Becoming great requires practice. Without it, you won’t be able to write a novel, race a sports car, or bake a loaf of bread. At least not well enough. Without practice, you won’t create great images either.
Evermore sophisticated cameras enable us to become technically great photographers at a very fast pace. While it’s easy to make technically perfect image today, it’s harder to infuse spirit into them.
There will be little emotion, no story, and a weak connection to the subject. No amount of technical greatness can surpass capturing the decisive moment.
“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” Ansel Adams
Becoming “great” is not the final destination. Once you pick up the main skill, you’d want to keep on improving or re-inventing yourself. Innovation happens when knowledge from one field gets applied in another.
Agreeing on the premise that greatness requires practice leads to the main question of this piece: Where can you practice to get ready for a wedding photography assignment?
Know your settings to adapt to quickly changing scenes
While predictable to some extent, various situations and behaviors make weddings very surprising places. So much is going on during a wedding photoshoot. You’ll primarily focus on your main subject, the wedding couple. A good wedding photographer knows it’s not just about them though. There are guests, hosts, children, or pets to watch for. I call them secondary subjects. They all do something, they react, they have emotions. They complete the story. You want to capture that as well.
For you to be able to go back and forth between your primary and secondary subjects, you’ll oftentimes encounter different light scenarios requiring different camera settings.
This is where having gone through rigorous practice shows its benefits. The ability to change your settings on the fly, instinctively, without looking at and fumbling with your camera, is essential to capturing that special moment. Keep on adjusting your aperture or ISO too long and the moment’s gone.
Due to its unpredictability, street photography is an exceptional training ground to get to know your gear. Do you know how it works in various light situations? How to change your settings from bright sunlight to indoor shadows in a second? Can you swap your lenses with eyes closed?
Due to its plethora of movements, various subjects, predictable and unpredictable behavior, street photography gets you ready for that special day.
Anticipate to be ahead of the action
Just as training your muscle memory and becoming one with your gear, street photography is a great training field for your mind, too.
No wedding’s the same, yet all have similar moments. The same applies to the streets. Spend more time in one place and you’ll start observing patterns. Shoot a lot of weddings and the same will happen. Now you can’t practice too much at weddings, can you?
In the meanwhile, do this instead: shoot street photography and observe patterns. How do people move about space? What are they likely to do next? Learn how to pace your shutter release to their pace of walking. There are poses when people look good while walking, and then there are poses when they look like they’ve been shot in their ass. You’ll probably want to avoid that.
“There are poses when people look good while walking, and then there are poses when they look like they’ve been shot in their ass.”
Body movement, gestures, walking patterns, mutual interactions, eating habits, they all create a mosaic of human behavior. Observe these to anticipate the next step.
The better your anticipation, the better your images.
Train endurance to last longer, pun intended
This one’s more on the “athletic” side of things. Wedding photography is exhausting. Ever tried standing up all day, walking, crouching or leaning? A normal wedding photographer’s day starts early in the morning and ends way past midnight. I usually arrive at the scene around 9 am to photograph the bride and groom’s preparation. After several hours, we do portraits, various visits to family and friends, traveling back and forth, the ceremony, the dinner, party and afterparty which all need to be documented to my best abilities.
To endure this kind of physical strain is not easy. You want to train for it. Yes, you can get into shape by going to the gym, swimming, running, etc. However, there’s another thing you can do, and it will save you time too!
Train your endurance while shooting street photography. The similarities are great. Lots of walking, bending, leaning, crouching down or standing up. Your legs, back, and body will thank you later.
Spoiler: No matter how much you’ll train, you’ll still be exhausted at the end of a wedding photo day. However, you’ll likely recover faster.
Know people to get the emotion
This one’s essential. You have to know how to approach people. Being outgoing, friendly and opened to others is necessary to create the so much needed connection with subjects in your images. To direct people the way you want them to be in your images (portraits mainly) is sometimes hard as they don’t like to be photographed or don’t know what to do. Learn this skill and your wedding shots will be shared, liked and remembered because you’ve brought more emotions and connection into them.
Where else to learn this better, than out on the streets? Its the hardest training ground ever as people don’t expect to be photographed. They do at weddings, so learn it on the streets. Develop your style and it will become easy photographing wedding guests.
Shoot strangers candidly (when they don’t know or expect) and shoot them with permission, too. You’ll need both skills later.
Tell a story with single images
A wedding is a story. A story of two people, their lives, families, their special day, and most importantly their love. You’ll receive access to their lives for one day to tell that story. Take as many images as you can to tell it. Usually, such a story is told narratively by a set of images following one another.
Sometimes though, I see a great wedding photo and I can read the story right there and then, not having to look at other pictures taken before or after. This is a holy grail of photography. Telling stories with one picture. Close to impossible, I know.
One can get closer to telling stories in single images by practicing street photography. You get one moment, one chance to tell a story and then it’s gone forever. No do-overs, no second takes. Get it right the first time.
I came to realize the above tips only retrospectively. I shoot street because I love taking images, because it’s always accessible, and because I don’t get to shoot a wedding every single day. Only after I spend days and hours on the streets and then photographed a wedding, I realized how much I’ve learned in terms of my composition, ability to react, predict, work with people, and direct them to tell stories.