Category Archives: technique
Weddings are full of emotions. Happiness at the joy surrounding the day, sadness that certain family members are no longer around to share in the occasion. Anything can happen and you need to be ready for it. This year I’ve been studying street photography in more detail in an attempt to diversify my wedding photography and also to challenge myself, I always want to improve. Since I want to be known as London’s best wedding photographer, I make sure to focus on things that actually matter.
The two key things I have taken away from my studies?
‘The moment trumps everything’ and ‘tell a story with layers’. Layers create depth, draw the eye across the frame and can add much needed context to a shot, showing the event that someone is laughing at is much more powerful than a close up of someone simply laughing. Context and depth give an image character.
The brain loves depth as it also creates a relationship between the objects in the frame. It creates a size comparison – which can be used to dictate importance – it can also create symmetry and harmony depending on the situation.
I took about eight frames of this moment as it was unfolding in front of me. I noticed the groom turn away from me to cry and he was embraced by his groomsmen. Sometimes you are unlucky and the moment happens somewhere you physically can’t get to, other times luck just isn’t on your side.
I stayed with it, hoping that something would occur. Typically I like to get very close to people to make them big in the frame and emphasise the importance of what’s going on. On this occasion something about their body language made me think it was too tense to intrude upon, so I instead decided to step back and use the people nearest me as a frame. That’s when my luck changed.
As I moved back I realised that this guest had also started to cry, which could have been a god photograph in itself. My focus however, was still locked on the groom. He turned back towards me, didn’t notice I was still there and this is the result.
As I mentioned I took eight frames of the moment and there are a few other good ones, but this is my favourite. The symmetry in emotion draws me in and I like how the women on the left helps complete the visual size comparison between the three people going largest to smallest left to right and then the eye lands on the groom. The rule of odds is also at play but I can’t claim that I was thinking of that at the time. In the other few frames the girls expression is less sympathetic, and whilst it’s great to capture multiple emotions in one frame, it almost looked like she was laughing at him (she wasn’t, but that’s what it looked like), which isn’t cool, there’s no need to make people feel bad about displaying their emotions, so I didn’t deliver it.
These things happen in less than a few seconds, which is why you can’t underestimate the importance of practice. Not having to consider the exposure, the focal length, the composition etc. consciously means that you can hone in on the moments unfolding around you and pay much more attention to whats going on in the room. The camera settings you can set automatically – it’s like being in the zone, you don’t even notice you’re doing it – then bang! Moment caught, shoot and move.
I chose to make this image black and white because, well…I’m just not a huge fan of colour in all honesty. There’s something about black and white which removes the photograph from the present narrative and immediately places it in the past.
I think that’s born out of the visual language with which I grew up where every photograph of an old person or old event was in black and white, all modern images were in colour and black and white was an artistic choice rather than a necessity. I find i’m charmed by the simplicity of black and white, it removes distractions and helps focus in on the real intention of the picture, of course colour has it’s place, for now, mono wins.
Speeches are an incredible time for emotionally charged photographs. This year has been a real zinger for emotional speeches, some huge lols and some heart wrenching stories, plenty of tears and many, many shots. This is from a beautiful summer wedding in 2018 and is one of my all time favourite speech photographs; one of the many reasons why I love being a wedding photographer in London!
This picture was taken during the father of the bride speech. This amazing man stood up and read a letter from his wife who is sadly no longer with us, the letter was addressed to her daughter on her wedding day. It is easily the most heart aching thing I have ever experienced, I am not ashamed to admit that it made me cry.
Weddings will do that to you, you invest in the people and their lives, you can’t help but emotionally connect. I took lots of pictures during this speech, luckily I had my main man Marius with me too who took some bloody fantastic images that I wish were mine! That’s the joy of having a good second photographer and why I only hire top level second shooters, I want quality, not filler!
The letter had the whole room in pieces, I left Marius to shoot the guests and I concentrated on the top table.
Everyone had been crying individually, but this scene happened only once during the entire speech. I popped up from my crouched position, took four pictures in quick succession and ducked back down again. I’ve been a guest at weddings where the photographer stands in front of the top table and it mad me absolutely furious. I’m all for getting good pictures, but never at the expense of the guests experience.
I shot this on a canon 17-40mm at 17mm. Shooting super wide has distorted the edge slightly, but I’m not overly concerned with techy stuff, if I capture the moment then I’m happy.
The problem with speech photographs will always be wine bottles and flowers obscuring peoples faces. Fortunately in this moment, the father of the groom on the extreme left lent back in his chair and came out from behind the wine bottle, some things you just can’t take credit for.
Here’s a letter I received from the father of the bride after the wedding. Always give feedback whenever you can, to anyone in any profession, it brings a little slice of joy to anyone.
Just wanted to say a huge thanks for the wedding pics, they are absolutely fab and capture the whole day, the fun, the emotion, the love.
