Meet The Wiebners!

13 Jan

Photographica & The Wiebner's Studio: 320 North Queen St. Lancaster, PA

On a blustery cold Monday, Alix Passage and I made the trek to Lancaster, PA to meet up with the Wiebners, legendary wedding photogs, at their studio a.k.a Photographica. We were completely excited to interview these pioneers of digital wedding photography and check out their new “camera” shop. Recently, the Wiebners converted their studio into a fun and funky retail space offering vintage cameras, cool frames, books on photography and the history of and all sorts of other unique things that you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere. When we entered, Icarus, their Italian Greyhound, greeted us at the door.

Shortly to follow came Rita and Joel who were comfy-casual, warm and welcoming and we immediately plopped down on their couches and got to chatting.

Joel, Rita & Icarus Wiebner

The Wiebners:

Joel and Rita Wiebner

What are your specialties?

(Laugher from both)

Joel: That’s kinda like walking into a Chinese restaurant and asking what kind of Chinese food you serve.

Rita: Weddings/Portraits/Children, though we primarily shoot weddings to support ourselves.

Note: (they have always photographed together – they offer a one-photographer package in the off season but rarely anyone ever takes advantage of it. Everyone wants the “team”)

Are you a morning or an evening person?

Joel: Morning – even though I complain about being tired.

Rita: Evening! Not as much anymore, I used to stay up until 2 in the morning – every night consecutively – but now it’s more like 11-12. It’s Joel’s job to get everyone up in the morning. Since the boys have been in school our schedules have been more regular but it’s still basically that way.

Coffee or Tea?

Joel and Rita (in unison): Coffee!

Joel: …and lots of it. Do you have some? Did you bring us any?

Something that’s overrated

Joel: Interviews (laughs). Just kidding. Um, I’d have to say the details (and maybe this is just a recent theme for me) but pixel peeping and perfect focus and “awesome” quality is overshadowing good photography. It’s important not to lose sight of the image – it’s an amateur thing that takes some time to work out of your system. Once you get to a certain level, you can forget about all that and start taking the kind of pictures that you love.

Rita: Getting published. People make you feel like you have to be published and that you have to advertise and be in print but the truth is, you need to take care of your clients and have great relationships with other photographers and get that word of mouth out there. That’s it.

Joel: And the fact is, we’re not out to save the world with photography, we just want to earn enough money to support ourselves and take care of our family and kids. I don’t own a suit, I don’t drive a fancy car. It’s just not what we’re into. Some photographers want to go beyond that level. We like where we are.

Something that’s underrated

Joel: Breakfast. Rita and I usually go somewhere and have breakfast together and that’s our time together when we don’t have to be at work or in the studio. We just take time for each other.

Rita: Staying married. We’re in the business of getting married. I wish people would just stay married. In recent years it’s gotten somewhat better but earlier on we really saw people divorcing a lot.

Joel: That’s true. I think if you’re going to photograph from our angle it takes a true appreciate of the day. You have to really be invested in it. A huge portion of that is the couple’s relationship and the sincerity and emotion between them.

What about you two?

Rita: We’ve been married 6 years but been together 12.

What did you have for lunch yesterday?

Joel: We did brunch.

Rita: We had skillet omelettes at Spiro Gyros.

What are the blogs/websites you visit daily?

Joel: Facebook and Twitter. We don’t really follow any blogs.

Rita: Facebook, twitter and ebay. And Joel just set up our Etsy shop.

Joel: All the stuff in our shop that is vintage and really cool is going to go in our Etsy shop.

We are passionate about…

Joel: Breakfast. (laughs)

Rita: Our kids know the answer to everything is “bacon” with Joel.

To tweet or not to tweet?

Joel: Tweet. Although I banned it for a while. I got into it, I thought it was really cool but between Facebook and Twitter I was going to too many places. It was a complete time suck. That was one of the reasons we left forums because it was sucking so much time.

Rita: I . Not as much as I used to. Sometimes it’s just too much constant babble for me. I think it’s cool though, especially when you have relationships with people.

