A big part of the work I do on wedding days is the collecting of expressions. I love people’s faces, and I never get tired of finding telling, emotional-but-not-embarrassing expressions that capture the essence of a person in that moment.
By and large, these aren’t shots to base a portfolio around. If you submitted them to a contest, the judges would toss it away. If you submitted them to a high-end magazine, they would furrow their brows: “I don’t get it! This is just a picture of a person. Weddings aren’t about people, they’re about centerpieces!”
Magazines do a great job at what their supposed to do, but their clients, the readers, are generally people ABOUT to get married, looking for ideas. I work for people actually getting married that day, who have chosen to surround themselves with loved ones. If I can get photos that not only look cool, but bring out the quirks and way of being that these people carry with them, I’ve done my job. I call these my “That’s SO…” photos. I want to take shots that make people say “That’s SO my dad!” or, “That’s SO my crazy college roommate Bill.” I think these present a tremendous value to the couple, their friends and families, above and beyond just it being a good photo.
When I left my job as a photographer for Columbia University Teachers College, my (very cool) boss said something that puzzled me at first. “You take photos that actually look like your subject.”
At first, this seemed like the most underwhelming complement ever. Imagine showing someone your favorite image of a flower and them saying “Yes, that’s definitely a flower!” But, after considering it, I was elated. As valuable as it is to take a photo of someone who looks like they’re having their photo taken, or who is in Pose #68 from the Posing Rulebook, if I can take a photo that makes you feel like you know that person at that point in time, that they have independent essence and personality, then I feel like I’ve done my job.
The trick to photographing expressions is to use your peripheral vision and be very, very fast. I use fast-focusing cameras, fast-focusing lenses, and take hundreds of thousands of photos a year, so I’ve gotten pretty used to making my stuff work immediately. If you have slower lenses, the trick is to keep the focusing area close to where you want it so it doesn’t have to hunt much. This is the secret to getting great moments with, for example, the glacial Canon 85mm f/1.2.
(But I like centerpieces, too.)