When Southern California native Jasmine Star married her high school sweetheart in Hawaii, she flew Santa Barbara-based photographer David Jay in to document her wedding. Not only was she starting a new life as a married woman, but this vendor in particular helped influence a change in her career choice. “Seeing what he did, and how passionate he was, and how he had created a living for himself was incredible,” she says. “By seeing him, that’s what actually turned me on to photography.”
Finding a wedding photographer who will not only document the most important day of your life, but inspire you to follow in his footsteps is something brides don’t set out to do consciously. Star did a Google search on “wedding photojournalism.” On page 67 of returned results, she found Jay, who was chosen above island-based photographers. “I just became smitten with who he was, not necessarily who he was as a photographer,” she says. Going with her instinct, she valued the relationship with the photographer as an individual above the samples of photographs he presented. “I felt like that experience has made or set the precedent for the type of experience I want to establish with my brides. I would prefer they would become interested in me as a person and then become interested in me as a photographer. I think that’s become a defining point in my business structure.”
Exclusively a wedding photographer, Star knows her clients are purchasing her services one time only, and much hinges on the relationship she builds with future brides. Being the same age and interested in many of the same things helps establish the bond she seeks with new potential clients. “The more we are alike, the more she’ll value her experience, and therefore her photos,” reasons Star. In October of 2006 she shot her first three weddings. In 2007 Star shot for 38 wedding clients based on word of mouth.
A strong believer in social media, Star has embraced an online persona which has at times threatened to be more visible than her in-demand photography. This started simply by her blogging about the journey she undertook to become a photographer, from learning how to use her new camera to her first solo shoot. “For some reason, people started reading,” she recalls. “Those people started referring their cousins or their friends. It became a source of business and a megaphone for who I was as a person, not as a photographer because back then, I really wasn’t a photographer. I was struggling to become one.”
If Star has hitched her wagon to her brand, social media is the road the pair travels. “I put myself on the Web every single day,” she reveals. “I’m constantly updating my Web site. I blog every single day. I’m updating Twitter a few times a day. I have a Facebook fan page with over 1500 people, and I want to make sure conversations are going on there.” She also dropped her maiden name for her middle name to help her brand. “Jasmine Star is my first and middle name. I think it works very well for the business.”
Star attended Whittier College and got a degree in Business Administration. Dating her future husband J.D. throughout her college years, they started the photography business together. As a gift, he would rent her time in darkroom when he could afford it. J.D. also bought her the first digital camera she owned in 2005. She now shoots entirely digitally. The two travel together and work weddings as a team. “He kind of stands in the background and puts on a 70 to 200mm lens, and he just shoots the day away,” she says. “I love his eye. It’s great. We balance each other.”
Shooting a Canon EOS 5D Mark II as her main body and a series of prime lenses, including a 15mm f/1.2, an EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM, and an EF 85mm f/1.2 II USM. She claims being forced to physically move toward and away from her subjects creates a level of connectivity with her clients which has helped define her style.
Seeing herself as a photographer, and not a Photoshop artist, Star tries to achieve her goals in-camera before post-processing work begins. “Just because you can run an image through Lightroom, then process it through Photoshop, then add textures and add saturation, doesn’t mean you should,” she says. “I’m constantly looking for good light and constantly working on my exposures.” She tries to emulate film as much as possible while shooting.
Always aware of light, Star works with what she’s provided during daytime weddings. “I try to look for what I refer to as natural reflectors: a natural reflector coming from any sort of wall or gravel on the floor—any time I can find a reflective element that has any type of warmth. I’ll prefer to use a not‑so‑great location with amazing reflective light, versus a great location with mediocre light. A brick wall or terracotta walls or that kind of orangey-type of gravel on the floor that can still reflect sunlight and pop light back into my subjects face, I will move my clients to that light to kind of get that feel.”
Despite calling herself “a natural light photographer,” Star is inevitably in situations where she needs to augment the sun. She mounts a Canon Speedlite 550EX on top of her camera, and uses a custom rig at the bottom of the camera for a PocketWizard Plus II. Star positions an off-camera flash to the side of the dance floor near the band or DJ. She’ll use this configuration, rarely moving the latter strobe throughout the night. “Because of our clientele and the price point we have, most of the time there’s uplighting in the room, and they have pin lighting and extensive setups,” she says, “so I don’t want to bring my flash all the way around the room. I just will keep the flash in one location.” Claiming most of her reception photos are shot on the dance floor, she simply works her way around the light source.
Shooting the way she does, Star’s workflow relies on off-camera flash mobility. “The PocketWizard provides the freedom for me to still stay true to my overall aesthetic without feeling shackled to the use of artificial light,” she explains. “I’ve had those little babies since the inception of my business. They’ve been with me since, gosh, 2007.”
Often asked about her custom hardware she uses for her PocketWizards, Star didn’t feel comfortable using Velcro, which was her first thought on how to jury rig what she envisioned. Walking into Samy’s Camera, she explained what she needed. It was built for her there, and she continues to use it faithfully. Asked exactly what kind of configuration they built her, she laughs. “I tell people I have no idea,” she says. “I just say, ‘the guys at Samy’s made it for me!'”
Star cites her ongoing connection with her clients as paramount to her success. “I wrote a post about the permission to be fabulous,” she says. “Sometimes girls don’t feel it’s okay to feel beautiful. Part of my job is to make them look beautiful, but in order for somebody to look beautiful, they have feel beautiful and fabulous. As a photographer, I wanted to make a point it’s so important to what we do to let people know, give them permission. As a female photographing another female, I want her to know that I’m not behind my camera judging her or thinking, ‘why is she doing that,’ or ‘what is she doing?’ I often tell my clients I want to create an arena where it is okay for you to feel beautiful and be fabulous. When they feel like that, all I have to do is simply capture them when they’re uninhibited. That is the mark of a true and beautiful picture.”
Written by Ron Egatz