Who knew you could do that? It’s such a great idea for devoted fans!
Did Jennifer photograph your wedding? Talk about your experience and the photos you love from your session in the comments!