Italy-the land of golden colors, sumptuous foods, and vibrant culture. A place where romance flows and lively conversations occur on a balcony or street corner, or over a cappuccino. Take a native born in Salerno and transplant him to Orlando, Florida. Give him a camera, a bride, and one afternoon. Watch him spin an experience that goes far beyond a few wedding albums and framed mantle pieces.
Domenico Castaldo is that man. In the past five years as a wedding photographer here in the United States, Castaldo has delighted in making love to his brides through the camera. He's created colorful, dreamy images that trump much of the work produced by his local competition. Brides love him, grooms want to be him-well, maybe that's exaggerating things a bit, but you get the idea.
Young Man With a Camera
At an early age Castaldo was snapping shots around his home using a small camera. He found fashion to be a popular subject, as well as random shoots of, and with, friends. His professional break came in the form of holding the flash for peers who had committed their careers to photography. After many years traipsing through Europe with his camera in hand, he fell in love with wife-to-be Cecily. In 1999 they moved to Orlando, Florida. Why Florida? "We love Florida with its unpredictable, energy-giving warm weather," he explains. "We also saw a good opportunity for a new business." In 2001, Castaldo fell in love with wedding photography.
For Castaldo, weddings offer a sense of wonder. "I love people," he says. "Photographing a wedding is awesome. I enjoy talking with the couple and learning about their lives. I want to give them the best images possible, but I want to also give them an experience they will remember. Brides spend so much time picking colors and themes and agonizing over the smallest details. They deserve to have this recorded in their photos. I want to take them back to the moment so they can see and feel the memories."
The magic ingredient for Castaldo is the word "experience." In all that he does, he strives to create or re-create an experience. He chuckles when revealing a secret tool in his studio-the La-Z-Boy recliner. "When the bride and groom come to view their images for the first time, I give them another experience to remember," he says. "I start with glowing candles to set the moment they see their first wedding image projected on the screening wall. This continues to the glass of wine, but what seals the deal is the plush La-Z-Boy." Inevitably, the groom kicks back and may even take a catnap as the images are projected. No worries-charming Castaldo gains a bit more quality time to talk business with the blushing bride.
Experience in Motion and Still
Domenico Castaldo & Associates offers videography and photography, plus framing. Aside from Castaldo and Cecily, the team includes a full-time assistant (Johnny), a part-time video editor, a part-time photo editor, and a freelance shooter (Bruce). They cover roughly 40 events per year, with the majority of work done locally. The studio is digital; the team ports a bevy of Canon cameras and a range of lenses from 28-70 f/2.8 to 85 f/1.2 in their bags. Domenico Castaldo & Associates also handles portrait, senior, and baby photography.
Castaldo reveals that a hot new purchase for the studio is a Drobo storage system. The Drobo automatically handles initial data and image backup, and the staff follows with additional archiving and storage by batch-burning images onto DVD. Since Castaldo strives to constantly provide the best experience in all aspects of his business, no image leaves the studio or is seen by the client without first being edited. The 2,000 wedding shots are narrowed down to about 700, and the team uses Lightroom, Photoshop, Kubota actions, and Nik software to touch up. An album predesign using Pictage is produced-this is what the bride and groom view when they come for cocktails.
"A bit of extra work up front pays off," says Castaldo. "We want the images to be stunning, but realistic. We don't do 'fantasy' touchups. It's our job to catch the emotion and the moment. We want the couple to relive the day each time they open their album-and to reveal little moments they did not see, but can feel. We want to keep the 'wow' factor going."
Presentation continues along that same path with the final presentation of the album. "The couple comes back to the studio, and we have their albums placed in the glow of a spotlight on the mantel," says Castaldo. "They look at their photos and the albums. And as we have done all along, we again ask if everything is to their satisfaction. We've learned that by asking for opinions start to finish, the studio can save a lot of time redoing or adjusting things that could have been taken care of earlier-for example, a slight edit or inclusion of a photo that we missed."
With a final touch of flair and showmanship, the albums are gingerly placed in exquisite packaging for the ride home. Castaldo prefers albums from Graphistudio, Renaissance (including the Album X product), Arista Albums, and Adesso Albums for guest sign-in books.
Will Work At Wedding Fairs
For a majority of wedding photographers, the wedding fair is not much more than a circus full of young women and their mothers spending the afternoon together noshing on free appetizers and sampling champagne. Not so for Castaldo-his love of people keeps him entertained at these events, and he often scoops up several new leads that turn into customers. If he's not talking with brides, he's networking with other vendors. He's a firm believer of dinner and drinks with peers, clients, and potential clients. He also stays connected through industry trade associations and community organizations.
He's also a firm believer in education, so popping for a signature Denis Reggie training session in Atlanta is not out of the question. "Photographers like Reggie are masters," he says. "The value of what you learn and take with you easily surpasses the cost."
Castaldo presses marketing and networking into all aspects of work. "In this business, you are part marketer, part photographer, and part lawyer," he quips. But he doesn't act alone: "I really must give a lot of credit to Cecily; she keeps the business on track."
He comments on a recent foray producing Photoshop training DVDs. "I love to learn and want to know how others produce certain looks and effects in their images," he says. "So I really started delving into Photoshop. Peers and friends were asking how I created certain looks, so I made a DVD and started giving it away. Cecily decided we needed to sell these instead of give them away!"