Behind the Lens: Charo Donohue of Charo Photo
Welcome to another Behind the Lens post where I interview a talented wedding photographer whom I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with. Every photographer has their own distinct style so the purpose of this series is to help you choose a photographer whose style best represents you. Thus I want you to meet them not as “vendors” but as potential friends who just so happen to have the skills to creatively chronicle your special day in pictures.
Charo Photo, Instagrammed.
Meet Charo Donohue of Charo Photo
Today I’m excited to introduce you to the lovely and talented Charo Donohue of Wilmington NC-based Charo Photo. Charo has been in the business for nearly ten years (!) and you will see below (and on her blog) that she has the amazing ability to capture raw emotions and precious, fleeting moments so movingly, so genuinely. When I asked Charo to provide me with her photo for her bio on this page, she asked if I could use the Instagram collage you see above instead. I adored it instantly because I thought it was a perfect representation of what Charo Photo is all about: love, family, real honest-to-goodness moments, and real no-frills photography. She portrays her brides and grooms as they truly, uniquely are, without necessitating props and fancy editing. (Just read her about page and see how much she understands exactly who the people she photographs are.) The Charo Photo weddings that I’ve featured, Martha & Neil’s Simply Elegant Wedding and Zoë & Kenyon’s Chic and Cozy City Wedding, while detail-lite are among my all-time faves because the photos evoked so much emotion in me that by the time I got to the end of both sets, I felt like the couples were my real-life friends.
I know Charo is naturally gifted but I also feel that she’s able to photograph couples in love so well because she’s in love and newly-engaged herself. I’ll let her tell you more about that later.
As you might’ve guessed, I have big love for Charo and her photos so I’m delighted for the chance to showcase her gorgeous work on this site. Please enjoy!
* All photos on this page are copyright Charo Photo *
Hello Charo! Please tell us more about yourself and Charo Photo
I started out in 2002 as (don’t laugh) “A Thousand Words Photography”. I was at the bank setting up my business account because a friend had booked me for their niece’s wedding and I wanted to keep everything legit. The banker asked me for the business name and I drew a blank – holy crap, what would I call myself? In a panic, I said “uhhhh, a thousand…words?” And it stuck. For about a year; during that year I saw at least fifteen different business cards with the same business name hung up on coffee shop bulletin boards around town and knew I’d made a mistake. When I re-branded as Charo Photo, I was pretty confident I’d be the only business with that name :). So far, so good!
In 2010, after almost eight years as a solo shooter, I met Mike. He had been a hobbiest shooter and had a keen interest in photography and people, and BONUS we fell in love, so he tagged along with me to a few weddings to carry gear and shoot some. And I discovered that he has an incredible eye for those fleeting moments that happen at every wedding. He instinctively knew where to be, what to shoot, what not to shoot, and how to work with nervous, giddy, emotional people… so in 2011, even though the business name is still “Charo Photo”… it really became “Charo + Mike”.
We work out of our home in a cool coastal town in southeastern North Carolina. Wilmington has a very hip music scene, a cool downtown (one of my favorite engagement session locations), and a couple hundred thousand awesome residents – it’s the perfect place to do what we do! Mostly we concentrate on weddings and the associated portraits (engagements and bridals), as it’s really where we shine, but we also love the occasional family portrait session. We don’t market those, so we pretty much only do them for our prior wedding clients.
How would I describe our style? Hmmm…. it used to be so easy back in the mid-00’s when you were either Traditional or Photojournalistic ;). Now, there are so many subsets and offshoots, it’s hard to pigeonhole myself! Honestly, my style hasn’t changed very much over the last ten years; at least the core of it hasn’t. I like to describe my work (and now Mike’s as well), as being sensitive, respectful, personality-based documentary. We shoot unobtrusively, never commanding the day or manufacturing moments, but always searching for the perfect light, background, composition that will tell the story perfectly, beautifully, and how we believe our clients want their stories told. This is the best way I can describe how we do what we do; hopefully it makes sense!
The quirkiest wedding you’ve photographed?
Hmmm, I’ve shot some quirky weddings! There was the indie pop couple who got married on a goat farm in the middle of nowhere – and had their portraits made with a baby goat in its pen (loved that!). There was the beach sunrise elopement I shot for two university professors – they had me, their best friend, and the minister present (I was one of their two signing witnesses). After they were announced as husband and wife, they changed into wetsuits and went surfing, and I caught some awesome surfing shots in chest-high waves :).
The most unusual or unexpected location you’ve shot a wedding at?
One of my all-time favorite couples had their reception in the children’s museum of their town, complete with a set of stairs that lit up as you walked on them, a bunch of touch-and-discover rooms for their guests to play in, a bluegrass band, AND a few songs that the bride and groom themselves got on stage to perform for their guests! Their invitation was an actual playbill from the same printer that prints for the Grand Ole Opry! I’d have to look at the wedding images again to remember EVERYTHING that was cool about their wedding – there was a lot, and it was nine years ago so my memory is a bit foggy, but I still keep up with them on facebook and I’ll never forget all the sweet little touches that made their wedding ultra unique.
