Making an Impact with Your Wedding Photography

Jackie Mantey
Photographer Benjamin Derkin shot this portrait of Liana and Samuel Gaeth with contrasting relationships in mind.

This story first appeared in the Fall/Winter 2019 issue of Columbus Weddings, published June 2019.

Every couple wants a wedding album that they’ll cherish for the rest of their lives. One complete with posed pictures of the newlyweds next to Grandma and Grandpa. The infamous cake smash moment or the feelings of the first dance captured in imagery. A couple’s portrait perfect for framing in their or their parents’ living room.

But let’s be honest: They also want a few images they can post on their social media feeds that will stop the scroll and make followers gasp.

Now that’s what we call high-impact photography. How do professional wedding photographers achieve it? And how do you ensure your photographer knows what “high impact” means to you? Several Columbus photographers weigh in with tips for getting those jaw-dropping shots.

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Find Photos You Like

Compiling a Pinterest page full of wedding photography you admire might be a good place to start, but think beyond the board when the time comes to choose a photographer.

“I always ask my couples to let me know what they like about my photos,” says Hillary Ferguson of Hillary Ferguson Photography. “It’s normal for most brides to make a Pinterest board with ideas. While this is helpful, some may be unrealistic for their venue, weather or time of day we are shooting. I encourage my clients to share what images stand out to them in my collection, so I can incorporate my vision into their wedding.”

During the hunt, it’s beneficial to initially look through a photographer’s online selections or blog, read their website’s “About” page to get to know their approach and why they love what they do, and write down what you like about each potential hire. That way, when you have your first consultation to discuss further, you can provide specifics about what you’re looking for and what you like about them.

“Hiring any photographer should be [about finding] a balance of personality and skill,” says Benjamin Derkin of Derk’s Works Photography. “If you’re attracted to a particular style from that photographer, just tell them. They’ll be flattered and would be more than happy to help you get a particular style of image.”

Be sure to point out images from multiple times of day as well. This will equip the photographer with a well-rounded understanding of what makes your heart skip a beat—and what they can do to make sure your heart’s jumping even higher with your own wedding’s results. For even more specificity, you can do a Google image search for “wedding,” and your venue’s name, then pick out any shots that catch your eye.

“I love shooting during the golden hour. The lighting has the perfect warm glow. Add a unique location and composition, and you can create beautiful imagery,” says Ferguson, whose approach to high-impact photography is grounded in great lighting and composition. “I also like to take a few night shots with my couples, if I can. You can do some cool backlighting [or] images with sparklers.”

And while carefully planned and posed photos can be a cornerstone of high-impact photos, you shouldn’t neglect photographers’ approaches to candid images—those spontaneous shots that capture something happening in the moment—as you consider which one to hire. Candids often are full of emotion, which can be high-impact in its own way. Ask potential photographers how they’ll interact with you and your guests at the event and what their approach to getting great candid photos is.

“I think it’s important to always be on-guard with your camera,” Ferguson says. “It’s an emotional day, and things are always happening. If you lose sight of what’s happening around you, you can miss out on some great shots that the [couple] will cherish.”

Ask the Expert

While specific examples of what you like certainly can begin a conversation with your photographer, don’t forget that you picked them for a reason. Each photographer will have a different answer to the question, “What elements make for a striking portrait or detail shot?”

“Focus. Not necessarily clarity of the lens, but clarity of the viewer-to-subject connection,” Derkin says. “I also think that there is beauty in allowing the surroundings and other details of the area to play a role in the overall mood or staging of your details and portraits. If I add the lace from your veil into an image of your jewelry, that would be way more interesting and meaningful than bringing my own lace from home just to style an image.”

Derkin says he favors emotion-first photography and gravitates toward extremes of heavy contrast in tone, size proportion, texture, edge tension and depth of field. For portraits, Ferguson says she loves shooting the bride with her veil, especially the long veils that are currently trending.

