wedding photography: standing out / blending in

wedding photography: standing out / blending in

An interesting question I received in an email recently had me thinking about, and considering my style in photographing weddings:

Do you sometimes feel as if you can’t be inconspicuous in order to get a certain shot during a wedding? There have been times I feel like I’m not blending into the background enough. How do you handle this?    (Regina Coble)

In trying to verbalize my answer, I came upon some interesting insights for myself.

Firstly, although I believe there is a strong sense of story-telling in my photography, I’m not particularly purist about ‘photojournalism’ in wedding photography.  I do interact with people  and during the portrait session, I do direct the bride and groom –  all in an effort to give my couples the best wedding photographs I can.  Even when I interact with my couples and direct them, I still aim for spontaneity and genuine expressions.  

But then how do I blend in and remain inconspicuous?  For me this has more to do with being accepted within the group of family and friends – and in that way less obviously stand out – than the ‘ninja’ mindset that many wedding photographers try to hold up, trying to become invisible.

A comment on my blog by a groom’s mom gave me a key insight into something I hadn’t thought of before or tried to verbalize before receiving Regina’s email. The groom’s mom wrote:

It was like a friend of the family taking loving pictures.
You made the photo shoots actually fun and it shows in your work.

As I already mentioned, I’m not a ‘photojournalistic’ photographer, although I do photograph largely in an un-posed, unplanned style through most of the day …

… but during the course of the portrait session, I begin by directing the couple (and the bridal party), and interacting with them – and eventually they “take over” naturally and become themselves. At that point, they become spontaneous and act like themselves and in a sense I have become less of a distraction, and less noticed.

Once you’ve build that rapport with them, you become less noticeable. It does take confidence in working with people, and it does take time to build up that confidence.

During the portrait sessions, and engagement sessions, I try for a natural approach.  I do want my couples to appear relaxed and look like themselves.  To this end, I “take myself out of the picture”, by using a longer lens and having talk to each other and just cuddle and walk, and just be together. This will definitely help with any nervousness in front of the camera – and give portraits which appear casual and relaxed.  


16 Comments, Add Your Own

  1. 1Stephen in NJ says

    Hi Neil,
    That first picture is incredible. You positioned yourself quite nicely in that tiny triangle between the bride’s arm and veil to blur out the subject but keep the mirror’s reflection sharp. It is a good picture to represent this blog entry.

    Was your lens opened wide on that one? (f2.8?)

  2. 3Ed Verosky says

    Neil, well said. I tend to be blunt with my personal opinions, so I’ll say this: Pure photojournalism doesn’t exist in wedding photography.

    It’s a marketing ploy and often an excuse for photographers who aren’t comfortable interacting, directing, and who need a reason for why they didn’t get a particular shot, or didn’t get it right.

    Candid shots can most certainly happen. Unplanned moments can be captured. But, the idea that a hired photographer can covertly cover an entire wedding properly without being noticed is silly. What is really the point of that anyway? To more accurately capture a ceremony and celebration? To get those tender quiet moments without interfering with the “reality” of the day?

    I agree with your methodology. If you have become a part of the day, THEN your presence is more natural and unobtrusive. The photographer can be a solid fixture and friend. This makes it even more possible to accept him in his role, forget he is there at times, and respond to him when appropriate.

    Imagine the lucky bride who’s photographer can casually walk up to her during a free moment, and say, “I found a great spot where we can take a really great picture, would you like to try it?”

    Much better than the idea of huddling off to the edge of the action all day long with a telephoto. Or being invisible enough for the bride to come looking for you.

  3. 4 says


    Thank you for the thoughtful reply. That in itself is a great compliment, coming from someone with your abilities in writing and with photography.

    Neil vN

  4. 5Stephen from NJ says

    Hi Neil,

    My understanding is that f1.8 has a very shallow depth of field. So, if you took a picture of somebody’s face and focus on the nose, the nose would be in focus, but other parts of the face would (potentially) be slightly blurred from the shallow depth of field.

    But everything on the bride’s face and chest are in focus! I presume that is the case, because the mirror’s surface is flat. Thus, the bride’s reflection is on the same optical plane for the camera lens, so her face and chest are in focus. Am I correct?


  5. 6 says

    Stephen …

    You’re right that f1.8 will give you a very shallow depth of field. But how obvious it is, depends on the image size, and in resizing for web, a lot of the subtlety is lost. Also, keep in mind that for portraits you quite often just need the eyes to be sharp for the image to look good.