A wedding photography fad you will never follow?
I’m not big on props, and I don’t use them. I totally understand using props (umbrellas, giant balloons, ironically placed furniture) in editorial work – fashion advertisements, or lookbooks (like on Ruche, for instance – I love their lookbooks!), but I don’t understand them in wedding and engagement photography. For me, portraiture (whether on the wedding day or in a separate session) is 100% about the subjects. When massive balloons and parasols are wedged into the photograph, it becomes more about the prop than the subject – to me, the personalities, the relationship, the interaction between the subjects… the very soul of the photograph… gets lost, as the ironic/oversized/pop culture prop takes over.
Now, that’s not to say that *appropriate* props are bad. I just shot a wedding for a couple who rides Harleys and goes to bike week every year. We absolutely shot portraits on the motorcycle! It’s a part of them and their lives. Another couple I’ll be photographing soon, he’s a musician and she’s a huge Pride supporter, so we’re planning on incorporating elements of their loves into the shoot – it’s very THEM, you know? So, if I had a client that worked at the circus, or one that crafted furnishings or collected vintage luggage, I’d absolutely use those props. I just think that lately they have been used as a crutch and a way to get that “blog-worthiness” out of each shoot. YES I AM A CYNIC!
I know you and Mike are engaged — what is your dream wedding like?
If Mike and I could actually plan the wedding of our DREAMS, budget be damned… well, it would be in the mountains, during winter. Probably in a large mountain cabin. 30 or so family and friends as guests. Outdoor ceremony with just the snow and the mountain backdrop as decor. Inside, a roaring fire, hot cocoa, lots of brown liquor drinks and hand-picked craft stouts and porters… soft music, cozy blankets and seating, and a huge assortment of comfort foods. All our stationery would be letterpressed and custom designed, infusing the cozy feel of our wedding, our quirky personalities, and modern excellent typography into one cohesive, gorgeous, and unforgettable design.
Also there would be twinkle lights and flowers EVERYWHERE. Think the Twilight wedding. I don’t care how uncool Twilight is, I LOVED THAT WEDDING. It was amazingly gorgeous, and I’d kill to shoot something like that! If I could have those flower garlands and a canopy of endless twinkle lights, I’d be in heaven. HEAVEN.
Barring budget, logic or reality, what would your dream wedding (to shoot) be like?
It would be the Twilight wedding. Only with real people, and no sparkly grooms, because sparkly skin is very hard to photograph. (Please PSA that – the sparkly body powder has got to go!!!)
A book, movie or tv show you’d love to base a styled shoot on?
I’m not huge on the styled shoots – haven’t done one and don’t plan to (they’re really more for vendors than clients, and I like to put my efforts toward work that benefits my clients), buuuuut if I was approached to shoot one with some of my favorite vendors, and it might seem cliche or expected, but I’d really enjoy a Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland themed shoot. All those kooky details, the overdone makeup, and the post processing fun of it. Maybe Corpse Bride. I’m a bit of a Burton fan.
A celebrity couple’s wedding you’d like to photograph if you could?
Do they have to be alive? I’m going with Kurt and Courtney. I think that wedding would be a blast to shoot. Messy, and full of personalities that probably don’t want to be photographed. A real challenge, and a real opportunity to shoot truly documentary – rock documentary coverage.
Quick, name 5 favorite songs off the top of your head!
(I Love You) Always – Brian Jonestown Massacre
We’re In This Together – Nine Inch Nails
Blame It On The Boogie – The Jacksons
The Seventh Stranger – Duran Duran
Come Back – Pearl Jam
If you weren’t a photographer, what would you be?
A geologist! That was always my dream growing up. I have a fascination with the earth, mountain formations, tectonic plates… in fact, when we first got internet (dial up!) when I was a teenager, the first thing I did was learn how to telnet to the USGS servers to view current seismic activity in our area! Growing up in the shadow of a dormant (but not extinct!) volcano was the inspiration for this obsession, and it stuck my whole life. I still get lost on the USGS website, and I still have an unreasonable fascination with rock formations and seismic activity. I would love to moonlight as a geologist. The pesky schooling part would get in the way, though.
I hope you all enjoyed reading about Charo Donohue. The stunning images on this page are just a taste of what she can offer! If you want more info on this talented photographer, please visit the following pages:
Website / Blog: www.charophoto.com
* See all our previously featured weddings & shoots by Charo Photo.
* Meet other featured photographers in our Behind the Lens interview series
* While you’re at it, do check out the site map to browse our real wedding/engagement/styled shoot features by photographer and by location.