There was a time when wedding photographers shot two kinds of bridal portraits: full length and bust length. The reasons for this were technical, physical, and economic. The resulting photos are often beautiful, but after seeing a bunch of them, another descriptive word might also come to mind…boring!
To add variety (and hopefully more impact) to your bridal portraits let’s look at two different kinds of photos that break away from the standard full length and bust length stereotypical photographs,
But First... a Brief Bit of History
In olden times, photographically speaking, when pros used a 4x5 Speed Graphic (or the equivalent) for wedding photography and lit their photographs with flash bulbs, wedding photographers were very limited in the number of photographs they could take. How many cut film holders (or Grafmatics) and cases of single-use flashbulbs they could drag along was the limiting factor.
Add to this the fact that cumulatively each 4x5 sheet of film and each flashbulb was relatively expensive, and you can see why pros thought carefully before experimenting with some of their precious frames and flashbulbs. Working with only a single, slightly wide-angle, lens (about the equivalent of a 43- or 45mm lens on a 35mm camera) vast scenic images were difficult to execute in the tight confines of a catering hall. And, because the 4x5 Graphic was used as a viewfinder camera, tight close-ups were problematic because of the parallax caused by the large distance between the lens axis and the sighting system.
As the state of the art advanced, roll film replaced sheet film, and in turn, some photographers replaced their roll film cameras with either 35 mm or digital counterparts. Rechargeable, reusable, battery-powered electronic flash units replaced flashbulbs, and today some photographers even use AC- powered flash systems for their portrait lighting. This, in turn, has eliminated the need to conserve battery power.
When all of these changes are taken as a whole, the cost per shot has been significantly reduced, while the creative possibilities have been exponentially expanded.
Now... Back to the Present
These advances have created a new type of wedding photography that some feel has become the cutting edge of photography as a whole. Today, it doesn’t take much time or expense to lavish a dozen images exploring a photo-op where one image used to be considered sufficient. Considering the new freedoms that lower cost per frame and technological advancements have provided, here are two types of portraits worth considering.
The Long Shot
While some might think this phrase might refer to a horse pegged at 50 to 1 odds, I mean it in a totally different way.
Many of today’s brides choose venues that include beautiful gardens or interesting architectural details. Sometimes the deciding factor in which wedding hall they pick is just such a feature! That being the case, instead of filling your frame with the bride from head to toe for all your photographs, you can often look for a bigger picture and try to include more of the beauty of the surroundings in your composition.
In addition to the standard picture taken at 15 feet with a normal lens, consider using a wide-angle lens and backing out to 25 or 30 feet. A few (note the emphasis) of these scenic images mixed in with more traditional photos can become showstoppers. Look for archways, overhanging bowers of trees, winding paths, or even interesting windows that you can include in your frame.
By making the subject a small design element in a bigger picture, you can show off both the subject and the total environment. While this type of photo shouldn’t be done in lieu of your standard fare, it has the added benefit of being different. Furthermore, this type of environmental photograph is often well suited to a 30x40 inch display portrait. Those of you more focused (sorry) on the business side of things should have just heard your cash registers go ker-ching!
But beware! While this type of photo has terrific impact, you can’t make a steady diet of it. If you do, you can be certain the bride will complain that there are no photographs that show off her gorgeous gown!
Wide-angle lenses make it possible to do “the long shot” even indoors! Another significant point: Because the bride comprises such a small portion of the total environment, you can even let her become a semi-silhouette. However, to make sure you’re not accused of being an “artiste” who misses the point of the assignment, just remember to temper this type of grand scenic interpretation with some standard 15-foot full-length photos as well.
Tech data: Hasselblad, 50mm Distagon lens (28 mm equivalent in 35mm format), Kodak Portra 160NC film, exposure 1/125 sec at f/16.
The Tight Shot
In a similar conceptual vein, but using the exact opposite approach, consider taking some photos where you come in very close and eliminate all parts of the environment surrounding the bride (or the bride and groom).
Interestingly, while the long shot requires a beautiful scene, the tight shot can be accomplished against a cinder block wall in a VFW hall just as easily as it can be done in a royal garden! There are a few caveats though.
First, consider using a longish lens for this type of photograph. Try it with a normal or wide-angle lens and you’ll have a subject hating the photo because it accentuates a big nose or some other prominent facial feature.
Second, because some longish lenses don’t focus close enough to get the impact you desire, be prepared by carrying some type of close-up accessory in your bag. In my case, using a 2-1/4-square SLR, I carry a 10mm tube that lets me get frame-filling headshots with a 150mm lens (equivalent to an 85mm lens on a 35 mm camera) but you might consider a plus one close-up lens that is easier to use because it doesn’t require any exposure compensation. But beware! While this type of photo has terrific impact, you can’t make a steady diet of it because if you do, the bride is bound to complain that there are no photographs that show off her entire headpiece!
Got a junky background you want to eliminate? Move in close and crop it out; the “tight shot” can be done anywhere! Because the tight shot will accentuate any complexion problems your subject has, one trick I often use is to lower the bride’s veil before I shoot this type of photo. In addition to adding interesting highlights and variety, it often works as a soft focus filter for your subject.
But, to avoid the accusation of being an “artiste” who misses the point of the assignment, just remember to temper this type of tight interpretation with some standard 7-foot, bust-length photos as well.
Tech data: Hasselblad, 150mm Sonnar lens (85 mm equivalent in 35mm format) and 10mm tube, Kodak Portra 160NC, exposure 1/125 sec at f/11.
As I have tried to emphasize throughout, photos of this kind are always done in addition to more standard photographs. With a little creative tinkering, they’ll work as well for a portrait of a child as they will for a portrait of a bride. That means that these types of photographs should become an integral part of your portraiture bag of tricks. But when taken at a wedding, both of these types of photographs will make for happier brides and, if you’re a pro, bigger print orders for you!