wedding photography – a photo-journalistic style … or more posed?
A photographer who attended the recent flash photography workshop here in New York, asked me an interesting question regarding my wedding photography style. His observation was about how I seemed to consistently get such well-timed un-posed and natural looking images with my wedding photography. Since my explanation seemed to surprise him, and even bordered on being a real aha! moment for him, I thought it could serve as an article here which might interest other wedding photographers.
When asked by photographers about my style of wedding photography, I like to reply that I don’t quite subscribe to the purist photojournalism, nor the traditionalist style. I think my approach is more along the lines of get-the-job-done-alism.
Instead of subscribing rigidly to a defined style, I’m there to give the bride and groom the best photographs I can on the day. And for this, my approach has to be flexible …
different styles of wedding photography
There are two broad styles in wedding photography – traditional and photojournalistic.
Traditional wedding photography tends to be formal, with the emphasis on posed images. On the other end of the spectrum is the photojournalistic wedding photography. Here the emphasis is on a documentary approach with little direction from the photographer. Then there are also styles which incorporate a Fashion sensibility where the couple (and bridal party) are posed, but in a modern free-style way, rather than staid, traditional posing. Most of modern wedding photography falls somewhere inbetween the purely documentary photojournalism and the overly posed traditional wedding photography.
In a previous article on the topic of how the photographer can blend in on the wedding day. I feel it is entirely possible to aim for spontaneity and genuine expressions, while still offering direction to the couple and some of the day’s events.
For me, a photojournalistic approach to wedding photography is akin to story-telling. If it means interacting and directing the couple to achieve this, then that’s fine by me. I am there to tell the story of the day – to capture the day’s events. (And I know, that phrase is a cliche by now … but it is descriptive.)
I know that the purist photojournalistic wedding photographers eschews interacting with the couple and family and guests … even going so far as to not even remove a styrofoam cup that might be distracting in a scene. But at this point I feel it borders on pretension. We’re not hardcore News photographers that absolutely should not guide events. We are there to photograph the bride and groom’s day. It’s entirely different than News photography. And if I need to move cups and clutter out of the way … or edit out the videographer’s tripod in a final image, then that is what it takes to create more beautiful images. I am there to tell the story of the day, and it is just silly getting stuck on whether random minor things are adjusted at the time or afterwards in editing the images.
Back to the topic … the photographer wanted to know how I seemed to consistently get uch well-timed un-posed and natural looking images. I do this by interacting with my clients as needed, in a gentle way. Far from the “stand here & do this” approach of a traditional wedding photographer, it sometimes just needs slight adjusting to make an image look great. I often work with found moments, adjusting them.
To explain this, let’s look at a recent wedding which I’ve already shown here as a video & stills fusion clip – Cherryl & Jim’s wedding.
Looking again at the image at the top, the bride was fitting her ear-rings while looking in the mirror …
… moving closer with the 85mm lens, and shooting at a wide aperture (f1.8), I was able to photograph her reflection. The edge of the mirror helps anchor the image, and gives a visual clue why there might be that double-image there. It’s her reflection in the mirror. (Available light only.)
This is one of those found moments which I adjusted slightly. I gently asked her to move slightly to her left, giving me this angle. Far from me telling her to “stand there and fit your ear-rings”, it is a found moment which was adjusted slightly to give me the best angle. There is a spontaneity to her expression which would be impossible for me, as the photographer, to instruct. It is very much ‘her’. It is natural. It tells the story.
Similarly with this photograph. It isn’t pure photojournalism and entirely candid. Instead, it is a found moment that I saw and adjusted. I saw the bride look at her hair and fix something … and I realized that if I shot through her arm like that, I’d get a natural frame around her face. It took several frames until I had her position her arm in a way that worked in this final image. It’s not pure documentary wedding photography, but it tells the story.
In this way, I often direct the moments found, and the action and events.
Kids can be wonderful subjects, especially when engrossed in their own activities. These two flowergirls were just adorable.
Both images shot with the 70-200mm f2.8 at a wide aperture (f3.2) The light on them via on-camera bounce flash, controlled with the black foamie thing. The amount of flash was of course intentionally balanced with the light in the background, coming in from the window.
Often though, kids can be so conditioned by parents to stop & smile at the camera, that it becomes near impossible to get a natural photo of the child. The moment you lift the camera, they notice and stop & smile. So, an insistent request to any parent reading this … let your child be, and be less relentless about having them stop&smile-for-the-camera. The natural portraits, even when they are camera aware, are far more precious than cheeeeeezy smiles. But I digress …
Similarly, with the groom’s prep, it is a simple request to just turn to the camera and have them adjust their cuff-links and tie and jacket. It is something the groom did anyway, and it is still a natural moment that happened, even if you direct the groom to turn to the camera while doing so.
Again, the light here is mostly on-camera bounce flash, controlled with the black foamie thing, balanced with the light coming from the window.
