Portraits are part of every wedding, of course, but some photos have the ability to sear themselves into the memory, providing an unforgettable image that rises above the common convention.
Wedding photojournalists shooting portraits work within an expanded set of parameters, just like their counterparts in the news world: Some direction and setup is acceptable in order to fully capture subjects in the context of who they are and what they are feeling.
Yet everyone approaches portraits differently. Some photographers will perfunctorily record the traditional formals in a half hour before or after the ceremony. Then, they will just leave it at that while getting back to documenting the spontaneous moments of the day. However, the more adventuresome pros, including the majority of WPJA members, will take the portrait concept and run with it, bringing the art form to new levels of creativity and impact. The results are portraits that often convey the depth of the subjects’ personalities, and can be expressive and full of energy.
IT BEGINS WITH TRUST
The key to capturing creative portraits is to gain the trust of your subjects and to get them to buy into your vision. Once they are on board, it gets progressively easier to suggest unorthodox portrait ideas. And sometimes the bride, groom or member of the bridal party will come up with their own off-the-wall ideas for portraits.
Since the couple will be spending the most important day of their lives with you, establishing this relationship early on will pay off in gold on the big day. If you want to be seen as the visionary you truly are, you must pave the road with confidence, conviction and a sincere empathy for the couple’s needs. Your clients will go to the moon with you if they believe you have their back.
This means you must be attuned to the things that matter most to your couple. And not just the obvious “how we fell in love” moment. Listen to their reasons for choosing the wedding locale; who is doing the readings; the style of music for their ceremony, etc. The more you’re a part of their wedding “story’, the easier it becomes for them to see you as a vested partner in their happiness. Remember, ‘engagement’ doesn’t always mean two people and a ring.
Of course, this bond will only grow stronger on the wedding day. A great way to keep your clients at ease is to continually talk to them; reassuring them that you’re getting some great shots while showing them what a genuinely fun time you’re having. If you can, call everyone in the wedding party by name and even crack some jokes if you want. The more you break down that barrier, the easier it becomes to get inspired and creative.
TOP TIPS FOR GETTING CREATIVE PORTRAITS
Get to know your couple. What makes them tick?
First gain trust. Then make art.
Try a simple pose. Then change up settings, lenses and angles for some dynamic looks.
Think beyond "wedding photography. " Get inspired by ideas from other forms of media and art.
Be playful with the couple, but don’t step out of bounds.
Arrange a 10-minute photo session during the reception, bride and groom only. Couples will be more relaxed and will appreciate the time away from the crowd.
Engage. Talk, tease, joke with the couple as a way to extract honest emotion.
Don’t try too hard for the smile. Just have honest conversations with the couple that will help you connect personally.
Have fun! Passion breeds passion. The more you’re excited to create these images, the more willing your clients will be to participate.
When you take portraits, do you strive to be as creative as possible, or is it something that just happens?
There are students of both schools of thought, but the results are all that matter. There needs to be a certain amount of planning when it comes to fading daylight, or if a unique composition requires some hands-on prep. On the flip side, shooting from the hip will always have that in-the-moment spontaneous feel.
Many WPJA members opt for the casual, more relaxed portraiture approach; feeling this brands better with their overall photojournalistic mission. Even if grandma expects to see some of those ironically stiff passionless portraits, you can still cleanse the creative palate by getting playful and changing up lenses and angles after the flash powder clears.
Photographers aren’t always relegated to small talk with their clients during portrait sessions. Some adventurous types will bring up politics and religion, knowing it will create a swirl of emotions which will lay down fantastically on film.
Think of some of the more arresting wedding portraits you’ve seen, and they’ll often contain a story in the subject’s eyes. To get this story, photojournalists aren’t afraid to push people’s buttons, keeping them alert and off-kilter while allowing their faces to fill in the lines.
A great extension of this technique can be found in Yousuf Karsh’s famous portrait of Winston Churchill. Karsh allegedly only had ten seconds to get the shot. When Churchill sat down with his cigar, Karsh snatched it out of his mouth, immediately annoying the Prime Minister. The flash went off, and the rest is history. People viewing the iconic photo might think that Churchill was reflecting on the war, but it was really all about his cigar.
USING THOSE PHOTOJOURNALISM SKILLS
As with the stricter side of wedding photojournalism, creative portraiture requires the practiced ability to anticipate and to be in the right place at the right time, a skill that becomes intuitive with more experience and the right chops.
We’ve all participated in the setting up of a simple pose only to have it evolve into something more unique and beautiful as we glide around the subject, changing up equipment, and channeling inspiration from an internal library of emotionally-powerful imagery.
And it is this very capturing of emotion that attracts clients to your work. They notice this more than anything else. For at the end of the day, when the music dies, the lights turn off and the guests go home, all they’ll have left is the emotional memories.
And if that’s not in your work, it’s time to get creative.