Anyone who’s been to a wedding knows there’s nothing simple about the photographer’s job. This is doubly true for a wedding photojournalist, whose goal is not to just photograph the bride, the groom, and the family and friends present, but to capture the energy and the variety of emotion that surround the event. After all, it’s called a milestone for a reason.
One of the best compositional strategies for a photojournalist is to focus on images with depth. Deep photos, like any good wedding cake, are made up of multiple layers of people, objects and emotions that provide for compelling photographs and, for those involved, lifetime memories. A photograph with depth is complex--it shows and it tells the story. And as with many great images, it takes a little bit of luck and a lot of skill.
GO BEYOND THE ORDINARY
To get a shot with complexity, it takes perseverance and a heightened awareness. By nature, photojournalists reject the notion of “what you see is what you get”; knowing that there are many creative ways to approach the scene unfolding in front of them. The danger in grabbing that one great emotional shot, however, is that there can then be a tendency to let off the gas. A pro knows better, though -- constantly scanning the action and preparing for the bigger emotion lurking right around the corner.
Good examples of this can often be found in the bride’s prep room. A quiet soulful look coming across a bride’s face can convey the levity of the moment about to wash over her. This alone makes for some very poignant imagery. But if you foolishly start filling out your “photo of the year” application right then, you’ll miss the bride’s sister break into tears as they suddenly fall toward each other in an embrace.
One expert method for getting your coverage in these impromptu situations is to pull down multiple shots of the moment, as if you were at a sporting event. If you framed the composition well, you will often find a beautiful progression between your first and last photos in the series, usually ending with a rich, deeply complex image.
This is a strategy employed by several WPJA members, as a way to capture the subtleties of the day along with the big displays of emotion. By taking multiple shots of the same moment, you can construct the scene in your head while still shooting; perfecting the layers and finding angles and crowd reactions that will add much more depth and meaning to the narrative.
Staying with a moment and seeing it through clearly requires not only skill in composing an image, but patience. And plenty of it.
Some photojournalists are dedicated to capturing those definitive shots, even if it means patiently waiting for a great moment to repeat itself. And don’t forget about the serious influence of momentum. Are you documenting that moment on the upswing or on the downswing? That can make a difference. Many WPJA members suggest that you never stop shooting until the moment is done and you’ve put a fork in it.
One of the Holy Grails for a wedding photojournalist is a photo with multiple layers of actions and reactions all happening at the same time. This elusive prize can often be seen lurking at the reception, where an aggregate of personalities and emotions come together in a highly-charged atmosphere. A split second’s mixture of joy, shock and even a little confusion can make for an incredibly rich image with endless storytelling qualities.
Candid displays of feelings are fertile ground for impactful imagery, but it is almost always an exercise in patience and fortitude. The well-prepared and forward-thinking photographer has no trouble hunting these opportunities down and jumping into action when the time is right.
KNOW YOUR SUBJECTS
Awareness and familiarity with your clients is essential to taking a more complex photograph. The depth is not just in the image, but also in your understanding as a wedding photojournalist of the emotions involved.
The more you are tuned in to the bride and groom and the myriad of complex relations in that room, the better you will be at finding those organic compositions and then layering interesting people and backgrounds into your photos. This sort of emphatic approach to your work will result in stronger images with much deeper context and meaning.
When you see photos with two different sets of emotions going on, usually framed in a foreground/background setup, it immediately draws in your eye. The incongruence of one guest cheerfully laughing while another cries mere feet away is a visual feast of information, and we instinctively want to know the story behind it.
And that story, when applied to the photographer’s canvas with expert tools and skillful framing, will enjoy a long shelf life of appreciation. Your solid connection to the people on that day will shine through in your photos as strongly as the subjects and their unbridled emotions.
A photojournalist is driven by the need to find the meaning behind the moment. Through actions, reactions and relationships, the photographer’s end game is to fully engage the viewer; to have him linger just that little bit longer on the photo. Quite literally, it's this skill to perceive beyond the surface, to the deeper story, that makes an eye for depth and complex composition so valuable to the wedding photojournalist's work.