I was asked recently which, out of all the photographs I have taken, was my personal favourite. While I found it hard to pinpoint my assumptions on just one image, it started me thinking about my favourite photographs and the circumstances in which I created them. Sometimes they happen when you least expect them to and often in an environment that you would consider less than ideal for photography.
Having now covered a great number of weddings, I have learned to cope with less than favourable lighting situations. Most churches are poorly lit and most homes provide less than ideal environments for photography. But when covering a wedding, the photographer has to make the best of what he has. There is no time to set up backdrops or studio lighting. You have to think on your feet and outside the square. However, with a bit of enthusiasm and initiative it is possible to create dynamic and beautiful photographs in almost any situation. Photographing a wedding can be very challenging, but with that challenge comes a natural improvement in your photography and a greater working understanding of light. If you never photograph another wedding as long as you live, the lessons you learn from one will stand you in good stead for every other photographic endeavour.
When people are the main subject in your pictures, backgrounds should become less important. In fact, the less distracting the background, the more important your subject will become. I often use larger apertures to reduce depth of field, blurring the background and highlighting the subject. Larger apertures are usually necessary anyway because you are using only the light in the room. The advantage of minimal depth of field comes as an added bonus. Zooming or cropping close to the subject also emphasises the subject and eliminates background distractions.
But, there is something more important than composition. A beautifully composed portrait in the wrong light is a complete waste of time. Finding the best light is an absolute priority, the â€˜deal makerâ€™ and starting point for your portraits.
When I arrive at a location, Iâ€™ll often scout for the best natural light and, when discovered, Iâ€™ll take my subject to where that light is.
In this respect, windows and doorways can be quite effective. The simple act of opening a door can make a substantial difference to the light in the room and on your subject. In this you donâ€™t even need a particularly large area. The entry hall to any home is an ideal place to open a door and use the light. In small areas like an entryway, the simple act of composing tightly to the face or to head and shoulders can produce a portrait so lovely others would have considered it impossible. Take the time to consider the angle of the light and the nature of it. Light spills in through doors and windows in different forms. One side of the house is usually more dominantly lit from the sun than the other and even window light can be quite cruel sometimes. Be conscious of its harshness or softness and the manner with which it shapes and illuminates your subject. Place your subject so that the light compliments the face and implies in a two dimensional image the reality of all three dimensions. I often use a reflector to balance the light and reduce shadows in the eyes or on the cheeks. Doing this can give the added benefit of putting a catchlight in the eyes. This might seem a small thing, but there is never anything insignificant about highlighting your subjectâ€™s eyes. When this is established Iâ€™ll photograph using different poses, distances and angles, thus maximising each opportunity. I am often intrigued by this process and the understanding photographers have of light. That is why we are paid to do what we do I suppose. I say this because I will often stand back and let Mum take a snapshot of her daughter in the same place. I watch as she turns on the flash and ruins everything. But thatâ€™s ok. She wonâ€™t know why but she will love my photograph more. What she doesnâ€™t understand is that it is all about the light. Photographers study and use that light to create their favourite photographs.