An Informative Guide to Great Wedding Photography

Style

Long after your wedding vows have been exchanged: the wedding dress stored; and the thank-you notes have been written, your wedding photographs will remain as the most tangible and cherished reminders of the beauty of your wedding day.

What makes your photographs beautiful? It’s a combination of a dedicated and experienced photographer, the style of the photographer, the style and personality of the bridal couple, effective editing, and an effective collaboration between the photographer the bride and groom.

While it is important for you to know the “style” of your photographer, we believe it is also very important for the photographer to properly portray the individual style and personality of the couple and provide them with the photos which best characterize the couple.  When we are preparing for your wedding photography, we will usually ask the couple to describe themselves and how they would like to portray themselves in their photographs.  Couples will respond with such terms, as traditional, conservative, spontaneous, animated, unconventional, and fun.  It’s important for a photographer to have this information; it’s difficult to force a couple who are traditional or conservative to be spontaneous and unconventional without looking forced or contrived.  The key is realism.

If we were to try and describe our style, we would say that we are photorealists, we would never force a behavior that didn’t occur naturally; we prefer to use editing techniques which are believable.  There is elegance in simplicity, and when simplicity is pushed beyond limits, the photos transcend reality.

The particular style and technical skills of a photographer can be broken down into several key components: posing; background, lighting, and editing.

Posing

Your photographs will consist of a mixture of candid shots (“photojournalistic”) and posed shots.  The candid shots should be interesting and properly composed and processed to provide you with the most interesting images.  Photographs which are posed should be relaxed and not overly posed.  Props add interest to the photo, but should not dominate the photo.

By far, our favorite photos to take are the informal shots of the bride, groom, and bridal party after the formal photos have been taken.  These photos are the first shots where the couple are not in the public eye and have the chance to exhale after all of the formality of the ceremony has been completed.  It is the chance to interact with one another, have fun, and enjoy each other’s company as man and wife.

Most people will agree that the photos which are most visually appealing are the ones which are relaxed and not overly posed.  We will give the couple some general direction and just let spontaneity take over.  We believe that some of the most appealing photos are where the couple is engaged in conversation with one another and are oblivious to everything, (including the photographers).  We don’t believe in totally relying on props, but props can definitely add to the photos, as long as they are not overdone.

In the photo below, the brides eyes are engaging the viewer while the groom is focused on the bride.  The image is zoomed in very closely to their faces which really emphasizes the feeling of intimacy between the bride and the groom.

In the poses below, you will note that both the bride and groom and never simultaneously engaging visual contact with the camera.

Effectively posing the bride and groom

A professional photographer will be able to convince the viewer that he or she was not there to take the photograph and that the viewer is experiencing a very private moment.

Spontaneity

It has been my experience that women can be spontaneous and have fun with other women. Men can be spontaneous and have fun with their bride, but having a male be spontaneous with another male or group of males is next to impossible. I usually get around this obstacle by asking the men to get involved in some type of common activity (short of the use of firearms, parachutes, liquor, fireworks/incendiaries, or tobacco generally). Sometimes spontaneity happens unexpectedly as shown in the photo below, it all depends on the group.  I love this photo because of the dynamic feeling, oh, and the finger in the ear is a nice touch which happened quite unexpectedly at the last moment. One thing that I have found is that you can’t force spontaneity, you can encourage it, but if you try and force it, it ain’t gonna happen.

Group of Groom's friends being spontaneous for the camera

In the photo below I gave some very general directions to this group of debutantes and the came up with this pose at the spur of the moment. They obviously had a lot of fun creating the pose and it shows.  It’s one of my favorite photos.

Debutantes Posing

For shots involving the wedding party we like to do things which are spontaneous, fun, and unexpected.  It usually depends on the read we get from the group.

Background and composition

Use of foreground

Objects such as flowers, cars, trees, or even other people in front of the subjects can be used to provide interest to the image and can actually be used to “frame” the subject providing visual interest. The photos below illustrates an example of framing subjects with foreground and background objects or people.

Beautifully composed image using background and foreground

Use of background

If you have a nice or interesting background, the photographer needs to use it to his/her advantage. An effective background can be a beautiful blue sky, foliage and greenery, a graffiti covered wall, brick wall, or water and beaches.  The photo below is an example of a beautiful fall background.

If you don’t have a beautiful background, the photographer needs to mitigate the background as much as is possible. Techniques we use to mitigate a not so attractive background include using a shallow depth of field (blurring out the background and the foreground) cropping closer to the subjects, adjusting your angle of view and vignetting.


