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Wedding Photography Techniques for Posing the Bride and Groom

Despite recent trends in wedding photography towards documentary (or reportage) photography, many wedding clients are still looking for high quality, artistic and imaginative posed bridal portraits and couple shots. Techniques relating to posing and capturing great couple shots is the area in which I get the most requests for training. There isn’t one magic formula but this article gives an insight into the approach I would recommend to other professional photographers.

Light, Light Light!

The foundation for standing out as a wedding photographer is being able to see and understand light. The quality of light should always be given heavy weight in your decision making – whether you considering window light, artificial lighting or assessing the direction of light in the grounds of a venue. And not only should it influence where you shoot, but also how you pose the couple and the atmosphere you create.

Soft window light might lend itself to a romantic, tender mood. Church grounds are effectively surrounded by trees and the church itself, which results in top lighting; so the posing might be geared to the bride looking up in some capacity. Or on an overcast day, you might use a canopy (eg overhanging branches) to create more directional light. On an sunny, contrasty day, to avoid ungainly shadows in eye sockets, consider shooting into the sun but with aid of dark (eg green foliage) background.

Artistic image of passionate couple on stairs bathed in light from side window.

Always consider how the quality and direction of light sculpts  the couple and affects the mood.

Search Imaginatively for Inspiration

To stand out from the wedding crowd, there is little point in looking for inspiration from other wedding photographers (mainly formulaic) or wedding magazines. (Wedding magazines are very conservative and not particularly interested in artistic or imaginative wedding photography per se: they are serving a wide audience – think lowest common denominator – and are primarily interested in illustrating ideas for accessories and wedding themes). Instead, look at alternative sources such as fashion magazines where much more thought has been put into light and creativity. You will need to take into account that the average wedding couple are not models, so not every advertisement in Vogue will translate into a suitable wedding photo. But you should be able to take ideas on posing structure, mood, engagement and expressions – and adapt them.

Image inspire by a magazine advert.

The inspiration for this image was taken from a fashion magazine advert.

Practice Your Posing

It is not uncommon to see an idea for a pose in a magazine, think that you have it in your head, and go blank when faced with the challenges on a wedding day. It is important to practice the nuances of a pose so that when put into practice you can instinctively know why it is looking wooden (or analyse some other problem). Practising also helps you to understand the limitations and adaptability of different poses (does it work when the bride is taller than the groom?). Always think about the hands and the impact on the feel of the image (sometimes it is best to hide them, and never leave them dangling).

Image showing wedding photography with height differences.

Think in advance about the impact of height differences.

Develop Your Own Style

There is nothing wrong with keep tabs on trends in wedding photography, but do not be a sheep (and after all there are probably already enough photographers offering vintage, quirky photographs of the bride and groom’s feet!). Don’t be afraid though of emulating a particular photographer’s general style as (providing you do not emulate it too mechanically and follow the advice in the rest of this article) it may well eventually evolve into your own unique style. My own style is editorial but classical in nature.  The way I make it my own is through the use of light.

Expressions – Explain to the couple what you are aiming for

Remember that wedding couples do not have your photographer’s eyes and may find some of the posing and set-ups strange or even awkward. You need to put on your director’s hat and explain enthusiastically the aim of the photograph and why you are setting things up in a particular way. If the couple can visualise the final image, it will help you achieve the right expressions and ultimately mood of the photograph. If the expressions do not suit the pose and mood of the image, do not take the photograph until it is right. I see too many wedding photographs where the couple look sheepish or inane. A good wedding photograph should be about engagement, passion, drama, or romance. Not standing standing side by side, looking embarassed. Not stooping over (in the way only wedding couples do) and puckering up for kiss that might be more suitable for grandmothers.

Image illustrating top lighting on a couple

This couple need to stand at the bottom of a damp stair well. But I explained about the quality of the (top) lighting and explained how the pose would need to suit this.

Don’t be afraid to micro manage

With the couple’s permission, use your hand to gently finesse the final pose (perhaps the tilt of the head). That final 10% can make a big difference to the quality of the final image. Remember that posing does not equate to unnatural or wooden photographs. Good posing is about doing the opposite: making it look credible and natural. Yes the couple wouldn’t naturally do this, but they have hired you to create stylish representations of the day with more mood variety than they could achieve themselves.

Image showing an example of directed posing.

Make sure grooms do not hunch their shoulders.

Flow Posing

Not all your posing should be geared to capturing single full album spread ‘hero shots’ that take ten minutes each to set up. Some album spreads cry out for a set of inter-related and complimentary images. Try out some posing ideas that allow you to adjust easily a few elements for a slightly different look. In fact visualising post production and album design is always a good idea when deciding about location and posing.

