Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Wedding Photography Tips - Part 3, Taking Photos at the Wedding

Although this is the core article (that is, the part containing concrete advice on how to get great wedding photos), it is imperative that you read the ones before and after it. You see, most people (including more advanced photographers) think that taking making great photos begins and ends with pressing the shutter button. Nothing could be further from the truth. As you know, having read Part 2, preparing for the wedding photography assignment is absolutely crucial. Fail to prepare, and prepare to fail! Similarly, as you will see in the future articles, Part 4 and Part 5, the job doesn't end when the photo is captured. In a sense, that is only the beginning. But for today, we will focus on the wedding day and how to get successful photos of the occasion.

Wedding Photography: Tips on Positioning & Moving
Weddings are to a large extent highly orchestrated and choreographed occasions. Everything is practiced beforehand, and there are specific steps and movements for the main participants (bride & groom, best-man, bridesmaids, and so on). That means that you, as a photographer, must make sure to
a) be in a good position to have unobstructed view
b) not be in anyone's way!

Of course, if you are able to do a thorough research beforehand, it will come in handy. Otherwise, use your brain and your instinct. Assuming you have attended a wedding before, you surely have a general idea how things proceed. Make sure to be in the right place at the right time (but not blocking anyone else's way - including any photographer/videographer who is assigned to do the same job as you)

Positioning is crucial in all kinds of photography, but perhaps even more so in wedding photography, for two reasons: firstly, because you can control only your own position - not the subject's (apart from formal portrait shots); secondly, because time is of the essence. Which brings us to...

Wedding Photography: Tips on Timing
Things happen in rapid succession during weddings. It might seem slow and dragging from the guest's perspective (particularly if you're anxious to get to the free food part), but actually moments go by fast when you have to photograph them. The trick is to always be mentally 20 seconds before the moment. This is directly connected to the positioning aspect mentioned above. Research (or, at least, general knowledge of what happens in weddings) is crucial for this. Basically, you must know what happens when, know what happens 20 seconds afterwards, and be there to grab the shot. Example: Once the best-man presents the ring, you should know that the ring exchange will take place a few seconds later. By that time, you must be in the right place and absolutely ready (=all settings on the camera as desired) to frame and take the shot.

I can't stress this part enough, because it is absolutely crucial. For portraits, there is always time to do it later, to try again if things don't work out, to take a second shot if the flash overexposes. But there is one chance and one chance only to capture the individual instances that create a wedding ceremony - such as exchanging rings, throwing the flower bouquet, etc. Let me repeat myself, in order to make you understand the stakes involved: You have one chance, to capture one instant, which is unique for an entire lifetime. No pressure!

Wedding Photography: Tips on Framing
This is not perhaps as crucial as the previous two, but it is still very important. Mind you, the advice you are about to read applies to other kinds of portraiture (and even photography in general) as well. But it is particularly important for wedding photography, because of the uniqueness of the occasion.
  • Frame so that there are as few distracting elements as possible
If you are the bride or the groom, and you want to show your wedding photos to friends and relatives, 1-2 photos with guests accidentally photo-bombing you is cute and funny. If all of the photos or if a crucial moment is like that, it's not funny anymore.

  • Create a 'natural' framing for your photos
If possible, use aspects of the environment to create natural elements for your farmings. They could be tree branches, a window, or some arch. Not only do these make the photos more interesting, drawing attention to the subject (usually the bride & groom), but they also help you minimize other distracting factors.

  • Be original with original ways to frame

Don't be boring with your framing! If all of your photos are taken so that your horizons are level, your subjects are in the middle, and everything is more or less the way you see the world, it becomes repetitive. Throw in some crazy framing, tilt your horizons, involve plenty of empty space.

How to Make People Appear Natural in Photos
This is one of the most important elements in portrait photography, and yet one that is difficult to teach. The reason is two-fold: a) there is no "one fits all" solution; each person is a different individual, and b) it comes through experience and becoming able to adapt to changing situations.

Still, I will try my best to give you some advice on how to make the groom, the bride, or their parents and friends to appear natural in a photo. Some of these points require a certain kind of familiarity with the people involved - it's bit harder (well, at least more unconventional) to apply some of these points to situations where you are photographing complete strangers. You must be a good judge of characters to know what is appropriate to say and what is better left unsaid. Overall, the more the occasion proceeds, the less inhibited people will look and feel. The stages are (there might be some variations, depending on the culture and individual wishes): a) Gathering and preparing for the ceremony; b) ceremony; c) exiting the occasion & exchanging wishes; d) reception and partying.

  • Make those you photograph feel comfortable with you. Talk with them. Ask them how they feel. While doing all that, be ready to snap photos (all settings ready). But don't surprise them - the point is not to sneak on them and take a photo while they're unprepared. Just make them feel as they are: humans; not mere photographic subjects. Ask the bride how she feels about the cake. Ask the groom if he is bossed around by the bride. All this small, tongue-in-cheek chitchat helps people produce natural expressions and looks which can give you great photos.
  • In more formal setups (i.e. for a wedding portrait), ask the bride & groom to look at each other and express how they feel about each other. Take photos in the meanwhile. You'll get both some goofy, "I-don't-know-what-to-say" photos, and also some moments of silent, natural emotions. Capture them all.
  • As I mentioned above, your job will become easier as the occasion progresses. During the first stages, focus less on capturing photos of people and more on documenting the occasion. Just stay in the sidelines and grab moments. Later on, you can opt for more personal photos.
  • Word of advice: If you are actually asked to take formal portraits of the bride & groom, arrange with them to do it well before the ceremony. Not after (way too stressing in terms of time) and not just before (ditto). Toy and tease (in a good manner!) about the upcoming ceremony, tell them it's the last chance to back out, or ask who's the most stressed of the two. Capture emotions and expressions.

In Part 4, I will give you some concrete advice on successful wedding photography editing: what is worth doing and what not; how to use Photoshop (or other program) to actually serve your vision; and of course, how to make the bride look even prettier.

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