How do you manage risk on wedding day?
“How do you manage risk on wedding day?” – This was the question we were asked last night during a call with a potential client. How do we make the decision between shooting a ‘safe image’ and taking a ‘risky image’. It is a great question and one I haven’t thought about much. At least not consciously. It’s also a tricky question to answer in the context of capturing such an important day in someones life.
Safe Images and Risky Images
I interpret the safe image to mean the obvious image, the one that is easiest to make, the low hanging fruit. The safe shot is a guaranteed documentary portrayal of what is happening in the moment. The concept of risk implies that there is an unknown element, something that cannot be predicted or controlled but is left to chance or luck. To me the risky photograph is the one I haven’t taken yet. An idea I haven’t explored.
Using skills to capture emotions on wedding day.
Great photographs happen when we are able to use our skills to capture emotion and stories. As photographers we are working with so many variables when creating art in the moment. We control the exposure by manipulating the shutter, aperture and ISO of the camera. We may also be triggering one or more flashes. The angle the image is taken from is dependent on the type of lens we are using and our physical position within the space. Our ability to balance these elements makes up our skill as photographers. How good we are at using our tools is the physical component of creation. The artistic side of creation comes from emotion. It comes from our experience and how connected we are in the moment. Paying attention to where objects and light are but also to where peoples emotions are. How someone is feeling and how it can be best expressed is where the real magic is.
Photographers shoot subjects and actions, photojournalists photograph stories.
I do my best work when I’m not thinking so much as I’m letting my intuition and my eyes guide me. I’m thinking less about whether the image is risky or safe and more about what angle and combination of settings will tell the story best. Photographers shoot subjects and actions, photojournalists photograph stories. Sometimes the most direct obvious image is the best. Other times its the angle that leaves an element of mystery in a scene. No matter what having a less compelling photograph is better than having no photograph at all. Shooting all the moments in a story both big and small increases my chances of getting something amazing.
Photography, specifically photojournalism is a unique artistic medium in that the flow of creation goes from the outside in and opposed to the inside out. With other forms such as painting the artist creates internally and then pushes their vision outward onto the canvas. The photojournalist allows the world to pass through the lens and into their camera. This isn’t to say that pre-visualization and planning don’t contribute to the creation of great photographs because they absolutely do.
In the beginning of my career so much of what I shot felt risky. I didn’t know what to expect or how to use my tools as well as I do now. Today I think some of the photographs we take may look risky but are actually safe shots because they are situations we have been in before. The risks I take now are more calculated. I’m betting on my skills and my understanding of what is happening around me more than on experimenting and getting lucky.
Experience has taught me to anticipate action and emotion on wedding day. The ceremony is probably my favorite part of a wedding. I love listening to the vows and feeling all of the raw emotion. The ceremony is also a great example of a time when getting great photographs is more about experience and anticipating action than about taking risks and getting lucky. I know that during the vows the couple I am photographing is going to be having an emotional response. There is usually more emotion during the vows than at any other point during the ceremony. Without a doubt this is the time to be up close waiting for action. I’m not in the back of the aisle taking wide scenic shots of the ceremony setup. I’m in close with my lens pointed towards them or their parents in the front row. Shooting with a long lens allows me to capture perfect tears and facial expressions. Although the long lens could be seen as risk because it doesn’t allow me to show more elements in the scene.
It isn’t by chance that I capture up close emotional images during the ceremony. It is by weighing the risk of missing a wider shot against my experience of knowing when emotion is going to happen. A wider angle would allow me to incorporate more elements into the shot and lower my risk of missing a moment, but the tears and facial expressions would no longer be the focal point and the photographs would be less powerful.
Taking risks and moving outside of our comfort zone is how we grow as photographers and how we push the art form forward. All the experience in the world can’t help me predict the future 100%. There will always be moments where the safe shot fails because the subjects don’t move or act in the way I predicted or the new lighting technique might be just outside of my grasp. Figuring out when it is time to take a risk and try something new is one of the most difficult things we do as artists.
We don’t get to write the stories we photograph, but by living in the moment and paying attention to what is going on we can capture them as they unfold. No matter what there will always be an element of risk in every image I take and for that I am grateful. The moment things start feeling safe or easy is the moment I have stopped growing.