Lake Michigan

The Fountain by Brian Surguine

A strange sequence of sounds: whirring noises, then fizzing, and finally the pattering of water as it falls on children anxiously waiting to cool off in the radiant sun. Shrieks and screams ring out as billowing plumes fall from the sky, bent by the wind.

I visit St. Joseph often. My in-laws live and work there, and we love to visit the beaches and wineries. My wife and I got married there just a month and a half ago, and we can't think of a better place we could have held our wedding. The lake, the beach, the town - they all carry significant memories and meaning for us.

On this particular day, we had decided to visit the pier. The placid blue of the lake and sky were dotted with the fluorescent pinks and lime greens of neon-colored swimwear screeching for attention. As we walked past the fountain, the huge jets came on, and I recognized an opportunity. With a fleeting, partially-exasperated look from my wife, I left her with my film camera and ran into the spray with my Fuji.

The weeks since our wedding have been filled with wedding photography. It's been really great work, and I love having Marsie shoot with me as my new assistant, but from time to time it's good to shoot something different. Though we've been to St. Joseph a lot, I always overlooked the fountain.

Photographing something you're familiar with is oddly satisfying. I know the fountain: I've walked around it, looked at it from the bluffs, watched it from Silver Beach Pizza. But the people in the fountain on this day grabbed me. Relaxed from a long weekend, carefree from the sun and water: fountains bring something innocent out in people.

I didn't plan on it, but I'm glad I got a little wet. It's like the fountain left its mark on me: "It's not the same if you don't get wet. Here you go! Now stop worrying and have fun." That little splash was the one perfect, needed ingredient. I left feeling cleansed of my concerns, rested, and joyful.

Reflections on my own Engagement Portraits by Brian Surguine

Recently, I got engaged. There's a flurry of excitement when friends find out - "OMG CONGRATULATIONS WE'VE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS FOR A LONG TIME" - which is always fun to watch. We're starting to put together our wedding website, so we needed engagement portraits.

Typically, part of my many-faceted job as a photographer is to understand what each couple wants and help them feel comfortable in front of the camera. Every couple is different: some are completely transparent and are immediately willing to let you in to their intimate moments while you point a camera at them, while some take a bit of warming up. Marsie and I - even in our own photos - felt extremely awkward posing for the camera.

The engagement photo stereotype: lovey couple. Missing: Golden hour.

The engagement photo stereotype: lovey couple. Missing: Golden hour.

Originally, the plan was to set up an elaborately staged photo on the shore of Lake Michigan, but weather and holiday-season exhaustion quickly dampened those plans. We were shooting in a drizzle in very rapidly fading light; I wanted to capture the beautiful moodiness of the dark, overcast evening. (When I mentioned that I wanted to shoot in that light, some of our family looked at us with a look that said: "Are you sure??")

Sea and Rain,  James McNeill Whistler (1865, France)

Sea and Rain, James McNeill Whistler (1865, France)

While planning for the shoot, I remembered a James McNeill Whistler painting I liked to admire in the University of Michigan Museum of Art: Sea and Rain. Whistler paints a solitary figure partially shrouded by mist in a beautifully understated harmony of muted colors. Knowing how Marsie might not feel comfortable posing for the camera, I set out to recreate Sea and Rain for our engagement pictures.

Web compression doesn't do this one justice: I love the subtle tones of gray in the original.

Web compression doesn't do this one justice: I love the subtle tones of gray in the original.

This one is my personal favorite. For this shot, I set up a medium format camera on a tripod and set a 3 second shutter at f/10. It's a very atypical engagement picture - I got some puzzled looks with this one.

I love how this one feels slightly surreal.

I love how this one feels slightly surreal.

This one is Marsie's favorite. Because of the long shutter, we had to stand very still - resulting in sharp silhouettes and foreground, but beautifully blurred water. This image is a simple study in grays and blues, and I like how the vividness of the blue water and sky really contrasts with our dark figures. We like how the image doesn't feel forced, but captures our personality as a couple, in one of our most-frequented locations on the shore of Lake Michigan. Both are pictures we'll enjoy for a long time.

Ultimately, this was a wonderfully enjoyable experience for me as a photographer. I've long held that the wedding industry creates and reinforces certain stereotypes - I've been guilty of doing that myself - and while these stereotypes work for some, they are definitely not one-size-fits-all. But after seeing the results from my own portrait session, I find myself excited to try more stereotype-defying engagement portrait ideas in the future.