Joel: But for a business tool, it’s great. Our business is personal and it helps us connect with people. We’ll occasionally put up a sale but that’s like 1% of what we do it’s not really for that sort of thing. Instagram is my new thing – I’m always posting photos because that is what we do.

Why did you become a photographer?

Joel: I went to college for painting, changed my mind and went toward something more practical and pursued photography. When I met Rita we started doing it together.

Rita: This may not be exactly why, but looking back I can kind of see how it may have contributed: Growing up my parents never took many pictures of us as a kid. I was always the family photographer, always taking pictures of everyone. My parents were older when they had kids and they weren’t really into technology and so I had the responsibility of documenting everything.

Tell us about your very first shoot together.

Rita: Our very first shoot together was one of our early dates. Me, Joel and his dog (a jack russel) went to the park with two cameras, a video camera, a tripod (laughs) we had WAY too much stuff.

Joel: It was a mess! I don’t even remember the first shoot we did for money. In the beginning I had a much more technical approach and Rita was more a free creative type of shooter. And over time we have learned a lot from each other.

[pregnant pause]

We still use the original 5D from 5 years ago.

OMG Seriously?


Joel: We have a great camera repair shop and every time they’ve busted, the shop just keeps puttin’ ‘em back together for us! We just don’t see the need to upgrade. I’m not a pixel peeper. It’s not important to me. I wish other stuff would last that long.

Rita: It’s not about the equipment.

Joel: The people who go out and change cameras every year just baffle me.

Rita: I remember when we first met Dave and Quin Cheung in Canada. They are awesome. And the nicest people you’ll ever meet. When we first saw them speak we couldn’t believe they shot everything in 20Ds. Granted that was 4-5 years ago, but still. They were creating amazing images with a 20D.

Joel: It doesn’t matter. The cameras we carry around are WAY better than the 35mm we used to carry. We can push them further than everyone thinks. But as photographers we are gear hounds we can’t get enough, can’t fit enough in our bags. We just carry shootsacs with 2 lenses and a flash and batteries. That’s it.

Rita: We’re very minimalist when it comes to equipment.

What about low light? Don’t you think the 5D mark II is a better camera for that?

Joel: Well…maybe. How often do you need it though? Every now and then you come across a difficult lighting situation but very rarely. If it’s lower than ISO 1600 f/2.8 at  1/60th, it’s DARK. So just pop a flash. Flash gets it done 90% of the time.

What do you know now that you wish you knew then?

Joel: More about breakfast. (laughs)

Rita: I wish I’d had more [business] knowledge. I was gung-ho about getting the business set up the right way and I wish I’d done more to get the “business” end going more correctly from the start. It’s important.

It’s common issue. Tough to know how to tackle that part.

Rita: Most people self-teach, but I wish I had done a brief business program very early on. It’s intimidating and people think they can just start taking pictures and worry about it later (or not at all).

Joel: You have to know what you’re getting yourself into.

Rita: Also, we’re unique in that most people aren’t doing what we’re doing – both spouses supporting themselves with photography. Makes it even more important.

Icarus is shivering on the couch. I’m starting to notice that my hands are getting a little icy themselves. Rita explains that their heating bill has been sky high because of the drafts in the building. She tells us about Icarus’s personal space heater and bedding area under her desk. It’s completely adorable and just so down to Earth, the whole experience of being there.

Can you share an image with us and tell us about it?

Joel: It’s really difficult to choose one image and say this is “us”. Although here’s something that’s important to me: We took a trip to NY and we photographed my cousin’s engagement – we haven’t done much of that – shooting for our own family – but we took the trip and I had a brainstorm. I said, “Let’s find a photobooth,” and we did. And it was a real working photobooth. We each paid 5 dollars and got a strip of four pictures and I’m going to do something with them. That’s important – and that is something we don’t get to experience all that often. We see out client’s images go out and we think “that’s a good image” but we don’t have a connection to the image. I remember seeking the place out, I remember it was raining, I remember how the boys were getting antsy. And it’s not because the pictures were awesome (because they were taken by a machine) but it was tied to a memorable event. When our clients see the albums in our studio they say, “Oh these images are so great,” and I always tell them thier images are going to a thousand times better because you’re going to know every detail in the image, every person in the background, remember the day itself and how you felt. That’s what’s special about photography.

