Before photojournalism became an established style of wedding photography, the industry seemed firmly entrenched in a standardized set of perfect cliché-looking shots and effects. Wedding photojournalism transformed the industry. Instead of creating picture perfect scenes for every moment, the wedding photographer strove to capture the truth and realism in the actual moment with his or her creative vision. The result was photography that was no longer standardized as a canned product sold from the shelf of your grocery store. Rather, each client got customized pictures that may not have been flawless, but were perfect in capturing the actual emotion and atmosphere of the scene.

Whether or not this should be the primary style of any wedding photographer is a topic of another conversation, as many (including myself) believe that the best results come from a nice balance of multiples styles of photography. However, in this article, I want to focus solely on improving photojournalism skills by following 8 tips.

8 Wedding Photojournalism Tips

1) Redefine Photojournalism – The first thing we have to do is redefine our notions of photojournalism. We have to go beyond capturing the entire story and focus on certain parts of the story. For example, the bride may be stressed for any number of reasons, but she won’t want to see that emotion reflected in her pictures. Also, pictures of expressionless people chewing on food or two guys having an deep, serious conversation about work might tell the story; but it’s not the story our clients are going to want to see. If the picture has no emotion, or it has a negative emotion, it’s probably not worth taking, even if it tells part of the story.

2) Find a Foreground (when available) – We want each image to tell a full story; and for that we need to see, not only the emotion of subject(s), but also the person or object that is bringing out the emotion. Whatever is bringing out that emotion is usually going to be in the foreground of our images, so sometimes we have to find the perfect crop and composition in order to include the whole story. As you look at the following examples, imagine the same image cropped in, without the foreground. They leave the viewer asking questions like, “what is she laughing at?” or “Why is she crying?”

3) Listen and Anticipate – Stand close to your potential subjects and listen in on their conversations. If it seems like it’s going to lead to a smile or a laugh, be ready, as most people smile right after they finish a sentence. Also, it’s tempting to laugh at a funny moment and laugh all you want behind the lens. Just make sure you’re getting everyone else’s reactions as well. This may take a lot of poise, as it’s easy to shy away and act guilty if someone catches you pointing a camera at them or eavesdropping. It’s important to maintain your composure, stay in position and have your camera ready to fire at any moment.

4) Use the Right Lens – This is probably the most obvious tip, but it’s worth mentioning for those who are still hesitating to pick up that expensive zoom lens. Almost all people freeze up or act differently when they know a camera is pointed at them, so most candids are going to be shot with higher zoom lenses, such as the 70-200mm lens.

5) Be in the Right Position – As we listen to the sounds of any wedding, every laugh we hear is a missed opportunity for a nice candid image. Being in the right position at the right time is important for getting the most and best possible candid images. Walk around the group of people talking, climb on chairs, and do whatever it takes to find that position. For example, if we see our bride approaching a guest for the first time on her wedding day, we’ll probably want to be directly behind her so we can get the expressions on the face of the person hugging out bride.

6) Use the Right Lighting – For most of your images, make sure you’re using a nice diffused and matched light source, and consider using natural light. An image looses a part of its story telling power when the lighting looks artificial for any reason, whether it be mixed lighting or harsh flash lighting. If your flash and the background vary widely in temperature, your subjects can seem removed from their environment. Similarly, if you’re using direct, harsh lighting, your subjects might look like a deer caught in the headlights. Basically, the more natural you can make the lighting look, the more natural the image will look, and the more effective your image will be for telling the story of that particular moment in time.

7) Use Creative Lighting – This next point, using creative lighting, is going to seemingly contradict the first point. It’s true that we want most of our candid images to look natural, with matched, diffused, and soft lighting; but every once in a while, we should spice things up a bit. Just because we’re capturing a real moment, doesn’t mean we can’t add interest and style to the image by utilizing our lighting skills. You’ll have to pick and choose the right moments to use your creative lighting techniques based on your style and preference, but for certain expressions and moments, this can vastly improve your overall photography.

8) Know Your Moments – Knowing what to look for at the right moment is important to producing great wedding photojournalism. For example, there’s a lot to focus on during the wedding ceremony, but out of the corner of your eye, keep an eye out for tears from the bridesmaids and the parents of the bride. During the father/daughter dance, make sure you’re focusing, not only on the subjects dancing, but also the emotions of the mother and the groom in the crowd. During bride preparation, watch for the reactions of the bride’s mother and the bridesmaids upon seeing the bride for the first time. The list goes on and on with a different focus for each scene; but remember that these transient moments are easy to miss if you’re not keeping an eye out for them.

Conclusion

It’s easy to throw around the phrase “wedding photojournalist.” As a sort of catch-phrase these days, it’s almost impossible to find a bride who doesn’t want wedding photojournalism incorporated in at least part of their wedding photography. I think it’s important that before we call ourselves photojournalists, we develop our skills for capturing these story-telling moments and deliver a product that qualifies as the term we are classifying our styles as. I hope this article has helped; and feel free to leave your thoughts and/or additional tips in the comments below.

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Written by Christopher Lin of Lin and Jirsa Photography

Lin and Jirsa Photography is an Orange County, CA based wedding photography studio specializing in creative lighting, photojournalism, and unique post production.  The team consists of 3 brothers (two Lins and a Jirsa), who have combined their backgrounds in photography and graphic design with their passion for documenting love stories to create a unique product and service.  In addition to shooting, the team provides insights, tutorials, and tips on their photography education site SLR Lounge.

6 Comments

  • David McFarland says:

    I really enjoyed you comments. As a photojournalist, wedding photographer, and a biological imgaging specailist I have been trained to “shoot the moment” and in a news story it doesn’t matter what the emotion is as long as it is a strong emotion. As I prepare to shoot a wedding for a good friend of mine (she insisted, I declined, she INSISTED)I am trying to polish some skills to reneter the wedding photography business for economic and more importantly I missed doing photography on the personal level that weddings give. It was good to hear your advice, and I think it is very important to remember that we are telling a happy story, not the story of “bridezilla”. Thank you for putting things back in perspective.

  • Anna Rebecca says:

    Thanks for the post! I was contemplating selling my 70-200mm for 2 other lenses. But I’m glad that what you stated in this article about using that lens was exactly what I thought in my head, so I was convinced that it would be a bad idea to sell it. Thanks!

  • These are great thoughts to ponder. I have such a desire to document reality that I sometimes struggle to avoid the things that don’t look quite as pretty as the others (men crying, humorous/unattractive expressions etc.). I tell clients that I strive to document their story and who they are…though it is typically documented in a pleasing light. I understand that we are given the opportunity to show people who they are and what their interactions appear like…though it really makes me think. In the negative times, do we try and make things better than they are or only watch for the good?
    Where does the story become to much?

  • Ruth Cooper says:

    This is enthusiastic. Your blog is really informative and impressive. I learned something from your post. Thank you and keep it up.

    Sarah Kimmel Photography

  • Mark Hayes says:

    Great tips all but I really like the “Listen and Anticipate”. So many times it’s about sensing a moment in the making and waiting until the critical moment to raise the camera and take that shot so you aren’t seen stalking them with the lens.

  • […] 90% of my wedding photography days are spent covering the action in a photojournalist manner. At the end of the day, however, I gravitate towards portraits. It has always given me great […]

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