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Tips for Wedding Photojournalism

Wedding Photojournalism

Many wedding photographers can create pretty images by photographing the bride, groom, families and guests.  Not every wedding photographer, however, can create images that really take the couple back to the feeling of their wedding day whenever they look at them. Whether it is the image of a delightful flower girl dumping all her petals in one spot or a Father’s hand subtly draped across his daughter’s shoulder, the essence of wedding photojournalism is to preserve those fleeting moments.  Everyone knows how a song can  instantly transport a person to where they first heard it and how they felt.  That is the feeling I want to give my couples, whether it is a week after or twenty years later.  I want to capture the notes.

So, here is some of my own personal advice for capturing the real moments on the wedding day:

I. Tell the story of the day, don’t dictate it.

Photojournalism doesn’t stage or direct. Don’t set up moments- the photos have to be truthful. The photographer should react to what happens around him.  He should observe the environment and document it as it is. Don’t ask the subject to repeat their actions, just let everything happen naturally.  Real moments won’t happen when the bride and groom are acting for the camera.   Shakespeare says life is a stage, but  if he was shooting weddings and not just writing plays, he may have added that life shouldn’t be staged.

II. Avoid thinking in a template:
Some photographers formulaically repeat the same shots in every single wedding to the point that they look prefabricated.    We want great shots of weddings cakes, but not cookie cutters.  There is nothing that more quickly saps inspiration and creativity than following a checklist.   And when you create a mental checklist of must have shots,  you don’t notice the moments naturally flowing around you.

It is also very important to shoot for yourself and keep your passion for photography to stay creative.  If you stay true to that, your clients will be incredibly happy with the emotional and creative shots you will have taken.  So remember,  that it’s not only about covering all the parts of the day, solely for the sake of full coverage.  It’s about telling the story of the entire wedding day. It’s about showing the dynamic and connection of the couple, and the love of their family and friends around them.

III. Be unobtrusive, move around, don’t stay in one place;
One of the challenges of being a wedding photographer is figuring out how to take intimate and emotional private moments without distracting people and making them too aware or uncomfortable in front of the camera. That’s why it is advantageous to move around and change positions often. It’s better to capture the moment very quickly and disappear. Standing in one place for too long while photographing tends to make people much more self conscious and aware of the camera. It’s also good to move around and get different angles of the same situation, because if you stay in one place for too long, you will end up with the same frames of different moments. It’s much more interesting to have the same moments from different angles.  It’s a game of hide and seek.

IV. Scan your surroundings and seize the moment
Keep the camera next to you (in front of your face, the camera around your neck, or whatever you prefer) and constantly look around you, being aware of your surroundings. Observe the elements with patience. Sometimes, nothing can be happening when all the sudden, the moment can unfold right before your eyes. When the moment is taking place, don’t stop shooting until you are sure the moment has gone or until you have thoroughly worked a scene. Always continue to wait, be patient, and watch through the camera to see what happens in front of you, constantly looking for good moments and good expressions.

V. Anticipate situations
Know how to anticipate situations that convey special feelings. Sometimes you can anticipate beforehand and know what to look for. You can learn to predict and anticipate situations on the wedding day. In every wedding there are a few definite situations you can expect to find beautiful moments. For example, when the father sees the bride for the first time, during the father and daughter dance, the toast, the bride and groom’s first meeting, when the mother helps the bride put on the dress, when small children are walking down the aisle, etc. When one of those moments happens, you need to be prepared for it and be extra sensitive to what is happening.   Laughing, crying, tears, surprise are among the raw ingredients of wedding photojournalism. When someone is making a toast, don’t focus only on them, but the person they are toasting to. A skilled photojournalistic photographer will focus on the reactions of the person being toasted to as well. To anticipate the moment is crucial in every wedding to get a variety of emotion and capture the story of the day.

VI. Being in the right place at the right time
We are all unique individuals and express our feelings in myriad and often unpredictable ways.  Yet, it is an inescapable fact that certain situations elicit strong emotional responses and we can train ourselves to be ready for them.   Every Father is deeply touched to send off his daughter into a new life after so many years of having lovingly raised her.  So, when the Father is going to see the bride for the first time, you need to be at the right angle so you can capture the moment. You should be ready and put yourself in the best position  that will help you to capture the moment in without interfering with it.   Another example would be immediately following the toast.  Here, you can  anticipate a big hug between the person who gave it and the recipient.  If you won’t position yourself beforehand, you can miss a great moment of the special hug that they share with each other.

VII. You need to have the ability to think clearly and to react quickly
You should learn to predict and anticipate situations, and then to make sure that you are in the right place to get the best shot. You have to be able to react in a split second. The camera has to be ready to fire instantly. That’s why it should be in front of your face, so when you see something it should be in front your face; and just click. There is no time to pick up the camera because then the moment could already be gone.  You need to think fast; what lens to use, and recognize the emotion that is in front of you. Think about composition, angle, background, all of this in a split second.

Observe the elements -> Predict -> React Quickly

VIII. Know your subject

Sometimes, good photojournalism  is a matter of being in touch emotionally with the bride and groom and their family.  Really getting to know them helps to tell their story and you can focus on the moments that show who they are. If you learn and sense that they are goofy/romantic/etc. you can use that to predict funny/romantic moments.  I have found that shooting an engagement shoot prior to the wedding is often a good way to make a bond and sense your client.  How they act in that shoot, gives me a good guideline of how they may act or react during parts of the wedding (though this is not always the case).  If an engagement shoot is not feasible beforehand, try to talk to you client as much as possible in the lead up to the wedding.  I work with my clients on the wedding planning not only to make sure the timeline will be conducive for good photography, but it also gives me an opportunity to interact with the couple as well again.

IX. Choosing the right lens
Sometimes to catch the magical moments, you may need to photograph from afar with a telephoto lens to get close ups without making your subjects aware. For instance, during the father and daughter dance it’s important not to interrupt or distract, just capture the emotion without getting too close. For that,  I always like to stand far away and use my 70-200mm f/2.8 to capture their expressions and the beautiful connection between them.  Sometimes the wide angle can give a completely different feeling to the photo.  I love using it during dancing shots to bring many elements into the photo.

I also always carry two 5d Mark II camera bodies on me during the whole wedding, not just as a backup. I do this so when I see the right moments, I  can capture them immediately. I don’t like to change lenses because it makes things slow, uncomfortable and complicated. In weddings, moments can come and go in just a few seconds and it’s important not to miss them.  So, have one mind, but two bodies.

Shira Weinberger is a proud member of the WPJA (Wedding Photojournalist Association)

The Wedding Photojournalist Association (WPJA) is a professional organization composed of photojournalists and wedding photographers from around the world. What sets their members apart in the industry is their candid, documentary approach – a distinctly artistic vision toward wedding photography.
Its members’ goal is to use photography to tell the story of your wedding day, not dictate it for you.

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