Be Imaginative with Angles, Perspective and Composition

This partly relates to developing your own style of wedding photography; but for example, wide angle lens can often add drama to your image if the posing and expressions warrant it. At the very least, be experimental. Too many photographers just stick to one versatile lens and photography from just obvious positions and angles.

Bride in front of church and back-lit.

Vary your photography with off-camera flash and video light

Use of these artificial forms of lighting will depend on the mood you are trying to create. Video light is often good for interior romantic poses (see our article on video light); whilst off-camera flash offers a more ‘edgy’ feel that is closer to fashion photography. Either way it is important to pose the couple that suits the light source: they produce harsher shadows than natural soft light, so you will want to avoid poses that casts shadows over faces. If in doubt keep the posing simple in these cicumstances.

Image showing how to balance light.

Plan the day’s timings with the wedding couple

Good couple shots need more time than the average wedding photographer allows. So it is important that the couple understand this and build the time around it to still enjoy time with their guests. Manage their expectations so that they are on your side when faced with awkward banqueting managers!

Use an assistant

I would recommend highly the hiring of a good assistant. They can take care of the equipment whilst you concentrate on leading the couple into position; and they can offer a second pair of eyes to ensure all of the elements come together before you take the shot. It’s really important to get the detail right.  See more of my work on our wedding photographers surrey website.

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Low Light Wedding Photography

When I first started teaching other professionals about the art of wedding photography, I was surprised by underlying concerns about using high ISO settings.  I think there are a few explanations for this.  Firstly, some photographers put too much emphasis on zooming into an image on a computer monitor and examining the actual pixels. Secondly, many people underestimate the progress in technology in reducing the effects of noise over recent years. Thirdly, wedding photographers may have been influenced by too many commercial photographers who are working to very different clients, objectives and time pressure.

Wedding photographers who have not got into this way of thinking realise that some of the most potentially artistic wedding images need to be captured in low light conditions (for Surrey, think Clandon Park and Botleys Mansion for example).  And without impractical amounts of equipment. And speedily.  And sometimes quietly! (In such situations,  photographers at weddings – dare I say it –  can be a little unthinking.  Far too often I see under-pressure photographers turning on the on-camera flashgun, kill the ambient light, and do something formulaic).  The key to using high ISO is to think in terms of how the printed images will look (and remember that most wedding photos end up in an album, not blown up on the side of a bus!).

Reflection of wedding couple in hotel mirror - in very low light.

This image was taken at ISO 3200 during a wedding at the Bingham Hotel, in Richmond, Surrey. I didn’t use a video light for this one but relied on what directional light there was from the wall lamp. It prints beautifully and in fact earned me the joint first spot for the BIPP’s UK Contemporary Wedding Awards in 2009. About half of the images in my Associate Panel for the MPA and BIPP were taken at ISO 3200.  My wedding photography style is very directed, but top documentary wedding photographers would say the same thing.

Cameras such as the Canon EOS 5D Mark III are now so good at dealing with noise that, even at 6400, just a touch of noise reduction in Lightroom on the RAW file is all that is required. If I need to apply some further Photoshop work on an image, I would also run the exported Tiff file first through Noise Ninja.

The photograph below was taken during the reception dinner at The Gherkin, in central London.

Low light image of night-time reception at the top of the Gherkin.

 

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Video Light and Wedding Photography

Wedding photographers have been using video light for a while in the USA and Australia;  and it use is gradually becoming more popular the UK. But video light is not always deployed to its maximum potential at weddings.

I have taught some photographers who initially viewed video light in the way it is used for videography (straightforward illumination in low light) and have tended to focus on the technical advantages and disadvantages against a flash gun alternative.

Video Light Wedding Image

At weddings I deploy video light to produce a romantic and tender mood in the photograph. I am frequently in stately homes in very low-light conditions, but with lovely, subtle ambient tungsten lighting. The benefit of video light is that in can balance with the tungsten light in terms of colour temperature and intensity. It is mainly impossible to create such a soft fall-off in light with an off-camera flash gun (even with diffusing modifiers).  Another advantage of using video light for wedding photographers is that you are essentially ‘painting with light’.  In contrast to flash, you can readily see beforehand what image and light you are capturing.

There are two aspects to emphasise about video light. First, do not be hesitant about using high ISO (I frequently use ISO 3200, and I am surprised by the number of wedding photographers who unduly worry about this). The advantages of capturing the ambient light offered in low-light settings easily outweigh any disadvantages concerning noise. Second, direct the couple in a way so that their faces offer a simple surface to the  video light. When you are creating a smaller source of (directional) light, I always look to avoid ugly eye socket shadows because it can often destroy the subtle, editorial feel of the photo.

