Category Archives: technique

How I Got The Shot – Emotion And Depth

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.

two people crying at a wedding

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.

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How I Got The Shot – Emotional Father of the Bride Speech

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!

emotional father of the bride speech

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.

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Caravaggio Lighting Technique – Single Light Sources At Weddings

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:

single light source
wedding ceremony black and white

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:

candlelit wedding ceremony

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.

backlighting wedding photography

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 stay up with everything I discuss here on my blog.

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…

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Street Style Wedding Photography

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’, …

street style wedding photography

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.

wedding guest drinking wine

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.

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Shooting through a moment for better wedding photographs

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 desireable 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 reveive 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 themseleves only occur every so often. The liklihood 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 soleley 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…

emotional father of the bride speech

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.

paige boy eating cake

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.

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