2016 WPJA Photographer of the Year

Brett Butterstein

When people are in midst of a celebration, in the throes of the festivities, nothing is planned. All the rules go out the door. The impromptu kiss between the young flower girl and the ring bearer, the sudden bolt of sunlight on the groom and bride, the shift in the dancing crowd; it is all born out of the unbridled emotions of the day. Couple all of this with a photographer who does not follow the rules, who intuitively understands the rhythm of spontaneity, and the results are award-winning moments in time. In fact, they are what have created the Wedding Photojournalist Association's 2016 POY, Brett Butterstein.

“I'm open to change, experimenting and breaking my own rules. This is how I grow as a photographer each year,” explains Brett. This sense of not following a script and opening up to the possibilities of the moment comes across in his work. His subjects, the setting, the lighting and colors are saturated with feeling. They tell a story. Brett’s award-winning photograph of a bride laughing hysterically and a chuckling groom, both holding a knife for the cake cutting captures an unanticipated moment, it is clear. The metaphorical script has been thrown away. There is spontaneity and conviviality. That is his hallmark.

Brett first picked up a camera when he was 15. It was a good thing, as he admits his academics were not stellar. Not the same could be said about his photography skills. He excelled and his teacher noticed. The attention of a mentor can truly drive and shape one’s future. Brett is no different. Once he got to college, he switched his major to photography. His drive to challenge himself and to evolve was set into motion. He notes that this is what makes him happy.

It is also what he loves about photography. Brett says, “I love its uncertainty, surprises and challenges. For example, I love color photography because it’s not easy.” This boldness comes across in his work, along with a true appreciation of color. Each of his award winning photographs has their own color palette that plays a strong role, setting the tone, directing the viewer’s attention. For example, his photo of a young boy standing in the wedding aisle demonstrates Brett’s expert use of color, as well as light. There is balance but also the unexpected. The same can be said in his 6th place ceremony photo. In what appears to be a Hindu wedding, the bride is flocked by people in traditional sarongs. The colors—white and mustard—are vibrant, the only visible face is that of the bride, looking upward intently. It leaves the viewer wondering what has come before this moment. In Brett’s photography, life is happening in big, bold ways.

Alongside Brett’s tenacity to constantly be challenging himself is complete and utter modesty. This is demonstrated when discussing how this past year he had traveled to places that inspire his creativity. He says, “Let’s face it I make more interesting pictures in more interesting places.” It’s hard to completely get behind this when there are many who go to wonderful, exotic places and yet cannot capture them with such skill and beauty as Brett. His humility allows him to both be of the moment, absorbing the festivities, and afar, capturing it in all its splendor. For that we, admirers of his work, are grateful.