Maggie Habieda Nowakowski: Wedding Photography

Maggie Habieda Nowakowski

MARCH 20, 2011 Speaker. Maggie Habieda Nowakowski was introduced by program director Felix Russo, one of her teachers at the Etobicoke School of the Arts in Toronto. She trained as an artist at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD). After a brief period doing design, she decided to switch to photography and enrolled in the well known Sheridan College facility in Oakville.  She now has four years experience as a wedding photographer and last fall she built a state-of-the-art studio in Oakville.  She was accompanied tonight by Ian Cuthbert, one of her Sheridan teachers who assists in her studio. Ian has photographed weddings for three decades and brought along some old traditional wedding cameras and a short presentation on the evolution of wedding photography. Felix and others brought some older wedding albums and portraits to contrast with Maggie’s work.

Ian Cuthbert

Ian kicked things off: wedding means pledge in Greek – a life long pledge by the couple. Traditionally a single studio photograph was taken to commemorate the wedding and treasured by the family. Early wedding photographs were stiff, formal studio poses with hidden neck clamps to hold the subjects steady for the slow media of the day. Some time later the poses became less formal – even showing a couple holding hands. In the 1920s smaller, more portable cameras made outdoors photographs easier and more fun for all. After WW2 there was a boom in weddings and a move to 35mm cameras. The photojournalism style became fashionable.

In the 1840s artists adopting the new photographic media used paintings by famous artists as a guide to lighting their subjects. For example, the famous painting of Mona Lisa uses butterfly lighting and a two thirds view – the most attractive view of a human face. The illustrations in today’s art books show where photography began and photographers learned their craft. We are losing this artistic discipline with the move to electronic images and COSCO prints. Sadly, very few fine art quality prints are being made.

Old Wedding Pictures mid-to-late 1800s to late 1940s

Eastman started the trend to popular use of the camera with its revolutionary Kodak and the motto “You press the button, we do the rest”. At weddings today, everyone has a camera – kids, grandparents, cousins, friends, etc. With film, the photographer was very cautious –  each snap cost him money. No so with digital. The number of shots has no effect on cost. At the average wedding Maggie will shoot some 2,000 images of which about 500 survive editing to be shown to her client.

She considers the bride as the key to her work. It is the bride’s day and she wants to be glamorous and gorgeous. Wedding photography takes all talents. Maggie realizes this generation of brides is very educated and computer savvy. Before using computer tools, most images are just like those “Uncle Harry” takes. The photographer cannot miss a moment which results in a lot of images to edit. Maggie once shot 15,000 images at a  four day wedding. It took a further six days to select and edit the ones to show the bride and groom.

Maggie prefers shooting manually by available light as she feels flash is a distraction for the bride. With digital’s advantage of instant feedback, a shot can be taken again if the first result is disappointing. She  brings two Canon 5DMkII bodies and four lenses to a wedding, shooting at up to 6400 ISO. This lets her portray the events of the day as they happen. She seeks out ambient lighting to illuminate her evening shots. And if necessary, has an assistant use a small video light for fill-in or close-ups.

In wedding photography differentiation is important. In the GTA there are over 2,000 weddings every weekend in the wedding season.Some sixty bridal shows are held in the GTA each spring with about seventy photographers at each one. Maggie said she provides wonderful customer service with a strong bride focus. She creates what she feels (and showed with her examples) is a great product.

It is a good business, but a lot of work. A week-end photographer would charge about $700 whereas a professional wedding photographer would charge $3,000 – and some famous photographers charge $50,000 or more. Destination weddings are in vogue at the moment with many brides even flying in their own photographer rather than take a chance on a local.

Sample Large Canvas Print

Maggie considers her images out of the camera as “underpaintings” that she works on in Lightroom and Photoshop to transform into unique finished prints. She prefers to offer fewer pictures that are gorgeous and painstakingly created rather than a larger number of smaller prints. She likes to make big prints on surfaces like canvas to be hung on large walls. Her Indian clients have very colourful weddings and love the big wall-size prints.

Ian took over at this point. Like the old masters who all painted by natural light, he prefers natural light using reflectors to open up shadow areas.  Ian especially enjoys the mystique of the mid 1800s – the photographer under his focussing cloth, the complexities and beauty of the wet-plate process, and the resulting prints that people of the day treasured.

Trusty Rollei TLR

He’s used a number of cameras over the decades including the reliable old Rollei TLR which can be flipped up for overhead shots in crowds. His favourite is his Hasselblad which he feels is the world’s greatest camera – fully mechanical with no need for power or delicate computer chips. But technology moves on and today even the Hasselblad can be found sporting a digital back. For today’s shoots Ian and Maggie both use digital SLRs – the Nikon line for him and Canon for Maggie.

Regardless of camera preferences the success of the print relies on the skill of the artist/photographer. The new generation of photographers has never used film whereas Ian grew up in the darkroom era complete with physical dodging and burning while making the finished print. Today this post-processing is done by computer. Photoshop and Lightroom have the same tools and more but they function much faster and the changes can be made in a non-destructive fashon. He urged would-be photographers to study the masters, study the famous paintings, photographs.

Maggie returned at this point to show some of her beautiful work. You can see these slide shows on her web site Fotografia Boutique. She prefers to create portraits like an artist – a look that never goes out of style. After the slides Maggie showed some before and after images to illustrate the improvements to the final print that can be made by a skilled artist with Photoshop.

She gave a few anecdotes to illustrate her dedication to customer service. For example,  a classical shot of the bride and groom was missing from an album made by another studio. Maggie pulled the image of the couple out of a group photograph and merged it into a background shot of the same venue. She will even reshoot part of a wedding after the event if necessary to help her clients.

Album Epoca

With brides spending up to $30,000 on their wedding gowns, there is a market for quality photography and high end fine art prints and books. These prints will be treasured for generations. Maggie now delivers her work as a special hard cover book printed in Italy by Album Epoca. These are digital story books that can be published in different styles, page surface choices, ribbons, leather and other materials. In each book Maggie prefers to show a single photograph per page. She showed off her Album Epoca sampler book to the delight of the audience.

To succeed today when anyone can buy a camera and advertise as a wedding photographer, you have to give something others can’t. Maggie’s “something” is based on loving people. She is like a member of the family, giving her best to the couple. After a wedding the couple’s many friends offer free pictures, but no amateur or professional offers brides high end fine art prints  and books like she does with her close attention to artistic lighting and posing.

Maggie finished with a discussion about her decision to build the studio she always dreamed of owning. She wanted to move to classical posing and creating images without rushing. With the studio, she can retake wedding shots, do the traditional wedding portraits so important in some cultures – and it becomes a gallery for big photographs. The studio has natural daylight, strobes and cold light. She uses no props and changes backgrounds in Photoshop. She uses every square foot of the studio for shots – even the washrooms. She now works at the studio on week days and limits on location wedding shoots to the weekend.

In closing she reminded the audience “after the wedding only pictures and memories remain”.

Some old wedding albums and pictures at left and work by Maggie at right (colour)

This page was designed in WordPress on an iMac running OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard). The lead images of Maggie are courtesy Fotografia Boutique. The remaining images were taken directly or from the screen with a Sony NEX-5 digital still camera and subsequently adjusted in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom V3.3 and Photoshop CS5. Presentation images are ©2011 by Maggie Habieda Nowakowski or Ian Cuthbert and may used only with their permission. Contents and all other images are ©2011 by the Photographic Historical Society of Canada and may be used freely provided the source is clearly indicated. Copies of photographs displayed during this presentation may not be used without the copyright holder’s permission. Contact PHSC at if you would like more information on the items discussed in this post.

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