Intermediate

You’re the Guest: How to Capture Unique Photos at a Wedding

Glossary

With wedding guest season approaching, will you be ready to capture the bride’s heart and smile? Aim with intent and focus your lens such that as a guest you will capture many of the incredible moments unfolding all around. Whether you plan to tell the story of the event through a collection of photos and rich video clips, or you wait until just the right moment reveals itself, a wedding is a stage full of emotion waiting for your interpretation.

Seeking to gain a little inspiration and education that will enhance our own photography plans for this summer’s weddings, we connected with Florida-based professional photographer Abby Liga whose work has been seen in publications such as Grace Ormonde, Town & Country, Southern Weddings, plus Destination Weddings and Honeymoons. Liga reveals that as a wedding guest you have tremendous opportunity to put your personal stamp on every photo you create.

It likely goes without saying, but remember that as a wedding guest you are there to enjoy the day and experience the family’s joy. While your artistic eye awaits its photo challenges, do remember that the bride and groom have likely hired a professional wedding photographer whose chief job is to produce the couple’s photographs. Remain aware of this professional as he or she works, and do your best to not get in the way. With a smile, Liga offers, “We interact with guests all the time. There’s no doubt they too see those wonderful moments unfolding, but we simply ask for the space and respect that allows us to work in an uncompromised manner as we follow our creative intent.”


Beyond Clichéd Moments

“One of the first pieces of advice for wedding guest photographers is to gain a solid knowledge of how your camera works and how to adjust its settings.” In listing ways to be a better photographer as a guest at a wedding, Liga offers a few suggestions. “Cultivate a keen awareness of light and learn how to read and work with it. Master these two basics and you’re well on your way to creating amazing images.”

Having photographed weddings for more than 10 years, Liga points out that once guests start to arrive you should begin to read the crowd and remain constantly aware of the atmosphere. “Know who the key people are at a wedding—the mother of the bride, bride’s family and closest friends, the groom’s family. Staying involved and alert will reveal plenty of unique photo opportunities.”
To illustrate her craft, Liga shares five favorite images from a recent wedding she was hired to cover. Each showcases just one way to create a unique image, and how even the most standard of wedding glimpses may be styled with a personal touch.

This is one of my favorite shots from the day. The mother was placing the cathedral length veil on Emily as the finishing touch of her wedding ensemble. The sun was dropping behind the building across the street from the hotel, and was perfectly highlighting Emily’s face and upper body. While Emily patiently gazed out the window, her mother perfected the veil placement with her hands, working her way down to the floor. In this image the bride Emily is really the only person who is recognizable. The dramatically lit silhouette shows the mother’s hand as it adjusts the veil. This small touch gives movement to what would normally be a contrived and stagnant portrait.

This moment was captured using a Nikon D700 set to Manual Mode at 2500 ISO, a 2.8 f/stop and 1/4000 shutter speed. Liga used the AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8 G ED lens set to 32mm. A shot such as this is almost de rigeur in every wedding album, but by capturing the moment’s slight nuances and personal touches the photo is made unique.

This cutie ring bearer stole my heart. Look at that face! He looks so proud and happy to be in the arms of the bride—bow tie, suspenders and all. When I asked Emily to get together with the flower girl and ring bearer, she knelt down and gave each a big hug and kiss. This shot shows an incredibly sweet and honest moment. I know the steps to getting this image make it somewhat of a posed photo, but to the viewer it ends up looking spontaneous.

For a photograph like this you will likely need a little time to prep the camera—to quickly adjust settings, focus and frame. Liga points out that the spontaneity comes from their interaction. “I did not know how the child or the bride would act once they were side-by-side. It’s a nice way to present not only a moment, but also a portrait.”

Liga used her Nikon D700 set to Manual Mode at 2000 ISO with a 1.8 f/stop and 1/64 shutter speed. The lens was the AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G. “With impromptu shots where you have only seconds to capture the moment, do your best to fill the frame. Here you can see that the bride’s dress is completely hidden behind the ring bearer. I felt that introducing a hint of her bouquet immediately gives away who she is.” She continues, “As a guest of a wedding you won’t be using any advanced lighting. When photographing a quick portrait indoors look for the nearest window light source and try to place your subject(s) in front of it for quick fail-safe lighting.”

