Weddings can be chaotic, noisy affairs where emotions are displayed publicly, so one of your biggest challenges can be capturing their quiet, intimate side. Trust, anticipation, skilled observation, savvy lens selection and a host of other judgments make it possible to bag those quiet, poignant moments in images that recall the day for those in attendance, as well as give those who were not in sight into what it was like to have been there. It is all part of the unique value proposition that our members bring to wedding photojournalism.
In college, WPJA photographer Mark Adams of LaCour in Atlanta chose to pursue a degree in anthropology because he wanted to be a photographer. He knew anthropology would help him be more observant of human interaction, he says. “In order to make pictures of real moments, you have to observe personalities, get to know people and see how they interact with others,” he says. “You also have to know when to be quiet and back away.”
A newspaper and magazine photojournalist for a number of years before becoming a wedding photographer full time, Adams says he has a passion for documenting real life. “It’s powerful to make pictures of real moments that [enable people] to go back and re-experience those moments.” He succeeded in enabling a bride to relive a tender moment she shared with her father in an award-winning photograph taken during the reception for a large wedding—about 700 guests—in the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center in downtown Columbia, SC. The three-day Hindu wedding was colorful and ornate, Adams remembers, “Like eye candy. It’s easy to take pretty pictures at a wedding like this, but it’s harder to take meaningful pictures that capture special moments and personalities. That picture is such a great moment because it transcends the [specific] to show universal emotion.”
Adams perceived a strong connection between the bride and her father. “Throughout the day he was so proud,” he says. So when a slideshow showing the bride and groom as children began to play during the reception, Adams looked at the father and wasn’t surprised to see him becoming emotional. Making himself as inconspicuous as possible, Adams trained his lens on the father and waited for emotion to overwhelm him, a moment he was certain would happen. “When the bride looks at that picture in her album she will be transported back in time to that intense personal connection with her dad. That’s what I want her to remember.”
Like Adams, Allegra Gilbert, a wedding photographer in Lynchburg, VA, anticipated a quiet, emotional moment for the father of a bride in her summer 2006 award-winning photo. She was taking pictures of the bride, her mother and bridesmaids in a conference room inside the Washington National Cathedral in Washington DC, where the wedding took place, when the father of the bride entered the room. She immediately situated herself so that she could focus entirely on him, knowing he would react to seeing his daughter for the first time in her gown and veil.
“I felt other people [in the photo] would be distracting so I positioned myself to isolate the moment,” she says. “That picture was taken about 20 seconds before the verger [a lay minister] threw everyone out of the room, telling us that the bride and her father had to have some time alone. Being thrown out of a room was a first for me, but it was OK because I had the picture I wanted.”
Gilbert considers herself to be a quiet observer “rather than an in-your-face, wide-angle shooter,” and typically seeks those quiet moments with a 50mm lens on her 30D, moving to an 85mm on her 5D. “I’m more of a sit at the sidewalk café and look at all the people go by type of photographer,” she adds. “I like to observe and I think my work reflects my contemplative style.” To ensure that she doesn’t draw attention to herself, she rarely uses flash and keeps a low profile, and never skulks around in the corners of a room to take candid photos. “That’s odd behavior so it tends to make people take notice,” she says. “I’m just quiet and eventually everyone forgets about me being there.”
She notes that experience helps you be in the right place at the right time. “Sometimes it’s just luck,” she says, “But luck favors the prepared.”
Anticipation and finding the right spot for capturing a quiet moment is a skill that comes with experience. A wedding photojournalist would normally strive to find opportune moments when the bridal couple were so used to having him around that they were unaware of his presence, even when he makes significant strides to be in place to photograph them.
It’s important to observe human nature and family dynamics before and during a wedding. When wedding photojournalists assure their clients they will capture the day for them completely, the couple feels secure and ignores the camera—the ideal scenario for quiet moments to happen and be captured.
—by Lorna Gentry for the Wedding Photojournalism Association