Amid all the chaos of a wedding day, scenes of patterns can help restore a sense of calmness to the moment, creating order from disorder.
And patterns will abound at wedding ceremonies and receptions. For one, you’ll have a number of ushers decked out in the same tuxedo, coupled with bridesmaids wearing the same dress, without any pangs of jealousy. A unifying color or color scheme usually ties all the visual elements together. And there are also numerous props—from chairs and place cards, to champagne glasses and silverware—that all can provide broad canvasses of patterns.
Each pattern presents an attractive opportunity to capture an interesting photo, adding a contrasting dimension to many of the other photos of the event. It’s a breath of fresh air for the eyes too, since patterns appear so frequently in daily life, whether on a tile floor or in slats on a picket fence.
“In general, I think the brain likes to create order from disorder,” says wedding photographer Kelly McCord. “I like finding patterns and repetition that are occurring naturally. It's not something I purposefully try to do. It's just the way I seem to see things.”
That’s why many WPJA members keep an eye out for patterns during weddings, whether they can be incorporated as main subjects in a photograph or as a secondary feature in the shot. The result is a soothing photo that can produce some stunning visual effects.
Patterns can be found at just about any wedding; it’s largely a matter of keeping an eye out for anything that is visually repetitive.
Rows of chairs or pews, for instance, can be lined up in the frame to show an attractive pattern, as can a number of other static objects at a wedding.
“People put so much effort, money and time into picking these details, colors, cards and flowers—all which are very important and can create interesting patterns,” says Alex Ze-evi Christian, a New York-based WPJA member. “Even though every wedding is filled with patterns, many times they are hidden and can be easily missed. My challenge as a photographer is to discover and photograph them in a way that will enhance the photojournalistic wedding story.”
Also, if the dance floor is packed with dancers doing the electric slide or some other line dance, you can have the chance to capture an action shot of silhouetted figures as they all strike the same pose.
Keep an eye out for the clothes of the wedding participants, since they especially can be incorporated to capture patterns in photos that include a human element. A group of guys wearing their black-and-white tuxedoes, or all the bridesmaids sporting the same pattern, provide a lot of material with which you can work.
At one wedding Joseph Hein shot, he spotted, literally, a pattern he could work with from the get-go: The bridesmaids had all worn bold, polka-dot dresses to the reception. “When I saw those girls, I knew there was going to be a good shot there," says the Seattle, WA-based photojournalist. “The pattern and the moment was what helped it turn out to be a great photo.”
Hein wanted to incorporate the dresses into a more interesting action shot, and got his chance when two bridesmaids went up to cut a cake, which just happened to be decorated in the same polka-dot pattern. He dashed over and snapped away, capturing a polka-dot-centric photo.
Hein’s polka-dot photo shows just how quick you need to be to catch patterns converging naturally, especially when shooting in the photojournalistic style--when in some cases you only have one shot to capture a particular moment.
So when you see an opportunity to capture a repetitive pattern, take it. Once it’s gone, it may not happen again.
Kelly McCord had only one chance to capture a pattern, where the groomsmen and ring bearer, all in their pinstripe suits, each had their hands clasped behind their backs in a similar grip. “I especially like situations like that when it’s a happenstance that it’s one after another,” she states.
Right after she took the shot, one of the subjects unclasped his hands, wiping away the parallelism in the subject. “To get those kinds of shots, you really have to be on your toes,” McCord says. “It’s easy to help make it happen. It’s not easy for it to happen naturally.”
There are several types of objects at most weddings that number into the hundreds, making them ideal elements for pattern shots. But since the objects are static, you can work with them more freely and frame a creative picture.
Place cards are one such item, arranged “just so” to create a nice pattern of dozens. At one wedding in upstate New York, the couple had arranged for the cards to hang from lines on clothespins, recalls Ze-evi Christian.
Some photos create such a perfect medley of repeating parts that they beg to be shot, and this is one of them. But rather than just take a straight-on shot to merely capture all the cards, she aimed up, framing various lines—the cards, clothes pins and their shadows—in a light blue sky.
She considered staking out the scene, possibly for a hand to grab a card as it hangs, but she couldn’t just perch herself there when the entire wedding was going on.
“If I approach the table and someone is actually grabbing a card, I’ll go for that shot,” she says. “Other times, nobody will grab the card because they don’t want to disturb me. I’m not going to ask for a volunteer.”
All good photos, to a degree, try to make some sort of visual sense, and patterns are one way to make the image click in a viewer’s brain. Taking mental notes of possible patterns at a wedding, and pouncing when the shots are right, can help add dazzling results to the mix.
Most basic photography courses teach participants how to find and capture patterns in everyday settings. Such skills, though very fundamental by virtue of training and experience, remain a vital part of a good wedding photojournalist’s agenda.
“If you’re the type of photographer that’s always looking for patterns,” says Hein, “in general, your photography will be better.”
—by Paul Ziobro for the Wedding Photojournalist Association