To document the best moments of a wedding day, a photographer shouldn’t only focus on the bride and groom, or even on the main event. "Reaction shots," which record the reactions of guests observing the wedding’s activities as they occur, add an invaluable dimension to the visual record of the festivities.
“I was constantly given a gentle reminder to look beyond the obvious action while covering sports assignments while on staff at The Hartford Courant newspaper,” says WPJA founder David Roberts, who notes that the assignment sheets that came to the staff photographers from the sports department always read “Action or Reaction.”
“Sometimes I would arrive at the event totally focused on getting peak action of the winning team,” he recalls. “Then I would read those three words and look at the event in a completely different way. I would say to myself: ‘I’m not here just to show the winners in action, I also need to capture the reactions to the main event on the sidelines.’”
FROM MANY ANGLES
Experienced wedding photojournalists focus on the bride and groom, but they also make a practice of scanning the room for reaction shots and zooming in on the details. And many will agree that spotting great moments to capture is a matter of both technique and timing.
The pros have a simple strategy: Be prepared with the equipment and pay attention. This is why you’ll often see photographers carrying two cameras around with them at a wedding – one a wide angle and one with a telephoto lens. This frees them up to stay in the mix of the action, popping off shots, while allowing them to grab an intimate moment happening across the room. By not having to stop to change lenses, they can remain a living breathing extension of the scene as it unfolds.
A great example of this reaction style of imagery is to watch the faces of guests as they look upon the father-daughter or mother-son dance. There’s a concert of emotions happening on that dance floor, and the observers feel it. While documenting the bride and groom, the trained photojournalist is scanning the crowd and honing in on displays of sentiment; capturing intimate moments of deep feelings that will help fill in the pages of this story of love.
THE COLLECTIVE HEARTBEAT
There’s no denying that many weddings serve as a collective Petri dish of folks from all walks of life. Young, old…white collar, blue collar…religious, secular. But there are genuine moments in every gathering where a communal spirit forms around the public blending of hearts taking place that day.
The toast is a great way to see this in action. But it can also bubble forth during the ceremony and cake-cutting too. The crowd senses the importance of the moment and allows their feelings to come out and mutually connect with the other guests. It’s a fleeting, palpable emotional experience that will enjoy immortality through your photographer’s lens. Those scenes of inclusive goodwill are some of the most memorable images you’ll take with you on your life’s journey.
ACTION AND REACTION IN ONE SHOT
A reaction shot can be a totally separate photo with meaning and context of its own, or it can encompass the main subject with the reactions of those looking on. Both approaches can result in excellent, memorable photos.
Imagine things getting feisty during the traditional cake cutting. It starts out civil, but within seconds the bride and groom are exfoliating each other’s faces with buttercream fondant. The instinct is to push the camera in on the couple’s new frosty visage. But by pulling wide to include the guests’ shocked and laughing reactions, you’ve enriched the story with dynamic unforgettable imagery.
When you look upon a shot that features guests’ reactions surrounding the central action, you’re being fed information that helps fill out the narrative and complete a bigger picture of the day’s events. And you’ll have a permanent record of how much fun everyone was having!
A STORY THAT LASTS
Photojournalism is particularly well-suited to capturing the surprising moments and reactions that unfold at a wedding. A photojournalist’s stated purpose is to tell the story; the story of the event and the story of the people attending. The goal is to help all involved remember everything that happened that day.
Your wedding album is your personal history of a single momentous occasion in your life. When you leaf through those pages, you want to reminisce on every one of the moments captured within. A great photojournalist is a master storyteller, and your album will reflect this. And, like all classic stories, every time you read it, you’ll find something new.