When Sophie sent some through to my phone whilst we were out shopping in Brighton they brought me to a standstill and I’m not ashamed to say, brought a tear to my eye as you’ve captured so many memorable moments.
When Sophie said she and Nick were off to see a potential photographer in London and subsequently booked him, I thought they were mad as there must have been somebody more local but on seeing the pics, they were so right and the proof is in the pictures.
Thanks so much for helping make and being such an important part of our special day.
Thoroughly well done and…………………….thanks for the dance. :)
Some context to the last statement. The rave was in full flow and the fob was so stoked about the day that he was going for it, I join in on the dance-floor to create more intimate pictures, plus partying is fun. I find standing around observing to be a bit weird, if i’m in the moment with you, then we share a moment, it’s a much friendlier way of working.
Why I love Caravaggio and single light sources
Caravaggio is one of my favourite painters. The drama, the tension, the movement, all together in a single composition creates images like no other. Each element working in harmony on the canvas to produce an image that is brimming with emotion an intrigue and executed to technical perfection.
A hallmark of Caravaggio’s work is his use of single light sources, the dramatic lighting creates contrast in the extreme. The lighting aside, it’s the animation in his work that draws me to it. The use of hands especially. Hands are like additional faces, they tell stories all on their own and are incredible tools for driving narrative. They can carry tension and aggression, or have a dainty effect like a ballet dancer, both extremes of the scale can be portrayed by hands.
I love this about wedding photography. People talk with their hands, they fling them about wildly when having a good time, point at things that make them laugh or gently caress something they love, hands are magical tools of communication.
Painting with this extreme contrast is called the Chiaroscuro technique, it probably explains why I love very high contrast black and white photographs. Despite the simple nature of the lighting technique, it is in fact rather rare to come across as many wedding venues have multiple light sources. Whether it’s overhead lighting acting as fill light or multiple windows dotted throughout the room, having one window or light source is not common. With it however, you can produce images like this:
Without trying they are dramatic. Everything looks epic. A few candles in the inlets and it’s also incredibly easy to achieve a warm and intimate feel. Here’s a few colour pictures:
Not only does the ceremony look cool, but it can also be utilised for couple pictures. Using the exact same pose can result in markedly different outcomes simply by changing the side you’re shooting from. From the front the couple are evenly lit and stand out against a solid black backdrop. In the reverse the couple are back-lit, resulting in a near pure white background.
To create the same look at your own wedding which will result in dramatic and painterly wedding photographs, consider getting dressed in the morning next to a window. Turn off the overhead lights in the room, turn on some lamps if you need additional light, and then have your makeup and hair done whilst facing out of a window. Then when it’s time to get dressed, put your dress on next to a window too.
Since I’m aiming to be one of the top wedding photographers London has to offer, I only dish out relevant info and advice that I truly believe in, leaving a legacy of great photographs as a result of my advice, seamless timelines and amazing customer service.
For couple portraits, turn off all lights indoors and then stand in the doorway. The added benefit this has is that if the background is a bit cluttered, then the extreme contrast will hide it completely, winning.
The same extreme contrast can be achieved by simply standing in a shard of light that could be coming through the trees or that is channelled into a beam by the surrounding architecture. In this image the building has channelled the light into a small strip. Placing the bride in the light and exposing for the light illuminates her perfectly and then throws the background into shadow. By shooting the reverse and working into the light, one can create a halo effect around the subject and separate them from the backdrop.
Complicated lighting rigs, you really don’t need them…
Street style is an emerging style of wedding photography, previously the term ‘alternative’ was banded about in order to distinguish myself from the traditional means of photographing weddings. As customers become more appreciative of wedding photography as an art-form, thus the lexicon is allowed to expand in order to gain a more and more niche understanding. Thanks to doing what I love, Liam Smith Photography allows me to experiment with various styles of wedding photography!
I’ve read articles describing Jeff Ascough as the Cartier-Bresson of wedding photography. As ridiculous as that statement is, if you say it often enough, people start to believe it. Personally, I think it’s BS, but the marketing seems to have worked. With that in mind, on this day, I declare myself the William Klein wedding photographer…
Street style wedding photography is about not only capturing the moment but capturing multiple significant moments in one frame. Depth and layers are absolutely integral to this style of shooting. There is action beyond the moment in the foreground or the moment that is in focus. Out of focus elements add context and depth and ultimately create a deeper sense of narrative within a single image.
Here are a few examples.
What William Klein taught me about wedding photography:
I didn’t stand in a gallery stroking my stubble whilst clutching a glass of wine. I wasn’t sitting in a leather armchair with a cigar pouring over Kleins books. An image popped up that I recognised, and the rest clicked.
Having been in therapy for the last year has taught me so much about myself and my life. One thing that it has helped me understand is that things start to appear when you position yourself correctly and are ready to receive them. Only when your mind is working in the way you want it to will the things you want start to manifest themselves.
