Meet Clane Gessel
Written by Angela Strauman
How much do you know about the man behind the best fine art and wedding photography in the world? I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Clane Gessel, the man behind the magic, and his story is much more complex than people know. From Mormonism, to the desert, to NYC and the world; buckle up, this interview covers it all and we learn more about the man behind the best images in the world: Clane Gessel.
- Tell us a bit about yourself and your background – where are you from and how did you get into photography?
Clane Gessel grew up Mormon and decided the religion wasn’t for him. So at 18 years old, he left. He left the church, he left his family, his friends, it was a big deal.
“[For those of you who don’t know, when you leave the Mormon religion, when you leave Mormonism, your whole life is thrown into the unknown, because everything you knew was built around Mormonism. So all your friends are Mormon, all your family is Mormon, […] the people you talk to are Mormon, typically the people you work with are Mormon. It’s a very tight-knit community. [..] So, when I left the Mormon church, everybody turned their back on me. Like everybody. And I had nothing. I literally had nothing.
I was 18. I quit my job – because it was a Mormon job, I closed my apartment and left. I was homeless for a time. And decided to go spend time in the desert to think and try to get my life together. So I left for the deserts of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. I hung out there for 8 months. And that’s how it all started. I spent a lot of time in the desert hiking and seeing really cool, amazing stuff. When I told my friend about it, he said ‘Why don’t you take pictures of what you’ve seen and show me?’ and he gave me an old Canon AE1, an old film camera, and that really started my journey with photography.]”
Off Clane Gessel went, back into the desert where he was for about a year. He took some incredible photos. Photos that inspired him. And unbeknownst to him at the time, would be the beginning of and the foundation for his lifetime journey with photography.
“The desert has a really interesting way of making you feel completely insignificant. […] if you walk around the jungle, or if you walk around any other [place] you can really affect the life there, right? You’re walking in the jungle, and you can step on a beetle, you can step on a spider, but in the desert you can walk for hundreds of miles and […] not touch anything and you won’t affect any sort of life at all. And it makes you realize that [in] hundreds of thousands of years, things have come and gone in the desert […] and not a sign of them remains. […] I needed that. I needed to feel like I was nothing. Because it helped me break down my ego and this whole idea of who I was in the Mormon church [and in life]. [My past] was disassembled in the desert. The whole of who I was [before] was broken down by the vastness and immensity of the desert. It breaks you down to zero and builds you up […] so I did that. And decided to go back to school.”
Clane’s time in the desert was well spent, and his story led to his acceptance into Washington University. While studying, he received some big features in National Geographic & The Smithsonian. Those features helped to land him a job at the Seattle Times, where he learned and honed his photography skills. At 21, after graduating from the University of Washington with a Business Communication Degree, he started capturing weddings… small, little backyard weddings.
“…I made less than $30k for the first 10 years of my career. You know, from 22 to 32, […] I was broke, but I did it because it drove me. It was my passion. I accepted that I would never be ultra rich. […] I didn’t do it for the money. […] I did it for the passion and the love. And ever since then it kind of took off. […] I moved to San Francisco, […] for 4 years, and then I moved to New York in 2016. The rest is history. Once you get to New York it’s kind of “the big leagues” and I was lucky enough to have a lot of press behind me, a lot of features, a lot of places I had been. And magazines that I was published in and that kind of drove my career because people were willing to work with me.”
Once moving to NY, Clane’s career skyrocketed and he met his now fiance, Chloe Cahill; BroadwayWorld nominated actor, award winning teacher, and professional singer. Together they have two adorable coton de tulear pups. While you won’t see the pups shooting weddings, Chloe is also a member of Clane’s Fine Art and Wedding Studio team and you may find her at some of the shoots all over the world.
- When do you think was that moment where you realized that you wanted to be a photographer? Was it doing those backyard weddings? Or was it in the deserts?
Clane Gessel talks about his time in the deserts of the Southwest – “It was in the deserts of Arizona and Utah. I knew I wanted to be a photographer then, I did not think it was financially doable, but that’s when I knew, when I was lost in the desert, I knew I wanted to do something with photography for the rest of my life because photography, in a way, called me. Photography saved me. A lot of people choose their careers, but photography chose me. In a way, I was out there and I had nothing [but photography and this ability to share what I saw.] Photography chose me. Photography picked me. And I think that it’s something that I need to spend the rest of my life repaying because, in a way, it saved my life.”
- What would you say to people who are wanting to be photographers?
As you can see from his life experiences, it wasn’t easy for Clane to get to the luxury level he is at today. Clane focused on his photography for years, and lived in and through a lot of experiences that impact and inspire his work today. So for people who want to be a photographer themself, Clane has some really impactful advice:
“It’s going to take time, and take a lot of effort and it doesn’t come easy. […] The best way to make it as a professional photographer is to do it – give up your life as it is to be that. […] You have to be willing and able to dedicate your whole life to the profession. Because it demands nothing less. There’s no such thing as a really good part time photographer. It’s something you have to be whole heartedly in, in your life. […]
Wedding photography is self selective for me. Self selection is the greatest determinant of job success. […] if you’re like hey, I’m going to do this and I’m going to be amazing at it, then that’s going to be the case, and you will be. And it’s self selection. I self-selected to do photography knowing that I’d be great at it if I poured my whole self into it… [and that’s what I continue to do.]”
