“De tous les moyens d’expression, la photographie est le seul qui fixe un instant précis.” (Of all the expression means, photography is the only one which capture a precise instant) – Henri Cartier-Bresson en 1952.
Henri Cartier-Bresson was a French photographer who mastered the art of candid photography and was one of the key players in the development of modern street photography style. I’m sure some of you are wondering what this has to do with wedding photography, to which I answer with a resounding EVERYTHING. More on that shortly, though. Having just shot my second wedding ever last weekend (congratulations James and Dana Hamilton!), I’d like to share my thoughts on shooting weddings and what I have learned so far.
Most wedding photographers shoot weddings from the perspective of an event photographer, at least from what I’ve seen. Event photographers walk around the event, snapping away with “continuous shooting” enabled so they don’t really have to think very hard about what they’re capturing. Many wedding photographers operate in a similar manner, treating the camera like a machine gun and just firing off as many shots as possible, with the hopes of landing a few chance good shots. This is why, when all is said and done, the photographer turns over a gallery of 3,000+ photos for the couple to choose from. A massive chunk of these photos tend to just be multiple variations of the same shot, due to use of continuous shooting.
I find this style of shooting weddings to be ridiculous for many reasons. First, this is a beautiful event in two people’s lives that ought to be captured artistically and carefully – not treated like an inane corporate event. Second, handing over thousands of photos to a couple and expecting them to pick out the good shots is overwhelming to the couple. Both of these factors, to me, exhibit a distinct lack of care and originality; there is no art in that.
If I told a conventional wedding photographer how I intended to shoot both weddings, they would likely have thought of my strategy as both foolish and horrifying. Rather than use a typical zoom lens (like an 18-200mm) and rely on machine gun mode to capture chance shots, I used a 50mm prime lens (fixed focal length, meaning no zoom) and carefully composed every shot. The only exceptions I made was my use of a wide angle lens to capture large, post-ceremony group portraits. Lacking a zoom lens meant having to move closer or further away from my subjects to “zoom” out. Shooting with a wide aperture (F2 and below) for more shallow depth of field meant having to be quick and precise on focusing manually.
The reason I decided to go against conventional wedding photography wisdom was simple: I wanted to capture the weddings more beautifully and artistically, rather than treating the weddings like events. Though shooting like this would be scary to many wedding photographers, I was actually very comfortable with it. I drew from my experience with street photography and artistic portraiture, and treated the weddings like a combination of the two. The concept of quality over quantity applies here.
Street photography requires the photographer to not only be aware of any beautiful moment that happens, but also to be able to capture those moments both artistically and effectively. One must have an eye for both the composition and the content of the photo, as well as the skill and precision to be able to respond and capture beautiful moments perfectly when they happen. In order to be effective at this, the photographer must be able to notice the moment, frame it, focus appropriately, and capture it before it passes. All of this often takes place in just fractions of a second! This is what is known as the decisive instant.
I am very happy with the results of my chosen method so far. My goal when shooting a wedding is to capture fleeting moments and tell a story in a beautiful way, without overwhelming the happy couple with thousands of extra fluff images. I carefully pick out the best photos and process them creatively in order to add a subtle flare to the photos that is artistic without being cheesy or cliche.