This article has a lot of great insights from amazing photographers, so let’s get straight to it!
I asked nine of the best moment-driven wedding photographers I know two questions:
- What makes a great photographic moment?
- How do you capture them?
Here are their answers (in order of who got back to me first).
A great “photographic moment” is a photograph in which the viewer feels as though they’re present in the scene/story/moment.
What makes a viewer feel present? Visual and/or emotional impact resulting from the infinitely complicated and subjective interplay of light (and absence of light), composition, and moment (motion or emotion).
We “capture them” by being present ourselves—actually connecting to and feeling the scenes, stories, and moments we photograph.
I try not to make judgements, good or bad, about what makes a good (or bad) photographic moment. There are infinite moments to photograph. There is some part of me that decides which ones are more important or interesting to focus on. That part of me, which I can’t really identify, is sometimes wrong and sometimes right. Sometimes I think it is wrong, when in fact it’s right, and vice versa. But, as soon as I consciously judge what “makes” a great photographic moment, my work becomes formulaic. Therefore, I try and see and feel the potential in every moment.
I could spend three entire days trying to answer the question of how to capture moments and I’m not sure I would come up with an adequate answer. I do not have any set of instructions for “how to capture a moment.” But, if I were forced to give a statement on it, I would ask myself:
I would put my camera there, be cognizant of my edges and shoot the shit out of it.
What makes a great photographic moment? For me, the top components are
To elaborate further, expression is pretty self explanatory. If it’s a funny or emotional expression, I want it to be filling my frame. I want to see every smile line from your grin, every tear when you cry, and every tooth when you scream with excitement. If the moment is not about the expression, expression is still important in that it must still fit with the moment.
For composition, a great moment can be ruined by poorly cropped body parts. I generally like moments to be photographed as close to the subjects as possible, so long as all “hands are on deck”, so to speak. I like how being close with a 35mm lens gives me the sense of being in the moment with the couple.
This brings me to “feeling,” which is the hardest to describe. It’s the je ne sais quoi that you just can’t put your finger on, but when you look at the image, it makes you feel something. This is something I often get from wider, black-and-white shots with movement and creative or artistic compositions.
How do I capture them? For starters, I aim for 95%+ deliverability rate with the images I capture. I work hard to keep my skills sharp to the point where I’m choosing images because they are the height of the moment and never just because they are the only one of the set that’s in sharp focus. Combine that with just working extremely hard to capture as many quality moments as possible during the course of a wedding day and in a sheer numbers game, I’m bound to have more winners in there.
In ancient Rome, a moment was defined by what happens in the space of time of one minute and forty seconds. Imagine the moment is like a wave. The wave has different peaks and what I’m searching is for the highest peak of the moment, the best, highest expression of the moment, which I call ‘momentico’.
We wedding photographers are really lucky, because in weddings there are many things happening at the same time. People are more open to showing and expressing their feelings that they regularly hide on a daily basis. But it’s easy to get lost in the chaos. That’s why we have to be prepared.
First of all, we have to be present. Fully where we are in that moment and leave everything else at home.
When I arrive at a wedding, the first thing I do is to prepare myself for what’s coming. This means I plan all the factors that I can control on my side. I search the place and decide what is my best light and my best background.
First I do the safe or react shot. And then every single click I try to make my picture better: clean my picture: the background, are there people around? Are they involved in the feeling? If ‘yes’, I add them. If not, I focus only on the moment. I do micro movements and keep on shooting until the moment is over.
So my best advice to capture the best moments is to be present, never stop searching, prepare in advance and think, “What are the chances of something happening”, so that you can make as many decisions as possible in advance. And once the moment starts, don’t stop until it finishes. And don’t forget to feel; empathy is our best weapon.
The more interesting elements, the more interesting the moment.
An interesting expression, interesting light, interesting colours, interesting lens choice—the more interesting elements the better.
Capturing moments? How long can you focus without relaxing your eyes? Intense focus makes you miss other opportunities.
Relax your eyes, look around. Notice. Be present. Once you consciously process the moment you have missed it.
I try to catch the moment, not the pose. I anticipate the moment based on their behaviour.
Anticipate the moment and shoot through it. Experience allows prediction.
