Do you ever catch yourself dreaming about the perfect shot? Of course, the elements never fall into place as perfectly in real life as we would like them to but it never hurts to dream.
Some WPJA members pre-visualize a few of the shots they’d like to get when documenting a wedding, whether it is days or seconds before the actual pictures are snapped. This exercise can be as simple as knowing they’d like to try and catch the couple as they pass under an archway at a familiar venue, or as detailed as trying to line up the elements so they come together just so.
Either way, pre-visualizing shots is just one other way to anticipate what’s coming next in covering a wedding, since WPJA members can keep an idea of a particular photo in the back of their head and pounce if the situation appears.
While much of wedding photojournalism requires reacting to the scene presented before you, thinking about certain shots or techniques you may want to use can help you prepare for certain pictures you would like to capture if they arise. It’s similar to how a quarterback studies a playbook in the week leading to a game, when in fact he may not know what the defense will throw at him.
“I have a lot of ideas in my head,” says Jennifer Skog, a wedding photographer based in Walnut Creek, CA. “It’s just a matter of coming upon certain situations where those ideas are going to work.”
Sometimes, the vision for the perfect shot may be a little lofty, like getting an animated, photogenic couple that loves being in front of the camera. “It’s hard to map out exactly what I’m going to do but I do have visions. When I have the perfect couple in a perfect setting, I’m like, ‘Woohoo,’” Skog says.
When you do get the shot that popped into your mind at some point, the result can be dazzling. Take a wedding that Skog covered in Beverly Hills. She had met the bride’s parents, in from New Orleans, the night before, and pegged them as exceptionally proud of their soon-to-be-married daughter—something she hoped to incorporate into a shot.
As the bride was getting prepared, the bride’s parents were absolutely beaming. Skog had shuffled to position herself behind the bride, and was framing the shot of the parents using the veil.
“I just knew if I waited long enough that something would happen,” Skog recalls. “It was exactly the image I wanted to get.”
Much of the pre-visualization occurs as you go, with an idea for an upcoming photo popping into your head while snapping away on current shots.
“My pre-visualization is measured in seconds and minutes,” says Cameron Gillie, a Madison, WI-based WPJA member. “I don’t really think that far ahead, but there definitely is some pre-visualization in a smaller sense. You anticipate a moment about to happen.”
Picturing the photos shortly before they’re going to happen means that Gillie isn’t coming into a wedding thinking about a particular shot. Instead, he approaches each event totally unencumbered and unbiased about what he wants to shoot, similar to his days as a newspaper photographer.
“I didn’t want to start looking for that picture I had in my head on the way to a news assignment,” Gillie recalls. “I wanted to keep an open mind. I kind of do the same thing with weddings.”
Keeping an open mind means that you can eventually be surprised with the results. While Gillie was taking a picture of a bride slipping her dress over her head, a photo he often tries to get, her hair became stuck inside the dress. Seeing the comical moment, Gillie held the camera up to get different angles of her hands coming through. Only later did he realize the kicker to the shot: the bride’s fingers were anxiously crossed.
He also ran with the situation when photographing the lacing up of a bride’s wedding dress. While it’s a scene documented at most weddings, in this instance, rather than one pair of hands lacing up the back, a number of different hands were diligently at work making sure the intricate lacing was done just right.
Some photographers prefer an approach in documenting a wedding where they simply react to opportunities that come their way. To be sure, these photographers still are anticipating the next photo, but would rather not ponder what the next shot should look like.
“I prefer to follow the subjects during the day and have it be natural, and don’t think about something before it happens,” says WPJA member Carlo Carletti.
While following a bride getting ready at a recent wedding in Italy, Carletti observed a scene he has never witnessed before. The bride, a young, ebullient girl, he recalls, was readying the veil on top of her head, when all her friends enthusiastically joined in. The sea of hands underneath and around the veil was too good to be true, and ultimately won First Place in a recent WPJA award for “Getting Ready.”
“It was very unusual to see so many hands under the veil and they continued to move it,” Carletti said.
It was a shot that Carletti, who is based in Florence, Italy, says that he could not have dreamt up. “I could never imagine that I would have a chance to take shots of their hands under the veil,” he recalls. “But when I saw the situation, I took the picture.”
While WPJA members ultimately may produce shots that look as if from a storybook or the product of a director’s guidance, they’re snippets of real life, whether they started out as visions in the photographer’s head or not. Pre-visualizing some shots does serve a purpose allowing you to pounce on the ideal shot when it comes, but wedding photojournalism is still largely a reaction-based style where you capture the reality of a dream-like day.
—by Paul Ziobro for the Wedding Photojournalist Association