Layers aren't just for wedding cakes. As most wedding photojournalists will tell you, each layer of a photo adds yet another dimension to the shot, further enhancing the visual story.
One method that some Wedding Photojournalist Association (WPJA.com) members incorporate into their wedding shoots is capturing a subject though glass while also catching some of the glean of a reflected image. This style, if done right, adds a hint of what is behind the photographer's lens through the reflection in the glass, contributing a sort of ethereal dimension to the photo.
“You can see it, but you can't touch it,” Tony Marin, a WPJA member from Australia, says of the layers he adds using glass.
Like taking photos facing direct light, reflections in photographs are frowned upon to a degree, given that they can clutter up images or cut people’s heads in half. In fact, polarizing filters are put to heavy use precisely to avoid unwanted reflections.
But that doesn't mean reflections can’t be used skillfully to cope with direct, harsh light, or to provide a creative, nuanced alternative to what could otherwise be a fairly mundane scene. For example, busy streetscapes reflected in shop windows often provide thematic juxtaposition to the intimacy between a bride and groom. Light fixtures, tabletops and, of course, mirrors themselves provide even more variety. If you look closely enough, you’ll see reflective storytelling possibilities at nearly every turn.
Consistent success with these deeply layered images largely boils down to positioning and timing to get the technique right. From there, you can add your own personal style and flair.
Whether going high, low or to either side, angling your view to the subject is a must to nail reflective shots in glass. Otherwise, you'll either catch a silhouette of yourself in the photo, or the reflection won't come out correctly.
“The key is to move around until you are in the right place to see your subjects but not yourself,” advises Stephen Bebb, a wedding photographer based in British Columbia. “You really have to keep an eye on what is being reflected.”
Once you're seeing the reflection from where you stand, you'll usually have to wait for the right shot to cross your path. After all, a photo of just a reflection doesn't say much; there has to be another element to the story being shown.
Marin experienced this firsthand while shooting a wedding in Melbourne, Australia, and the bride was pulling up to the church in the car. He saw that the car's window was reflecting the faces of guests at the wedding, as well as a metal gate.
So he got down to an angle where he could catch the bride's gaze out toward her guests, who, in turn, had their eyes fixed on the dark car carrying the bride-to-be.
Marin says to capture the additional layers in the glass, he looks through his viewfinder to see where the reflections are showing black. “The key ingredient was to look for black spots in the reflection,” Marin advises. “If you get a black area, you can get the reflection.”
Reflective perfection is not necessarily desirable in these types of photos. In fact, a rippled or otherwise distorted reflection can add additional abstract meaning and interest to the story being told. Car windshields or rain-spattered puddles outdoors, or perhaps light fixtures in a reception hall, can bring added possibilities to the shot.
Glass windows can be put to use as a very effective way to thematically separate your subjects—usually the bride and groom—from the rest of the world, accentuating the intimacy they experience in a private moment.
Bebb says he and his wife, Jennifer, often take their couples out for a portrait session, where they suggest that the bride and groom stop off at a window seat in a café, bar or restaurant for a quick break. The photographer then skips out and catches a photo of the two in a seemingly private setting through the window, while capturing the reflection of the streetscape.
This portrait approach recently paid off for Bebb during one wedding in Vancouver, as they took the bride and groom to a café in the historic Gastown district there. Alone, separated from the street only by the glass window, the couple was intently focused on each other, when he created a photo of the two.
“These kinds of images are voyeuristic in nature,” he says. “You're peeking in on someone else, watching them share something private between them. The moments are real and spontaneous and the glass that separates us from them contributes to that story.”
—by Paul Ziobro for the Wedding Photojournalist Association