What do the White House, Super Bowls and crime scenes have in common? All prove to be fertile training grounds for news photographers who have made the switch to wedding photojournalism.
The path from the newsroom to photographing the bride and groom is well-worn, even more so now that wedding photojournalism has been on the rise. That’s in part because photographing events for a newspaper or wire service is little different than documenting a wedding for a family, save for maybe an extended deadline.
The transition isn’t always seamless, although there’s nothing like a you-can't-fail, one-time-only news event with a deadline looming to prepare a photographer for documenting a wedding. In both news photography and wedding photojournalism, the photographer slinks to the background, observing, waiting and anticipating a moment to be captured and displayed as a reminder of the day, as part of a story.
In the latter case, the photos tell the entire story. But in both instances, it's hard to shake the notion out of the photographer that “it isn't a news event”. Wedding photojournalists, normally approach their wedding assignments with the intent of telling a story from start to finish, as they would in the case of a news assignment.
Not surprisingly, many WPJA members took to documenting weddings on the heels of colleagues who also made the switch. The transition was helped by observing wedding photojournalism in action, and the final results. Traditional wedding photography, involving plenty of heavy direction and unnatural poses, would be offensive to any former newspaper photographers.
“I hated the idea of a traditional wedding photographer,” says WPJA award winner Justin Ide, a onetime photographer for The Boston Herald. “But the market changed, the desire of clients changed, and they came around to the style I was doing.”
Ide first started shooting weddings with a colleague of his from The Herald, who had been photographing weddings on the side. Ide would serve as an assistant, and as the second photographer, he could lay low in the background and capture candid moments while his friend handled the formal shots. Such was the style he adopted when he began tackling weddings on his own.
WPJA medallion winner John Zich, who has covered events for USA Today, the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse, had also resisted wedding photography for a while. “Coming from a news background, where you don't pose [news events] at all, photographing weddings was the furthest away from what I wanted to do,” says Zich, who works with his wife, Anne Ryan, who also has a newspaper background.
But once he saw the unscripted, candid-style of wedding photojournalism, he and his wife eventually started photographing weddings to rave responses. “We covered it the same way we would cover a big news event,” Zich says.
While no two news events are exactly the same, many events familiar to news photojournalists have the same structure. The Super Bowl has four, 15-minute quarters, plus festivities. A presidential press conference usually involves a statement, followed by questions and answers.
Keeping that in mind, photographers can anticipate what's going to happen, but still have to be ready for anything. Zich found this out on-the-job while covering Janet Jackson's infamous performance at Super Bowl XXXVIII.
Weddings have the same set-up. You know there's going to be kisses, dances, speeches, and cakes. That framework means you can anticipate a moment to capture. The practice from anticipating the moment at a news event translates well to the reception hall. “When it happens, we have to capture it. We can't miss it,” Zich says.
Yet there are some differences between the two crafts. For one, you're a welcome guest at a wedding, which isn't so for some news events. Also, at weddings you don't have throngs of competing photographers to go up against. With a news event, a photographer would be lucky to get more than one shot into the paper or onto the wire. That preconceived idea can change the photographer's thinking. “You realize there's much more than that one picture,” Zich says.
But wedding photojournalists also get an unprecedented amount of access to the subjects they're shooting, sometimes spending more than half a day shooting and snapping hundreds of photos that are seen by the audience. “I approach weddings as a documentary project for the day because that's really what it is,” Ide says.
In addition to learning how to use a camera, news photojournalism teaches potential wedding photojournalists how to use available light as well as how to think on their toes.
Working for a newspaper has taught photographers to take shots like “overalls” and “scene setters” that show an event in different perspectives, such as shooting a press conference from afar as well as getting a close up of the speaker. Those pictures help the event or wedding come across as a live, dynamic story rather than just staid photographs.
News photographers are also known for their personalities in being able to loosen up a subject and make them feel comfortable to avoid that “deer-in-the-headlights look,” as Ide says. The same skills used to get an uptight chief executive to open up for a candid moment can oftentimes be utilized to get the bride and groom to feel comfortable before the lens.
When wedding parties insist on snapping some posed photos or group shots, there are skills from the news photojournalism days that can help get through this as well, Zich relates. Frequently, as a news photographer, you get only a couple of minutes to shoot a profile of a celebrity or other figure. “It's great training for a quick, good picture,” Zich says.
And if there's one other thing that working photojournalists have learned from the newsroom, it's learning to live under the pressure of a deadline. Whether it’s a week or two after the wedding that the pictures are due, it's surely more manageable than a newspaper deadline bearing down on you daily.
The rise of wedding photojournalism has helped introduce a number of talented and accomplished news photographers to shooting weddings. As the genre continues to grow, you can be sure that more news photographers will try their hand at capturing that perfect moment, regardless of whether it lands on the front page.
— by Paul Ziobro for The Wedding Photojournalist Association