Candid Wedding Photography
Photographing candid images at a wedding is probably one of the most difficult things any photographer can do (do well at any rate). At its worst it is a mind numbing experience leading to massive frustration and long suffering in image editing just looking for an honestly candid shot… Or at least one that isn’t from the back.
The reason is easy to see, from a very early age people are taught to be aware of the camera. Every time someone breaks out the camera the first thing every 2 year old hears is “look at the camera and smile” or worse yet “Smile baby and say cheese!” or OMG… The killer: “Watch the birdie” (on a side note: I have often used “Watch the birdie” then I flip my subjects “the bird”… Great way to get a real laugh).
(Back on track) This awareness of the camera is automatic and ingrained deeply in the psyche and there is very little chance of explaining and cajoling your subjects into “just acting natural” when you are around. This pathological camera reaction manifests in several different ways.
- The Pathological Grin: Bride screws up her face like the Cheshire Cat even when she thinks the camera might be around.
- Am I On?: Groom strikes the GQ pose and gets that a steely expression fitting of a Marine Drill Instructor.
- The Blur: Mother (Bride or Groom’s) face suddenly becomes a waving hand and she jumps around hooting “don’t take my picture yet, my hair’s a mess”… Always just as the shutter clicks.
- *Camera Radar: Neither Bride nor Groom will face the direction of any camera lens within and up to 1 mile.
- Generation X: (A new disorder only recently identified) Bride senses camera and sticks out her tongue and crosses eyes.
Okay we get it… What’s the solution?
Tips and tricks to candid wedding photography
Out of Sight Out of Mind: The first and possibly the best technique is don’t be detected. Distance is your friend. Just shooting with a longer lens can achieve miraculous results. This also entails a lot of positioning of yourself and the long arc created by the distance requires some athletic abilities on the photographer’s part. It can also become a game of lying in wait (rather like a sniper). This is not always practicable at a densely crowded soirée.
Another trick here is the Duck Blind. I will often have my assistant stand facing me as though we are in deep conversation. Holding the camera up at my side elbow resting against the body (just over the flunkies shoulder) when I see my shot coming I’ll nonchalantly tip my head to the view finder to snap the shot.
Misdirection (Shooting from the hip aka slight of camera). Sometimes when dealing with an acute case of camera awareness I will stand or walk around looking bored with my main rig hanging on the strap. Watching only from the corner of my eye I will hold and shoot with my backup camera limply dangling in my hand from the side. This takes some skill and practice with the equipment.
Another good method of misdirection is to send your assistant around to shoot “table shots” with the biggest camera and flash you can put in their hands. While they are making the big wedding photo scene far away from the intended subjects, I will unobtrusively stalk them with a stripped down photojournalist’s version back up camera.
**De-sensitivity Training: This is pretty much self explanatory. Before the wedding fun starts the photographer gets in the face of the wedding party participants like a psycho ninja paparazzi firing off staccato machine gun style popping flash and sticking a light meter under their chin… After about 30 minutes of this you will notice sideways glancing, whispers about the photographer’s sanity and possibly some gnashing of teeth, this is when you back off. In comparison from this point out you will be invisible.
For the utterly hopeless camera aware:
Often there is a couple or one of a couple that are basically impossible to sneak up on. Do not despair…There is a solution. The “Semi Candid”.
I have found it is usually the bride. Every picture of her in the past (in her opinion) has turned out “just horrid” and she can not shake the bitter memories and the visceral feeling that the camera is not her friend. Her only hope (and why she hired a photojournalist for her wedding in the first place) is a skilled photographer to make her look good in pictures because the only good ones ever were candid. This is always a heart stopping situation for a wedding photographer (and probably more than 50% of all your likely wedding clients).
A solution: Right after the ceremony (when the shock is still in full effect) I take the bride and Groom for a walk away from the rest of the wedding festivities, telling them to take a little time for just the two of them to let it all settle in. I will follow along at a distance (out of earshot) and just photograph their interactions.
I have found this to be a most useful tool and often implement it in all the weddings I shoot. This I think is where the core of all the emotion is to be found: Shortly after they are pronounced “Man and Wife” there is a brief time of raw beautiful child like reality that can not be hidden by any fear… No matter how deeply ingrained by a hard world.
*oddly this is often coupled with a 5 year old nephew whose face sticks to the camera lens no matter where it is positioned… Next article.
**This method is only to be used in extreme cases of camera shyness and may also harm your career in wedding photojournalism.