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Wedding Photography Techniques: Part 3 (Winter Weddings)

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I have been approached by a few photographers recently asking about photographing in low light, and in particular, shooting winter weddings late in the afternoon and evening.

The common mistake many photographers make in low light conditions is shooting in Programme Mode with an on-camera flash gun.  On a lovely diffused-light summer day, a decent SLR in this mode will often give you perfectly acceptable results.  But in winter it can make the results look amateurish.

The primary reason for this is that Programme Mode essentially uses the Flash to do all the work in lighting the subject.  The result? A flat, sometimes over-illuminated, subject with a very dark background: the sort of result you might expect from wedding guests using their compact cameras.

If you are shooting indoors a good low-light shot needs to pick up the ambient light in order to give the picture more depth; and it is often important that the image picks up the richness of the surrounding colour temperature to avoid the atmosphere being killed (eg festive candlelight).

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So this calls for shooting in Manual or Aperture Priority Mode, using a very fast lens (some of the prime lenses are capable of an aperture as big as f1.2), and using a high ISO.  So as a photographer you are back to creatively “seeing the light”. But whilst it is true that the amount of light you need to shoot with this combination can often be criminally low, I do not suggest that you then necessarily disregard equipment providing artificial light sources.  In fact images without them can often look a little muddy and discoloured in very low light conditions.

Flash guns can still have a large part to play in cleaning up the light and helping to freeze movement (eg during dancing).  The important thing is to use them when you are exposing for the ambient light, so that the flash light does not dominate the scene and kill the atmosphere.  This image of a first dance was taken using a 50mm lens at f1.8 at 1/125, ISO 3200 and a blip of flash (-2 stops).  Using off-camera flash will also help to add depth and ensure that the subject is not flattened by the light.

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Video lights are also an excellent light source for wedding weddings – though these are more likely to be used for creatively directed shots rather than reportage photography.  The same principles apply with video lights:  they can help provide subject contrast and illumination, but such light needs to be balanced up with the available ambient light sources (eg tungsten wall lamps) in order to maintain atmosphere and image-depth.  The advantage of video light is that you can see the result immediately – so it is like painting with light.  The disadvantage is that you invariably need assistance!

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In summary, these are my tips for shooting winter weddings:

  1. Plan the wedding shoot – and in particular, the creative shots – more carefully than ever. Think about the light sources for each shot.
  2. Try to avoid using Programme Mode as much as possible.
  3. Use very fast lenses.
  4. Do not be afraid to use high ISO, and if necessary, deploy noise reduction software if necessary afterwards.
  5. Shoot in RAW so that there is more scope to adjust the colour temperature in post-production.
  6. Use flash and video light in conjunction with the ambient light. If possible use off-camera flash.

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Wedding Photography Techniques: Part 1 (Posing)

The first thing to stress is that I don’t advocate a day full of posing people; and I certainly do not encourage excessive groups shots. Good photojournalism has its place for large parts of the day because a good photographic narrative of a wedding day is important.  So here I am discussing posing for the artistic shots with the bride (before the ceremony) and with the couple (30-45 minutes after the ceremony). These are the shots that dominate my portfolio (and many pro photographers struggle with!).

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My main advice here is to NOT to look at bridal magazines. In fact do not look at typical wedding shots for inspiration. Most traditional wedding shots of the couple make them look awkward or embarassed (how many shots have you seen of the bride smiling inanely at the camera with the husband placed clumsily behind for example). Instead ditch the flowers for most shots and look at good editiorial and fashion magazines such as Vogue. Now what I am not suggesting here is that you start asking the bride to pout and perform model poses with which she is uncomfortable. You should be looking for ideas for poses that do not rely on the couple looking at the camera. These are the questions you may wish to keep turning over in your mind:

- Which poses flatter the couple/woman. Why?
- How does the pose help the couple connect?
- What type of mood does the pose convey?
- Under which circumstances (eg in front a church) might the pose work in a wedding context?
- What type of light do you need to model the pose and what image enhancement would you need? (more on this in forthcoming parts 2 and 3).

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It is also important to assess realistically whether a particular wedding couple would be able undertake each pose. But with trust, a good wedding photographer should be able to lead the bride and groom into an exciting/emotional/dramatic pose with good explanation and gentle handling.  Wedding photographers are not really getting paid to stand the bride and groom next together and asking them to grin at the camera.

So in summary I would advise the need to constantly look for new ideas in the right areas; be ambitious; and keep practising (at home!).
You can see my latest article on wedding photography posing here.

 

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All images copyright Gary Roebuck AMPA ABIPP.