Wednesday, April 09, 2008

History of Wedding Photography - A Giant Influence In The Profession - Rocky Gunn

Rocky Gunn, shown here (about 1980) in the middle with Monte Zucker and Bill Stockwell Sr., was born Roderick Wong Gunn in 1940. He was the next major influence over the entire wedding profession in those late 70's and early 80's. He had the talent to pull off a "Monte" portrait and understood light implicitly. Part of this knowledge may have been the result of Rocky's brief experience in the movies. That's right, Rocky played in The Return of Charlie Chan in the late 70's. Rocky was the photographer that popularized outdoor wedding photography. He was from the Redondo Beach area where there was not a lack of great outdoor locations and beautiful weather most of the year.

Rocky's reputation was spreading internationally as he was giving seminars around the world. I had the chance to study for one week in 1980 - I was blown away by his imagery. It was always a combination of dramatic setting with an easy pose of the bride and groom. Everybody was trying to emulate Rocky's style - myself included.

On thing I learned from Rocky was that beautiful wedding photographs did not have to be taken on the wedding day. In many cases, Rocky would schedule to meet with the bride and groom a day of two later. They would head to one his drop dead gorgeous locations and shoot away. We instituted the same policy in my own studio in those early 80's. The only difference instead of a day or two after the wedding we photographed the couple a week or two later. That way, we could guarantee beautiful outdoor wedding images even in the Midwest.

Since Rocky was traveling the world giving programs, he had put together quite the international portfolio of wedding images. He was featured in Life magazine in June 1982 - the first wedding photographer of non celebrity types to be featured. Rocky passed suddenly of a heart attack at the very young age of 43 at the peak of his career. I aways thought Rocky did it all - portraits, dramatic outdoor imagery, great lighting, easy posing - and ran a very successful studio as well.

The photographer today who most emulates Rocky's style is one of his early students - my friend, Hanson Fong. Check out his galleries right here and you will see the Rocky influence. Hanson has some really beautiful images.

I've spent hours searching the Internet for info on Rocky, but there is so little to be found. Somewhere in my archives, I have several of Rocky's images. When I come across them, I'll do a followup to this post.

That's it for today, everybody. I'll see everyone tomorrow for another Business Day Thursday. See you then, -David


  1. Hi David,

    Thanks for sharing this story, there are fond memories around from Rocky and the impact he had on many photographers and the industry itself, but like you've said there is very little on the web.

    Mario Herrera

  2. David,
    I have Rocky's Big wedding photography book(six volume set).
    I hope to see you next year if you're having a spring class.

  3. I recall learning about Rocky around 35yrs ago. A mentor told me about him having his assistants go out and buy bread and capguns while they were on location. They tore the bread up, tossed it where he said, and when the birds settled down to eat, they fired the capguns. A beautiful slow shutter speed photo came about. Many hours of work for a fraction of a second, but a once in a lifetime result.

  4. Hi my name is Tom Panico,I have been a professional photographer for over 35 years operating a successful studio in N.J.I must say I owe all my success to Rocky.
    From 1979 till the day he passed I studied under him also traveled extensively throughout the country and into Europe as his assistant on lectures and workshops that he conducted, also helping in the development of his product line.I have many fond memories of Rocky and many great stories that I have shared with many of my peers.
    I will never forget him, and all the time we shared together. It was some of the best times of my life in this industry. The knowledge that I absorbed was unbelievable and brought my career to another level. He was way before his time and there will never be a more talented person this field as he was an absolute genus.

  5. Hi,
    I am a photography student from Montreal and I am writing a report on wedding photography. I was wanting to write about Rocky Gunn but have found very little about him online and no samples of his work. Is anyone able to send me in the right direction?
    thank you!!

  6. I worked for Rocky for three months. The only thing that surpassed his ego was his cheapness and his cruelty. He had the gall to come to Detroit and openly castigate the top photographer there for paying his assistants $90 a wedding. Rocky paid his assistants $75 a wedding. He paid me $4 an hour to work at his studio. I had spent ten years preparing myself to be a wedding photographer. I suppose I am grateful to Rocky for establishing I was in the wrong field, but the way he did it! He showed the staff print after print, talking about my costing him money. Then he told me all would be forgiven if I let him use my work in his seminars. I said, "No! No! I will pay you the money before I will let you humiliate me." He was ready right then to fire me, but was talked out of it by his chief photographer. Rocky told Life Magazine he was 35 not 42 and was half Irish. He did not take care of his Corvette and he did not take care of himself. He lived in the garage, while his wife and her lover lived in the house. The world needs fewer people as cruel as Rocky.

  7. I saw Rocky and Bill Stockwell at a wedding photo seminar in Alabama in the early 80's. I did like his outdoor work. Rocky put on an excellent work shop.

  8. Photography for the Modern Bride by KDN1:04 PM, June 20, 2012

    I was a 70s wedding photographer infulenced by Rocky's books "Behind the Camera & Beyond the Camera" I was booked to attend his seminar in Birmingham, UK, when we got the news he had died. Always regretted that I never got to meet the great man.

  9. I was lucky enough to work for Rocky in the early eighties right out of college. He was a great teacher and mentor. I stayed at his house until I saved up some money and got my own place. We traveled and taught between wedding shoots that were constant. Great business man and visionary.Very funny guy too.

  10. Hi David,

    So great to find your web site with a photo of my dad, Rocky and Monte. I was
    at Caesar's Palace for their duel. Quite a scene. I taught seminars with him
    for several years. I remember Rocky showing up at our seminar at the Century
    Plaza in L.A. long before he gained prominence as a photographer. I have a
    signed copy of the magazine featured on your web site signed by Rocky in the
    following words: "To The King. The man who changed the World. You're
    inspiration has helped us all." Rocky Gunn.

    I would be happy to send you some photographs from his publication, The Casuals
    Encyclopedia, published in 1965. It's amazing what he accomplished with a 4x5
    Crown Graphic shooting by candlelight at a 25th of a second at f4.5 hand held
    with no auxiliary lighting. Royal X Pan asa 160 was the fastest film available
    at that time. My, how things have changed. Thank you for helping keep his
    memory alive.


    Bill Stockwell Jr.
    808 270 1358

  11. Hi Bill,
    Great to hear from you. I would love to see the photos.. I actually read your dad's book back in the old days. A photographer/friend loaned it to me. I still remember the misty madcaps and buttercups ;~)