“In the college photography world, where it’s more fine art driven, wedding photography is kind of viewed as the bastard child of photography,” said Jonny Hoffner, co-founder, along with his wife Michelle, of Paper Antler Photography. “It was lumped in with taking photos of baby’s bottoms and puppies.” There was a stigma that wedding photography was only for photographers who couldn’t sell prints or book editorial gigs, Hoffner added. But that’s just not true. Not now, not eight years ago, when the couple started Paper Antler.
“What I’ve come to appreciate is that from a creative standpoint, it’s constantly challenging and forces you to become a better photographer technically, in every dimension.” It’s also about balancing the different personalities and moving pieces, all the while keeping things lighthearted and enjoyable. Those aspects, coming together, are why Hoffner loves wedding photography. It’s also why, by heeding some advice from a wedding photographer, you can improve your own photography, from candid portraits to vacation documentation.
Techniques to Master
How to Better Your Approach
Act natural. First and foremost, it’s important to make your subjects feel comfortable. In weddings, it’s about fostering what Hoffner calls “the couple’s experience.” Basically, coaching the couple (and the family and bridal party) on how to feel comfortable and act candidly. This process is a mix of staying hands off, and talking things out. Before ever wielding the camera, Hoffner talks to his subjects, reminding them that this is about them, not the lens pointed at them. He reminds them what’s important — being present in the moment, not smiling for the camera. He’s also fairly laid back, and creating a relaxing environment is key. If you just ask people to stand in the corner and act natural, it’s not going to happen.
“We hear from a lot of people that they’re not photogenic or they’re not good at having their picture taken, that they don’t know what to do in front of the camera,” said Hoffner, “so we really try to make that process enjoyable and fun.” In some sense, you have to trick your subjects into being candid — spontaneous. Hoffner said he’ll provide people with either games, prompts or ideas to focus on. That way they’re distracted from their photo being taken. According to Hoffner, a recent groomsman referred to this tactic as “plan-did” shots (planned + candid).
Don’t say cheese. “A very simple example of this is if we’re taking photos of the bridal party — this is one of our secrets — we’ll get them lined up and say this is a speed round where we’re going to yell out everything we love about [the couple],” said Hoffner. They all shout. The photographer steps back. As the bridal party’s starts talking and laughing and having fun, the photographers are getting the shot. This same tactic can be used in everyday photos. Instead of saying “say cheese” or prompting the subjects with a bad joke — which makes the photographer feel stupid and creates an awkward environment — ask them to engage with each other. It creates an experience that’s positive, genuine, and allows interaction between subjects.
Capture the scene. Part of the beauty of weddings, and family vacations (for those not getting married), is their unpredictable elements. Hoffner and his wife, who work in tandem at weddings, don’t work off a shot list. There are the set moments of the couple, the family, and the bridal party that need to be captured (along with the bride putting her dress on, the walking down the aisle, the procession, the ceremony and the kiss). But the Hoffners also make an intentional point to step back from the main action (the couple) to photograph the surrounding crowds and scenery. Often, turning around will land you the perfect B-roll shot. The action is sometimes more compelling from under the grandstands, than from in them.