What three essential elements are needed for the best wedding images?
I have thought long and hard about this and broken the criteria into three necessary elements.
1) Emotional content. Natural emotion captured at the decisive moment.
2) The quality of light and tonal values within the image.
3) Composition – The one thing the photographer always has control over. Mindful composition. Actually thinking about where you are going to pint the lens. Its the subtle nuances of movement of the lens that separates good images from great one. Slightly tweaking the composition until it feels right or feels interesting. Having said that, it’s also wise to do a safe straight on composition in any series of images, where the subject is front and centre.
For every element an image has the better it can be considered.
If you have one element it could be considered a good image. Have two elements and you have a very good image.
Have all three elements and you have a great image that will make for the best wedding image possible.
I will elaborate on each element.
Example of image with all three elements. Interesting lighting, strong composition and real natural emotion taken at the decisive moment. Even though you can’t see their facial expressions all too well. Their body language says it all.
Natural emotional content captured at the decisive moment
Capturing the human interest side of the image. The connection and interactions between each other and the reactions toawrds peoples surroundings.This is all about timing and sometimes patience. As the photographer you must observe and be very mindful as to what is happening through the lens. You need to be able to predict what the subject is going to do next. If there is a group of people talking. Pay attention to the speaker. You can see them build their story up by their body language. You know within about 10 seconds the listeners are going to laugh, smile, grimace , gasp, hug, high five etc, Depending on the story being told. The body language of the speaker is a give away as to what expression they and the listeners will have. You just have to anticipate the moment of peak expression. Some moments are quicker than just sitting and waiting especially when the subject are moving.
You can stage these moments sometimes, especially during the location shoot. You get the back ground you want and place the couple there and then wait for the right moment. This sometimes involves just talking candidly with the couples and wait for them to let their guard down a little and capture that moment. So in effect it is a candid shot taken with in a staged moment.
The beautiful light and almost haunting expression of the bride really compliments each other. Its as though she is looking into your soul. Emotion doesn’t have to always be pure joy, anger, sadness etc. It can also be subtle. Sometimes just the way someone looks into a camera with little expression can say so much. With a fairly solid composition this image has all three elements. The most influential element of this image is hands down the light. Soft mottled light filtered through the leaves so it was a matter of placing Siobhan in just the right place so the light hit the most important feature on a persons face, the eyes. The light makes up for what the composition lacks. But I feel if I got too creative with the composition the message would be lost. In this image, it’s all about the eyes and the way the light strikes that part of the facial area. Even the lighting on the bottom part of the image is nice. I left the bottom half slightly cool in colour especially the exposed skin of the chest area where the necklace sits in front. Doing this accentuated the warm light on the face.
The quality of light and tonal values within the image
This one for me is most important and in my opinion is the element that separates exceptional images from goods to great images. You have more control over the composition and patiently waiting for the right moment but if the subject isn’t lit by quality or interesting lighting or if the tonal values of the scene are not strong then you will never have an exceptional image. The one caveat you may have an iconic image without quality lighting depending on what relevance an image has to world history. At least if you have the right light you can always crop the image later to create a better composition. Not all photographers can see quality light in real life so its what helps separate great photographers from many others. I pretty much have an obsession with finding quality light. I have no problem getting emotional content and putting people at ease, that comes naturally so I can focus more on finding quality light throughout the day.
I do love this image, a lot, but its the one image I don’t know how to catergorise. I love the expression. It’s like something out of a high-end perfume commercial. Which is also my bug bear. Its almost too perfect in emotion. The emotion of passion. I did crop the image to give it a better compositional rating and I love the tones even though the lighting was flat. I helped the tonal values by adjusting the skin tones in Photoshop to give the skin more pop.
Pretty straight forward and the main key element as to why photographers have a different style to each other. You can have the same subject, lighting camera and lens and every photographer will come up with their own unique way of composing their image which gives it their own signature style. Sure the way you treat the image in a software program also helps reflect their own style. But strong, unique composition is the telling factor in achieving a certain style.
I love the light and composition. The emotion just isn’t quite there. Even though its a beautiful relaxed expression of a beautiful bride that wouldn’t look out of place on any wall.
