By Kristian Leven
For the past seven years I’ve photographed weddings in an unobtrusive way, preferring the day’s event’s to unfold naturally in front of me rather than coordinating anything. This style has been derived from my love of documentary and street photography, which I shoot outside of weddings as much as possible. Doing so has given me a fresh perspective on the work I’m producing, and I often use what I’ve learnt shooting street photography with me on a wedding day. Here are ten things I’ve learnt about taking better wedding photographs, and how I applied them to a wedding I shot on the FUJIFILM XT-2 last month.
1. Look for unconventional framing
Where possible I’m always looking to frame my subject unconventionally. I had already shot the Bride from the more traditional angles but I wanted to create something slightly different. Once I went behind the table I could see that her face lined up perfectly with the gap in the mirror – it was then just a case of waiting for the make-up artists hand to fill that extra gap to complete the composition.
2. Don’t always shoot at eye level
We have a tendency to shoot at our own eye level the majority of the time; doing this can mean we don’t always achieve the composition we’re aiming for, so to avoid that I use the LCD tilt-screen to get higher than my subject. In this instance I would have had to get a chair to shoot down onto the Bridesmaid, but raising my arms and tilting the screen down and using the ‘Live’ mode spared me from making a scene and potentially losing this natural moment.
3. Get in close
We also have a tendency to photograph at a safe distance, and as Robert Capa once famously said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”. Since using Fujifilm’s live-view LCD though, I’ve noticed I can get a lot closer into the action without invading people’s personal space. I tend to use this approach sparingly, so it’s more impactful when I do.
4. Shoot at smaller apertures
I love the bokeh effect you get when shooting at larger apertures, but you could be losing valuable story-telling information by doing this all the time. In this instance, when the Bride was putting on her wedding dress, I wanted her sister’s response to be more prominent, whilst keeping the main focus on the Bride. So I bumped the ISO up and set the aperture at f9. As a result you can just about make out the tear forming in the sister’s eye – information that would’ve have been completely lost had I shot at a large aperture.
5. Look out for the small moments away from the main action
A lot of the time when everyone is looking one way, something more telling is happening elsewhere. I had a feeling the Groom was going to have a look at his Bride during the readings as he couldn’t keep his eyes off her throughout the ceremony! I framed it so that you can just make out one of the readers, but with the focus and emphasis very much on the couple.
6. Use challenging lighting conditions to your advantage
I love using dark shadows and bright highlights to make a picture more dynamic. When everyone was walking in and taking their seat, I noticed this one shaft of bright light coming into the room. There wasn’t much else happening, so I decided to wait and see if anyone would come into that scene and sure enough one of the guests came and sat down in that spot.
7. Keep on shooting
The only time I stop shooting is when people are eating – they don’t make for the best pictures! But there are moments in between the courses when things are happening. It’s very common for the Bride and Groom to have a little wander around the room, going from table to table to say ‘Hi’ to the guests. I see this as a great opportunity to get some real, un-staged moments with their friends. I came across the Bride playing a drinking game with her old Uni mates, and stayed with them for a few minutes to capture the reactions.
8. Always keep one eye on the Bride and Groom
I’d say 9 times out of 10 there is a moment between the Bride and Groom after the Groom finishes his speech. Whilst everyone’s eyes are turned towards the Master of Ceremonies who is introducing the Best Man, my eyes remain fixed onto the happy couple to see if anything happens. If there is, you’re richly rewarded with a beautiful natural moment.
9. Use the ambient light
Unlike a lot of my fellow photographers, I tend not to use flash during the dancing part in the evening. I see it as adding an element that wasn’t originally there on the day, and my personal preference is for keeping the actual ambiance that was there originally. Plus when your subjects are lit by somebody’s actual flash from their camera, it adds a bit more of a story-telling element to the image.
10. Remember what it’s all about in the end
Ultimately, the most important aspects of the day are the human connections the couple has with the people they’ve invited to their wedding. A picture of the Bride hugging her Dad after having a laugh with him on the dance floor is going to be worth a hundred well composed, artistically interesting photos you’ll take for them on the day.
More from Kristian Leven
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13 thoughts on “10 Tips to Capture Natural Wedding Photographs”
These pics are epic! Great tips and a good sell on the x-t2!
They are wonderful tips I can confirm. Excellent photographs too! Compiments
These are wonderful tipps, that I can confirm. Excellent photographs too, compliments!
Great tips and pictures. I look forward to putting a few these into practice in the coming months!
Lovely work as usual Kristian, and ten tips that I can fully concur with!
Great tips. They carry over to all sorts of other events. Thanks much.
I agree with most of those tips – the only one I would take issue with is the advice not to use flash for the dancing shots. While I would concede that direct on-camera flash isn’t very flattering, judicious use of bounced flash or (better) off-camera flash can often be helpful.
Some venues are very dark, so using flash lets you avoid really high ISO settings. Or the venue lighting may be unflattering (e.g. fluorescent lighting, or strongly coloured LED wall-wash uplighters), or the DJ may be covering the dancefloor with laser spots or coloured blobs and patterns.
I also find that off-camera flash can add a nice rim-light that separates the couple from a uniformly dark background.
So I think it’s best to consider the options – there are times when I will go with just available light, but it’s not always the optimal solution.
I really love to capture natural photographs during weddings. The above post helped me to know about the core competencies involved in it. I have started to practice natural photography in all my photo sessions. Everyone loves to pose for me as the photo seems to be natural and simple. A post worth reading. Thanks!
Great write up, makes much decision to migrate that much harder!
Hi Kristian, This is great advice for wedding photographers. Thank you so much for this valuable information. All pictures are awesome!
Really great advice Kristian! Lots to think of, and it is always good to look for creative ideas. I think the key one though which you mention is to be a careful observer! Capturing emotion trumps all else.
Great advice Kristian! Some really useful tips in there, though you cover it perfectly at the end, the key is being a careful observer, and emotion trumps everything else.
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