Composition for Reportage Wedding Photography

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.

Bride and groom kneeling in church

The Vicar asked that I stand behind him and didn’t move forward, then placed himself directly between me and the couple. I shot the whole ceremony on a wide angle lens, trying to find angles around him wherever possible.

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.

Often completely destroying the background is the best way to tell the story and make an image more striking. This is done by moving about and choosing your angles to frame your subject against the simplest elements.

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.

I decided that the two young children (who were in this case desperate for cake!) were very much part of the image. Placing them in the corner of the frame makes them the second element in the story.


Creating Depth

Balancing foreground, background  and will give your photos more depth, making them feel more intimate and alive. Enough said.

In this photo the candles add a foreground. Giving the photo more depth.

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).

Using a mirror to create symmetry. It’s important where possible to find your angle so that it is actually symmetrical – and not just a reflection in a mirror.

The edges of bevelled mirrors can also be used to create striking effects.

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).


Layering stories

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.

This photo works so well because all the elements are lined up nicely. Very few elements fall on the traditional ‘third lines’, but all the elements are nicely balanced in the frame.

Next >> Light


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