Bringing it all together
My three elements is a very subjective analysis as I base quality light or the way it shapes the subject or scene. You may also achieve an exceptional image without quality light, simply due to the tonal values within a scene. Strong contrasts of a subject, with flat boring lighting can still make the image pop. For example a shot taken of a zebra in poor light but with great composition could easily be an exceptional image. Extreme example made to truly drive home the point.
With regards to composition. Just something that feels balanced yet still is differently composed to what the average person would compose. Basically mindful composition that feels balanced. You may compose it slightly different to the norm because you may want to include a certain part of the scene that relates to the subject. For instance if the flower girl and page boy are dancing you may want to include the adults in the background showing their delight.
You may have a different way to judge images and you may feel that my images with three elements are only worthy of one element. Thats totally fine. Photography is very subjective. But this process has served me well so far so I must be doing something right.
Lastly. Taking the image is only half the battle. You still need to process the image to enhance the elements. Thats where a solid understanding of editing software is useful. Even studying the works of great painters also helps in understanding the relationship between tones and colours as well as an understanding of good composition. As someone once said, can’t remember who. You don’t take an image, you make one.
Example of great emotion with human interest and solid composition of the adults looking on in delight as the two children dance. Taken at the decisive moment. Having only two of the three key elements with the light being standard and nothing special I would classify it as a very good image.
I have included images and broken them down to these three elements.
I will include images with just one element which can be considered a good solid image. Images with two elements which is a very good images and the great images all with three elements.
This image was voted as peoples favourite wedding image of mine. It has all three elements. Great emotion, light and composition.
Great composition and interesting light and nice strong graphic tonal values makes this a very good image. It does have some emotive content but not enough to give it all three elements.
Emotion emotion emotion. Thats this images strongest attribute. Pure joy. Strong tonal values and solid composition sneaks this image into a great image. Only just. The emotion gets it over the line as the light could be considered standard. only saved by the tones and by including the couple behind gives this images a strong compositional value as well.
My sons favourite image because he says the smoke looks like it blends with the dress. I consider it a very good image as it has plenty of emotion and strong composition by also including the groomsmen looking on but the lighting is nothing special so it it only has two elements.
This image has all three elements. Interesting lighting with great emotion and solid composition. Shame about the DJ being in the shot though.
This image has great lighting and really nice composition but lacks a little emotion so I rate as a very good image.
All three elements especially emotional content. Great image.
Fantastic and interesting lighting and heaps of emotion but the composition is pretty standard and straight on. Sometimes you just have to get the shot and don’t have time to find an interesting composition. Very good image.
very strong emotion taken at the decisive moment. Solid composition but standard safe lighting makes this a very good image.
Fast becoming one of my favourite images of mine. Almost everything is on-point. The lighting is sublime. Very atmospheric. The composition is perfectly balanced especially with the silhouette of the lady in the foreground sitting, perfectly outlined by the smoke. The mirror to the left frames the couple and the emotional content between the couple and even the bridal party in the background ties it all together. The only one gripe I have is the man directly behind the couple. detracts ever so slightly.
Three elements for sure. One of my all time favourites. It oozes all three elements plus some. It tells a story. The pleasing thing to me is that it was totally candid. The boys were totally smashed and I’m pretty sure had no idea I was even in the room at that time.
Beautiful light and real emotion with a sold composition sneaks this image in there with all three elements. If I had to say what the weakest element I would have to say composition. Its almost too front on standard but just lifting the camera up to include the glorious light behind the couple helps it to just make the cut.
Having only one element, emotional content. I would consider this a good image. Lighting is good but not memorable and the composition is pretty much straight on. What I call a quick grab documentary shot.
I gave it three elements. Love it all.
Strong emotional content and composition. Some would love the lighting and give it three elements. I’m on the fence about the lighting.
Super strong emotional content. Where the father see his daughter in her dress for the firs time. This on its own could make it a great image. Composition is solid. Lighting is nice but nothing special so I give it two elements.
Love the tones on this image. How the back half of the man is a silhouette yet the face shines brightly. Compositionally very strong and bold. This image would only have this strong tonal impact on someone with a dark complextion. A lighter completion would just look much flatter in tonal value. Is there enough emotional content? Hard to say.
This image is one of my favourites. It tells so many stories. Emotional content is right up there so too composition is on-point. Lighting was fairly flat so I brought the lighting rating up with some adjustments in Photoshop to give the image more pop.