Charles Maring works with his wife Jennifer in her home state of Connecticut, where he moved during his sophomore year of high school. With a corporate pilot father, Maring had been on the move every few years, and lived up and down the East Coast, as well as Colorado. Along with the moves, Maring’s father brought photography into his life, and built a darkroom in their house for his older brother. Soon Charles was spending many hours every day in it, practicing, learning, and dreaming of being a photographer.
Not only did Maring get his photographic start in his family darkroom, he actually earned money subcontracting enlargement work for local labs. This was before he became a photographer in earnest. Unlike most individuals in the film era who tried photography and moved into working in darkrooms to print their own work, Maring got his developing and enlarging chops down first. This had benefits decades later.
“We were printing our own work even back in the darkroom days,” recalls Maring. “As technology evolved, we were one of the first to really notice digital cameras were going to be something that would change the industry. We were early adopters of digital, picking up the Kodak DCS 460 camera, the first 6 megapixel pro camera Kodak came out with. At the time, they ran about $30,000 so they were a pretty expensive investment, but we took the lead toward digital. With that said, labs were just starting to get their first LED printers in, and what we realized was they really didn’t know what they were doing, either. We were kind of at a crossroads. I told my wife, ‘We can either buy a printer and figure it out ourselves, or buy a house.’ I figured we could just hollow it out and live in it if it doesn’t work. We invested in a solid-state laser printing device to print up to 20″ x 30″ in-house, and we’re still running that today.”
The Marings parlayed their printer beyond eliminating their own lab bills. They began printing for local photographers, and now work very closely with approximately 25 photographers around the country. They have moved on to binding all their own books in-house by hand. This enables them to provide a premium product with custom options. Additionally, they have extended this service to other photographers.
Ten years ago, they opened a Manhattan location, although they continue to do much of their work from their Wallingford, Connecticut home base, including their property, which abuts a cornfield, and is used for some outdoor shoots. They met at a local lab when Maring, a former employee, found his future wife working there when he dropped off film to be developed.
Both Marings are entirely self-taught photographers. Early on, they were landscape photographers. Weddings and portrait work came later. Through their wedding work, they came to know party planner David Tutera, host of the show My Fair Wedding. “Once we started landing some jobs with him, he realized the potential of our work because we were photographing all of his designs and what not, to photograph for his books,” Maring says. “We’ve now coproduced four different books with David, and what we have done is everything from food styling to fashion, because we have models come in and we outfit them in either wedding or party attire. It’s kind of a blend of people, interiors, food styling, anything to do with life and style.”
Their business has evolved into editorial work for magazines, and celebrity portraits for everything from book covers to product launches. Maring credits this growth to developing personal relationships with people who know the team can deliver what they’re looking for.
Part of the reason the Maring team delivers is because of their attention to detail. An engagement session on the beach might be followed up by a four hour editing session. Their gear selection is part of the process. “We spend a lot of time lighting our work meticulously, utilizing the Profoto D1 Air System, which I’ve just fallen in love with for all of our work,” Maring says. “I can honestly say it’s kind of taken me by surprise because it’s led me to a place I didn’t see myself going, in terms of lighting everything.”
This is not the way the duo had previously employed lighting systems. “We’re utilizing the D1 at weddings, which we feel, contrary to the thought process I would have had years ago of being this minimalist with a camera and on-camera flashes. I find myself now lighting receptions with them, simply because we have the Air remote on top of the camera, and you can power up or power down remotely from the camera, the power of the strobe. It’s an important feature because when you’re photographing a wedding and the subject is at the very back of the room, you can add a little extra power to bring your exposure into play. If they get closer to the dance floor, you can power it down.”
This approach has led nothing less than the change of the way subjects respond as Maring shoots a wedding. “What it’s allowed us to do is be more unobtrusive photojournalistically and get off the dance floor,” he explains. “When you see me work a room, a lot of times I’m not on the dance floor or near it. I’m actually at the back of the room, framing the couple in between walls or guests looking on, or things of that nature—getting the perfect light on the couple, but getting more unobtrusive and journalistic in the approach. I like to say our photographs are loosely captured, because they’re real and they happen naturally. Clients are unaware of the camera a lot of times, but they’re elegantly lit because we take the time and energy to utilize lighting in creative ways.”
Maring claims he brings the D1 Air system “to 99% of our jobs.” He also brings PocketWizards to shoots, particularly to jobs involving a lot of travel. The Marings are Canon-based. Their workhorse cameras include the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and the EOS-1D Mark IV.
Maring has other favorite gear he relies on. “My favorite light source is, without question, the Softlight reflector,” he says. “I think it’s a 25° honeycomb grid that can pop on and off. That’s the workhorse of our studio. Whether I’m shooting weddings or portraits, I’d say that comes out at some point. We also have a 7-foot reflector that gets used quite a bit and a Magnum Reflector that gets used quite a bit.”
Having a small arsenal of different tools is essential for Maring. “The more light-shaping tools you have at your fingertips, the more detailed you become as a lighting artist. For me, at least, lighting has been a completely lifelong journey. Every day, I learn something new, so it never seems to end. When you have different reflectors to use at your fingertips, you just start to be more detailed about how you think about lights and how they’re going to react on your subject. So, it’s been a lot of fun when I shifted into Profoto gear many years ago to not just be thinking about a soft box or an umbrella or something like that, but to actually be thinking about different parabolic reflectors and the reactions they give me. I think that’s something a lot of photographers kind of miss out on with some other lighting brands and what not, because truly it makes it like you’re playing. It makes it not so much like a job; it just makes it really interesting.”
In online videos, the husband and wife team are often seen working together. In reality, they’re both highly capable, and often do separate jobs on the same day. When they do work together, they often assist each other, and have developed a nonverbal way of communicating. Shooting together for so long has them thinking on the same wavelength. They also use assistants on a regular basis. “Having a great assistant is key,” Maring says. Luckily for Charles Maring, he’s married to his greatest assistant, an accomplished shooter in her own right.
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