Couples turn to urban backdrops for their wedding-day portraits.
When you think of the setting for a wedding photo, what sort of scene springs to mind? Perhaps you imagine a majestic cathedral lined with guests or a flower-filled garden on a crisp, clear day. A new generation of couples, however, are opting for unlikelier settings for wedding photos. Many are urban rather than rural; some are edgy, others are moody.
“For the longest time, the trend has been very bright, very light, airy kind of photographs that tend to be more nature-driven,” says photographer Ben Hartley of Style & Story Creative. “Now there is more of a trend toward something that feels maybe a little bit moodier, maybe a little darker in tone.”
Benjamin Derkin of Derk's Works Photography describes the setting of a photo as akin to a “supporting character”—significant not in and of itself, but in how it contributes to a couple's story.
“From an overarching perspective, it's really important, because it adds in every way to the story at hand,” Derkin says. “And, in another sense, it couldn't matter less. … It's a story about them and not a story about the spots that we're visiting together.”
Style & Story's methods appealed to veterinarians Andrew and Meagan Sowders, who married in April 2016.
“For me, their photos just looked timeless,” says Andrew. “You would never really know: Were we married 10 years ago or was it two months ago?”
Meagan was worried about the cost, but says the results were worth it.
“When we talked to our planner about photographers … we said photography was one of our priorities in terms of budget,” she says. “Even though it was expensive, it was worth every penny … because we have photos that look like they should be in a magazine.” (In fact, the Sowders' photos can be found on this page and elsewhere in the winter/spring 2017-18 issue.)
In several shots, Meagan and Andrew are seen in a corridor of the walkway that links the Hilton Columbus Downtown hotel to the Greater Columbus Convention Center; other shots show the couple at the bottom of a circular staircase in the Hilton.
“I think it looks more natural to me versus a lot of the posed photos,” Meagan says. “Things along that staircase, it was just like [capturing] a moment of us hiding away together from an interesting angle. I felt like mostly what we were just doing is going through the day, and [the photographers were] just following us.”
Rylie and Ben Meer, who were married in December 2016, chose Derkin in part for his roll-with-the-punches approach to taking pictures.
“Several photographers that we met with wanted a minute-by-minute time schedule of the evening,” says Rylie, an occupational therapist. “Benjamin [Derkin] was much more flexible and easy-going, which was also what we were looking for.”
Such adaptability came in handy on the couple's wedding day, when an early-morning ice storm necessitated a shift in the itinerary.
“It really changed where we decided to go,” Rylie says. “We kind of decided the spots on the fly, truthfully, except for one—we went to Jeni's ice cream, and that was because that was where Ben and I [had our] first date.”
On the hunt for an interesting spot, the trio headed to Franklinton, where Derkin photographed the couple under a train trestle; the diffused light of the foggy day illuminates the couple below (see Page 140). Other shots also capitalized on the fog in a nearby field.
“We walked a little bit farther into that field, and nothing but just fog,” says Ben Meer, a dentist. “He was like, ‘Just start walking. … We'll see where you end up in the fog.' ”
Another image presents out-of-focus profiles of Rylie and Ben in the foreground; between them, a sharp view of Columbus's skyline peeks through in the background.
“That's my favorite picture,” Rylie says. “We're both a little bit more shy, so if it would've been really posed, I think we would've ended up looking a little awkward. … We wanted the emotion to be the center, but we also wanted to capture the city.”
Personal meaning counts in selecting a setting, Hartley says.
“There are a ton of beautiful locations in Columbus that mean nothing to people,” he explains. “If a location means something to a couple, then we adapt that same value and prioritize it above anything else.”
Sometimes, venues emerge due to circumstances beyond the couple's control: Hartley remembers one client whose grandmother was hospitalized just before the wedding.
“The bride called me … about two days before the wedding, kind of trembling, I think worried about what I would say,” he says. “This is during our creative portrait session, where we're supposed to be out photographing in all these gorgeous fields and stuff.”
Instead, the photographer accompanied the couple to a hospital 45 minutes away. “We actually did portraits there at the hospital with her grandma in the room,” Hartley says. “Those have become the most treasured, valued photographs out of every single picture we took on the day.”
Amanda and Nego Jovanovich, who were married in September 2016, were photographed by Derkin in a variety of striking spots—with the couple posing among vast, angular architecture found under a bridge along the Scioto Mile—but didn't enter the process with clear ideas.
“[Derkin] really captured what Nego and I were, in the end, looking for,” says Amanda. “Nego and I just didn't know what we were looking for.”
Nego attributes their trust in Derkin to the success of their shoot. “From what we saw from Benjamin, we had complete faith [that] whatever he was asking us to do would end up looking great,” he says.
Other couples have concrete ideas about the places where they would like to be photographed. Surgeon Stephanie Goare, who married X-ray technician Kevin Sprang in April 2016, settled on the Ohio Statehouse as the setting of both their reception and photo shoot—a decision that informed their choice of photographer.
“The wedding photographer was probably my biggest decision,” says Goare. “I felt that was the most important thing, because it helps create all the memories that you take with you for the rest of your life.”
Nicole Dixon of Nicole Dixon Photographic won the job in part for her experience shooting at the Statehouse.
“She had great ideas about where we could get pictures,” Goare says. “She knew the ins and outs of the Statehouse. I was looking for a more elegant and formal wedding and wedding photos, and she understood that.”
Dixon's pictures make use of leading lines—geometric shapes in the picture that orient the viewer and direct his or her gaze.
“It'll move your eye through the image,” says Dixon, who often frames a composition according to the rule of thirds.
“When you're composing your image, you want … your skyline, for example, to be at the bottom third or the top third, … so that you can have more impact that way visually,” she says. “If you have your couple on one of those thirds, there is going to be more impact.”
In one shot, Goare and Sprang sit on the steps of the Statehouse's grand staircase; a bannister on the left points the viewer toward the twosome on the right side of the frame (see opposite page).
“The staircase is leading your eye throughout the rest of the Statehouse area,” Dixon explains.
Strong compositions are more noticeable in urban settings, Derkin says.
“There's definitely a tendency toward interesting lines,” he says. “In a downtown environment, those lines become cleaner and sharper and are intrinsically a little bit more grabbing. … And then just balance: either strong symmetry or strong asymmetry. It's very much about getting the setting to speak as much as some of the other characters.”
In each of the couples' photos, their connection to Columbus comes through.
“This is the city where we fell in love, and it's the city that means so much [to] us,” Andrew Sowders says. “It has to be part of the story.”
Dixon is not surprised that so many couples want the city to be part of their pictures.
“There are just a lot of Columbus-proud people out here that want to get that skyline shot or those architectural icons of Columbus that I think define them,” she says. “We're definitely Columbus-proud these days. I think it's something to be proud of.”