In this blog series, How to Shoot a Wedding, we’ll be exploring, one by one, all of the “must haves” that need to be captured throughout the wedding day to create a well-rounded shoot. We’ll discuss the reasons each is important, examine some common challenges wedding photographers face in these situations, and provide a few insider tips for how to shoot like a professional. So grab your camera bag and let’s dive in…
Wedding photography should tell a story. And like any good story, a wedding shoot must abide by a set of basic narrative components. For example, it should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It should revolve around the main characters (the bride and the groom). It should contain logical segues from one major event to the next, and so forth.
Today, I’d like to focus on just one narrative component that I consider to be crucial to telling a compelling story, and moreover, your first order of business when you arrive on-scene to shoot a wedding : the scene setter.
Framing the Event
The scene setter provides a frame of reference for everything that follows. Think of it like an establishing shot in a movie. The filmmakers give us a glimpse of the hustle and bustle on Wall Street before bringing us into Gordon Gecko’s office, where the story will begin. They show us a sweeping vista of rugged French coastline before plunging us into the mayhem that ensues when the U.S. troops storm the beach at Normandy. They take us on a long helicopter ride through the Rocky Mountains before delivering us to the isolated (and haunted) Overlook Hotel.
The scene setter is crucial to the audience’s understanding of what it is they’re about to see.
Wedding photography is no different. And we use this device not only to set up the wedding day as a whole, but also to set up each individual scene within the wedding day (e.g. the ceremony, cocktail hour, the reception, the dance party, etc.)
Setting the scene is a simple and effective method for drawing the viewer into the action, both cognitively and emotionally.
“Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene…” These famous opening lines from Romeo and Juliet provide us not only with a necessary morsel of exposition, but also establish the mood of the journey on which we are about to embark.
Hey, if it’s good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for us.
Alright, down to the nitty gritty…
Timing and Content
Ideally, you’ll want to shoot this stuff early in the morning, late in the afternoon, or at my personal favorite time of day: twilight. But as many of us know, very little about shooting a wedding is ever ideal. So if you have to shoot midday, I recommend using a polarizing filter to darken the sky and saturate color, in turn making the image feel a bit more dramatic.
Think about incorporating venue signs and logos, which not only adds to the overall sense of place, but also puts you in the good graces of the venue owners and coordinators!
Also think about what makes this wedding unique and find a way to incorporate it. For example, Tai and Stephen’s wedding in Aspen last September just so happened to coincide with the first supermoon/lunar eclipse combo since 1982.
When shooting at night, a tripod and shutter release cord (or remote) is key. Modern day DSLRs handle high ISOs exceptionally well, but if you want to see your work blown up on the wall of the venue’s office someday, you’ll be able to take extra pride in the fact that it’s noise-free.
Angling for the Best Shot
Shooting wide is generally best. One of the main reasons I like doing these photos is that it gives me a good excuse to break out my favorite lens: the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8. I’ve always been drawn to wide angle photography and this is a great time in the wedding day utilize it.
Also, think about putting your camera on the ground for a low angle or climbing onto a balcony for a high angle.
At nighttime, do a time lapse to capture moving lights. Remember: it’s okay to shoot the surrounding environs. Even if it doesn’t include a glimpse of the wedding itself, it’s still an important part of the whole.
Try incorporating a human element for a sense of scale.
Or document the weather, which always plays a vital role throughout the course of the wedding day.
Other than that, just get creative. In this business, we’re paid to generate ideas, so keep your eyes peeled and don’t be afraid to step back and capture a nice scene setter when an idea presents itself.
Okay. Let’s wrap this up.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a series of pictures covering all possible narrative bases must be worth… well… exponentially more than a thousand words. And the “scene-setter” is a crucial component in all of this.
What’s another crucial component? “Getting ready” photos. Next time on How to Shoot a Wedding.
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