As a wedding photographer, I am always looking for the “Holy Grail” photo. For me, this is the one shot that will tell the story of the day. Many of these moments happen throughout the course of the day, and although they can’t all be captured, you need to be prepared to react quickly when they do arise. As I mentioned in my last post, knowing your equipment like the back of your hand is critically important––you don’t want to be messing with camera settings when it comes time to react. Once you’re very comfortable with your camera it simply becomes an extension of your eye, and you never give it a second thought.
After you’ve mastered your equipment, you need to learn to anticipate moments before they happen. This is a skill you will develop over time as you gain experience, but there are things you can do to develop your sense of timing. I started my photography career as a sports photographer. I was out on the fields every weekend shooting my kids’ sporting events. I shot so many photos that I was mentally fried trying to process them all. Often times, I would shoot several thousand photos during a single youth lacrosse game. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was an invaluable part of my growth as a wedding photographer. By shooting sports, you have to learn how to anticipate what will happen next, and you have to be ready to react before the moment. Even after my wedding photography business started to take off, I continued to shoot sports because I enjoyed it, but also because the more I shot sports the better I became at being prepared to capture big moments. I eventually moved on from youth sports to shooting collegiate and professional sports including covering the NCAA Final Four, NFL, NHL NBA, MLB games, motocross, cycling and even outdoor adventure sports. When first starting out you may not have access to shooting professional level sports, but I would bet that if you don’t have kids of your own who play sports, you have friends that do. Ask them if you can join them at a game and take some photos for them. The skills you will develop from doing this will pay huge dividends down the road. It’s a great education, and other than your time, it’s free!
If you don’t have the opportunity to shoot sports, you can still learn how to anticipate the big moments during a wedding simply by being observant. If you’re just starting out in wedding photography, do what I did: find quality photographers who will let you assist them, and focus intently on everything that happens. Although I had a bit of part time wedding photography experience before I decided to make it a career, I still assisted other photographers whenever possible. Most of the time I didn’t even bring a camera; I simply focused on everything that was happening around me throughout out the day. My choice to assist without a camera was well thought out. I figured if I had a camera in my hands I would be paying attention to technical things instead of observing the flow of the day.
If you are already well into your wedding photography career and feel that sometimes you miss moments that you wish you had captured (we’ve all been there), consider changing up your routine. When I first started––and for my first 30 or 40 weddings––I worked every wedding solo, meaning that I had to carry and set up equipment, deal with transportation, parking, logistics, etc. It was draining. I was so concerned about where I had to be next, what equipment needed to be set up for the next part of the day, etc., that in hind-sight I feel that I wasn’t as focused as I could have been on the flow of the day. The light bulb went off for me when I hired an assistant for a multi location wedding––this was after two years of being in business. Having someone that could set up equipment, deal with parking issues, etc., was a huge weight off of my shoulders, and I found that the photos that I captured at that wedding were some of the best that I had ever taken. Having someone there to help with the logistical issues gave me the freedom to focus clearly on the day as it unfolded. The moral of the story: If you don’t have an assistant, get one!