My equipment helps me maybe fifty percent. I use the Sony A9. It takes twenty frames per second—not enough! Sometimes I switch to video, but that’s just four frames per second more. The advantage is that it records without pressing a button—automatic.
I watch the LCD screen on the back of the camera. I’m not looking for exactness. I usually shoot black-and-white (RAW + JPEG), so I see black-and-white on the screen, which controls better for distractions.
I don’t use flash, except at dark receptions, because it interrupts the continuity of the moments. Sometimes I’ll use a video light in my hand or the videographer’s lights.
Weddings are harder than street photography in a way, because weddings are so structured. Most wedding photography is boring, because it follows an expected list. I know what to say to get people to relax with me and be open—I am a mirror; I reflect their emotions.
What I see as a great moment will be different from what you find to be a great moment. What we like, what we choose, is a reflection of the photographer. It’s like being a kid in a candy shop—I like red jellybeans; you’ll have your own favourite. I’m drawn to certain moments, because they resonate with me, from my life experiences and what I love.
I can feel when something is about to happen, based on experience and my knowledge of people and how they act and talk. I see the possibility unfolding, the potential for something. I have a sense of curiosity about each moment, to see what will happen.
Once I see the potential, I commit to the moment. I start shooting before the moment peaks, shoot through the peak moment, and keep shooting until it’s fully over.
It’s like fishing: you cast, cast, cast, catch.
I’ll make slight adjustments as I go, to ensure the subject and background are in harmony.
If you look at great artworks in museums you’ll notice that everything in the picture matters. That’s what I’m aiming for: art in seconds, with everything in the frame contributing to the moment.
It can be a simple or complicated story. When the photograph captures the moment well, the photograph has the power to resonate with its viewers.
The photographer must have the skills to make a photograph that shows this moment with as little distractions as possible. It’s the equivalent of speaking your thoughts clearly and eloquently with minimal noise and irrelevant information.
How? Every photographer must evaluate the situation and “solve this problem” according to their ability and their understanding of the moment at hand. Thus, there are infinite ways to capture the moment that is presented in front of us.
A great photographic moment depends on who the image is being created for. In general however, I would say it’s preserving a moment in time that can never be repeated. We attach memories to images, so I’d say there’s more to it than simply the moment that was captured when the person included in the image is the viewer. They will remember how they felt in the moment and if it was a moment they wanted to be taken back to, or one that they’d prefer to forget.
I capture these moments by rallying alongside the people I photograph, I get to know them, I let them in to my life and I hope that helps let me into theirs.
If a photo makes you smile, or it makes you cry, it’s a really powerful one. It’s not easy, but if you can capture that feeling, it’s really important.
To capture these kinds of moments, you should have a good connection between yourself and your subjects and truly understand just who is in front of you.
Moments happen really fast and so always being ready is very important. After a while it turns into an instinct.
You should always keep your eye on your main subject, but at the same time you should be open to seeing other moments around you. Sometimes the best moment does not come from your subject, but instead from their supporting subjects.
You should capture the frame right on the moment—not before and not after. So you should be ready in terms of composition, lighting, and all other elements. If you capture a great moment with the wrong angle it doesn’t work.
So you should find your position and you should slow down and be ready. You should “set your trap” and be ready for the moment and push the shutter button at the right time.
I don’t like to move too much. So I just try to find the best spot and wait.
For the composition, you should find a clear background, so the subject will be really strong in your frame. After that, your angle should have the right light. It may be ambient or artificial light, but your light and your composition should be well matched with the moment. These are the basics of capturing a great moment.
Another thing is choosing the best lens. I mostly use two cameras, with a 35mm lens and an 85mm lens. So, for example, if the emotion is just in the faces, I will use the 85mm to get close.
Going beyond this, you can combine two great moments in one frame. For example, there may be a really intense moment in front of you, with a really emotional, crying bride. And then behind this story there may independently be another story—for example, a kid playing with a cat. You should capture the first story right at the moment when the kid with the cat is in there. I love to capture two stories in the one frame—or more stories, if I can—but it’s not easy.
Thanks to Ufuk Sarisen, James Day, Huy Nguyen, David Murray, Emin Kuliyev, Rocio Vega, Lauren Brimhall, and Erika and Lanny Mann for their insights!
This theme will continue next week with an article on The Anatomy of the Moment, an in-depth analysis and guide to the best photographic moments.