Today’s insightful guest post comes to us from Joe Joslan of JJosland Photography, based in Dartford, England. Enjoy!
One of the questions I get asked most often as a wedding photographer is how I capture real emotion in my photographs. It’s absolutely pivotal to my documentary style that I eschew the usual poses and shoot people in a natural manner. Most often that means being slightly covert and finding a way to take photos that are flattering while still being emotionally honest.
Read the full post after the cut!
Wedding photographers of all stripes often feel obliged to disappear into the background. This is a natural response to the situation you find yourself in. Much like turning up at a party only knowing the host, there are few occasions where you are more of an outsider. Everyone else is enjoying this incredible day, full of intimacy. Meanwhile your inclination is to skirt around the edge of the party, snapping away and sneaking some food off the buffet when everyone’s had their fill.
This usually ends up with the photographer dressing in black; not to imitate a ninja, but to make sure nobody mistakes them for a guest! The usual Wedding Photographer’s Handbook also dictates that you don’t try to mingle or get to know people. Your aim shouldn’t be to intrude, lest you have a negative impact on someone’s day. You’re basically pretending not to be there at all.
Some people have even gone to the lengths of remote cameras and even deployed drones to try and snag the perfect voyeuristic photo. But this approach isn’t just detached; it’s drastically over elaborate. It ignores the absolutely central element of a successful wedding shoot: people!
People are what makes great photos come to life and if you shut them out all day, you can’t wrestle them back in. The key to documentary photography is to actually get to know people and become more like a guest at the wedding. Your friends don’t normally tense up and get self conscious when you take photos together and this is how it should be for the photographer.
It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but the absolute best way to avoid attention is to make a noise and make yourself a part of the crowd. Being able to have a joke with people and work photographs into conversations is almost like actors writing their own scripts: you’re creating your own opportunities.
This starts by talking in depth with the couple before the wedding. Not only does this let them get to know you and sets out the ground rules, it lets you get to know them. From this you can tailor your approach, and work around their stipulations. Ultimately they are the ones who decide what you will be doing and you may have to work in group photos as well as the more natural approach.
It’s all about balancing the flexibility you need to integrate yourself and adapt with the rigours of your personal style. If the shoot the couple want won’t let you take the best photos you can, you need to be honest about that. Compromising your ability to be that silent (but conspicuous) photographer and take the best photos possible won’t do either party any good.
The day itself should start when everyone else does. This means going beyond just the service and reception, and picking things up with the preparation. The hustle, bustle and fuss(le) where everyone’s running around panicking is just as much a part of the day as the bit in the church, and where you will get some of the most honest and beautiful shots.
Photos of the happy couple are great, but if you aim to capture the story of a wedding, a photographer requires balance. A great approach is to look for moments which might not normally be considered photogenic – people outside having a cigarette for example, or kids acting up a bit.
These can be more natural and relatable and reflect the passage of the day more completely. Weddings, like life, consist of ups and downs. Excising them from your photos betrays a lack of honesty and candidness that is what a wedding stands for. If you’re up front about this and your methods going in, they’ll thank you for it.
Similarly, very ordinary and undramatic moments, such as people getting ready or congregating outside the church, can be framed and captured in a way that’s wholly endearing. The bubbling of a dozen little conversations, the apprehension or frisson before the service, the relief when it goes off without a hitch, the coach drive to the reception. These are all moments in a grander narrative.
Once the day gets underway, being on the periphery of conversations and floating around as part of the party will clue you into moments which might be good to photograph. If someone is planning an epic karaoke solo or a spot of streaking, you want to be there for it, not following stragglers outside!
Part of this approach also involves minimizing the amount of equipment you use. While you can get friendly enough to take people’s guards down, a massive camera is going to put their hackles straight back up. A compact mirror-less camera will look more like a standard issue digital camera making people more at ease. You might even consider shooting on a high end phone!
There are thousands of us wedding photographers out there, and everyone’s approach is different. But removing yourself from the festivities doesn’t just stop you from having fun, it makes your job actively more difficult. The individuality in photography comes from the person shooting, not the methods and practices they employ. The easiest way to take great photos is to let people get to know you and let the camera get to know them. Just don’t drink the bar dry.
Joe Josland is the founder of JJosland Photography, and works as a documentary wedding photographer in Kent and across the UK. His unique natural style aims to replicate the story of the wedding day through pictures, capturing the moments of joy that matter most. To learn more about JJosland Photography, please visit his WeddingLovely Vendor Guide profile or head straight to his website.