Behind the lens with wedding photographer Joop Rubens — how he captures the most important memories on a wedding day and why he stands out
There’s one person at your wedding that is going to be up in your business more than anyone else. Are you guessing that it’s your mother-in-law? Nope. The wedding planner? Close, but not quite there. Your new husband-to-be? Almost. It’s your photographer. Surprised?
Don’t be, because whomever you contract to take photos on your wedding day is going to be there when your mom buttons up your dress; when the makeup artist applies the final swipe of lipstick; when your maid of honor hands you that “something blue.” The photographer will be there for the first kiss, the exchange of rings, the cutting of the cake, the first dance, and every other epic moment that happens on the best day of your life.
Don’t make the well-known mistake of asking Uncle John to snap your images, or have your friend capture a few candid pictures, in the place of hiring a legit and skilled wedding photographer. Trust me, I’ve seen every photographic nightmare there is occur at weddings—from a couple not getting shots of the grandparents, to sparing a wee 20 minutes of their newly married bliss on disorganized family photos, to an amateur photographer leavivng his equipment at home, and so on. This is one wedding expense you want to spend your well-earned money on. So don’t scrimp and save here. But you also don’t have to blow your entire budget on a photographer. Ultimately, you want to find someone who clicks with you and your fiancée, and who has the same visual aesthetic that you’re hoping to achieve.
And if you’ve hired a pro, you’ll have someone on board snapping pictures that is un-obtrusive, seamless, respectful, and talented. Meet just such a photographer: Santa Cruzan Joop Rubens, who has been photographing weddings for 11 years, and has won fans all over the Bay Area, and even back home in his native Belgium.
Rubens’ work is considered classic, artistic and photo journalistic in style, which means that you won’t catch him taking any of those posed 1980s portraits. (Unless, of course, that’s something that you really want, and he will oblige.) What you get when you hire Rubens is a longtime professional who has sometimes photographed up to 35 weddings a year (that’s a nod to his popularity), and whose approach is so subtle, so hard-working, and so determined, that he finds every moment that you as a bride or groom will assuredly forget: like your nephew who’s staring off and wondering when the event will be over; or your grandmother sneaking a drink in the corner; or the flower girl who just dumped her basket of flowers out before she’s supposed to walk down the aisle. He captures the moments that no one else sees, along with every winning second of your day that you don’t want to miss—when you slip on your high heels; when the veil is lifted; when you say “I do,” and so on. Rubens is there, with his artistic approach, snapping each memory in such a delicate way that you don’t notice he’s there. But when you get a DVD just mere weeks later, with an entire collection of wedding photos on it, you’ll suddenly remember the generous Belgian photographer who was skirting around the edges capturing your unforgettable memories.
Receiving a full DVD of images in a short space of time is another factor that sets Rubens apart from the hordes of photographers that are out there. As soon as your wedding is over, Rubens is at his computer, downloading images, cleaning out anything that didn’t work, and compiling your own DVD of images that he’ll hand over to you. His price structure begins at $2,500 and that includes a meeting, a check in, five hours of wedding photography, post-production, a DVD of images, and viewing proofs which you can order online from any retailer of your choice. The next package is for $3,000 and adds another check-in appointment and three more hours (so a total of eight hours) of wedding photography. From there, the next two levels incorporate a photo book/album. For a “magazine style album,” add another $500 coming out to $3,500; a “classic craftsman album,” takes it up another $500 to a grand total of $4,000. As Rubens says, the cost is “affordable, yet high quality.” GT had a chance to look at one of the “magazine style albums” and found it to be exquisite, contemporary, designed impeccably, and something that’s a keepsake your friends and family will enjoy looking at.
While Rubens’ prices may be the going rate for wedding photography, some people are operating on a strict budget and can’t afford to earmark $2,500 toward photography. If that’s the situation you’re in, don’t be afraid to bargain with a photographer, Rubens says. “Research the price you are being given,” he says. “Calculate that you get all the images. You have to be very clear on the product, and what you want.” Case in point: Sometimes a bride and groom might be quoted a low ball figure, but a photographer will add on hundreds and hundreds more dollars just to obtain a DVD of images, and, at that, only a selection of the photos are given over. Be very clear about what you’re signing up for. Don’t make this decision lightly, and do extensive research before you sign any contracts.
If you bring on Rubens, this is what you will get: “I want my images to be classic, and evoke emotion. I love presidential black and white photography. One of my favorite images is of John F. Kennedy, Jr., under his father’s desk in the White House—a wonderful, playful moment, beautifully captured, forever. … A wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime event that should be photographed quietly, sympathetically, and without the photographer dictating what happens. These moments tell such a classic story. Wedding photography is timeless. It will be enjoyed for generations. I am passionate about that.”
Rubens got his start in 2000 when he unveiled a photography exhibit in Belgium that detailed the years prior when he and his wife were living in South Africa doing nonprofit work with HIV/AIDS prevention. While in Africa, he took a lot of slides because it was an inexpensive method to capture his experience there. Upon leaving Africa, he and his wife went to his homeland of Belgium and there he did this exhibit, which received media attention, and gave him the confidence he needed to further pursue photography. At this point, he had no formal photography training as he had actually trained in law.
Following the exhibit, a friend got married in the East Bay in 2000 and asked him to photograph the wedding. “It was nerve-wracking but great, very exhilarating,” he says. After he finished shooting the wedding, he waited a few weeks before looking at the images, but when he did, “I was very happy, and they were extremely happy.” From there, his career took off and by 2009 he was shooting around 35 weddings a year. This year, however, he wants to scale that back a bit.
“I feel like the relationship with the couple is so important,” Rubens says. “For me to be ale to invest time, and to have the benefits of the photography, I need to stick to 20, and yet be affordable.”
Off-season, he continues to take myriad photos, including portraits, and he does work for the Firelight Foundation in Malawi, whose statement on their website says, “Our mission is to improve the well-being of children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS and poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
As a photographer, Rubens puts a strong emphasis on the connection that is made between himself and the bride and groom. “My couples are couples, not clients,” Rubens says. “That’s why I need to see people face to face, both of them. We will meet at least once, or a few times before the wedding and they can call me anytime.”
His passion lies in that, “I get to take photos while meeting amazing couples, and do this from the beautiful Bay Area to Europe,” Rubens says. “This summer I photographed a fantastic couple in Belgium. Surrounded by ancient architecture, the wedding had that hip, European vibe. I love contrast. It’s why doing weddings in Santa Cruz is inspiring. The action of the wedding day contrasts so perfectly with the many serene venues we have—beaches, wineries and mountains.”
For Rubens, what makes his work so unique as a wedding photographer is that he thinks of it very much like journalism. “I want to get the whole story,” he says. “This is something people will have forever.”
Snapshots: Things to Know About Joop Rubens:
Has been a photographer for 11 years.
Covers the Bay Area and even goes overseas.
Has a photojournalistic style of photography.
Loves classic imagery.
Places enormous importance on building a connection with a couple.
Prices start at $2,500.
He offers couples a full DVD of all the images from the wedding.
A special photo album/book costs $500.