Weddings are chaos.
No one listens to you. No one does what you want. Everyone will be in the wrong place at the wrong time, they won’t stand the right way, they won’t look the right way, they’ll care too much or too little, and anytime you’re about to get the perfect shot with the perfect mood, someone will step right into your frame and ruin it.
But if you believe in the power of a gaze, a glance, a curve of the neck, or a slope of a back – if you believe in warm bodies and beating hearts and living, breathing people, then know that this chaos is not only beyond our control, but it’s really the best thing around, because it’s the direct and inseparable result of people who are fully present.
And if you want images that live and breathe with people so full of life, they burst through the frame, here’s the real secret: It’s really about trust.
Not just your client’s trust in you, though. Your trust in them. In yourself. In letting go and letting things happen and finding the something in the nothing and the perfection in the flaws. You have to accept what’s in front of your eyes, because that’s where you’ll find the magic. The chaos is the surprise. The unexpected is the revelation. Presence is not the perfect look we’ve seen a thousand times before. It’s the single expression we’ll never see again.
Photographically, presence is as much a creation as it is found. In the simplest terms, it’s matching. When the expression of the subject pairs effectively with the elements in the frame, our minds will fill in the gaps and flood the picture with meaning. It’s not just about a good expression or a bad expression. It’s about the right expression for the right circumstance. It’s the effect of the entire picture. Sure, a lot photos capture the powerful and the evocative. But even more are about taking the ordinary and showing it in just the right way to make it resonate. Life, even at it’s plainest, really is beautiful.
So if presence is more than some certain expression and any look can potentially be the look, then presence is life off script. Both for your subjects and for you, which takes us back to trust.
People say you need your clients to trust you. And you do need them to get along and go along. But that’s only half of it. They may trust you enough to do the right thing. But do you trust them enough to go ahead and do it? You have to build the space to stumble. Even to fall. Because as much as we are building trust for our clients, we need to instill it in ourselves. We have to know we can take the chances living off script necessitates.
All too often, we undermine our own endeavors. From the moment we open our doors, launch our site, and start cashing the checks, we fall prey to a cycle of need. We sell from the mind and not from the heart. We show what we think will sell, and we say what we think people want to hear. Every time we do this, we build up the walls of doubt, severing our vision from the product we create, until the risk to take the road less traveled becomes too large a leap to make.
Trust is necessary from the very start. You have to open yourself up and invite people into your world. You have to let them see their own potential and your own dreams. You have to be willing to accept the rejection, because as important as it is to fulfill the needs of others and get the sale, it is no less vital that we do it the best way we know how.
Here are nine ways to create images that are full of life:
1. Show What You Want To Shoot
Nothing makes a shot more lifeless than shooting moments you don’t care about in a way that doesn’t matter to you. If there’s something you want to do, you’re not going to get people to hire you to do it if you don’t show it. And while you’re at it, share a little bit about who you are and what you believe. Sure, go ahead and explain yourself in a way your client appreciates, but make sure it’s something you can get behind.
2. Let People Know What You Need
No one wants to spend their days trying to figure out what you’re after. In fact, they won’t. They’ll just get lost in the shuffle. It’s up to you to make it work. If you don’t want everyone mugging for the camera, tell your couples how you work. If you want people to ignore you, let them know. When you let clients understand what you need to get what they want, they’ll be happy to spread the word.
3. If They’re OK, You’re OK
Never make people self-aware. Never make them self-conscious. Make it clear you like your clients for who they are, being the way they are. There’s no such thing as wrong. Great images, after all, reflect the true character of the subject, and that doesn’t happen if we try to squeeze them into a mold.
4. Create A Good Schedule
There is no way possible to get involved too early in the logistics. Bad logistics kill wedding days. If portraits need 3 hours, start talking about it early. If you want someone in the dress by a certain time or to wait to get into the dress until a certain time, let it be known. The better the day stays on track, the less time people will spend thinking about how to catch up and the more they’ll be in the moment.
5. Troubleshoot Now
Write out every problem you run into and every reason you don’t get what you want. Now write out a way to solve each one. Go try them. Some problems can’t be fixed, but many can. You won’t lose anything for trying, but you might gain everything. Great people make things work. If you don’t take shot lists, saying it sounds a whole lot better before someone hands you one. If you want a groom to act naturally with the bride, keep the heckling groomsmen away. If you want to keep people from hugging your couple all through your photo shoot, keep them away from the crowd, and if you have to snake through a crowd, let your couple know to get through quickly. Keep working on the best solutions, keep thinking of the best phrases to use, and keep building your playbook.
6. Relaxed Is Good For Posing
There’s a reason fashion photographers say “beautiful” all of the time. Have you ever stood in front of a camera? Time feels like molasses, your hands feel like unnecessary appendages, you keep wondering how you look, and moving naturally becomes the most self-conscious act in the world. But there’s an easy way out. Talk. Stay as connected with your couples as you want them to be with you or each other. Need to buy some time, while you adjust your camera? Ask them some questions. Need them to look at you? Share a thought. Need them calm? Have them think about something. And let them know they’re doing a good job. That’s doubly true when they really are.
7. Find Out Who They Are And What They Need
They say better forgiveness than permission, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to see what your couples need. Letting people know they’re cared for and learning how they see the world lets you think about an approach you’re comfortable with before you’re put on the spot. Learning about your client doesn’t make them your creative director. It means you can trust them, because you know you’re on the same page, and they can trust you, because they know you care. Remember, people gravitate towards what they already believe. If someone has doubts, they’ll see everything that goes wrong. That can spiral out of control fast. If they feel secure, they’ll see everything that’s right, and that will keep them relaxed and happy.
8. Look Broadly
The body is fantastically expressive. It takes the smallest of things to clue people in as to what’s going on. It can be a dangling arm, crossed legs, a tilted head, or a hand on a face. A small gesture can say it all, so don’t just look at faces. Watch for the way people move. Watch for any clue that lets you know how someone feels.
9. Watch For The Light And Mood
Light is full of mood. Think moody. Think heavy. Think dreamy. Think weightless. Each one is associated with a certain look. Very often, you only need a hint of expression if you have a lot of feel. A viewer doesn’t see a picture like a judge at the Olympics. It’s not a breakdown of each individual element to see how they stack up. It’s the total effect that counts, and the right atmosphere can carry the day. With that said, it’s also very possible to drown real emotion in a sea of visuals. Always be aware as to how powerful and engaging the expressions are. Sometimes, simple and tight can say it all. Other times, you need more.
Brilliant! You said so much of what I’ve tried to express over the years better than I ever could. Well done! Echard Wheeler
Spencer Lum says
Thanks Echard! Appreciate the kind words.