Roberto Valenzuela: Clarity and Light
Photographers often have similar stories about discovering their love for taking pictures when they were young and received a camera from a family member or took a class in high school. Award winning photographer, educator and top selling author Roberto Valenzuela’s career began in high school but in a very different way than one would imagine.
After graduating college with degrees in Economics, Marketing and International Business, Valenzuela took a job as a high school Economics and Finance teacher at his alma mater. During his tenure, President Bush implemented a program to get more high school students excited about attending business school after graduation by awarding grants to high school business teachers. With a $90,000 grant, Valenzuela’s students chose digital photography as their business of choice. “I didn’t know anything about cameras or photography,” Valenzuela admits. “I didn’t even know you could take a lens off a camera.”
Since Valenzuela was soon to be married, he solicited help from his wedding photographer but to no avail. Instead, he and his students studied photography on their own, during class time and after school. And, eventually, Valenzuela quit his tenured position and jumped feet first into wedding photography.
Using his business and marketing education and skills, Valenzuela—who was based in Tucson, Arizona at the time—decided to set a high price for his photography business. “I had a pretty good idea about marketing and consumer behavior and why people buy what they buy,” Valenzuela reasoned, “so I knew that if I priced myself pretty high, people wouldn’t question my experience and they didn’t.” In marketing, it’s all about perception.”
Of course, if they asked, he’d tell them the truth. If someone asked how may years have you been shooting weddings, “I’d say none. In fact your wedding is the second or third in my career and they’d start laughing.” People liked his images and his personality and that certainly helped his career.
Business grew really fast, says Valenzuela, “I used my business skills and Latin charm to get acquainted with wedding venues in the city. They liked my energy and that I was such a go-getter.” And, he adds, they wanted to help him. Shooting at one of the best wedding venues in Tucson, Valenzuela engaged his business acumen and thought, “How do I make the job of the venue owner easier? All I have to do is impress the venue owner” so he basically used the bride and groom to showcase the venue. In the end, the venue ended up using a large number of his images to decorate the venue (Valenzuela even negotiated with a framing company to get a discount on frames and split the cost of the increasingly impressed wedding venue). “I probably got about 60-70 of the weddings I booked the first year because my images were all over the venue,” he recalls.
A while later, though, he and his wife relocated to Boston for her job. “It was a disaster,” Valenzuela recalls. “I had to start from scratch” and the marketing strategies that worked so well in Tucson didn’t work in New England. But Valenzuela continued to hone his skills and business started ramping up.
About 7 years ago, his wife’s company offered her a transfer to Beverly Hills and Valenzuela immediately thought, “If I wanted to be one of the best wedding photographers in the world, I have to compete against the best in the world and I want to do it big” and they moved to Beverly Hills, which continues to serve as Valenzuela’s home base.
Beverly Hills isn’t Tucson or Boston, though; so Valenzuela again had to use his marketing skills to slightly shift strategies. He approached wedding coordinators (rather than venues) that catered to different cultures and approached them with the promise that “I’m here to help you, too and we can all grow together.” Initially, he spent his profits presenting them with albums of images. Additionally, he learned that in L.A. being good isn’t good enough. You have to be very clear about what your style is. I needed to work on defining my style, which is romantic and timeless.” And the weddings started rolling in, as did portrait shoots, boudoir and fashion, too. (Valenzuela now shoots about 60% weddings and about 40% fashion and beauty portraiture.)
WPPI has played an important role in his career almost from the very beginning when he was based in Tucson. “I went to my first convention—WPPI—and was overwhelmed and intrigued by all the rockstar photographers” and got to see how talented these photographers really are, he recalls. As a teacher, Valenzuela paid close attention to how they presented during the workshops and when he returned to Tucson, he called the director of education at WPPI and asked, “What does it take to be a teacher at WPPI?” After learning about the criteria to be a speaker, Valenzuela worked towards that goal. “The first competition, I won one accolade; the next I won 12 accolades,” and continued to increase his visibility in different competitions. Still, it wasn’t enough. But eventually he was given a Master Class—a class that sold out and since then has taught too many classes to count at WPPI for about the last six years.
At the same time, Valenzuela has authored his Picture Perfect series of books, starting with Picture Perfect Practice: A Self-Training Guide to Mastering the Challenges of Taking World-Class Photographs (the #1 best selling wedding photography book on Amazon), Picture Perfect Posing: Practicing the Art of Posing for Photographers and Models and the final book in the series, Picture Perfect Lighting: An Innovative Lighting System for Photographing People. Due to be released on March 15, the latest book is already the #1 best seller in Amazon’s Digital Photo & Video Editing category—even before it’s released, thanks to a huge number of pre-orders.
While Valenzuela’s teaching only one Platform class this year at WPPI, he’ll be the Chair of the wedding print competition room. As a Canon Explorer of Light, you can hear him speak at the Canon booth.
When he’s not at WPPI, Valenzuela can be found shooting weddings as well as fashion and beauty portraits and teaching workshops. For information about his upcoming workshops, visit: www.pictureperfectpractice.com/workshops. He ahs more than 6 scheduled for this year and they’ll sell out fast, so don’t wait to sign up. Valenzuela’s approach to photography and lighting is innovate and his energy and enthusiasm are contagious—a perfect combination for photographers who want to expand their skills and creativity.
Replicating Window Light with the Chimera Studio System Basic Kit
In addition to Chimera reflectors and the OctaPlus 5 and convertible OctaPlus 57, Valenzuela is a big fan of Chimera’s Panel Frame Studio Kit, which is available in 3-sided Basic and 4-sided Plus configurations. The latter came into play when Valenzuela wanted to create the beautiful, soft look of window light but available light was either too weak (or non-existent) or too strong. Chimera, says, Valenzuela, “designed a very clear system to re-create window light.”
The Panel Frame Plus Studio Kit comes with four 42” x 82” frames, which can be set up as a headshot booth. The panels, which come with assorted fabrics, which can be used to diffuse, reflect or absorb light, depending on the lighting situation and desired lighting effect. “I love this product,” Valenzuela says enthusiastically. “You can create a box around your subject and put materials in frames like black to absorb light or a diffusion panel.”
With the kit, Valenzuela explains, “You create a box and can control and shape how the light behaves . . . .”I use this mostly for beauty shots and headshots.” The kit comes with a duffle bag for carrying the set-up to location and Valenzuela loves that he can “put the box in the middle of the beach or on a rooftop,” adding that “It doesn’t matter how strong the sun is, the top panel can diffuse the light and if you use black panels on the sides to absorb light, you have perfect lighting.”
Check out some of Valenzuela’s images and lighting set up in the accompanying photos to see why he’s so enthusiastic about this versatile product that creates “Picture Perfect” lighting.
Our thanks to Roberto for the amazing interview and info on how he achieved status as one of the wedding and portrait industry’s most sought-after photographers. View more of his work on his website, friend him on Facebook, add him on Periscope as @robertophoto and follow him on Instagram and Twitter! For more information on where you can learn from Roberto, take a look at his books available on Amazon and check out the Picture Perfect Practice workshops!