The image:

What the secret to a successful husband and wife team?

Joel: Being a successful husband and wife

Rita: Going to breakfast every morning (laughs)

Joel: We never fight we just have an awesome marriage everything’s perfect (laughs)no seriously, but truly getting along…

Rita: …for us getting the business out of the house was really important to us…

Joel: That isn’t where I was going with that…

Rita: (laughs) But it’s true! When it was in our home you are consumed. The office was between the bedroom and the bathroom and you just don’t pay attention to how much you’re working. In 2007 we had 50 weddings, it was our biggest year. We had to find a way to balance work and being home with our kids. So we started doing one Sunday a month and one night a week just with us and our kids. And it was especially hard when we first had our boys. There was a lot of stress. But doing simple things to alleviate stress made a huge difference. You have to set limits.

What is Joel’s best quality?

Rita: His Goatee. (laughs) He’s the positive one in the relationship. He can turn anything into something positive. He’s pretty sexy too.

What’s Rita’s best quality?

Joel: What she said. (laughs) No, she’s the organized one. She’s the on that keeps the ship going in the right direction. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be doing this for money. I’d be giving everybody free photography. I remember when we first tried to set a price list after a friend had asked us to shoot their wedding. Rita being the organized let’s-get-things-right…

Rita:…I did all kinds of research and wanted to see what the right price would be

Joel:…and then she presents to me “$1000 for a wedding”

Rita:…and he says “WHO IS GOING TO PAY US $1000 TO DO A WEDDING?!?”

(laugher fills the room)

What inspired you to go from studio to Photographica?

Rita:It’s stuff that we’ve always liked. We’ve always collected cameras and cool stuff and we had all this space. Studio photography isn’t really our thing, we realized it was time to transition the space. I mean, we’re on a really cool block…

Joel:We started getting in really funky frames for our clients and then we realized we were being visited by other photographers and during First Friday we’d see all these people come in and figured we’d add more stuff that we thought was cool like old cameras – things we wanted for ourselves. We’ve always collected old cameras, like probably most photographers do. We’re also really into the history of photography – not just who the greatest photographers are, but how it evolved, how it began. Things like old Daguerreotypes that are still around and then how they evolved into snap shots and then into where we are today.

Rita: There are so many relationships –I can totally see history repeating itself…

Joel: Before the turn of the century, people used to collect things like cabinet cards, little CDVs, basically calling cards with an image that people would trade. They wouldn’t always know the people on the cards they were trading – and then they’d build albums – What it does is it draws a direct relationship to Facebook. How many 1000’s of friends do we have that we don’t even know? But the difference between those photos and Facebook is – the only reason we know about those images is because they are in printed form. What’s going to happen to everything that’s on Facebook? We’re going to have this huge gap in time in physical photography. No one orders proof books, very few people do albums anymore…

Rita: Even my kids ask, “Mommy when are we going to do an album?” And it’s crazy because we have all these photos but they’re all on a hard drive somewhere. So I’m making an effort – it’s important for kids to see pictures of their family.

Top 5 things on your photographer’s wish list:

Joel: Bacon.

Rita: A bacon camera.

Joel: That’s just silly.

Rita: There’s a lot of people out there that say “oh I’d love to shoot a wedding in Italy or do a celebrity wedding” but we’re not like that. We’re happy with what we do. We’re just your everyday photographers.

Joel: Gearwise, if I had my choice I would have my 35 lens and my 5D for the rest of my life.

Rita: Maybe just new versions of what we already have.

Joel: I think when you get happy with what you have, you forget about the rest. I feel that your photography suffers when you’re thinking too much about what’s in your bag. It has to be an extension of your hand. That camera and lens combo is how I see things – through my 35. And then you can focus on pressing the button at the right time. Once you get to that point you can relax and enjoy what you do.

