What I’ve Learned Judging Nine Fearless Photographers Contests, Part 2

by Photo Mastery
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This is the second of a series of three articles. If you haven’t read the first article, read it here. The third article is here. Prefer to listen? Here are all three articles in one recording!


In this Fearless Collection I judged there were 508 images of people crying. Of those, 69% were of women, alone or together. There were 51% that involved the bride crying and 41% that showed the bride crying solo. Just 3.7% had the bride crying with someone who wasn’t her spouse—for example, her father.

Altogether, 28% had crying men, though only 19% showed the groom crying. There were zero of the groom crying with people other than his spouse.

Only 6% showed the couple crying together. Crying kids netted 3.7%.

Are you still with me?  🙂  I have two thoughts about these facts.

Firstly, the odds of getting an award with a photo that shows open emotion are over three times higher than they are for a SPBS portrait. But there’s a more important point.

Be aware of what’s happening around you. Don’t be afraid to turn your back on the bride and groom from time to time. You’ll be rewarded with photos of people the couple loves joining in with the emotions of their day. Your couples may even appreciate these photos more than the ones of themselves.

It’s also important to be someone your clients feel they can trust to be emotionally open around. Create a space where your clients feel safe, so they can express themselves. How you do this will vary from person to person and culture to culture. The one thing in common is that you have to care. You also need to be professional. Never let ‘em see you sweat! Project a vibe of calmness and fun and they’ll follow your lead.

Feel free to ask them how they feel! Encourage some introspection during the craziness of the wedding day. Move people away from thoughts about their reception speech and back into the moment.

“Wow! You look amazing! How do you feel?”

“That was such a heartfelt ceremony! What was it like hearing the vows [partner] wrote for you?”

And so on. But mean it. If you’re manipulative they’ll pick up on it and shut down. You have to be genuine.

Photography has this incredible potential for emotional connection. You can photograph someone in a particular mood and we can view it from the other side of the world and feel what they felt.

Wedding photography is not about pretty pictures. It’s about a shared human experience. Show me that experience.

The better you show that love and human connection, the more we feel it.

What does this mean in practical photographic terms? Well, for one thing, it means that if you show more than one person connecting, we relate to their connection, which magnifies the emotional content for us.

When you show an image of someone who would normally be stoical break down in tears, that moves us. We feel a barrier being broken.

Emotional expressiveness can be quiet. You don’t have to be one foot away from someone blubbering tears into a puddle. Some of my favourite images are of people who are not overtly emotional. But the composition adds a level of evocativeness to the image that magnifies the emotions.

If you leave room for our imagination, we’ll fill those gaps.

Let’s revisit the small people in a big scene style of portraits for a moment.

Of those portraits, 269 were silhouettes or strongly back-lit. Keep in mind that’s just within the SPBS category. There were many more silhouettes and back-lit portraits where the couple were larger in the frame.

Apart from the risk of repetition, another issue when people are small or silhouetted is that you can’t see their faces well. That makes it much harder for you to show their emotions. You have to do it with body language alone. Plus, your photo has to be exceptional in regards to lighting, composition, etc. The fewer elements you have to work with, the more you need to nail each one.

By the way, a photo doesn’t have to be completely candid to be emotionally evocative. Heck, a movie scene can be scripted and acted on a fake set and still move people to tears, because it conveys a relatable human truism.

Set up, posed, candid—whatever, just make me feel something.

Most of all, show me love and connection.

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