This is exactly what happened with Klein’s images. I have seen his photographs thousands of times, but I can’t say that they ever jumped out at me enough to remember them or to cite Klein as one of my favourite photographers. I am consistently trying to understand my own work, to truly get to grips with what it is I love about photographs. This questioning will no doubt continue to the end of my days as my work evolves, however in the past few weeks it has been at the forefront of my mind. I’ve always striven to capture ‘the moment’, the decisive moment is still a term banded around, the idea that you can time your pictures perfectly to create a single, stand out image. I found Klein’s work at the right time and the right stage of my development, his work taught me that there are multiple ‘moments’, …
These images are all about layering, being in the moment, but also recognising that there are multiple moments occurring at any one time. We have the two men in the foreground, the boy running framed by the bent arm, the groomsmen laughing at the piece of paper and the girls taking a selfie. Layers create context, depth and narrative. I love it.
I am not my photographs.
This is something I have struggled with for a long time. I have always hated the idea of self promotion and never been inclined to share my work freely for fear of critique. I am insecure, I have no doubt about that, but understanding that my pictures are something that I have created and that the critique of the image is not a critique of me as a person is helping me to access a higher plane of working.
In Klein’s work I see a desire to capture a great image, not a reflection of ego. A genuine curiosity about the world around him, not an attempt to elevate photography to art. This freedom of expression for me does in fact elevate it to that status, a pure form of expression, a depiction of a likeness, a portal in which to gaze and become lost. If an image was blurry, slightly out of focus or very grainy, I would reject it without hesitation. Maybe from fear of being judged as a bad photographer, but to care what others think is a position of fear and I can no longer live in fear of a judgement that probably isn’t even real. I have assumed this judgement will come, but more importantly, feared it. Why? All the greatest artists have never cared about ‘the market’, they created, and that was it. They did not bend or lean to the pressures of employers, all they did was create and express themselves, always honing their craft.
Street style is about photographing everyone
I never understand wedding photography portfolios that are full of pictures of the only the bride and groom. The average wedding in the UK has 120 attendees. Where are the other 118 people? My work is all about documenting the whole day. The details, the guests, the laughs, the tears, you name it, I want to photograph it. I’m excited by the chance encounters, the never-repeatable and the completely unexpected. These special days are one of the few occasions in life where everyone you love comes together. I want to photographer them being themselves. Drunk uncles, dad dancing and cartwheels down hills.
I love weddings because of the people and the things they do. Human behaviour and interaction is a wonderful thing. People are expressive with their hands, communicate with their eyes and weave stories with their facial expressions. A wedding is full of expression and deserves to be captured with sincerity and respect. Street style wedding photography is not about making your guests look foolish, it exists to cherish and love their individuality.
The best thing about photographing weddings is witnessing someone else’s love story. Being able to share in the incredible amounts of joy that my couples and families experience is a truly wonderful thing. For every romantic photo I take, there’s usually a hundred times the amount of images that depict joy in unscripted moments. These wedding pictures are my favourite. No holds barred happiness, no shame, no conscious vetting of emotion, no fear. Just honesty and truth. One of the greatest things about this job is that not only is the wedding day itself full of joy and happiness, but editing the photographs brings a smile to my face all over again.
Shooting through a moment – improving your wedding photography
What is the decisive moment? Typically in photography, it is heralded as the moment in which composition, exposure and a moving element all come together in one fleeting moment, creating a flash of perfection, impercieveable to the naked eye. A moment in which all elements of the image harmonise and the universe is frozen in perpetual state of tension, drama and beauty. In wedding photography this is particularly desirable as it gives the opportunity to capture family and friends in a scene that could never be choreographed. A scene that trounces any staged imaged and will likely be cherished for generations. If there is a single request that I revive most often, it is that couples no longer want formal group photographs as they record nothing of the personalities of the people within them.
The decisive moment offers something different, an alternative. These images in themselves only occur every so often. The likelihood that tens of family members will all be doing something in moment that is significant is incredibly rare. However moments between threes and fours are much more common and should definitely be on every wedding photographers agenda to capture.
Henri Cartier-Bresson’s grasp on the decisive moment is so strong that if you Google ‘the decisive moment’ his biography appears in the rich snippet. His individual images are copied and reproduced in galleries and text books, endless essays compound their brilliance. Removed from the context and narrative from which that single image is produced, allows the image to be viewed solely in isolation and transcends itself. The skill of the photographer is exaggerated and the decisive moment only viewed in isolation. Cue the contact sheet.
I love contact sheets, the Magnum archive is a treasure trove for all photographers. Regardless of genre, from wedding to documentary, there is something for everyone. The beauty of the contact sheet is it makes the great photographers (and i sincerely mean great) mortal. There is nowhere to hide, mistakes, crop marks and failed compositions are plain for all to see. Pouring over contact sheets gave a massive boost to my confidence and my ability to comprehend the true meaning of the decisive moment. No longer was a single image the focus of my attention, tearing my hair out (which now there is none left) wondering how a single frame could be captured with such precision.
