Wedding and Sports Photographers have a lot in Common

I was reading an article on ‘LENS‘, a photography blog of The New York Times, about their staff photographer Chang W. Lee, who is covering The Olympics for the paper. The title of the post was ‘You Have to See It Before It Happens‘. It reminded me very much of what I do as a wedding photographer.

Lee’s assignment was to photograph the 100 meter dash and the resulting celebration and/or agony. It took him four hours to plan and set up his equipment for the race and resulting reactions. Maybe a total shoot time of 1 minute. That’s almost 24,000% more time planning and setting up, than shooting. This reminded me of the time I spend planning my shooting for a wedding. No photographer I know spends that much time planning for a wedding. But it does require a lot of time to plan and setup. More than you would think.

I would say most people think photographers just show up at a wedding and take a bunch of pictures. If this is what you really did, you wouldn’t be a wedding photographer long. It takes hours and hours of planning to properly cover an event like a wedding. This is the biggest day in this couples life. You don’t want to disappoint them or their family. You want them to have your very best work. You don’t want to depend on a whim. You have to figure out what you are going to do, where you are going to do it, how long will it take, how will it fit into the schedule of the day.

Chang spoke of two things in covering an event like a race. Things you can predict and the moments you can never anticipate. He knew, basically what would happen at the race. For those things he made plans and set up accordingly. But like Chang said, “There are things you never can predict.”

Anticipation for a Sports and a Wedding Photographer is their most valuable tool. And it gets sharper and better with experience. Anyone will know basically what is going to happen at a wedding. But what is going to happen next? To properly anticipate you need to know, really know. You need to know your clients, know the situation, know what they plan to do, know what they could do, know what they might do; plain and simple you need to know as much as you can possibly know. Preparation is the key. Time spent with your clients will help. The more you get to know your subjects the more likely you are going to anticipate correctly and be able to capture the image.

Like Chang said, “If you see it – it’s too late. You have to see it before it happens.”  Once the moment happens, if you have not already pushed the shutter button – it’s too late. The moment will be gone before you can react. Experience gives you the vision to see an image coming. If you are paying attention and feeling the moment – you will know the moment. You can feel it. You can sense it revealing itself. This is where you earn your fee. Those moments are why you are there. While others are raising their cameras to capture this wonderful moment, you are walking away knowing the real moment has already past, and you have it. This is why you are valuable to your clients.

For those magical unanticipated moments, a photographer has to be able to react, to respond without thinking about the technical aspects of capturing an image, only reacting to the moments unveiling themselves. Those are the magical moments that every photographer relishes. I can tell you 95% of what is going to happen at every wedding. But those are not the moments people remember for a lifetime. The moments that people remember, are those wonderful human moments, that reveal the emotions of the people involved and stories they bring to light. My responsibility as a wedding photographer is to unobtrusively capture that story without disturbing the moment.

Today every photographer is looking for a way to be different. There have always been techniques that can be used, even in the film days. Now with digital there are even more ways to be different, including all the post production that can be done to an image. But different is not always best. As Chang says, “You can use techniques …that will make photos look different, but the best pictures are always about the human story.” He goes on to say, “What really matters is life and feelings and emotions.”

I couldn’t agree more. As a photographer, you can be as different and you want to be. But as a wedding photographer, if you miss the touching human moment of bride giving her groom that quick look that says I love you more than anything else in the world, or you missed the small kiss that a grooms mom give her son as she dances with him, you have missed the whole reason you are there. And ‘being different’ will not make up for that.