The psychology of creative wedding photography
Photo Essays is a series on the Phoblographe where photographers can speak candidly about a specific topic or project. Do you want to submit? Send them to [email protected]
All images are of Travis and Nina Tank. Used with permission. Be sure to follow them on Instagram as well.
Something I’ve spent the last few years trying to perfect in wedding photography is creating moments. Raw, real emotion is actually very hard to come by when you have a half-stranger in front of you who expects you to model. I found there was a significant difference in what sets photographers apart…some create moments and some simply capture them. While yes, we’re all technically “capturing” moments, photojournalism in its purest form doesn’t tend to lend itself to the creative imagery couples want or hire us to.
Those laughs you see, the smiles and the people who look like they’re having a good time are actually having a good time and laughing with us. This is why few photographers seem to have more rigid images in their portfolio than genuine emotions. The good news? It only takes a simple shift in your mindset to completely change the way you see yourself as a photographer and the way you capture any subject from the other side of your camera.
I have to be candid and say that the Love is a Big Deal UNPOSED workshop had a huge impact on the way we interact with our couples and I strongly suggest that photographers take more workshops from those they admire. If you start with just one influential piece of information, it can drastically change your entire trajectory and grow you by leaps and bounds. (I also suggest anyone who can take this workshop to TAKE IT)
So how did we develop our vision? I am an avid student of those I admire. It doesn’t mean you find one person and copy their style, it’s bringing in the influence of many people and molding it into your unique creative vision that develops a style. Once you have knowledge, you have the power to put these principles into practice and with practice you develop your own “eye”. I tend to think of myself as a good photographer who elevates my craft with my personality.
I’m not trying to say that I’m somehow so popular or likeable that people flock to me like Daenerys Targaryen, but I’m confident enough in my skills and I rely heavily on my way of making others feel comfortable and loose in my company. Once I find the light and compose, I know it’s a matter of ten seconds of conversation to start pulling magic. So how do we elevate this to something greater than great images and turn capture into creation? You provide an authentic personality that makes your subjects feel comfortable and the end result will be authentic images.
“I tend to think of myself as a good photographer who elevates my craft with my personality.”
Typically, when I step into a scene, I start with the basics. Where does the light come from? Is the light good for portraits? Is there something in the foreground or background that I can use to make the scene more dynamic? From there, once your color and exposure are correct, it’s time to move from photographer to producer.
Think of it this way, how would you like to be told, on the best day of your life, to just go to a wooded area and stand there while I look at you through my paparazzi lens like were you a zoo animal? You would hate it! You would look at me like “what do you want me to do?”. And the process of looking at each other, looking here, looking there, foreheads together, yada yada yada can quickly become awkward and mundane. Let me also clarify that we NEVER take the couple out for longer than 15-20 minutes.
We realize they want to see their family and friends, we realize they just spent 20 minutes doing the high school prom, posing for family photos and more than likely they’re tired of taking pictures and want to party. A huge factor in stiff images is that the torque is just worn out. So it’s up to us now to make this portion fun, emotional, energetic and passionate.
“Just think of it this way, how would you like to be told, on the best day of your life, to just go to a wooded area and stand there while I watch you through my paparazzi lens like you’re a zoo animal? You’d hate that!”
This brings me to how we run our couples. Yes, we pose them, or put them in poses where they have fluidity and can move for real moments with real body language. But once they are set, now is the time for us to start creating. We do this by asking them questions, making them reflect on their relationship, and becoming more of an investigator than just a photographer. Who is late and who is punctual? Which of you uses the bathroom as an excuse for an extra long break? When did she first fart in front of you? YES WE ASK THEM ABOUT THEIR PETS. We’re human, they’re human, and generally most humans think farting is funny.
If you want them to laugh, you have to make them laugh. If you want them to be close and passionate, you need to ask them about the times in their relationship that would invoke those emotions. They don’t know what you’re looking for on your side of the camera, so push them into it. Ask him to kiss her and tell him when he knew it was her. Ask them to bring their foreheads together, then ask them to pray for each other. You need to think beyond just capturing and start creating. It can also apply to any part of the wedding day. If you want people to dance with real emotion, get on the dance floor and dance with them while singing “YMCA” with others. You will never get the images you desire by standing in the corner of the room, expecting the magic to happen for you.
“If you want them to laugh, you have to make them laugh. If you want them to be close and passionate, you need to ask them about the times in their relationship that would invoke those emotions.
At the end of my career, I would much rather be known for who we are as humans than for a particular image or portfolio. I want people to hire our company for who we are rather than having a great portfolio. Although great images are the first priority, many photographers can create great images. Not many, however, can connect authentically with their customers, family, and guests. When I see people reviewing us online, the one thing I always look for is how we made them feel, and most of our reviews are about us as people, not so much the pictures themselves . I know that my talent capacity is much lower than my personality capacity and I prefer to play to my strengths.
So when people ask what’s unique about Tank Goodness, I want our couples to say “Nina and Travis.” I want them to remember the fun we had, the laughs we shared, and how we made their family and friends feel special on their special day. We photographers all use similar equipment and capture similar images, but the one thing that makes us all different is the person holding the camera. How are you going to capitalize on YOU!