The contact sheets of contemporary wedding photographers will never see the light of day. It’s not uncommon to hear tales of taking four thousand images and delivering five hundred for example. On my personal journey, it was imperative to look past the single image and understand where the true skill in the decisive moment lies.
If we examine the following contact sheet, we are confronted with an iconic frame, a photograph seen by millions and now well established as part of the Bowie legacy.
In this scenario, we’re only interested in the surrounding frames. Why? Because it shows us that even the greats took average photographs. But secondly, that when you work through a moment, stick with an idea and let it play out, magic can happen.
This is imperative to understand when developing ones own work.
Firstly, never be bogged down by the great work of others, everyone makes bad work.
Secondly, keep your eye on the dream, not the competition.
Lastly, always shoot through a moment…
What I mean by this last point is that you can only make considerations for what you are genuinely in control of. The lighting, the overall composition of the scene, depth of field and any rendering of movement. The rest is pure chance.
With the above image, I took about eight frames in very quick succession, in the other seven people have their faces covered by napkins or obscured by bottles or have unflattering expressions. In this one image alone, everyone is exactly where they need to be.
What one has to be able to do is place themselves in a position where the action will happen. The moment itself can only appear when you’re there to capture it. Importantly, whilst the moment is unfolding, continue to take photographs until the moment is over.
In exactly the same fashion as the greats of photography, shooting through a moment is essential to plucking that ‘pregnant moment’ out of the inevitable passing of time and preserving it forever. On my personal journey, the uncovering of shooting through a moment changed my work dramatically. No longer was I trying to achieve the impossible, taking one frame at exactly the right time.
Instead taking control of all the elements that I could and then taking three, five, sometimes more images in a row to capture the perfect shot. This has to be placed into context, I’m not advocating shooting at twelve frames per second all day long – otherwise you may as well be a videographer. However taking multiple frames should not be sneered at as a sign of being ‘amateurish’.
As a wedding photographer in London and UK, it is important for me to always come back to the fact that I am creating a product for a client. Like any client, they aren’t going to care if I take a thousand images of one moment, as long as I deliver the goods they will be none the wiser but all the happier. I’d much rather that scenario than trying to explain that I missed the key moment because I was paying homage to a higher art.
Take the following sequence for example. There is a certain beauty to the way in which the moment unfolds. Each image is good, smiles are abundant, the use of hands add interest and makes the image dynamic. But there! Just there! That’s the moment. The universe aligns, three generations of family faces are visible, all laughing. Physical interaction, gesticulation, it’s all there.
Sometimes you get lucky, others, the moment never materialises. But when it does, it does make my heart sing a little bit. That fleeting moment of harmony – I think it resonates with me because it encapsulates the moments that we live for in general. The subtle gestures of day to day kindness or a fleeting glance from your partner. All of these little things that make life great. When you capture it in an image, it’s pure magic.
I often get questions like the following from clients who want to create an intimate feel to the wedding but still get great pictures. Candlelit ceremonies look incredible, there is no doubt, but, what looks incredible to the naked eye doesn’t always translate into photographs as cameras can’t see as well as the human eye can…yet.
In that case it’s my responsibility to make sure that you know what you can and can’t get away with photographically when planning your intimate wedding ceremony. I have seen ceremonies in wine cellars in France and hilltops in Barcelona, all weddings look different from a lighting perspective, the images used here are from my adventures as a London wedding photographer.
Camera equipment has developed at a ridiculous rate, every six months a new top end model is released. It’s big business. Developments possibly fuelled by the blogging and vlogging markets, but who knows. All you need to know is that for wedding photographers it essentially has enabled us to shoot in near darkness. You can technically shoot in total darkness, but not with a visible wavelength, so that means your ceremony would be dark and no one could see you (I am going off on a tangent, but this is cool). I’ve only ever seen total darkness shooting for special forces missions. The team sends a dog out in front of them who is carrying a device which emits infrared, the guys behind then have infrared goggles and cameras so they can see, it’s very cool. I don’t have a special forces dog, but I do like sharing cool information.
Where was I. Right. So shooting in very low light is possible, but it does have some drawbacks as far as wedding photography is concerned. If you know what they are you can either plan around them or happily accept the side effects. I’m not a fan of surprises and forewarned is forearmed.
Here is a question I received recently:
“Our wedding ceremony is in the afternoon and will be by candlelight. We both don’t like staged wedding photographs and are looking for a creative photographer that can shoot gorgeous photos in a candlelit/fairy light environment. We are very aware good photos depend on lighting etc. and are very keen to hear your take on this. Would that be something you would be able to help us with? Do you by any chance have some photos to show from other night weddings?”
There are two main considerations when working in low light.
One – The images will be grainy
Two – Candlelight only from below can cast unflattering shadows
Images for your consideration.
The first image (fairy light and grain) is an example of how low light levels (only lit by the fairy lights) will result in what’s called ‘grain’ on the photographs. It’s simply unavoidable, but something you should certainly be aware of. Personally I don’t think it matters and often adds character to an image, particularly black and white photographs. The the close up highlights the grain.
