by Gino Galea – Destination wedding photographer
Weddings in Malta are a beautiful experience. It is such a great moment in life for the bride, the groom, both sides of the family and their love ones. Being present with their guests who are in a celebration mode, enjoying the marriage of their loved ones over a few drinks is always a nice atmosphere to work in. This testimony is more associated with the technical aspect and experiences of the wedding photographer in the Maltese islands.
I’ve been into professional photography for four long decades whilst in the last thirty years, I’ve been directly involved specifically in the business of wedding photography, either here in Malta or occasionally Gozo. I feel lucky enough to be trusted by countless couples, both locals and other countries where I always enjoyed the privilege to be at the very center where beautiful things are happening. There comes the role of the professional photographer, mainly directing the newly-weds in low profile mode towards all stages of the process. Eventually, this would result in those unique photos that are cherished forever by the bride and the groom through a beautiful wedding album to be enjoyed by themselves and their loved ones in the future. Such a delicate role in the composition and technicalities of the everlasting photos has to be handled by the photographer and not by other third parties such as an inexperienced family member or a wedding organizer.
I truly believe in the role of the proper wedding organizer which is probably very small in number, that genuinely merits the status of a professional. On paper, the number of so-called wedding organizers in Malta is rather astonishing since many who got it quite right in their family wedding in the role of the bestman ended up taking a chance as a wedding organizer! That is what experience has thought me during the past fifteen years or so. On the other hand, this does not in any way mean that I do not believe in the experienced and proper wedding organizer of integrity! In that respect, those few who are competent enough to be trusted with such an important role are just outstanding and truly support the newlyweds and also us official photographers to the extent that they even make sure that the latter is allocated parking space at the church/ceremony and at the venue; knowing that such a matter could end up delaying the whole process with unpleasant delays! One should always keep in mind that time particularly during a wedding is very precious for the bride and the groom who are funding the whole event.
During the fifties, here in Malta, we used to have probably less than a dozen of photo studios specializing in monochrome photography, spread around the islands. I can mention a few of these photos studious that come to mind, like Cassar of Birkirkara, Blackman of Hamrun, the Royal Photo Studio in Valletta and many others of course. In those times the newly-weds and the bridal party used to visit a studio, directly after the end of the wedding mass. The studio photographer, probably using a manual camera to create a limited portfolio of stunning photos depicting a few romantic poses and group photos all recorded on a black and white film negative, using a hand-painted scene as a backdrop. One should keep in mind that these truly master photographers used to do an outstanding job considering the limited circumstances of limited technology in the fifties. At that time they did not have an LCD screen to see the photo instantly that today’s cameras are equipped with. Technology in cameras was very limited when compared with the current sophisticated photographic equipment that the professional photographer is using nowadays.
In the sixties and the early seventies, as a child and guest during family weddings, the bridal car used to be decorated by a string of mini tungsten bulbs lit all around the car roof for the occasion. In many cases, it used to be a big American car like a Chevrolet Impala or the good old Cadillac which used to attract a small crowd and neighbors at the Church trying to get a glimpse of the bride’s arrival. On arrival at the vicinity of the church or the surrounding roads leading to the venue, the chauffeur used to create a true spectacle, by proudly sounding the car horn to remind everybody in the area that the bride and the groom were present! …Here comes the bride!
In the late sixties, we also saw the introduction of the 35mm film negative, where the professional photographer could, therefore, afford to move along with the bride and the groom during the process of the wedding. Such an advance in technology thanks to the introduction of the negative film in a 35mm camera enhanced the wedding album in its diversity. At this stage, it all started in printing the hard copy prints in a typical size of 5 x 7 inches prints where in the middle of the seventies we gradually saw the rise of the colour film and prints fixed in a traditional album. That was a novelty in those days. This almost took place almost gradually and simultaneously with the introduction of the movie 8mm films/ super 8mm films created through a cine camera which eventually evolved once again and made way to the more advanced video camera in the mid-eighties. Most of us probably still remember the official photo studio that was officially commissioned to film their family wedding, sending a representative physically to the two bridal residencies, with his projector and screen, a couple of months following the big day. This was the way to view the wedding film on a big screen to be enjoyed by the close family members of the groom and the bride! That used to happen during the seventies and the eighties. Different times of course.
