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On a wedding day, creating drama is usually something photographers try to avoid. With all the personalities, excitement and tension surrounding the couple’s big day, it often falls to us to keep the couple relatively stress-free. But drama can be a photographer’s best friend when it comes to creating jaw-droppingly unique portraits. Single elements are good, but you can mix and match ideas from this list to create photographs that are truly stunning.
1. Powerful Lighting
When it comes to creating a dramatic photograph, lighting is probably the most useful tool in a photographer’s arsenal. We have the ability to turn a bad location into an interesting one—and make a fantastic location even better—with the addition of a few lights.
Natural light can be beautiful, but sometimes it’s not enough. The moment in the photograph below would have been lost without additional lighting to illuminate the couple and the spray from the champagne. For the key light, I used a 60-inch umbrella with 3 speedlights, and two additional speedlights for accents. Lugging lights around can be a hassle, but it’s a sure-fire way to create a moment that stands apart from what most couples have seen before.
2. Timeless Poses
Big groups can sometimes create big problems for photographers. But I say that more is almost always better! The key is creating poses that look natural, and put the bridal party at ease. That means no “prison line-ups” with flowers gripped tightly at the waist! Dimension is your friend: Take advantage of differing heights and depths to give your portrait visual interest, and to keep people's eyes moving around the frame. Also, make sure the arrangement has a good sense of balance. That doesn’t mean that the elements on the right need to be a mirror image of those on the left. Rather, the visual weight of each side should be roughly equal. There was beautiful natural light in this room, which I accented with two speedlights high in each corner facing the bridesmaids, and another directly behind the bride, to create separation from the background.
3. Strong Composition
Every wedding photographer has a portfolio shot of a beautiful bride in a pretty spot. But a strong composition surrounding the subject will make your photos stand out from the pack. Combining a beautiful subject with an interesting graphic element brings immediate visual interest to the image. The first thing I do when I arrive at a location is to scout for solid graphics I can use to make my images better. Also, make sure to explore the area from all angles, because the best details usually aren’t right in front of you. This image was created when I lay on the floor and shot straight up. The strong lines created by the staircase, with the bride looking up instead of directly at the camera, gives this image a timeless, classic quality.
4. Work the Location
There was a time when I treated backgrounds as a distraction. I chose an extremely shallow depth of field to help keep the attention on my subjects. But I was missing an opportunity to create another interesting layer in my photographs. The key is to make the location sing in harmony with your subjects—not overshadow them—and the photograph as a whole will be better than its individual parts. The photograph below was taken using two Qflashes in an empty stable—dirt floor, unfinished ceiling—and it ends up being perfect for a glamorous location portrait. I also applied a layer of texture to the final image to pull it all together.
5. Punch it Up in Post
Most couples who are getting married say they want “documentary-style” photography. But what they really want is to have that documentary flavor, while getting the full Vogue Magazine post-production treatment: slimmed down, smoothed out and punched up. The image below was taken using only available light, and then I really jazzed it up in post.
But even if you don’t get deep into Photoshop, all photographs can benefit from a little creative post-production. Sharpening, increasing contrast, changing the color temperature, and strategic vignetting will help to focus the eye and really bring out the elements that make the image unique.