Hailed by the likes of Oprah Winfrey as the “best in the business” photographer Denis Reggie has made a career out of capturing iconic moments.
He has photographed the likes of Vera Wang, Paul Newman, Mariah Carey, Don Henley, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Martin Luther King, James Taylor plus many, many more and has carved out a unique niche for himself as a storyteller with a camera.
Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia in the USA, Denis has been named as one of the Top Ten Wedding Photographers in the World and his iconic photograph of John Kennedy, Jr. kissing the hand of his bride Carolyn Bessette is credited by The Wall Street Journal as the watershed image that transformed wedding photography forever and it has been hailed by editors as “the most famous wedding photograph in history”.
With a portfolio of more than 2000 weddings Denis’ work as a photographer and ambassador for Canon takes him and his team around the world but no matter how big the assignment is Denis believes simplicity is best, shunning photoshop and contrived images.
The Style Edit spoke exclusively to the renowned photographer that Harper’s Bazaar called the “best of the best” to discover what inspires him and why, in front of his lens, every subject is a celebrity.
Did you always want to be a photographer?
Not exactly, it was a high school passion that later became an unexpected career. I was a football player and injured my thumb so I picked up my camera and began photographing the sports team – I was about 15/16 then and learnt skills that have stayed with me throughout my career. It’s the art of being observant and anticipating what might happen.
Did you intend to end up specialising in wedding photography?
I was asked by my uncle to photograph his daughter’s wedding. I did it and enjoyed it very much so after college I thought I’d stick with it till I figured out what I wanted to do but my love of love and romance and storytelling means that I’m still doing it nearly 40 years on.
I get to be the historian of the beginning of a couple’s new life. It’s volume one in their story and that’s an honour to capture.
How are you able to capture such fleeting but beautiful moments?
I’ve learnt to watch the eyes of the bride and the groom and anticipate what might happen next. With Carolyn and John Kennedy, John might have caught his bride off guard but because I was watching intently I was able to get it.
The material I need for great photos is there so I just have to accept and react to that. I’m not there to make it better or different, my mission is not to change reality but to find the best version of how it really is.
I go in wedding clothing because I want to disappear not standout, I want everyone to forget that I’m there as the greatest moments come about when the subject aren’t aware of the camera.
“I’m not there to make it better or different, my mission is not to change reality but to find the best version of how it really is.”
How do you cope with the pressure of photographing high profile clients?
I might get nerves at the start but then I just focus on what I’m there to do. Whether they’re famous or just a normal person like me they deserve to have those special moments preserved.
Every bride is a celebrity on her wedding day – she is the focus of many cameras and all the attention is on her. She’s the star for the day in the eyes of her groom.
You have been hailed for your approach to photography, can you described your process?
My newspaper editor when I was working for a paper said my mission was to go to an event and report what I saw – that always stuck with me. I’m someone who’s there to find great moments, not to speak, not to direct but to record moments in real time.
A journalist reports the news, they don’t make the news. I see myself as a photojournalist meaning that I go to report what I see.
You’ve captured many iconic moments – have you a favourite?
There have been so many. The nature of my work means I’m always thinking about the wedding I’ve just shot and then the one I’ll do next week.
Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger with Maria’s veil blowing in the wind was a very special moment that just happens to belong to a famous person.
The picture of John Kennedy, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette is still published today, often on the anniversary of their death and it’s so sad but the photograph I took is very happy so I’m glad it’s used to represent their lives.
Wedding photography in general is such a wonderful way to put a smile on someone’s face. Preserving happiness is one of my favourite parts of what I do.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give to anyone wishing to pursue a career in photography?
Never use your mouth to prompt but rather use your intuition. Staged photos never have the depth or believability as natural shots. Authenticity is key to great journalising
How do you feel about all the edited and filtered photos at the minute?
I’m a realist; I like authenticity. I’m also probably the only photographer you’ll meet that doesn’t have photoshop. I like to think that real moments show people at their very best. Nothing is more bothersome to me than an overly photoshopped image. People look better when they’re not thinking about the camera, the key is to capture people being themselves.
“Preserving happiness is one of my favourite parts of what I do.”
How important is to find the right photographer for your wedding?
Ive heard so many sad stories where couples have hired a non-professional photographer for their weddings and it hasn’t turned out well.
A portrait or commercial can be reshot but a wedding is a one time opportunity to document and I believe it’s a time for a professional. I’ve done more than 2000 weddings and happily I’ve had no bad stories and that comes from experience. You’re photographing an event that can’t be reproduced and I take that very seriously.
Would you have liked to have photographed Prince Harry and Megan Markle’s nuptials?
They are such a beautiful couple but that’s not where my interest is. A wedding on that scale is quite a production. My dream assignment is a simple setting with 50 people or less in some remote location with just the subject front and centre. Less is more.
That’s one of the reasons I was so taken by John and Carolyn’s wedding -– they came to me and asked me to please quietly accept the assignment. It was a very quiet ceremony and I thought it was absolutely lovely Their love and commitment was front and centre and that’s just perfect.