The second image (low candle light) I found on Google to give an example of the potential for shadows. When light only comes from below the shadows can be unflattering.
Image three (mixed lighting), I photographed in a particularly dark barn and is a combination of fairy lights and ‘candle light’ bulbs. The bulbs fill in the shadows and provide more even lighting across the face.
My recommendation would be to have a combination of the two, candles for ambience and fairy lights to add to the ambient light.
The most practical solution would be to create a mini set up at the venue and reflect upon the results. Another consideration is the heat from the candles if they will also be your primary light source. I’ve seen the Gentlemen get quite hot in a three piece woollen suit stood next to candles!
Here are a few more examples of images with grain, I don’t see it as a negative, personally I think it adds character, charm and texture. Some images I even deliberately add grain to achieve a certain style. If however, you think it looks dreadful, then at least now you know. If you want bright images with no moodiness then you will need to either get married in the summer months or invest in a lighting solution to brighten the room. The best bet is if in doubt, hire some gear and test it out, then you can rest assured that the ceremony will look exactly how you want it to.
These two images are heavily cropped to give you an accurate side by side. The image on the left is the first dance where it was very, very dark. The image on the right is during the daylight ceremony. On the left you can see the texture looks a bit like the static on your old TV, on the right the detail is incredibly clear, you can even see the weft of the cloth on the grooms jacket.
How to take better wedding photography portraits and shoot in difficult lighting conditions!
Are you just starting out on your wedding photography journey? Or looking to push on to the next level and improve your wedding portrait photography?
Hopefully you will take away some useful information from this post and be able to implement the tips and information to take better pictures.
Picture a beautiful scene.
Now imagine it’s overcast.
Your couple are ready, time is ticking and then your light just disappears on you. FFS.
It happens. Everything could be perfect, but if the sun suddenly disappears you can be left stranded. A team of expectant people around you or if you are at a wedding, the couple stood waiting wondering why you aren’t shooting.
It’s happened to me before plenty of times and is the main reason why I strongly suggest you add this trick to your repertoire before you become unstuck.
It’s a go to method for taking beautiful naturally lit wedding portraits that can be replicated in near enough any location.
A big bonus for this trick is that it can be used if it starts raining and you have nowhere to shoot indoors.
Weddings are incredibly difficult to photograph well. You need as many tools in your kit (not literal kit) as possible to get you out of any possibly difficult situations.
I don’t mean to compare it to shooting snow leopards in Tibet for 6 months. I mean more like it will test every facet of your photography knowledge and ability. Documentary, fine art…standing still. It all gets tested.
Trees are your best friends
Every time I visit a new location, I will look for trees just in case I have to implement this trick.
Let’s get into it.
What do you need for a good portrait?
Shelter if windy.
Shelter if rainy
Here’s how we are going to get all these things.
Who’s your best friend? Yes, trees, correct.
Trees give you shade from harsh sun. Placing your subject in the shade of a tree will create even light across the whole face. This is flattering for any person as there are no harsh shadows and therefore no weird shapes to contend with.
This is your first win. Second win, it creates a difference in light between the subject and the background.
Exposing for the skin of the couple will result in the background being overexposed, which will either eliminate any clutter in the background, or, overexpose it to the point of it being pure white to give you a clean canvas to work with.
Tip – make sure that the light is coming from behind the subject. This is called backlighting. Reason for this is you might otherwise end up with dappled light coming through the leaves and landing on the face making weird shapes. You might want that sometimes, but for this example, we want even lighting. The type of light that Jose Villa and Elizabeth Messina always seem to shoot in. Backlighting has the added benefit of seperating your subject from the background, creating a similar effect to a hair light/halo effect.
Here’s an example of how this can work in the real world.
In this picture on the left I have exposed for the background, which you can see has rendered the area under the tree near enough black.
Take photographs of your hand
I always take a photograph of my hand to get an idea of accurate exposure for skin tones. If my hand is exposed properly, then their faces will be too.
Placing my hand in the shaded area and increasing exposure now gives me accurate exposure for skin tones and renders the background much, much brighter.
This difference in light is what you should be looking for. A shaded area with a brighter area behind it.
What your eye sees and what the camera sees are often very different. Where you might not see a great deal of contrast, the camera will, so play around in different lighting conditions to get to grips with it.
In this image taken moments later, the full effect is revealed.
The couple are perfectly, evenly lit and the background is bright and clean allowing them to stand out.
When I took this, it was raining
Not only was it overcast and a crappy grey sky with no contrast, but it was also raining.
When I first started this would have been a nightmare. Training myself to see light using this method means I can create a great picture with just a tree.
Extreme depth of field
The second part of this trick is to shoot at an aperture between f/1.4 – f/2.8. An aperture any smaller than this and the background will start to be rendered in focus due to a deeper depth of field.
