Riverdale—When Breindel Wood and Eric Shefferman got together to combine Wood’s talent of acting with Shefferman’s photography skills into one main goal—to help provide the most natural-looking and best shidduch photography out there—these two business partners didn’t know just how wonderfully their venture would take off. Still, this idea has turned into a business, and with their combined years of experience in other arenas, they are bringing finesse and talent to the shidduch photography experience, a time often fraught with uncertainties and confusion. Those getting their photographs taken can be assured that their own individuality will not be lost in the morass.
Wood and Shefferman first met in Manhattan. As they were getting to know each other, and to break the ice, Shefferman put his camera skills to good use and snapped a few shots of his new acquaintance. The photographs came out so well and Wood was so at ease that the more they got to know each other, the more they discussed starting a shidduch photography venture. The two of them clicked, instinctively understanding where the other was coming from when taking such like-minded photographs, and, as Wood said, “The combination of Eric’s talent and my acting experience made it easy for me to pose. Eric realized that my experience in directing theater productions could also be used to direct photographic subjects, and bring a whole new dimension to the photography.” Thus, their joint undertaking into the world of shidduch photography began.
It’s not just the women who benefit from such services, however, and as Wood is quick to point out, “No, it is not just for women. Our service is important for anyone who is trying to connect, whether it’s for shidduchim through a matchmaker or an online dating photo. The vast majority of matchmakers we deal with rely on photos to match their clients.” Wood and Shefferman saw a lack of professionalism in their friends’ shidduch photographs, and the idea firmly took root for Wood when, a few years back, a friend in her community told her that her matchmaker didn’t feel that her current photograph was showing her off to her best advantage. Wood quickly helped her out, going so far as to help her with her hair and makeup, to choose a more flattering outfit from a friend’s wardrobe and then to snap some photographs of her, as well. The effect was magical. The young woman’s shadchan loved the new captures and Wood was pleased, too, as she had helped her friend to pose in a more natural way and had coached her through them to get the best expressions, too, using her acting background as her guide.
Of her success that time, Wood said, “Her shadchan was thrilled with the new photos. I thought of all my single friends hoping to be matched, and realized we need this service in the Jewish community. We also have a generic website for the more secular crowd.” Creating this service is important to Wood and Shefferman not only because it helps out the Jewish communities that they serve, but also because it truly allows their background talents to shine through. As they firmly believe, they are bringing what they call “theater to photography.” To the both of them, this means staging the photography sessions to look as natural as possible. While Wood uses her interest in all aspects of the theater to help their clients pose and feel as comfortable as possible, Shefferman, too, uses his varied photography career—photographing everything from pets to rock bands!—to bring clarity and success to their joint endeavor. In fact, Shefferman has developed this patience and a watchful eye from all of his experience photographing animals! Said Wood, “Photographing animals, who don’t always cooperate for the camera, gave him a competitive edge in timing and precision.” Capturing all of the right moments takes patience, of course, but, just like the experienced director of plays and film that she is, Wood, too, coaches the clients into giving their best performance for the camera.
This is the best bit for Wood, as she pays attention to her clients’ appearance, expression and confidence level, because although a typical shoot is a process that takes up to about three hours, her favorite part is when the client starts to ease into the setting, to grow more comfortable in front of the camera, to slightly take her and Shefferman’s coaching tips and tricks and then watch as they blossom in front of the camera, as well. A picture is vital as a potential shidduch tool, she is quick to say, because it’s not solely based on looks. “In this busy day and age,” Wood said, “it’s important to not waste someone’s time by meeting someone whom you find unattractive. Secondly, and most important: a photo is not all about “looks.” There is so much that one can tell about a person’s photo…micro-expressions and the way they hold themselves. You can see if the person takes care of themselves or not. And all of those things, including the way a person looks, informs you of whether or not you should take the time to meet them in person.”
To achieve such a balance of natural inner beauty and staged technicality, there is a pre-shoot, where Wood goes over the clothing choices of the clients and then discusses hair and makeup with the women. Then Shefferman takes a number of outtakes of clients in different outfits and at different locations, too, all within walking distance in Riverdale. “The combination of carefully chosen outfits, poses, locations and coached expressions results in the most flattering photos,” said Wood. The two of them also enjoy showing clients their photos on the camera every now and again throughout the session and then narrow the photographs down to the 20 best captures afterwards. The hardest part, Wood said, is when she and Shefferman go through about 400 photographs over about six to eight hours, trying to find the very best ones! Some matchmakers would like singles to have at least three different types of photographs, too, so attention to detail—such as how clients’ jewelry and makeup look, if their mouth is tense, if they are paying attention to the photographer and if their clothing is bunching up, to name just a few!—is paramount and vital.
That careful attention to detail and a passion for accuracy is what has made their photography a trademark success, and in fact, none of their captures are retouched on their website or anywhere else, although they are color corrected and sharpened to give their client’s the best advantage. In fact, they have created a trademark name for their way of photographing clients: Staged to look natural™ photography!
Wood and Shefferman have not stopped at photography sessions, either, and are writing a book on this topic, interviewing both matchmakers from New York and other parts of the US. Said Wood, “We invite any shadchanim to call us if they would like to be interviewed and mentioned in the book. We are always looking for their perspectives and tips for singles who, for whatever reason, can’t take a photo session with us, but can read the book and learn what they can do to get the best photos.”
By Bracha K. Sharp