Life happens. Will you get the picture? Four pros show you how to photograph
the best times of your life.
For a bride, groom, and their families, the wedding day -- after months of planning and obsessing -- goes by in a kaleidoscopic blur. Preserving it, so that every moment remains vivid and infused with emotion, is the photographer's job. And you can't flub it.
But gratifying as it may be to capture the most important day of two lives in a way that makes it seem magical, it's also, as veteran wedding photographer Bambi Cantrell of Pleasant Hill, CA, puts it, "an enormous amount of responsibility and a hell of a lot of work." To be sure you get those "perfect" moments, she offers this advice:
1. Beat the bells. "Weddings are entirely unpredictable," Cantrell says. "Your first line of defense is getting to the event early enough to troubleshoot impending problems." Arriving a few hours ahead gives her ample time to photograph the bride preparing. She heads off next to photograph the groom and the site, and to prepare for the ceremony. "The closer it gets to the 'I do's,' the more insane things can become," she says. So she takes portraits early and is usually rewarded with more relaxed and flattering expressions.
2. Have a helper. "My assistant is worth his weight in gold," Cantrell says. If you can't afford an assistant, enlist a friend to help you carry or watch over equipment, park the car, hold reflectors or a flash, pose a subject, and keep children's attention during shots.
3. If you can't buy, borrow. This means lenses, which are extremely important at a wedding -- where the crucial shots range from a dark room to sunny out-of-doors, from close-up to long distance, and from one to 20 people. "I love using a 70-200mm to avoid being up on my subject," she says. If you don't have long, fast lenses, rent them -- either from websites like Rentglass.com (for as little as $14 per week) or from a local camera shop.
4. Maximize available light. "Available light is much less intrusive and allows you to focus in solely on the subject," she says. She uses the 5-in-1 reflector by Westcott ($40, street): "It lets me see where the light is going." The black side allows you to subtract light to sculpt cheekbones or draw attention away from an unflattering detail. For couples with varying skin tones, the silver side is more directional and can be aimed to lighten just the person with darker skin without washing out lighter faces. The translucent side diffuses light broadly on a bright, sunny day.
5. Bounce flash. If flash is absolutely necessary, Cantrell turns the flash head. Shooting in RAW, she'll set the camera to auto white balance, increase her ISO, and bounce flash off a wall either behind or beside the camera. "Many reception rooms are white or cream-colored, and you can turn the walls or ceilings into a natural-looking light source."
6. the art of posing. "I first turn the couple's bodies 45 degrees away from the light source," she says. "I tell the bride to separate her feet shoulder-length apart and put her weight on her back leg. It creates a really pretty S-curve and shadows on the waistline, so she appears more slender." She tells the groom to "lift his front foot off the floor and set it down gently," to shift his weight to his back leg.
7. keep it tight. This is where you need a long lens. "Wedding photographers often show too much information. I prefer to photograph with a shallow depth of field and come in as tight as possible," eliminating distractions, Cantrell says. She prefers f/2.8 (except for group portraits) to defocus background clutter.
Bambi Cantrell was one of American PHOTO's Top 10 Wedding Photographers.
© Donna Padowitz
Donna Padowitz lay on her stomach, facing her subject. "She kept crawling toward me -- I had to shoot fast!" Captured with a Nikon N90s and 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor lens. Exposure, 1/160 at f/2.8, ISO 320.
There are only so many days that your son will crawl before he learns to walk, and so many chances you'll get to photograph your daughter's fine blond curls before they become a full head of hair. Kids grow fast, and stages of their growth can slip right by. Years from now, when you want to look back on a certain time, you'll want to have a perfect picture to wrap around those memories.
Though babies are great subjects for portraits, they're usually the least cooperative. Capturing a particular expression usually means having your camera ready. What else do you need to know? New York-based child portraitist Donna Padowitz has a five-point formula for memorable photos:
1. Simple backgrounds. "I like an environmental feel to my portraits, so I generally schedule the sessions in the client's home or outdoors," Padowitz says. If indoors, choose a solid wall or open space. Outdoors, go for the green foliage of low trees and bushes, and blur the background (with a shallow depth of field) to make it less distracting. She doesn't advise shooting outdoors with babies younger than nine months old, since it's tough to keep their focus. "Staying in their home and the familiar environment eliminates distractions and lets us achieve more subtly nuanced expressions," she says.
2. Go natural. "Nothing beats natural window light." But if that's not available, Padowitz uses a continuous-source tungsten light such as the Lowel Tota-light ($140, street). "This way I can see exactly what I'm getting and, when used with an umbrella, it provides a very flattering light." It's also diffused enough to avoid upsetting the baby.
3. Get down. "I lie on the floor, on my belly, so I am right at the baby's eye level," Padowitz explains. This eliminates any distance or detachment from your pint-sized subject. If you can't lie down, place the infant on a bed or sofa and shoot while sitting on the floor.
4. Posing pointers. "If they have the upper body strength, I place them on their bellies, with arms in front for support. This makes for great eye contact and is also a very flattering angle," she says. Avoid leaning them back on a pillow -- it creates an unflattering double-chin look.
5. Happy baby. Timing is everything. "The best time to photograph is after a nap!" Have a toy for baby to play with -- sometimes you can incorporate the interaction into the photo. Overall, remain gentle and calm, and don't get frustrated or put any pressure on the baby -- or the parents.
Click here to launch a gallery of baby photographs by Donna Padowitz.