The Art of Being a Fly on the Wall
In the world of wedding photography, there are terms to describe all of the many different styles of photography. One genre of styles is photojournalism, which umbrellas other descriptive terms such as “documentary” and “journalistic” as it translates to wedding photography. Some photographers want to be involved every step of the way on a wedding day, orchestrating the events of the day to cater to the photographs needed. Photojournalists tend to work in the opposite way. Instead, they prefer to stay removed from the action, let events unfold organically, and document them artistically. They want to be the fly on the wall that goes unnoticed.
The Benefits. While there is certainly a time and place for orchestrating photo opportunities (during the family group photos, or photos of just the bride & groom on the wedding day, for example), mostly what a photojournalist wants to do is hang back, be invisible, and photograph what happens naturally. It allows for genuine, unstaged moments and emotions, and lets the photographer truly express themselves through their art of storytelling…which is hopefully the reason they were hired in the first place. This style can be the most difficult, because it requires them to be non-intrusive and have the ability to deftly step in, guide and orchestrate at those times it is required, all while allowing your photojournalistic style to shine through. It’s a tricky balance that is accomplished only by shooting many weddings, mastering your skill, defining your style, and developing a seamless, wedding day shooting flow.
Shooting organically not only allows for genuine, unstaged moments and emotions, but it also provides a more “storytelling” collection of images. It allows the photographer to develop the story of the wedding day expressed through their images – the main goal of any wedding photojournalist. From the wedding couples’ perspective, it’s often recommended to give your photographer a shot list of must-have images for the collection. While this is a great way to convey to the photographer what they’re looking for, many couples don’t take into account that for a documentary style photographer, too lengthy a shot list can stifle the freedom of creativity that he/she thrives on, allowing them to produce an overall better image collection as a result. A balance between the shot list and the art form is a must. An open dialogue between client and photographer about expectations on this topic will make everyone happy before, during and after the wedding.
Preparation. There is a lot of back-end preparation a photographer does before a wedding. There has to be knowledge of everything involved in the wedding day: venue locations, the key vendors involved, key images desired by the couple, complete gear preparation and backups. There also has to exist the kind of knowledge that only comes from experience. As photographers, we have to know when and where to be at all times in order to capture the best possible images for each and every part of the day, all while remaining unobtrusive, discreet, and “invisible” as possible. This delicate dance is constant throughout the day, as the events of the story we tell with our camera never stops. There is always something there to include in an image that adds to the experience of the day: a kid sitting on a chair yawning from boredom as guests mingle before the ceremony, and countless subtle interactions between friends and family, a deer wandering in a field behind the ceremony site. Our job is to be looking for these moments and capture them with an artful eye, always being in the right place at the right time.
Lens & Gear Choice. Knowing what lens to use and when is key for shooting weddings, and experienced photographers will know exactly what lens can make the best image for them at any moment. We can use a wide angle lens – 16-35mm f2.8L is our favorite – that shows the environment and surroundings of a ceremony venue, then use a zoom lens to get in tight and show the bride and groom’s reactions as they are announced as “Mr. & Mrs” and walk down the aisle. Most photographers also have a mid-range zoom like the 24-70mm f2.8L as an all purpose lens that covers a variety of scenes throughout the day.
A wide angle lens is a must to capture the environment and give a sense of place to the image, while a zoom lens is an incredible tool that lets you capture only the key details you want in the scene.
The zoom lens can let you get in close and not only isolate the subject, but also isolate the feeling and emotion in the image.
Of all the lenses in our kit, the one that lends itself so well to photojournalism is the 70-200mm f2.8L. It’s zoom range allows for close proximity shots when you don’t have a lot of room to work with, and we can also use the full focal length to zoom in close to capture moments that happen farther away. Photojournalism often requires you to be as nonintrusive as possible, and that’s exactly what the 70-200mm lens allows. We strive for our wedding images to reflect genuine emotions, and we can capture that by being at a distance, yet photographing those interactions up close. Most people act quite differently or “put on” when they realize they’re being photographed, and the zoom lens allows you to stay relatively unnoticed. Our favorite compliment is always something along these lines: “I love this image and I didn’t even realize you guys were there!”
There are increasingly more and more options being produced for photographers to lighten their gear load (you can read our gear list at the end of this article), including “all-in-one” focal length lenses (28-300mm, 18-250mm for example), and even high-end quality, compact cameras with multiple lenses built in, like the technology being produced at Light.
Light. We can’t discuss photography without talking about light! Photojournalism is all about capturing things as they are, so the journalistic style of photography will not be flooded with flash photography stills of the couple and their guests. Instead, natural light is the most important tool of the photojournalist. Any wedding photographer needs to be constantly aware of the lighting conditions – full sun, mix of sun & clouds, light overcast, heavy overcast, incandescent, flourescent or CFL bulbs, candlelight, backlight, sidelight, broad light…the list goes on and on and sometimes it’s a mix of two or many of these types of conditions. Knowing how the light affects your exposures and lens choice is something that needs to be mastered. There are many photographers that will just rely on their flash to negate any tough lighting conditions, and while that is an easy solution, it won’t produce a natural looking collection of images that a photojournalist wants to create. Even when lighting conditions are too tough for natural light photography (moody, dimly lit reception venues are a perfect example), if the use of flash is needed, we always try to use techniques with directional lighting and off camera flash to produce as beautiful & natural looking images as possible.
Tips for shooting like a Fly on the Wall:
1. Prepare: Know your surroundings, know the timeline, know all the key players involved so you can concentrate on documenting the day.
2. Lens Choice: Have a variety of lenses to choose from, and know the situations where you’ll need to use each one. Train yourself to capture different angles and perspectives of the same scene.
3. Anticipate: Learn to look for interactions between people and aniticpate where and when they will occur (ie – watch the bride/groom parents’ reactions during the vows), and be ready for key events of the day and put yourself in the optimal position to get the shots you want. Be aware of your surroundings and environment and plan for how to incorporate those elements in your images.
Here’s a list of the key pieces of our kit, not including backup cameras, cables, filters, batteries and other accessories.
Canon 5D Mark III
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8
Canon 16-35mm f/2.8
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8
Canon 85mm f/1.8
Canon 580 EXII flashes
Pocket Wizard radio transmitters
LED video lights
David Townsend – David Lynn Photography