Nikon Learn & Explore

Cliff Mautner: King of Hearts

Cliff Mautner wedding portrait of a bride

© Cliff Mautner

After 700 "I do's," photographer Cliff Mautner still isn't tired of photographing weddings.

I wake up in the morning and say to myself, ‘Today I'm going to make a picture,'" he says. "This attitude allows me to set out with a high level of expectation."

It didn't start out that way. In fact Mautner turned down his first opportunity to photograph a wedding back in 1996. Or at least he tried to.

"A corporate client asked me to shoot his daughter's wedding," recalls Mautner, who was a photographer for the Philadelphia Inquirer at the time and had a few commercial clients. "At first I said no, and he reminded me that I was on retainer. He was joking, but he said, ‘I know you're not a wedding photographer, but I want you to approach this as you would a news story.' I came away with the understanding that I could not just shoot a wedding and tolerate it, but that I could shoot it and love it."

Mautner began to pursue wedding photography, slowly building his business to a point where he could "break away completely from journalism and make something out of it." He left the newspaper the next year and now shoots 50 to 60 weddings a year.

In 2008 Mautner was named one of the top ten wedding photographers in the world by American Photo Magazine. In 2009 he won the grand award for photojournalism from Wedding and Portrait Photographers International.

What's the secret? Mautner relies on his background as a photojournalist—he shot more than 6,000 assignments for the Inquirer over 15 years.

"The days of the bride and groom staring at the camera under the gazebo have long been over," he says. "The photojournalism approach has evolved over the past 15 years."

Mautner's images sometimes contrast the elegance of a bride on her wedding day against the urban grit of cities like Philadelphia. He'll have his couples interact under a bridge, for example, or on the various urban-scapes. "I try to incorporate an eclectic array of scenarios into the wedding day itself so that it gets a little bit further from the norm."

Consistency sets one photographer apart from another, he says. 


"It's not just those pretty pictures taken on some island. It's the consistent level of work, week in and week out, no matter what the circumstances. I think that's part of what I'm known for."


One of any photographer's biggest wedding day challenges is lighting. "I'm also known for being able to produce images in nearly any lighting condition we face, whether it's harsh sunlight or pitch black," he says. "Lighting is the key to what I call texture, dimension and mood in photography."


That's where equipment comes into play.


"There's a difference between the quantity of light one has and the quality of light one has. Now, even if there's just a very low level of quality light I can produce a beautiful image in a level of light that I could never think about before. The ISO performance, the focusing capabilities, image quality and simply the overall performance of these new cameras essentially change the rules to a point where the creative process can take over."


Mautner says he was the first wedding photographer to shoot with the D3. Now his go-to camera is the D3S. "I thought it was impossible to improve upon the ISO performance and the responsiveness of (the D3), but they did it."


He carries both of those cameras with him to every wedding, along with a D700, seven or so NIKKOR lenses, Nikon Speedlights and other accessories. "The D700 I like to call my D3 Lite, because it's a lighter-weight camera. It's kind of my secondary go-to camera. The D700 very rarely leaves my body."


Besides his wedding work, Mautner leads four or five hands-on workshops a year called Cliff Mautner's Lighting and Skill Set Boot Camp. "The mission statement of this boot camp is to empower photographers of all types with the skills necessary to go after and improve a style of their own," he says. "To really create something with a style it takes a foundation and the fundamentals. You can't think about composition if you're thinking about exposure."


As satisfying as the workshops can be, there's still something about a wedding.

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Cliff Mautner is a Nikon Ambassador.

Read more about Cliff at his ambassador page.