Composition is a about how you visually balance a picture (or unbalance it to create something more dynamic). In Reportage wedding photography it’s constantly challenging, as people, light and the elements are constantly moving around you.
Photographers, like painters, use composition as a way of directing the eye. Documentary photographers use these tools to help them tell stories. You can practice composition using any subject matter – and regularly practicing will help train your eye so you’re prepared when it comes to a fast moving wedding.
NB. I was going to start this article with the basics – leading lines, rule of thirds etc. But I realised that would probably be patronising for most people who’ve arrived here. If you need a refresher for all that stuff, there’s a million articles online. Here’s one for starters.
Balancing the picture
This itself may seem quite basic. The primary aim of composing a photograph is placing all the elements in the picture in a pleasing manner that also tells the story. That means getting all the pieces of the story in shot and balancing it nicely. Whilst this may sound easy, many challenges are thrown up in a live situation. You’re often trying to capture either harmony or contrast between several characters in a photo. So it’s a matter of moving a little to the left, right, up, down, and often closer (shooting close with a wide angle will often open up the background elements of a picture). It’s also about picking the perfect moment.
Where are people looking?
Where the subjects are looking in your photo will naturally direct the viewers eye to where they’re meant to be looking. The fact that Harriet & Gary are looking at each other in the photo above drives the eye into the centre of the action.
Watch the background
Your background should be doing one of two things.
1. Adding context to the photo. It can do this by providing the setting for the story. In the photo above, the background provides the setting, some lead in lines, some depth and some background characters.
2. Disappearing and simplifying. Sometimes the most effective use of a background is to remove all distracting elements altogether. Not through photoshop or some other editing programme (all though these can be used to good effect to remove any remaining extraneous elements after the fact), but by moving about and placing yourself at the right angle. Choosing the best focal length for the job is also important.
Watch the corners
It’s not often mentioned, but the corners are one of the most important parts of any image. Unwanted elements in the corners of an image can completely break it. On the other hand, placing intentional elements in the corners can add visual weight to them.
Balancing foreground, background and will give your photos more depth, making them feel more intimate and alive. Enough said.
Frames and mirrors
It is often possible to use objects and mirrors to frame your subject. In the photo below the structure of the rooms creates a frame, followed by a second frame in the mirror (so a frame within a frame within a frame).
Finding a different angle
Taking photos from higher, lower and unexpected angles adds dynamism to your compositions. A viewer should never be able to guess your height. After a few weddings you may have sore knees and be wearing holes in your trousers – but it’s totally worth it for the photos. (Getting a camera with a flippy screen can also help).
Sometimes it’s possible to have a multitude of things going on in one frame. When light is good it’s worth putting on a wide angle lens, setting the aperture to F8 (so you can just point and click like a street photographer) and going looking to see how many aspects you can line up in one shot. It can lead to some very enjoyable pictures.