Back to the bride’s prep … when the bridesmaids or mother of the bride helps the bride, it may as well be in a part of the room where there is space to get a good angle.
So I will easily suggest that the bride has her shoes fitted (and garter belt placed), in a more spacious area of the room. I will have cleared any clutter in the background before-hand, removing plastic bags and such. Clean and uncluttered always looks better, and it is a minor adjustment.
The bride will inevitably at some point look at her bouquet and smell the flowers. A quiet and friendly request to just linger a few more moments, is easily accepted without it being intrusive or come across as an order. It’s still very much her action and movement. Not posed … but slightly directed, to make sure I get the photos I need to get for her.
The more posed portraits will come later, and then you can finesse things a bit more …
… or even get to play a bit with angles and the bride’s pose.
At the church or ceremony location, I would only offer a little bit of instruction when outside. For example, while the bride is waiting to go into the church, is a good time to quietly ask the bride to look out of the limo window. But I still try to stay away from images where the people appear to be camera aware. So I asked the bride to look towards the church.
To anyone looking at the image afterwards, there are no clues that the image wasn’t purely documentary, and that it needed a nudge from the photographer.
Inside the church or ceremony location, I want to be as non-intrusive as possible. I absolutely would not stop people walking down the aisle to pose for the camera like the traditional photographers would.
The ceremony is the one time during the day where I would not interact with anyone. I’d even crouch low in the center aisle – I’d rather the guests not have to stare at my back during the ceremony. I’m there to photograph it as it happens, and be as transparent to the occasion as possible.
During the ceremony, I will sneak some surreptitious images of the guests. I will most likely not use flash, but where needed I might use some bounce flash with the black foamie thing, to make the flash as un-intrusive as possible.
At the end of the ceremony, when the couple is ready to leave the church, I will usually try to get the traditional silhouette shot in the doorway where the couple leans in for a kiss. It is usually expected.
But where I do give some other instruction to the couple, as that when they walk down the steps of the church, to take their time and linger. A helpful suggestion that will give the guests more opportunity to congratulate them, and give you more opportunity for photographs. It’s still the story of the day … but it unfolds slightly slower than it might have if the couple had just rushed down the stairs.
The one time during the day that I do pose people and take charge of the events, is during the family photos and group photos. This is definitely not the time to be passive or just an observer. The photographer needs to be assertive and make sure the group photos are done, and done efficiently.
During the portrait session with the couple, my aim is for romantic and intimate. So while the portrait session is directed, it is more of a collaborative thing between the couple and myself.
I do try to take myself ‘out of the picture, so to speak. I want few images where the couple directly looks and smiles at the camera. Unless of course, it is done with specific purpose. I want the portrait session to be about the couple, and their relationship.
This next image is more traditional in that it is the classic dip shot. Here I used a fish-eye lens to get the grand staircase and entrance of the venue in the frame. In that sense, this is more of a location shot, and less about the couple.
But for the most part, the romantic portrait session is about the couple, and should be romantic, fun and sexy.
With the reception, I interact with the guests when I take candid portraits of couples … but for the most part, I am there as the observer photographer.
The traditional wedding photographer may very well tap the couple on a shoulder to get their attention for a smile-at-the-camera photograph, but this takes away from the actual event. I want the real moment here, as the couple dances for the first time at the wedding reception. Same for the parent dances.
With the toasts, I will crouch low or stand further away towards the DJ or band, so that I don’t impede the view of the guests. Here I still try to photograph the spontaneous moments … but sometimes with the toasts, I may not get a clear image of the couple clinking their glasses.
For this next image, I went up to the couple afterwards, and asked them to toast each other and linger. My instruction is “clink, drink & kiss … but linger, take your time”. Then I step back with a longer lens. The resulting photographs are invariably spontaneous and easily fit into the flow of the rest of the images here.
Then of course, there is the rest of the evening and the party! This is the easiest part of the wedding day for the photographer, as guests and family members have fun and dance.
This next photograph is a cute moment between the groom and the flowergirl. This was shot without flash, using the 85mm f1.4 wide open, using only the available light there.
But I do rely heavily on bounce flash during the wedding reception as my light source. Sometimes I use on-camera bounce flash with additional off-camera light, but mostly I just use on-camera bounce flash. with high-ISO capable cameras and fast lenses, you can get images that look wonderful without being too ‘flashy’. This next image was shot with just on-camera bounce flash, but at settings where the available light does register.
With this I wanted to explain an approach where I, as the wedding photographer, do help guide some events during the day. This is done with a delicate touch, since I don’t want to intrude on the couple’s day. But with all my experience photographing weddings, it is something that couples often do rely on when they ask me for suggestions or advice. It is then that I gladly help out, but without being over-bearing.
It is a fine balance, all done with the intention of helping the day’s events flow smoothly and ensuring the couple gets great images – images that represents their day, and will be wonderful memories of events that they experienced and weren’t even aware of.
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