Shoot at an aperture that you know you can nail focus with. Shooting at f/1.4 is a high risk move if you’ve no idea what you’re doing. If the focus is off by a few inches, the extremely shallow depth of field will render the image out of focus. Remember this can’t be saved in Photoshop. Out of focus=bin.
I use a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 lens – it’s a beast, but the sharpest lens I’ve ever owned. I’ll write a review on it one day. For me it’s the best 50mm lens on the market, Sigma are producing amazing lenses, for very reasonable money. I used to use the plastic Canon 50mm f/1.8, then upgraded to the 1.4 but then realised that was crap and went all in on the Sigma.
The extremely shallow depth of field will render the background out of focus. If you’re lucky enough to have a background of trees as well, then the light coming through the leaves will be rendered as lovely, soft out of focus orbs. Beaut!
Not just for the rain
This is a perfect technique to use when it’s blazingly sunny as well. If it’s face meltingly hot, people don’t want to be in direct sunlight. Grooms in suits sweat, make up runs, paige boys cry.
Make sure you have factor 50 sun cream on, and put your couple in the shade.
This works for me at weddings because the groom is often wearing a woollen three piece suit. He is going to be blisteringly hot and possibly anxious to wrap things up. It’s difficult for people to have their head in the game if they’re too hot and can’t even.
Go out and practice, let me know how you get on.
Before we get started, keep in mind, these are the exact techniques I have practiced in my attempts to become one of the best wedding photographers in London. Practice, practice, practice. I wrote this as much to reflect on what I had been considering and to cement my own learning as to share and educate, hopefully you find some value in it. Master these and you can produce amazing wedding photography. Let’s get started:
the nature of something’s ingredients or constituents; the way in which a whole or mixture is made up.
Composition is something of a beast. There are many rules and considerations when framing an image. The size of the canvas, the subject matter, the colours. The list is endless. Each individual element can have an impact on the image and it’s rhythm, and sometimes, the intention is to deliberately break the rules for artistic or conceptual reasons.
The intention of this article is to introduce and for you to experiment with a few more composition tools that should hopefully lead to mastery.
Consider the language you speak, you can only read this article because you know the language. When you speak, you do not consciously reach for words one by one, they come to you naturally. With enough practice these tools and techniques should hopefully enable you to do the equivalent with your image making.
When you raise the camera to your eye, you do not actively think of a technique, your subconscious recognises the scenario playing out in front of you and you naturally employ those techniques. This however, cannot be achieved without practice, discipline and honesty. Sometimes your images are crap, but to learn you must understand why.
You will never improve if you don’t critique your own work. Be brutally honest and pull your images apart.
So here we go, the rules of composition.
Play with these rules, insert them into your workflow and see how it affects your wedding photographs. Enjoy making work and enjoy the journey, we are all students of wedding photography and should always strive to learn more and develop our practice no matter how difficult it may be.
You will probably notice that there are areas of overlap throughout this. That’s a good thing. Composition is intertwined, interlinked. separating each individual element is troublesome, but it emphasises why practice is incredibly important. The more you practice and actively critique composition, the more the rules will begin to merge and you will see how some compliment each other more than others to make more sophisticated compositions.
Rule of thirds
You’ve no doubt heard it before, but what the hell is it and why would you use it?
The rule of thirds is a grid that breaks your image up into thirds.
It looks like this:
Premise of the grid:
1) by placing the key part of the image either along either one of the two vertical or horizontal lines will make the image more aesthetically pleasing.
2) by placing the key part of the image inside one of the blocks it will become more aesthetically pleasing.
3) by placing the key part of the image at a point where the lines intersect it will become more aesthetically pleasing.
Does it work?
The short answer is no. You cannot simply place an object along a line or on a point and expect it to be good. There are other factors that must be considered.
The rule of thirds attempts to take the incredibly complex subject of composition and break it down into more basic principles, which only serves to introduce you to the subject. Beyond that, we have to look at composition in more depth and explore the rule of thirds relationships with other rules in order to make sense of it.
Do not hate the rule of thirds. It serves a purpose.
An analogy of this could be the complex world of cooking. One rule might be that salt and sweet go together. But when you know that rule, you then go on to learn that it can be broken.
You then learn that there’s also sour, savoury and umami. You then go on to learn abut how steaming, frying, baking, roasting, sautéing etc. all affect taste and flavour.
Hopefully you see where I’m going with this.
Rules are one part of a whole. One rule will only work when applied in the correct context. The rule of thirds is one of the first rules you encounter, but the topic is so complex it will take years to master.
Rule of thirds and balance
The rule of thirds is an incredibly simple way to introduce the basic principles of composition.
It attempts to encompass a few key points such as balance, direction and rhythm. One of the most integral is introducing balance.
In placing the focal point in one of the thirds of the image, you create a difference in ratio. 2:1 negative to positive or positive to negative space. This creates a balance between positive and negative space.