Leading lines, perspective, positioning the horizon, rule of thirds

Ask your prospective photographer about the rule of thirds. If you receive a deer in the headlights look accompanied with lots stammering and shrugging of shoulders, then your photographer may not have a good understanding of good photographic composition.  If you get a meaningful explanation, chances are your photographer has good understanding of the principles of good composition and you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you having impressed your photographer with your knowledge!

Leading lines are a way of having external elements draw the viewers eye to a location or subject in the photo. Below are some examples where the architectural elements force your eyes to follow an implied path or to draw your attention to a particular subject. A good photographer will use leading lines, the rule of thirds, positioning of the horizon, and background, and perspective to provide interesting compositions.

Cliff Mautner (a world famous photographer who has an amazing photographic style) (http://www.cmphotography.com/) refers to composing a great looking photograph as being able to see in three dimensions.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a photograph that has been improperly composed by the photographer not taking the time to evaluate the background.

The photo below represents an excellent composition of leading lines, composition, and background. The photo was composed by Ryan Brenizer, a New York photographer who has provided a lot of excitement with a digital technique known as the “Brenizer method”.  See www.ryanbrenizer.com. I provide further discussion of the Brenizer method under “Editing” below.

Photo Composition Leading Lines

The rendering below is an illustration of the Eli and Edythe Broad museum currently under construction on the Michigan State University campus and again illustrates the concept. Whether you like the architecture or not, you will have to agree that the architecture is dramatic and very strongly illustrates the concepts of leading lines.  No doubt this location will be used for a lot of dramatic photos when the construction is completed. I know I plan on shooting there!

Lighting

     “Light makes photography.  Embrace light.  Admire it.  Love it.  But above all, know light.  Know it for all you are worth, and you will then know the key to photography.” – George Eastman

Use of Natural Light

Natural light is by far the most flattering and interesting light for a photographer to use.  In the photo below I placed my subjects between the camera and the sun and used a small amount of fill light (off camera flash) to fill in their faces and remove some shadows. The photo was taken at about 7:00 in the evening and was very soft and diffused (the so called “golden hour”).  I love the way that the sun is highlighting the faces of the couple. Very dramatic and complimentary!

The flash “gun”

If your photographer is aiming flash directly at you, it might as well be a gun that he/she is using because he/she is gunna kill the photo. There are situations in which flash must be used.  When flash is required to be used, it should be used properly by diffusing the light to the greatest extent possible. A good photographer avoids the use of direct flash like the plague.

Diffused light

In situations where it is necessary to use artificial light, the best images will be attained by the use of off camera flash, reflected flash, or bounced flash.  Off camera flash, reflected, or bounced flash will be diffused and will add nice light to your subjects without being harsh or casting harsh shadows. The larger the light source the more diffused and softer the light will be, providing you with complimentary photos. The photographer should be using softboxes, umbrellas, reflectors, or bouncing the flash from the ceiling in order to generate a large light source.

Below is a photo that we took recently of a high school senior. It was a fall day, and the shot was taken in a shaded area. We loved this particular location because of the background, which consisted of trees and a large barn. For this photo we used an external light source which was off camera.  The flash was used primarily for filling and lighting the subject which really makes the color pop and reduces shadows from the subject.

 

Editing

Digital editing is the process by which your photographs are enhanced to make them more visually pleasing. All of the photos should be reviewed by your photographer with a critical eye and corrected for exposure, sharpness, composition, digital noise, and color fidelity before being handed over to the client for review. A good photographer will spend a substantial amount of his/her time editing the photos as opposed to the “shoot and burn” photographer who will do minimal editing or no editing at all.  All photographs should be evaluated for proper exposure, sharpness, noise reduction, composition, and color fidelity and adjusted if necessary. The amount of time editing is one of the major reasons why there is a substantial difference in the prices that photographers charge.

During the editing process special effects may be added. These special effects include conversion to black and white, vignetting, cropping, and selective desaturation. There are many other special effects that could be added but my personal philosophy is that the photos which are taken should represent reality and not represent the abstract.

For our digital editing we use state of the art software and hardware. The monitors we use are color calibrated to assure that the colors we see on our monitors is the same colors that will be printed. For digital editing we use Adobe Photoshop CS5 and Adobe Lightroom 3. The editing we do is non-destructive editing, which means that the original photo is not modified; the original file is maintained in it’s original format.

Skin Softening and blemish removal

We use skin softening and blemish removal moderately. The object isn’t to make an 80 year old person look like they are 25 years old, the object is to remove obvious flaws in the skin and make the person look pleasing. Usually skin softening is needed for closeup portraiture.

