It’s a recent Saturday afternoon, and I — at long last — am a male model. I’m dressed in stylish clothes, sitting atop the colorful pillows of Chef Karim’s Moroccan restaurant, and holding my head at the perfect tilt beneath the bright lights. In front of me is a photographer contorting his body to get the right shot while simultaneously directing me where to look, how to sit, what to do. I am fully at ease, surprised to be enjoying this momentary glimpse of the glitzy life between sips of a mimosa and nibbles on catered snacks. He, however, is sweating profusely, working hard to get the right shot as if he were shooting for the cover of GQ.
“Okay, now it’s your turn,” the photographer says to my fiancée Joanna, who then lays across the pillows and flicks her hair at his command. Despite a stressful morning that included a makeup overdose from a nearby salon and a non-delivery of flowers I had ordered, Joanna’s eyes sparkle, her smile widens, and she begins fulfilling a childhood dream of being a fashion model.
During the next couple of hours in the restaurant, atop the bluffs, on the beach, and beneath the county courthouse, Joanna and I pose together and separately, we kiss for the camera, we pretend we’re famous, and we laugh a lot. But mostly, we eagerly anticipate the shots that result from the special treatment that’s usually reserved for celebrities and supermodels. It’s funny, it’s fun, it’s Damian Langere’s Fashion Engagement Shoot.
In the cutthroat world that is wedding photography, the constant challenge is to be unique, to rise above the competition by offering more than the typical services and standard experience. For Damian Langere — a onetime Olympic gymnast hopeful, UCSB grad, former photo editor for UCSB’s Daily Nexus, and geographer by trade — the path to wedding photography success exists somewhere between the worlds of fashion and love.
Ever since his mother gave the Eagle Rock, California, native a camera when he was 14, photography has loomed as a career goal in his life. Throughout the ensuing years, Langere, who never took a photo class in his life, moved through photography’s various worlds — sports, news, travel, outdoors, lifestyle, and even weddings for friends. He eventually settled on the dream of becoming a fashion photographer, hoping to one day move to New York and set up shop.
But then he had an epiphany: “I was able to make a lot of my friends into models who had never modeled before. Then it clicked,” Langere said. “I like doing weddings, and nowadays fashion is all over, and people are really part of it. Why don’t I just merge the two?” The idea of a fashion engagement shoot was born. Though still in its nascent stages, Langere’s full package — in addition to the standard practice of photographing your future wedding — will include a visit to the salon and a consultation with a stylist who’ll help get you outfitted in new clothes that you get to keep. Then the three-hour engagement shoot — fully catered — features professional lighting, is staffed by at least two additional aides, and involves multiple locations around town, from Elings Park to Knapp’s Castle. Along the way, Langere’s pleasant demeanor keeps everything moving fluidly, and that’s his goal. “I want it to be a fun day, not a strenuous experience,” he explained. “Anybody can look good in front of the camera. I’m a good coach. But it’s not my thing. I want you guys to look the best you think you can look. You’re it for the day.” By the end of that day, Langere watches as the couple unwinds, relaxes, and starts acting naturally, as if there’s no photographer around. That’s when he snaps the best shots. Afterward, Langere touches up the photos like a fashion magazine editor, and voilà!, you’ve got photographs to show your grandchildren that prove you were, in fact, a model in your younger years.
Langere realizes it’s not for everybody and that his target market is more likely those glamour-loving Angelenos who see Santa Barbara as a relaxing wedding destination. But he’s had plenty of interest from Santa Barbarans, too, and Langere claimed that many in the S.B. wedding photography community are “going crazy” about his idea, especially since “most wedding photographers have just done weddings.” He believes his fashion background will set him apart from the pack.
The sun is falling fast, and rain clouds are quickly approaching. We are outside the courthouse, and Joanna and I are embracing much more naturally than when we had posed earlier at Chef Karim’s. The flutter of the camera shutter is in the background, but Joanna and I are whispering to each other, still pretending we’re supermodels but acting like no one is watching.
“That’s great guys — just like that,” says Langere, kneeling to get the whole majestic building in the background. And then, a few seconds later, “Okay, that’s it. We’re done.”
“Can we see some of them?” Joanna asks immediately, and we peer into the tiny screen on the back of Damian’s camera. It’s too small to see, but already, we can tell we look different, more special than ever before.
And at the end of the day, that’s the basic idea behind Langere’s Fashion Engagement Shoot. After all, who doesn’t like looking good?