 

In her Camera Bag

For her professional wedding photography, Liga relies on the Nikon D700 and D800 camera bodies. Recently, the Nikon D750 was added. She favors the AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED and the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II lenses.

“Never think that just because you do not have the latest gear that you cannot create a beautiful photo. Learn to read the light and you’ll be well on your way to fashioning a solid image. And if you can master the basics for manipulating your camera’s settings this is a huge assist too. Digital gives us instant feedback—along with tools to immediately adjust and correct exposure, color tones, incorrect shutter speed, a photo’s horizon line and more.”

At nearly any ceremony there will likely be times when the wedding photographer must step away to focus on specific shots—such as the private bride and groom images immediately after the vows exchange. “A wedding produces many candid moments and expressions that happen all around us. As a guest you have the advantage of knowing the family dynamics, as well as the history leading up to this special day,” she asserts. “Focus on the little sideline moments that occur between family members and more than likely you’ll discover some of the most meaningful photos.”

This photo shows a truly beautiful moment. It embodies the love between two sisters on such an important day in their lives. While I was photographing the requested family photos at the Huppah, I quickly turned around to witness this emotional interaction between the matron of honor as she congratulated her sister moments after the ceremony. I had only seconds to adjust my settings from standard ‘family portrait flash mode’ to no flash and the proper f/stop plus shutter speed. One thing to point out—aside from emotion, this image is interesting because you really don’t know where it was captured initially since the background is so black. You can see hints of the hurricane vases and rose petals that indicate it was at the site of the ceremony, but even if your photo’s background is not obvious that does not rule out its value.

A portrait does not have to mean a static and stiff posed look with one or more faces. Be ready to take an image as the subject(s) prepare for the camera to fire. Catch the moment before your subject(s) think it will happen.

After the bride Emily finished putting on her veil, she asked me if she could get a portrait with her flower girl. I asked Emily to stand in front of the grand window so that it would frame her. I then asked her to call over the flower girl. With excitement and care, the sweet girl bashfully walked up to her as Emily reached for her hand.

In that instant a beautiful candid moment happens right before they connect hands and pose for a portrait. I feel that those fleeting instants are so much more meaningful. To me, this image embodies the iconic ‘little girl dreaming about her wedding when she grows up.’

Don’t forget to capture photos of the environment too. As a photo artisan you’ll likely hone in on the smallest touches that others may not notice. By putting your unique angle, point of view or even photo filter retouch, you can create timeless images that transcend the event.

I like this particular detail shot because it’s unfolding the story of Emily and Max’s wedding reception while it is still occurring. This is the type of image that wedding guests can always capture. How you as the photographer choose to frame the moment, plus your determinations for camera settings, camera angle and any retouch filters, is what adds a personal touch.

I decided to keep the depth of field shallow so that only the names and an image of the hands are slightly in focus. The rest is out of focus, but the viewer still gets it. The bride and groom had a photo booth at the event. This shot shows the operator’s hands, but the point of view yields a look as if the viewer is standing right next to him. When you are considering those environmental images from the event, try to build-in a human element.

With more than a decade of capturing hundreds of weddings, Liga smiles when she shares, “I approach each wedding as its own unique story because that’s exactly what it is. Even if I end up photographing five weddings in a row at the same church or venue, each ceremony is going to reveal its own set of unique moments and emotions. As a professional photographer, getting to know my subjects, hearing their stories and learning the dynamics between the bride and groom and their families gives me insight into what is the most meaningful to all who will be a part of the event,” she says. “Remaining constantly aware of what is going on helps me capture ‘the’ moment when it happens.”

In closing, she notes, “You don’t have to be a professional photographer to capture unique moments at a wedding or in your own day-to-day life. However, if you do feel called to photograph weddings professionally, please be sure to get the proper training and assist other working professional photographers—this is a very important responsibility to take on.”

To see more of Abby's work, visit blog.ligaphotography.com/.

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