Rita: Exactly. Then there’s no stress. We have no stress now going into a wedding. I could go shoot a wedding right now.

Joel: If we weren’t so tired (laughs)

Rita: I used to get so worked up the week of a wedding because of the unknown factors and all the preparation, but now it has become comfortable. In a good way.

Joel: But really, we used to fight all the time because of the stress, but now there is rarely an “unknown” and if there is, it’s exciting not stressful.

What is the most rewarding & what is the most difficult about being a photographer?

Joel: Difficult? Definitely the back end. Having so many images to prepare is certainly the most difficult.

Rita: It’s always challenging to make people understand how much work it is.

Rita: Rewarding? Especially with kids, when parents understand just to let the kids do what kids do and let us get the natural expressions from them – that’s the BEST. Then they are so impressed that we captured those moments and they say things like “I can’t believe you got these shots they were acting like animals the whole time” That’s the best part for me. I see those things in my kids all the time and being able to show parents that in their own kids is great.

Times they are a changin’…where do you see the wedding industry in 5 years?

Joel: Hopefully nowhere too different from where we’re at now.

Rita: The only stumbling stone I’ve seen is that more videographers are showing up with DSLRs and shooting stills so there’s a little stepping-on-toes.

Joel: I think it’s best to pick one medium and stick with it. You’re splitting your resources if you try to do both. Pick one and be great at it.

Joel: Also the economy is still tight. Things are starting to get better, but…

Rita: People’s budgets are still small but little by little starting to feel comfortable spending more on photography.

Joel: If you look back though, wedding photography just turned a corner and things are still shaking out. When we started out 8 years ago we were the first wave of digital photographers in our area – we were shooting half film half digital – and after one wedding made the switch to full digital. The majority were still shooting medium format, with a traditional style. Digital changed everything – it’s so different from the way things were 10-15 years ago. We’re all still trying to figure it out.

Rita: The last 5 years has just exploded.

Joel: This business is about making people happy. Then hopefully they’ll tell people they’re happy and then we’ll get more business.


When we finished up the interview, Alix and I spent a little time with Icarus, shopped around and then bid our farewells. It was a completely laid-back and enjoyable time at The Wiebners. If you haven’t stopped in to Photographica, make the trip. You’ll find some amazingly cool photo-inspired products, two of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet (who happen to be spectacular photographers) and a darn cute dog.

Just make sure you bring your gloves and layer well.

* The Wiebners were recently awarded with The Knot’s Best Wedding Photographers in 2010.

Rita & Joel Wiebner, Photographers

Located at:

320 N Queen Street
Lancaster, PA 17603


6 Responses to “Meet The Wiebners!”

  1. Lauri January 13, 2011 at 9:32 am #

    I love this interview! I’m completely inspired by how content they are with where they are right now. Love that! I’ve followed the Wiebners work for a few years now, so it was great to find out more about them as photographers. And I’m definitely going to be taking Mike and Finley on a trip to Photographica one of these days! 🙂 Awesome interview!!

    • jennawalcott January 13, 2011 at 10:14 am #

      Hey Lauri! So happy to hear your comments! It was a great experience and Joel and Rita are wonderful people. You’ll really enjoy the trip out there with Finley!

  2. philly baby photography January 13, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    I loved everything about this interview….I love the personal feel, the pictures, and their pup!

    Keep it up, Jenna and Heather!

    • jennawalcott January 13, 2011 at 10:13 am #

      Thanks Caitlin! It was a really awesome experience to be there and chat with them. And omg their pup was totally adorable!

  3. hdipiazza January 13, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    Great job Jenna and Alix! I can’t wait to take a road trip out to see Photographica! I could use some “new” vintage cameras 😉

  4. Abbey January 13, 2011 at 6:40 pm #

    Wonderful interview! It’s great to see two photographers that are content with what they have and aren’t interested in having the latest and greatest. I think people lose sight nowadays that its the person that’s holding the camera that’s most important, not the gear.

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