This can help to move the eye left to right or right to left from the negative space to the focal point. It can also do the opposite, move the eye from the focal point into the negative space.
2:1 Ratios to balance the composition
If the subject is placed within a single block of the grid, then the ratio is 8:1 negative to positive space. This can create a feeling of isolation, loneliness and oppression.
But it is not so easy, you can’t simply place an object in one of the segments and expect your composition to be amazing.
Take this for example, if we recompose the Mona Lisa, it’s not quite as good…
The other common application of the rule of thirds is to place the object of interest on the point where the third lines intersect.
Why would you do that?
The idea is that the lines naturally create a point of tension where they meet. That is the idea anyway. As we delve into this a bit more, hopefully it will become apparent that in order for a technique to work, multiple other factors have to also be in place.
Rule of space or Lead room
This describes a scenario in which the subject is looking into the negative space, it can be used to create a sense of movement as the subject has space to move into. It can also be used to add a sense of optimism – look out towards the future. Tension or a sense of unease can also be created as the subjects gaze can lead the viewers eye out of the frame. Notice the 2:1 ratio is still present.
Placing the negative space in front of the subject can also create a sense of movement and narrative. The subject will inevitably move into that space and reach a destination.
Aspective view or Orthogonal view is the rendering of a three dimensional object in two dimensions or in linear perspective.
Orthogonal; of or involving right angles; at right angles.
This is relevant to you, the photographer, because it allows you to depict objects so that they are easily identifiable to the viewer. invisible rectangles and squares dictates how the subject is viewed. Allow me to explain. A gap in a persons legs as they walk which creates an angle that clearly communicates that this person is in motion. You are taking a three dimensional object (the person) and using angles to create a clear distinction between body parts which makes the persons shape immediately obvious and therefore immediately identifiable as not only a person, but also a person in motion.
Lets inspect this guy:
The clear shape created by his legs is immediately recognisable as a person, but also a person in motion. It adds another layer of information as the plane on which the triangle sits implies the direction he is walking in also. He is two dimensional, but he has been rendered in such a fashion that makes him and his purpose immediately obvious.
Rule of odds
In the words of De La Soul, three is the magic number.
The rule of odds suggests that on a subconscious level, as human animals we find three objects to be harmonious. Squares and regular cuboids suggest stability, whereas a triangle is a dynamic shape as it emphasises directional movement diagonally rather than linearly which in turn creates a sense of movement.
Diagonal movement encourages the eye to move across the entirety of the image, left and right as well as up and down.
The rule of odds would dictate that any odd number of objects would create harmony and balance, however this is subjective and is also informed by other elements of composition. Basically this is one rule to consider and is only one tool in the composition box, to be used in conjunction within others to create dynamic compositions.
In this example the light areas either side help to frame the centre.
Robert Frank: Three key elements of the composition creates a triangle and establishes a relationship between the objects.
Placing three images together can also create harmony by framing the centre image. This is called a triptych (trip-tick)
This is a picture of two Swans. So two things can work in harmony if other ingredients are in place to facilitate it – remember, these are rules, not laws. In this case, notice how the water compliments the shape of the birds and creates a harmony. Much in the same way as the yin and yang symbol does.
Beatboxing. Yes, beatboxing. It’s a brilliant analogy for explaining how coincidences work. The basic beat is laid down, buh tu cah tu buh tu cah. Then new instruments and sounds are added, but your brain keeps the underlying beat going. That’s how coincidences can work. The lines start, form the majority of a shape and then your brain continues following that imaginary line to create the harmony and finish the shape. This creates structure and rhythm across an image without the need for rigid, visible lines.
Is the scenery amazing and you just cant take a good picture of it? It seems awkward, unbalanced, something’s just not right. Examine the foreground and see if the objects nearer the camera upset the balance of your image. Understanding how it can add depth to your images can transform a photograph from good to great.
The foreground can lead the eye from the front to the back of the image, balance near and far objects by rendering them similar sizes and can also add much needed context. The foreground can also be used to create a frame within a frame, a much loved technique of Steven Spielberg.
Depth and scale are incredibly important in composition, particularly in landscape photography. An effective use of the foreground can make the image feel like it starts at your feet and draws you into the landscape, taking you on a journey with it. It immerses the viewer in the image. The foreground is like an extended hand, it will hold yours and walk you through the rest of the picture.
Foreground is not always confined to the bottom of the picture, but can form a complete or partial frame of the subject. Doorways, arches, windows. All good foreground frames. A personal favourite is finding the bough of a tree that creates a pleasing arch. The best part of utilising the foreground is that you can use it to hide anything unsightly. Sometimes the light is amazing and the setting ninety percent perfect, there’s just an ugly bastard part of a building in the background.
I have in the past taken a branch and pulled it down (not off, I’m not a monster) and then arched it to hide something hideous in the background. Its simple but effective. If you place an object right in front of the lens then no amount of depth of field will render it sharp so you have to embrace how its shape will move the eye across the picture.
