With the snap of a shutter, a camera lens captures a single moment in time; one that can never occur again in the exact same way.
At any given wedding, there are an infinite number of these moments that pass us by. Some hold in place longer than others; some come and go in the blink of an eye.
It is through such fleeting details that some wedding photojournalists earn their keep. With a professional eye honed through years of visual training and practice, they constantly scan the wedding scene, searching for that close-focus moment that is sure to pop up next.
Combine that eye with hands that possess enough dexterity to react in an instant, and you have a premier wedding photojournalist who can freeze these wedding day details forever, preserving a moment in time that memory alone could not possibly hold.
It is a skill that, while not always appreciated, is second nature to photographers with an eye for details on the move. They remain on constant alert for unique imagery, anticipate when the best moment will pass, and then pounce on the opportunity. These three key traits ensure that fleeting memories can be bottled in a photograph.
THE WELL-TRAINED EYE
From behind their lenses, professional photojournalists have spent countless hours watching and waiting for a moment to strike. All the years spent panning scenes has helped exercise the visual side of the brain to spot certain details that could make for great pictures which would otherwise be missed by the casual eye.
This talent is often molded by years spent on the beat for metropolitan newspapers. Photographers learn quickly that a major part of the job description is to be a trained observer. And this is no different when transitioning those skills over to weddings. You have to be “on” that entire time, with your mind totally dialed in to observation.
Knowing what to look for can simply be a matter of finding something among the crowd and hullabaloo of weddings that just looks a little off-kilter from all the other people and events being photographed. These moments serve to paint a dynamic, wholly personal picture of the event, and helps feed the story of what makes every wedding so unique.
ANTICIPATE THE MOMENT
Spotting that image is hardly enough, as sometimes the moments are so fleeting that once you see them, they’re already gone.
So once you find that striking pattern that contrasts with the rest of the wedding ensemble, or a certain accoutrement that stands out on someone’s dress, process that info and begin to anticipate where that detail could fit into the big picture.
It may be something like the foil of a champagne cork about to be peeled and popped away, so be quick. Or it can be an article of clothing that may stick around for a while, but be constantly on the move. Either way, think like a hunter stalking a photogenic prey, and try to anticipate just where and when that detail will flush itself out.
And by all means, cast a wide net with this process. Keep watch not only on the big obvious moments, but on the smaller, reactionary ones. A quiet detail shared through the honesty of a camera lens can enjoy a lasting impact because the photographer was on his game.
In this industry, there are those who are lucky. And then there are those who are professionals, getting paid well for their competence and dependability. Rely on the former, and your career will be a short one. Luck certainly has its place at the wedding, but only by anticipating and visualizing your shots will you be able to attain a heightened level of artistry.
AIM AND SHOOT
Beyond having a good eye and persistence, a wedding photojournalist’s prime expertise lies in the execution of the photos. After spotting a detail and keeping an eye on it to anticipate where it will wind up, it’s then a matter of framing and taking the photograph.
Most of that skill comes down to mastering your tool—the camera—and knowing how to spring into motion at the drop of a hat. You have to be at one with your equipment, and there can never be a question about your camera’s readiness for the action. Spontaneous moments wait for no one. And you never get a second chance.
Some professionals will keep their camera’s exposure kept to the available light, so there is no fumbling with the lens when a quick shot is in order. Still other WPJA pros will keep two cameras handy, one with a zoom lens and one with a wide-angle, in order to be able to switch back and forth if a detail is spotted close up or from afar.
It also doesn’t hurt to take stock of the wedding’s overall tone and cadence so you can keep an eye open for “outlier” moments that breach the familiar. Sometimes, taking a step back from the action is all you need to change the perspective. For instance, if the gathered guests are raucously letting loose on the dance floor and quickening the pulse of the party, your close-up lens should be out fishing for that “fleeting detail”: the wide-eyed onlooker; the quiet embrace of an aged couple; or the entwining of two hands in the middle of a sea of chaos. With two cameras, you can easily switch back to the wide-angled coverage when needed.
The key is being ready to move from one detail to another and not fixate or harp on that one fleeting element that has come and gone. You will miss some moments. That’s just a hard fact. But if you’re putting yourself out there, willing to fail in the name of a great photograph, you’re already winning. You have to quickly put that great lost moment behind you, because while you were lamenting its loss, a new one just popped up over your left shoulder.
Paying attention to such ever-shifting details will eventually produce pictures that will set your portfolio apart from the ordinary. Anyone can create a detail shot of a cake sitting on a table, a hanging dress, shoes, or rings—they will always be there until someone moves them. It’s the skill and intuition to capture these details as they move about during the course of the wedding that elevates the photojournalist’s work to the extraordinary.