Going back to the early eighties, one can recall a typical wedding in Malta in a rather different form. It used to be a less elaborate celebration though it does not in any way mean that they didn’t enjoy their big day any less than the current weddings. At the time, there were cases that a good wedding photographer in Malta used to work on two weddings in just a single day, be it a Saturday or a Sunday. He would start work at the bridal residence of his first wedding at around 930 am, proceed to the church, then to the venue and probably finish the coverage of that wedding at around 4.30 pm. Then the same busy photographer would start the second wedding of that same day, say at 530pm.
During the seventies and eighties, a typical wedding process in Malta used to require a smaller budget and it was of a lesser duration. During the eighties and nineties, to produce a typical traditional album, a wedding photographer would have consumed around eight 35mm negative films of 36 exposures each. That would mean around three hundred images on film from which the album would take around a third of them which are selected to be printed for the album. In those days a professional photographer is a wedding or a PR event, he had to know precisely what he was doing! That was normally the weekend. Normally, on a typical Monday morning, the photographer used to get into his darkroom or perhaps one of the local printing laboratories, to develop his negative films and finally confirms that the job went all fine hopefully with flying colors! Before the turn of the last millennium year, neither did a photographer have the luxury of the editing software at his fingertips ready to correct any wrong exposure of an important image that might have gone the wrong way! Eventually, the newly-weds used to select the negatives either on a light table or through the ‘contact sheets’ of all the images.
Before the mid-nineties, a successful professional had to rely strictly on his ability and experience to ensure that he was doing it the right way and correctly! Occasionally we hear of cases that things really went wrong at the stage when the ‘negative film was being processed. Prior to the turn of the century, we also learned of many cases where a photographer literally failed to connect the negative film properly within his conventional camera! That is the main reason why following the turn of the millennium in the year 2000, we all witnessed the explosive rise in the number of professional photographers operating here in Malta and elsewhere. During such an exciting time, we also were lucky to witness the advances in technology and editing software https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4eEeztPViM
Before the introduction of the digital era, the number of professional photographers in Malta was just a small fraction when compared with today’s number of pro-photographers. The photographic equipment today is by far more ‘user-friendly’ and cheaper in price than it used to be before. Nowadays, a typical DSLR camera is more accessible to the general public. In the past, things were by far harder for any professional. In many cases a young kid, age eight can now take a beautiful picture with a simple mobile phone! That is the main benefit that we all enjoy today thanks to the dramatic advance in technology, just following the turn of the new millennium!
In this day and age, thanks to the digital camera and the all-important memory card, the bride and the groom are fortunate enough that their official photographer would be present during the whole process of the wedding, namely at their residencies, the ‘getting prepared stage’, proceed to the church or the official ceremony in civil weddings and finally the reception venue! For us photographers who lived through the transition from conventional to digital photography, it was undoubtedly exciting times. I can still recall attending those hands-on seminars for us pro photographers at a hotel in Bahar ic Caghaq. The experts at the time were British veteran photographers from whom we’ve all learned about the introduction of this new technology, a digital file, editing software, digital equipment and the rest. It had to be indeed a turning point. It was the first step of a digital future! This revolutionary change took place more or less during the same time as the introduction of the Internet, or the so-called ‘information super-highway’ as it was being portrayed at the time! Unfortunately, I can still remember some other photographers’ colleagues, ‘conventional’ photographers who wrongly assumed that the ‘computer technology’ was something reserved for the school leavers and regrettably decided to call it a day and move to a different career.
Moreover, following the transition into digital photography at the turn of the millennium, technology is still gathering momentum and moving forward so fast. The social media and the world wide web dramatically continued to motivate photographers, including anything related to wedding photography in Malta and elsewhere. The social media like Facebook, Instagram and the rest became the showcase to photographers to demonstrate their art to others around the globe. The mobile phone and the tablet are also protagonists in this change! The internet created also a solid platform for all creative photographers to fulfill their dream in marketing their own artistic masterpieces! Be it a passport photo, a fine art masterpiece or perhaps coverage of a destination wedding by a photographer, the advance in digital technology has played a crucial part.
I think, yes, I feel lucky to live through these exciting times. This new technology was crucial in the evolution of wedding photography in Malta and around the globe… and by the way, this is only the beginning of the digital revolution!
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