A composition tool for a scene that has prominent lines, the aim is to align two or more of these lines with the edge of the frame to emphasise the geometry. As the edge of the frame is a rigid geometric structure, how the photographer chooses to embrace it can have a major effect on the rhythm of the structure contained within it. Shape and form can be emphasised in composition when a structure is aligned with both the horizontal and vertical borders of the image frame. The corners also play a part in this composition technique, they can contribute to the directional flow of the photograph. Angular momentum can be emphasised and can move the eye in a particular direction across the image.
Not often considered a tool of composition, but it plays an important role in more complex pieces. Contrast can be utilised in both colour and black and white photography. The difference between light and dark aids the sense of structure, formality and directional flow. Specifically within architecture the dynamic lines are an important feature to emphasise due to the direction and movement along their length and height.
When composing an image of a building the composition becomes pleasing to the eye because it will compare the angle and length. Horizontal lines, for instance, have a more tranquil effect than diagonal lines as they lead the eye in a single direction laterally from left to right. Zig-zags can be exciting, but also disruptive to the flow of an image as it breaks up the natural line that the eye will take. Bold lines can express strength whereas thin, curving lines, suggest delicacy.
“Surface decorations based on rhythmic linear patterns”
Basically swirly patterns that make an image interesting by moving the eye across it. Stems from Arabic patterns, so literally Arab-esque. Adopted as a term in western art during the 1500’s. Imagine how a bird may swoop, climb and dive, it moves from left to right or right to left in a rhythmic fashion, with pauses, changes of direction and elevation, but ultimately moving across the landscape – they take you on a journey with them. That’s what arabesque composition should do for your photographs, move the eye across the image in a rhythmical pattern.
Van Gogh’s Starry Night is a beautiful application of this technique. The clouds allow the eye to gently drift across the image on that same breeze.
Symmetry is fundamentally linked to beauty because of it’s relationship with unity and regularity. Distinct elements within the image are both related to each other and to the whole. The parts of the whole are essentially interchangeable, this creates harmony as each section can be interchanged.
Imagine a set of scales. You place a weight on one side, it lifts the other side up and it becomes unbalanced. You place an object of equal weight on the opposite side, it becomes balanced. That is the fundamental thought process behind the counterpart – when you insert an object, you need another to balance it.
Now imagine a tablecloth on a table. If you pull it in one direction forcefully, the tablecloth comes off, you would need to pull it equally from the opposite direction. Now you have two people pulling equally in opposite directions, and the cloth is stable. An image can pull from all corners. In order to create harmony across the image we need to strategically place elements to make sure that the image pulls equally in all directions.
Take this image from William Eggleston. With all of the elements in place the image pulls equally in all directions.
Remove one of these elements and the image is no longer anchored, the composition is skewed in favour of one side of the picture. You could then say if you were analysing this piece, that the frames in the respective corners act as counterpoints to the cables on the ceiling.
Fancy term for using a more complex grid to compose your images. The rule of thirds is a linear grid, it goes up and down, left and right. The intention of dynamic composition is to enable the eye to move both across and up and down the image simultaneously. This creates a rhythm across the image as your eye does not reach the edge of the frame at a ninety degree angle, which would potentially cause the flow of your gaze to stop. Like dropping a ball, it goes in only one direction and will stop in that place. Bounce it at an angle and it moves both up and diagonally at the same time. To calculate how to best use dynamic composition, we need to use what is called an Armature. This is based upon mathematical ratios, if you recoil at the sight of the word ‘maths’ do not fret, you can create the most basic version of it with a ruler, a pencil and a simple connecting of corners and lines. It doesn’t matter the shape of the canvas, draw diagonals in the same fashion as the image below. The diagonal from the bottom left to the top right is called the baroque diagonal. From bottom right to top left is called the sinister diagonal.
The latest version of Photoshop has different crop grids to overlay onto your images so you can try it out with your own pictures.
In this image we have some megalols
The relationship between the lady laughing in the foreground and the background creates a channel in which the diminishing size moves the eye to the right. The croquet stick in the background lines up nicely with the Armature, as does the angle of the models body in the foreground, each element creating a sense of movement from left to right.
Composition with a concept
Composition is not only used to create visually interesting pictures, it can also be used to emphasise a concept, or hide a subliminal message.
10 Pillars of Knowledge: The School of Athens.
The School of Athens by Raphael represents human knowledge. Human knowledge is composed of 10 pillars (parts) that include all the fields that establish our cultural and scientific heritage. Here the image has been composed to deliberately place significant historical figures in positions that represent their philosophical, mathematical and historical views.
To make this image doubly interesting, the composition was as inspiration in Alt-J’s video ‘Tessellate’. Many modern creators and creatives reach back into the archives of art history to recycle old ideas. Next time you’re looking at a painting, why not challenge yourself to think of how you would make it into a wedding portrait?
All of these are merely tools, ideas for you to play with. Go forth and conquer. Create something that makes you happy.