wedding photography: controlling those found moments

wedding photography: controlling those found, “photo-journalistic” moments

This photograph of Catherine, during the preparation on her wedding day, triggered a question in album of photos I posted on Facebook. The question was about the focal length I used, and also about how did I get this photo?

The answer is that this is a found moment – a candid moment – that I controlled. As I discussed in the article – wedding photography – a photo-journalistic style, or more posed? – I often guide things along on the wedding day. If I see something that I could nudge towards being a better photograph, I have no hesitation.

I think that many newer wedding photographers have a fear of interacting with their clients while taking photos. Perhaps this is due to shyness? (You’re in the wrong business then!). But this could very well be because the photographer is reluctant to do anything that smacks of posing their clients, thinking this won’t be quite the story-telling “photo-journalistic” moment then.

The photo above isn’t complicated at all, but it might serve well as a discussion on this topic.

I shoot most of the wedding day with two lenses only – the 24-70mm f/2.8 and the 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom lenses. I like zoom lenses, since I can finesse my composition in-camera, without having to necessarily force the composition to match the specific focal length. The telephoto zoom then is essential for me, not just for the reach, but in tightly composing the image and isolating my subject.

Catherine, like every bride would, wanted to see how her make-up looks. A perfect moment to photograph. Yet, this usually happens too fast to capture with a longer focal length.

Therefore, when I see the moment, I would ask the bride to hold the mirror for a few seconds longer … then twist her hand slightly until she can see *me* in the mirror … and then to look at herself in the mirror. Of course, she will only see part of her reflection in the mirror, but in the resulting photograph, it appears as if she is looking at herself in the mirror.

Because I have the extra few seconds, I can now zoom my lens to get the composition I want.  (And no, you can not “zoom with your feet”. If you were thinking that, you really have to dissuade yourself of that notion. You can’t zoom with your feet.)

There it is – a slight adjustment to a found moment which enhances the final photograph … while still appearing spontaneous and real.


camera settings & equipment used (and equivalents)


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10 Comments, Add Your Own

  1. 2 says

    Lovely picture Neil and, while I realise that it obviously fits in with your style and approach, I’d just like to offer a slightly different point of view on the issue of “posing moments”. My approach is to never control or tweak people unless we’re intentionally shooting posed portraits. Its got nothing to do with shyness or fear of interaction. I look at it from the bride’s point of view. My photos are for her and the groom, nobody else, and while this kind of picture appears to be “spontaneous and real” when viewed by others, the bride knows its not. I wrote a blog post myself on this subject not long ago – “Does It Matter If You Pose Wedding Pictures As Long As They Look Natural?” ). Like I said, I love the picture and everyone should shoot and work in whatever style they choose. Just offering an alternative view :-)

  2. 3 says

    Another great post, Neil, thank you.

    But. . . I have to take exception to “you can’t zoom with your feet”.

    Way back when, before anyone said “zoom with your feet” all our cameras had were primary lenses. But humans have an innate tendency to translate what they think their eyes see into what they think the camera sees: our brains translate our marvelous ability to capture a nearly 180 degree field of view into that 5 degree area of interest without our being aware of it. In other words, we zoom with our brains, without even trying.

    Even when we’re looking through a viewfinder, that mental zoom, or area of interest effect remains: our brains filter out the areas we’re not interested in. That’s why so many snapshot-type portraits of Uncle Bill have little Zeke in the corner or background with a finger buried in a nostril, mining for gold.

    So. . . “zoom with your feet” is a relatively recent translation of the Halberstadt Two-Step — which boils down to “get closer” or “eliminate the extraneous.” It’s a training aid to seeing what the camera sees, to reduce the amount of useless information that gets recorded when we’re not paying enough attention.

    Now that zooms are ubiquitous and primary lenses are gaining a rather esoteric popularity, the “rule” is more confusing. Getting closer, especially at an event like a wedding, isn’t always possible or practical, just as changing lenses for every shot can kill the mood, or restricting shots to the prime lens that’s on the camera may not make for better results.

    Your mirror shot here is a great example — it could have been done with a prime, but it would be an exceptionally rare 15mm to get that shallow depth of focus -and- the lack of distortion, or a huge room to do it with a 500mm. Either of those would kill the moment of what is essentially a candid -and intimate- portrait. You manage to both get the image and maintain the spontaneity, and that’s a true gift.

    Yes, moving one’s feet changes one’s perspective. Until we learn to override our Mind’s Eye, that’s a good thing.

  3. 4 says

    Erik, when you zoom, your perspective doesn’t change. However, if you change position, your perspective changes.

    It’s not something which can really be argued about. It just is this way.

  4. 6Trev says

    Great shot, reminds me to buy another prop, a great looking hand-held mirror.

    I usually also bring along a great bedside lamp, tungsten lighting as I know in this day of ‘eco energy saving environment’ they have those disgusting white lights or the LEDs which give a horrible cast, no atmosphere at all.

    And no, I don’t care if I ‘pose’ the spontaneous moment or not, the bride 99.9% of the time wants shots, she does not relate to PJ style, posed style, or any other style, she just wants those shots.

    I would also guarantee the bride ‘knowing’ it was slightly choreographed would not even enter her head, and would tell her friends what a great shot it was and I bet they would want it also if getting married.


  5. 7Edgar David says

    Hi Neil, love your photography and this site, is tremendous help. Two questions about your black foamie thing technique.

    1. How high is “too high” for a ceiling being useless to bounce flash with your SB 900?

    2. Do you adjust the position of the head for every shot?

  6. 8 says

    “You Can’t Zoom With Your Feet”

    Neil, you’re right — the lenses we use make foot zooming nonsensical in terms of *optical perspective*: changing the position of a lens changes the relationship of objects within the frame. Changing the optics (zooming) from a fixed position does not. Maybe there’s a blog entry in this for you?

    I admit, I had to look it up. This link has a demonstration:

    In my defense, I was speaking of *cognitive perspective*, or how we perceive the world around us, with or without a lens between our eyes and the subject.

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