How can you let your guests get great shots at the wedding while helping your wedding photojournalist get his or hers as well? Fortunately, the two goals are not mutually exclusive. A few WPJA members weigh in with professional tips and techniques that your wedding guests can use to kick their personal photos up a few notches, while ensuring that their efforts will not detract from the “official” photos produced by the hired photographer.
Do you know how to turn off the flash on your personal camera, or change its settings to best suit the lighting at a given moment? What about your guests? Encourage them to get to know their cameras if you know they’ll want to play shutterbug at the wedding.
“I often turn my flash off; it kills most pictures,” says wedding photographer Porter Gifford, who is based in Massachusetts. “And just taking a minute or two to learn your camera can result in some great, unusual shots.”
For an outdoor wedding, however, flash is the way to go. In the light of day, your camera will turn its flash off. Become familiar with the settings and turn it on. This can help decrease shadows that are visible only once the picture is developed. At nighttime, the flash is of course necessary to garner the best results.
New Jersey and Pennsylvania-based WPJA photographer Scott Lewis agrees that knowing your camera is the best solution to all “flash-worthy” situations. “Depending on the time of day, flash may help your picture or hurt your picture. If you’re trying to capture the light of a late summer afternoon, for example, or take photos of people out on a dance floor, your goals may be very different.” In the former situation, flash might ruin the natural light; in the latter, a lack of flash could give you a dark, blurry shot. “Knowing your goals in the shot and knowing your camera makes a huge difference.”
We’re speaking aesthetically, of course! Yet it can’t hurt to compliment them, as wedding guests who feel confident in front of the camera make better subjects. While their self-assuredness isn’t something you can control, you can control where you place them. It’s best to capture your subjects in a soft light. There’s a reason you notice how lovely your partner looks from across the table at a dimly lit restaurant. While you may think it has to do with the martinis you’ve been drinking (and to a degree, it may), it has more to do with the lighting. Though you don’t want the light to be too low, a nice soft glow is ideal. Try to stay out of direct sunlight. Sunset is the perfect time to capture people at their best.
Consider the mood created by the lighting and location in the award-winning photo taken by Lewis of a couple posing for a guest’s camera in front of a twilit ocean.
“It was a really beautiful setting along the beach with a lot of candles, and I was waiting as the light went down to capture the contrast between candlelight and twilight,” Lewis remembers. “I’d been photographing more of a setting photo, the table and the sky, and saw the couple getting their picture taken out of the corner of my eye. The light on their faces is the red-eye reduction light from the person’s camera and gives a nice warm contrast to the blue. It was a great shot!”
There are some moments at a wedding everyone wants to remember, but even as an amateur photographer, you don’t want to jostle someone and ruin their shot for the sake of your own! While you may want to capture those picture-perfect moments as badly as the professional photographer, he’s the one the B&G have hired. Try to be conscientious of him. Know where he is standing and how your flash may affect his work. If you are flashing away at the same subject as the professional photographer, the light from your camera may throw his off. If you find yourself shoulder to shoulder with him, simply ask if you’re in the way. A little courtesy can go a long way.
Although hiring a wedding photojournalist means expecting a very different style from typical formal wedding photography, the posed family photos are still an important part of the day for some. So as a guest, this is the time to step back and allow the professional the room he or she needs.
When it comes to the formal shots, “I’ve promised the bride and groom that I will get those done as quickly as possible, so they can get to do what they want to do,” says Lewis. “If guests say ‘let me get in there and get a picture after you,’ it drags out the time.” Guests should recognize and respect the fact that couples typically want to stay on schedule, and should adjust their photo-taking agenda accordingly.
“The problem I notice most of the time is that people are not close enough to what they’re trying to photograph,” Scott Lewis notes. “Seventy percent of most people’s wedding photography-related issues stem from that problem. You’re standing way far away, take a shot, and then you find all this stuff in the picture you didn’t want.”
“Most good photos depend on a little bit of luck,” says Porter Gifford. “The pleasure of photography is you couldn’t plan on everything; you just have to be there and be in the moment.” Plenty of surprises happen during a couple’s big day. Just keep your eyes open, try to anticipate what may happen next, and you’re bound to capture some of them!
A lot happens during the course of the wedding day. There are countless moments to capture a “story.” Look for them. Place yourself in the mind of the storyteller, watching events as they unfold. Find those opportunities in which the guests of honor and their guests interact in interesting and exciting ways. For instance, a great photo may be of the B&G leading their guests in a particular dance or the ring bearer who’s lost his direction down the aisle. Be prepared to capture those moments that stand out.
“One of the first assignments you get in Photography 101 is to shoot without looking,” Gifford notes, “because you’ll get nice surprises that way, an image framed in an unusual way. And with a digital camera, that kind of experiment doesn’t cost you anything.”
Of course, at a wedding you might want to keep your eye on the events of the day. In that case, Gifford has a less drastic suggestion.
“Change the level of the camera! Bend down, hold it up above you or off to the side. Change the vantage point and see what that does for your picture.” Gifford took his own advice in his award-winning photo featured in a recent WPJA contest. “As you can see, this was during the Horah at that wedding, an event I’ve photographed many, many times at this point. This time I said ‘I’m going to do this differently.’ I usually stand in the middle of the ring of people but I decided to go outside of it and shoot with a longer lens. I wanted to get away and get some more perspective, have more people in the shot.”
The result? A happy bride in a sea of jubilant arms, with a wedding guest’s camera punctuating the scene in a burst of light.
Often, guests will get caught up in the moment and forget that the purpose of the wedding is not for them to capture the perfect shot. “People get aggressive and excited, want to photograph their friend or cousin,” says Lewis. “Look around the room, especially during the ceremony. If you feel like you want to step out into the action and take a picture make sure you’re not getting in the photographer’s way. It’s something you can check out with some easy, non-verbal communication.”
“Often wedding photos taken by guests end up as one straight shot after another of the bride and groom and other folks present,” says Gifford. “I’d suggest it would be more fun to experiment, try a different tactic than another photo of smiling faces—that’s what I do as part of my job all the time.”
Lewis also believes that experimentation is key. “As a guest, taking pictures at a wedding should be about experimenting and enjoying yourself in equal measure. If the picture makes you happy, it’s a good picture!”
—by Heather Bowlan and Lauren Ragland for the Wedding Photojournalist Association