There are posed wedding portraits and there candid wedding portraits. The latter description is not an oxymoron, it’s a label I have for portraits that are captured in a photojournalistic style. They’ve been around since Cartier-Bresson invented the photojournalism and, of course, the former has been with us since the invention of the camera.
Since a photo portrait is, by definition “a likeness of a person, especially one showing the face, that is created by a photographer” – does it matter that it was captured on the fly, without the express participation of the photographed? Yes & no.
Posed portraits are almost always done with the obvious participation of the participants, sometimes called ‘camera awareness’. Often, people are looking directly at the camera, almost speaking to you. In the best of these ‘camera aware’ shots, the subjects are showing what they want you to see. They are projecting not who they are but what they think they are. Not everyone projects well.
Of course, some do. Like the charming bride and her father below. Project well, it makes for a nice shot.
Sometimes, the photographer poses them so their ‘camera knowledge’ is less evident. In the hands of an accomplished photographer, the posed portrait can be high art. This can be particularly true if the subject is camera savvy, like professional models or actors are. Unfortunately, few brides and grooms are professional posers. Since posing for portraits is so common in wedding photography, you see a lot of insipid portraits.
Photojournalistic portrait – done without the apparent knowledge of the subject – are a different beast. They are both harder to see – fleeting as they are – and harder to capture. But when they are captured, these are candid moments, a look, a gesture, it can be magic. They can be an unintended revealing of something more personal, more intimate in a person or between people than any posed shot can. No amount of posing will create the subtle body language that speaks with special emotion . . . well almost no amount of posing. There are some masters of posing that can recreate candid moments, given enough time.
The picture above was taken in a graveyard, just outside the church, just before the bride and her father went in and down the aisle. Their gesture was a very personal communication between two people.
Yes, I know the difference is subtle but something is going on in the second shot that wasn’t happening in the first. Both were taken just before the ceremony. The second one will be a favorite of the family for a long time.
Also, it’s not just couples. The photograph above was taken when another photographer had been posing the bride for close to an hour. The bride had held up wonderfully and while the other photographer was directing the groom to do something, the bride became lost in her thoughts, lifted her bouquet and this quiet moment happened.
I don’t think you plan these kinds of photographs. You have to stalk them. By that I mean that you anticipate them, you watch for them and when you spot the opportunity, you take the shot. It takes trust on the part of the bride & groom in letting you inside their emotional personal space. It also takes a certain attitude on the part of the photographer and a wee bit of luck. If these are the kinds of portraits that you are hoping for, think photojournalism and look for them in the portfolios you are considering.
About the Author:
The spirit of a wedding day lives in fleeting events, unfolding without direction. Wedding photojournalism is how the story of a wedding day can be captured artfully. Trained as a designer (BA & MFA) and skilled in visual story telling, Dan Derby works quietly throughout your wedding day making sure this happens. He is based in New England but travels where ever he’s needed.