For new photographers, Clane Gessel’s advice is to jump right in –
“New photographers […] don’t waste your time taking classes, get out there and do it. When you are taught photography there is a right and wrong and there has to be in order to be graded on it. But photography is completely subjective – it’s not objective, it’s subjective, right? If clients like my work, if people like my work, then who cares if I get an A or an F. It has nothing to do with school – and I think in that regard – that people who have not been taught photography are actually stronger photographers then those that have. […] I can teach you how a camera works without barriers, and being put in a box. When you go to school for something [a lot of times] you get put in a box – and that’s how you get the [same] results[…] “[Get out there and do it. Showing up is 50% of being a photographer. ]”
- What’s the best advice you can give to couples who are nervous about hiring a photographer for their events?
Clane’s advice is to get to know the photographer or videographer a bit. Get to know what drives them and their why and understand it. From there you can look at what their style is and are they a great match for you? Once you figure out their why and their style, you’ll have a better idea of if they are the right fit for you and your event.
“So if you’re nervous about hiring a photographer, I completely understand, I would be too, because it’s a contract job. It’s somebody that you’re hiring to do a gig. But if you understand why they’re doing that gig and why, [… you’ll feel better about hiring them For example, are they just] about the money? Well I wouldn’t hire a photographer for just the money.
Price is driven by demand, but what’s more is the care that Clane puts into his work and time with his clients to make sure their event and day really is the best. It’s definitely important to get to know the person who’s going to be spending most of the day with you, on your special day. So spend the time and get coffee or lunch with your photographer, Clane guarantees it will be a meeting well spent.
The father of the bride was paying for me, and he said to me, “wow you are really expensive, these photos had better be great,” and I said, you know if you think I’m doing it for the money, then we have nothing in common. And it’s so true, yes it’s expensive, but expensive is driven by demand, the only reason I charge so much is because there are twenty other people out there that will pay me more for the same exact day.”
- What’s the most difficult photo/video task you’ve been asked to complete?
Clane has shot some pretty insanely awesome and amazing photos, so I know I wasn’t the only one interested in hearing what this photographer genius had to say:
“The space needle green screen [I shot a while back] tends to be difficult. [I have to say, the] cover for nat geo [was] grueling. 20 driving hours down a dirt road from the airport and you have to hike to get there, hire locals to take a boat, and you’re in this remote village. So it took like 10 days to get one photo. […] It’s just really difficult to get the shot, and then once you’re out there, even if you go out there, there’s ZERO guarantee that you’re going to get anything at all. It might be rainy, it might be cloudy, the tide might be too high, or the light might not be right or it might be too windy. [there are a million things], or even technically you might not be able to get [the shot] because nobody can take you there. [That was pretty difficult,… but I got it!]”
- What are the biggest wedding trends for 2023 for photography?
From pre covid to now, people have had to improvise with wedding details. Clane Gessel thinks that there will be a change in the weather, so to speak, when it comes to traditions and what the next years look like for trends in the industry.
“As we get more and more away from Covid, […] I think couples are getting further away from the traditions. I think we are seeing more travel, more elopements, especially on the luxury level. More people just want to do something like a 20 person wedding in Banff or Bora Bora. People want to do tiny weddings […], because they are realizing that what it’s about is your takeaways. [Of course this is not always the case], we also do 700 guest weddings – but there is definitely an increase in people looking to get away and just get married, and make it more about the destination than the guest list.”
- Also – I heard in addition to yourself, you also have a studio, can you tell me a bit about that?
“Yea! [I put together a team of experts and artists in audio visual, that can’t be matched anywhere.] The reason why I’ve assembled the team is to help our clients relive the event in a way that no other studio can. [The team is composed of] highly educated, highly qualified individuals from across the globe. Everybody that works for me is smarter than me, they all have masters degrees, are super successful in other fields and […] have self selected themselves to move into the photography field.”
If you are looking to see the work from the studio, you can check that out at: www.fineartandweddings.com
- Top 5 traits of couples or planners to work with for Clane Gessel:
- Self selection – Most couples have their top priority as photography.
- Excitement – They should be excited about their wedding and our couples are believers that there is no greater gift than each other.
- Respect – The couple and or planner are respectful to each other and in the way that they talk to each other and everyone around them. [There is no job too small].
- Reason for Marriage – There are many reasons people could be getting married, and Clane Gessel likes the couples that get married because they’re in love. “We bring out that by capturing the essence of who they are.”
- Love – they should love each other and their team. It’s evident in the photos if they don’t.
- How do people get in touch with you?
Clane Gessel says that email is the best way to get in contact with him. You can reach him (and his team) at: firstname.lastname@example.org
“We’d love to share what wedding photos can be and raise expectations of what your wedding photos are. We want to create heirlooms.”
”Hopefully, when you look at some of my images, [and think WOW.] I hear – ‘I didn’t even know wedding photos could look like that, I didn’t even know this was a thing.’ That’s what I want to hear – that’s the goal. That’s my payment, that’s the money. That’s why I shoot. You know? To help people realize that wedding photographers can be more, that [their photos] can be more, that [their wedding day or event] can be the greatest, most amazing experience on earth, and it’s the greatest day on earth and your photos should reflect that.
From leaving the Mormon church, to finding himself in the desert, to NYC and the world, Clane Gessel’s story is much more complex than meets the eye. His work is a reflection of the years he spent honing his craft and is what brought him to be the best of the best, capturing fine art and weddings all over the world. View Clane’s video where he talks about his approach to weddings here.