Vignetting

Vignetting is a digital technique by which the perimeter of the image is lightened or darkened. Vignetting can be used to mask a distracting background or to focus the eye towards the center of the image. Our style is to provide a very soft transition when we add vignetting to an image. A very hard transition is not complimentary and does not look natural. Again, the key to effective editing is to not make it look as though a digital technique has been used.

The photo below provides a demonstration of effectively vignetting a photo to mask the background in order to eliminate some of the distractions and to focus attention on the subject of the photo.

Cropping

We use cropping judiciously.  A photographer should never use cropping as a substitute for poor composition.

One technique which is being utilized quite frequently is angular cropping where the photo is rotated and cropped. While it may be trendy to use angular cropping, the value it adds to a composition is questionable.  Just because you have the technical means to do something does not mean you have to do it. The following photograph is an example of angular cropping.  Perhaps not the best photo to use an example of angular cropping, but I can’t think of any photo where angular cropping has improved the composition of the image.

Color correction

For critical shots, we shoot in raw format.  Shooting in raw format provides us with greater control over color and exposure as compared to using the conventional JPEG format.

Black and White

Digital editing allows for easy conversion of color photographs to black and white.

Selective Colorization

Selective colorization is a technique which draws attention to an object by removing color saturation from objects surrounding it.  Below is an example of selective colorization.

This effect can be very effective when it is done properly. We have seen many photos where selective colorization is overdone and draws the viewers eyes away from the subject rather than compliment the subject.

Other digital techniques

The use of digital imaging has allowed the use of some digital techniques which are truly breathtaking and dramatic.

The Brenizer method

A very dramatic digital technique is creating a panoramic photo using a very shallow depth of field.  In this technique a photo is taken of the bride and groom with a lens which allows for a very shallow depth of field (a 2.8 aperture setting or less). A series of overlapping photos are taken around the periphery of the subjects without changing the focal length or other settings on the camera. These images are then “stitched” together digitally to produce an image that has a very shallow depth of field.  A New York photographer by the name of Ryan Brenizer (www.ryanbrenizer.com) has perfected this technique and has shared his technique with other photographers. Ryan’s technique produces beautifully executed photos as can be seen in the following images.

We like to capture at least one photo of the couple using this technique.

Another technique we use which we believe is very dramatic is a technique called composite imaging. In composite imaging a number of layers are added to one another. Each layer may have specialized lighting effects applied to it. Think of composite imagine as being analogous to double exposures with the old film technology, the exception being that digital compositing enables you to add as many layers or exposures as you like!

Collaboration

As photographers, we like to choreograph the events we photograph to assure a smooth flow of events. It is not necessary for us to know every minute detail of your special event, but we do like to know the general flow of events so that we can prepare ourselves accordingly.

We always appreciate being invited to your ceremony rehearsal so that we are familiar with the particulars of your ceremony as well as any restrictions which we need to be aware of. We are always very respectful of all participants in your ceremony and try to remain as unobtrusive as possible.

Schedule and planning

Schedule is always an issue in photographing a wedding. The time between end of the ceremony and the beginning of the reception is typically the time that both the formal photographs and informal photographs of the wedding party are taken. A concern of the bride and groom is keeping their guests waiting at the reception while they are waiting for the arrival of the bridal party; therefore the photographer doesn’t usually have an excessive amount of time in which to take a lot of photos.  If there isn’t enough time to get photos after the ceremony, one option is to take photos of the bride and groom before the ceremony. Most brides are very traditional and don’t wish to be seen by the groom before the ceremony, but some brides and grooms like to have this moment shared in private before the ceremony. If this is the case the photographer can arrange to have the photographs taken in a very nice location and the photos can be just as effective as being taken at the ceremony.

Schedule and locations are a large part of the discussions which should take place with the bride and groom and photographer well in advance of the wedding date.

Location, Location, Location

The location where your wedding is photographed have a very large impact on the drama of your wedding photographs.  While we may not be able to achieve the drama of a panoramic New York sky line at night, or Central Park during the day, the photographer can find locations that provide as much visual impact if the right location is chosen.  If the bride and groom are looking for on location photos, the photographer should be aware of locations to shoot which will provide beautiful images and still keep the bride on groom on schedule for the remaining events.

The Decision

A couple of key questions that every bride and groom need to ask themselves when looking for a wedding photographer are: 1) “Is quality photography more important than price, or is price more important than quality?”; and  2)  “Will we be happy with this decision in 10, 25, or 50 years from now?” Ultimately the decision that is made will be the correct decision for you, but you need to deliberate on the question and find the compromise that best suits your situation.

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