Wedding photojournalists will agree that the most important aspect of their craft is telling the story of the day in an authentic, unplanned way. A key element of that basic definition is how the story gets told—and that’s where the photographer’s individual character and point of view come into play. One of the most defining tools in shaping that unique perspective is angles. Working the angles lets you express the way you see the story unfolding.
Three of our accomplished members share their techniques and real-world experiences on using architecture, elevation, positioning and pure creativity to get unique shots and capture memorable moments.
Angles can be multi-dimensional, encompassing conceptual perspective and focus, as well as geometry. As wedding photographer Melissa Mermin says, conceptual angles help tell the little stories going on within the big story. “I’m always looking for different angles on the same subject. I’ll find something interesting in the background or the foreground,” says Mermin, who is based in Northern California, USA. “I look around at my surroundings, and think ‘what could make this more interesting?’”
If she’s shooting the couple’s vows, for example, once she gets the mandatory shots of the bride and groom at the altar, she’ll start looking around the room for a story within the story.
Mermin thinks good wedding photojournalism takes the ordinary and makes it a piece of art. “I’m always trying to see the humor or the darker side of a picture,” she says.
WPJA member Dave Robbins agrees. “I like irony in photography. I love humor in photography,” he says. “And humor is all about juxtaposition and context.”
As a wedding photojournalist who works in the urban setting of New York City, NY, USA, Robbins also likes using angles that juxtapose the beauty of the bride or the groom and the grittiness that surrounds them. “What makes a photo interesting is not only what the subjects are doing, it's what they are doing in the context of where they are.”
Storytelling is also directly related to pure physical perspective. As North Carolina, USA-based WPJA member Corey McNabb points out, “shooting from a different angle can create a really nice image that otherwise might have been ruined by a distracting background.”
As an example, he invokes an often-experienced situation in which the bride has just arrived at an unattractive parking lot. He wants the quintessential shot of her stepping out of the car, making her grand arrival, but the uninteresting—if not totally distracting—background is a problem. “I jump on a balcony at the hotel, looking for a different perspective. Maybe there’s interesting ground cover or puddles. Bring the horizon out of the image and create a more uniform background, isolating the subject instead of distracting from it.”
Of course, there may not always be a balcony handy. “Anything that is a departure [from the norm] is going to be interesting,” McNabb advises. “It’s more rare for me not to be looking for that angle. Even if I can’t use architecture or a rock to get higher, I’m moving the camera higher or lower. I’m shooting off the hip, or laying on the ground. Basically, I’m doing anything I can do to deliver a different perspective.”
“By just moving slightly to the side, or up, or down, I can find backgrounds that don’t distract from the image,” he continues. “While shooting once in a rather mundane hotel room, I decided to lie on the floor and shoot up at the bridal party toasting.” The result: a circular view of the bride, groom and guests, their arms reaching out for a toast like the spokes in a wheel.
McNabb also used angles to achieve unexpected—and stunning—moments, like a bride’s portrait reflected in the surface of a body of water or her shadow, cast on a long beach patterned by footprints.
Mermin adds, “I’m five foot three. When I’m shooting the drunken reception, I’ve learned to manually focus my camera, shooting over my head. I try to get up high. If I can’t do that, I try to do the opposite and get some really interesting shots looking up at the ceiling.”
Her best piece of advice: Avoid doing what other people are doing with their point-and-shoots. Her award-winning cake-cutting photo is a perfect example. “The reason I could get that shot was because there was a balcony. I was really lucky they were cutting the cake right underneath,” she says. “I had a bird’s eye view. It was a perfect angle.”
Mermin has also learned to crouch down behind something that gives an unexpected foreground. “It's funny when people say ‘Oops, I'm in your way, I'll move,’ when I've actually moved behind them to either conceal myself from my subject (so they are unaware) or I am using the person as my foreground or as a compositional element to the photo.”
“There is no handbook,” says Robbins. “Keep shooting. Experiment with angles. Angle with purpose, angle with arbitrary abandon and see what the photos say to you in the end.”
He says he loves experimenting. “Some experiments work, some don’t. But unless you’re down for doing something new, you’ll find yourself taking the same pictures time and again.”
He knows from experience that there’s always a good shot. “Finding it is the art.”
—by Meghan McEwen for the Wedding Photojournalist Association