    A reflection in a mirror has depth. You can try this by focusing on various objects in a mirror – your camera will refocus every time for the difference in distance. In other words, the bride is in a different optical plane than everything else in the room. (This has to be, otherwise everything reflected by a mirror would be sharply in focus.)

    Neil vN

  6. 7Evan says

    Your blog is phenomenal. Both informative and inspirational, not to mention the photos are excellent. I will have to make a trip to the US to attend one of your workshops some day. Anyways, I noticed that you use a 70-200 a lot, which is a very large and noticeable lens (I have the Nikon version which is slightly larger still), do you use the lens hood, or leave it off to avoid looking like “the photo-geek cousin of The Terminator?”


  7. 8 says

    Hi there Evan ..

    For me, a lens hood is essential in protecting the lens against accidental knocks and bumps. And then of course it also helps in reducing flare. I keep lens hoods on all my lenses at all times.

    Neil vN

  8. 9Ben Hui says

    HI Neil,

    I have a wedding to attend in this summer and I really like to bring out all I have to practice what I have learned from your seminar. However, I don’t want to annoy the “paid photographer”, do you have any advice for me.


  9. 10 says

    Other photographers don’t bother me much, except for two specific places

    – the church. Since it is a quieter time and place, it really isn’t necessary to have guests shuffle around, trying to photograph the ceremony. Even worse, standing or kneeling in the aisle.

    – the family formals.
    It’s not that I am envious of anyone else with their camera, or that their flashes will affect my lights or trigger my lights. (I think professional photographers who use optical slaves at weddings are setting themselves up for a lot of frustration). But what bothers me, is that if I allow others to stand near me when I photograph the family portraits, that they will inevitably look away at other photographers. That is a consistent problem when there are other photographers milling around during the portrait session. Keeping everyone’s attention, even when you work fast and efficiently, is a challenge .. and much more so if there are pushy guests with cameras.

    But there are other times as well though when an over-keen Uncle Bob could be a nuisance .. for example, the couple is standing on the steps. There are bubbles or such, and the couple are laughing and kissing … and there is one fool that will decide to stand behind them to photograph the couple with all the guests behind them. The only problem is, I *know* that I will have to edit that fool with his camera out afterward when I design the album.

    During the reception, you will also get guests-with-cameras who will step on the dance floor to tap the bride and her dad on the shoulder to look over and smile for their cameras … thereby completely spoiling any chance for anyone to photograph a quiet introspective moment as the bride and her dad dances.

    So my best advice would be .. be a guest at the wedding, not the photographer.

    If you’d like to take some photographs, be very aware that one more body moving around during the ceremony will just be further distraction. So my suggestion is to resist the temptation during the ceremony.

    Other than that … just have fun and enjoy the wedding.

    Neil vN

  10. 11Ben Hui says

    thanks Neil,
    I think I encountered all the senarios that you mentioned above. However, let’s say if someone wants to be a wedding photographer someday, where should he/she practice their skill? Be a second shooter or an assistance of a wedding Photographer? Volunteer to shoot for those who can’t afford to hire a photographer? Any suggestion?


  11. 12 says

    Ben, the best option would be to 2nd shoot. Much less pressure than shooting as a free main photographer … and you get to learn more.

    Neil vN

  12. 13CCN says

    Hi. I’ve been frequently reading your blogpost for quite sometime and I love your pictures very much and I really hope someday I will be able to take good pictures like you did. I just want to ask you something. You said that you use longer lenses to so that you won’t be a distraction to them. May I know how long is it? Right now I’m using a crop camera and I only have two lenses – 18-135mm and 90mm. for the 90mm, the distance I need to stand to take a 2 people at half body is fine for me but when I add 1 more or tries to take a full body or wider view of the bg, the distance I have to stand is very far. How do you deal with that?


  13. 14 says

    I use the 70-200mm f2.8 (on a full-frame camera).

    If the 90mm on a crop sensor means you have to stand too far for a full-length shot … then use the other lens and zoom wider. We have options!

    Neil vN

  14. 15Ends says

    is this technique possible with a 24-70 with a FullFrame? :\ i’ve just started using full-from from APS-C, so i’ve lost a bit of 1.6crop “feel”…

  15. 16Stephen S says

    Ends, most wedding photographers use the 70-200 f2.8 for the low light inside the church and to be versatile so you don’t have to walk aroun as much. and also the 85mm prime for the best headshot portraits with creamy background bokeh out of focus. Maybe also the 24-70 for the wider big group shots.

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