At a recent wedding, a bridesmaid mentioned how she loved the work on my website and asked me how I take pictures like I do. Flattered, I struggled for an answer that could fit into the space of our short walk down the hotel hallway between the groom’s and bride’s rooms. I tried to explain how in some ways, photography is a lot of decision-making, plus observation and blending in, but I know this isn’t a clear answer to non-photographers. If you stick with me now, I’ll try to shed some more light on my approach to wedding day photography and how I make pictures.
The building blocks of photographs are light (natural or artificial), composition (where are the important parts of the image placed in relation to each other), and moment (interactions, expressions, etc). A great photograph is made when all three of these elements come together in a pleasing or powerful way. But sometimes you have to choose between these elements, forsaking one in the service or pursuit of another. A photographer must always be in tune with and observant of their surroundings, so he or she can not only react to but anticipate moments, placing oneself in the right spot with the right tools and aiming for that trifecta of light, moment and composition. Every wedding is going to be different, but these building blocks, and my approach and thought process, will stay consistent.
Because every wedding is different, I don’t work from pre-determined shot lists. My couples don’t want cookie cutter weddings, and I don’t want to provide them with cookie cutter images. I like to immerse myself in your day, and open myself to all the emotion and energy and possibility. I remind couples that it’s ok to ignore me, and encourage them to focus on all the wonderful people, moments and energy that surrounds them. Though I can’t completely disappear, I try to blend in so that couples and guests can be themselves without the need to mug for the camera. Remaining close allows me to capture those emotional and candid moments in a way that brings the feelings back when viewing the images.
I can’t be a fly on the wall, but I’m not your constant shadow either. I sometimes describe it like the wedding couple is the center of an atom, and I’m the electron circling – looking for different angles, visiting the action at the center and the edges, coming in close and then taking the wider view. While part of my attention is always focused on the wedding couple, I’m also scanning the surroundings to see what other moments and stories are unfolding.
I know that for the couples I work with, their families and guests are very important. And in my circling and observing at Erica and Brian’s recent Fruitlands Museum wedding, I noticed that Brian’s brother and niece had wandered from the reception tent, and were seated on the grassy slope looking out over the trees and distant hills. It had been a long, hot, busy day, and I think his niece was looking for a little bit of quiet away from the bustle.
I made my way to them, and because 98% of the time I prefer to have faces to backs of heads, I started where I could see them both. There was no hiding or blending in at this point, but I was enough of a known presence by this time in the day, that they continued as they were. I used my trusty 35mm lens, and chose to have the wedding tent in the background for context. Next I moved a little to the side and switched to my 85mm lens. This simplified the composition and put the emphasis on the interaction between the two of them, but also used the light of the setting sun in a more directional way to highlight the young girl’s face. Finally, I stepped back, to frame them within the scene they were admiring, and caught this fleeting, tender moment.