Simplifying composition with a fast telephoto zoom
If you can create a good photograph out of seemingly “nowhere”, then you can bring a variety to your images that is out of the league of photographers who have to rely on picture-perfect scenery. This is especially true with wedding portraits. We’re under pressure for time, and on top of that we can’t always control where we shoot. We have to make it work wherever we are.
One of the basic techniques I rely on heavily with my wedding photography, is to eliminate distracting elements by shooting with a fast telephoto zoom. The shallow depth-of-field works to my advantage. And the longer focal length compresses the image so that the background isn’t a sweeping vista anymore, but a narrower view which YOU can control with your own position. Move around to find that composition.
The photograph above is perhaps an excellent example of this. The groom, also a photographer, left this comment on the Facebook album:
I also had an “ah ha” momemt watching you create images. We went to unfamilar places and you played with the background blur to create cool shots like the one of us sitting on wicker chairs, at a dumpy metal table, outside, facing a pedestrian-filled parking lot.”
There really wasn’t much more than that – the concrete slab outside a restaurant, with a few tables and chairs, with a parking lot in the background, and a few small trees and shrubs. Now, I don’t quite have a pull-back photo to show you where we were, but I do have this test shot with a slightly wider field of view, which shows some of the background. It was a mess.
I wanted to make sure the light there was flattering, before continuing, so I took a few test shots, including this one. Then I fine-tuned the composition in camera, by moving around. It is essential to move around, and thereby changing your perspective and the background.
Camera settings & photo gear used (or equivalents)
- camera settings: 1/250 @ f/4 @ 100 ISO … ambient light only
- Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR II / Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
My focal length was 200mm. I purposely used the lens at its longest focal length. Then *I* move around to frame properly. I do this instead of just zooming to find my composition. It’s a very specific technique, and one I mentioned in a previous article: composition for full-length portraits – step back!
The reason why I decided to take the photo here, is because this is where the couple was waiting for me. The limo had dropped them off here, and we were going to walk around the waterfront for a while, for the romantic photo session. So they waited for me here in the shade, for me to catch up with them. So this is where we started with the photo session .. a found moment that I worked around, by shooting with a long lens, allowing them to just talk to each other.
The resulting sequence of images is one that I am quite proud of, especially since it received a few glowing comments … even more so when they come from my client!
- Wedding day portraits – simplifying composition for effect
- Bride and bridesmaids – finding a nice background
- Romantic wedding portraits – more than just the kiss