“My clients tend to tell me my images have great color that pops, so I try to find locations where color can pack a punch, whether it be near a field of flowers, an old barn or just the greenery in general,” she says. “For detail shots such as the rings, a macro lens and thinking outside of the box are a must. If I shoot at a certain venue multiple times a year, I try to change up where I shoot [within the space]. I always guide my couples when making the timeline for the day, so if certain portraits are a must, we are [taking them] at the right time of day.”

A great photographer will not only have the techniques and timeframe down and new ideas on tap, they’ll also be able to help you figure out what, exactly, is attracting you to certain types of imagery.

“There are elements of any given photo that are deeper than what you might notice as an observer,” Derkin says. “Oftentimes, you will respond to a photo without knowing what it is you like most about that photo. Figuring that out is just as important to getting the right shot as anything else.”

He gives an example of his photograph of Samuel and Liana Gaeth and their wedding party at the Columbus Museum of Art, seen at left. In the image, the bride and groom can be seen crystal clear at the bottom of the stairs in the CMA courtyard, while members of the bridal party are slightly blurred as they climb the stairs.

“You as the viewer are left with this soulful contrast of relationships,” Derkin says. “I like to play with reflection. I think that this is striking, visually, as you add in the vague representation of symmetry and duplication of the subject, but I also love the poetic side of reflections that draws your thoughts to what you see and what is real.”

Think Outside the Frame

The photographer is one of the few—if not the only—wedding vendors you’ll hire who will be with you the entire day, including its most intimate moments. It’s valuable, then, to feel comfortable with them and realize they have your best interests—not their own personal pursuit of the perfect image—at heart and top of mind.

“Weddings are different than any other form of photography—perpetually unique and individually complex,” Derkin says. “I think it’s important to weigh all of the factors at hand before trying to make an epic image. This is the easiest trap for a photographer to fall into—making pictures that express their skill as a photographer before expressing the emotion of the moment.”

In other words, the “wow” factor you’re looking for often comes not from the camera, but from a connection with the person behind it.

“The work—the amazing photograph—is expected. In 2019, to deliver aesthetically beautiful pictures, anyone can do it. There has to be something deeper there,” says Ben Hartley of Style & Story. “Your photographer should be someone whose mere presence brings you life. Not their work, not their gear, just themselves. It’ll change the pictures, the interactions, the feel, everything. I think 49 percent of my job is to deliver amazing work. The other 51 percent is to arrive as an advocate for my couple. To act on their behalf. Every decision I make will express this care for my couple, including what I’m about to ask them to do or a place to go for a photograph.”

Hartley takes the time to meet with every client in person before the wedding to help build that powerful relationship. This allows him to capture truly emotional moments without being a distraction.

“The relationship that we have with our clients is the one and only reason our photos look the way they do,” says Caleb Sanchez, who co-owns Sanchez Studio with his wife, Meg Sanchez. “For us, photography is less about the status we can achieve and more about the lasting memories we can create for people.”

Before the big day, the Sanchezes prioritize building an authentic relationship with each couple they photograph. Making time to get to know your photographer on a personal level will build the foundation for high-impact photos.

“How vulnerable are you being, as a photographer, with your client? We’re not just asking them to open up to us so that we can take better photos. We’re reciprocating those feelings, that relationship, to create trust. It’s not, ‘Oh, just trust us because we’re professionals,’ ” Caleb says. “We tell them about ourselves: our joys, our struggles, the things that we’ve been through. Anything and everything. Nothing is really off-limits in terms of how we communicate with clients, and it’s as much or as little as they want. Whether it’s over dinner, beers, chatting—part of that reciprocation is for us to just be there and share about ourselves with them.”

Their reasoning is rooted in the same things an ideal marriage is: love and respect.

“It’s hard to ask your photographer for what you want if you don’t trust them and know how they’re going to react to what you ask for,” Caleb says. “Our [visual] style and our relational style, it’s not for everyone. That’s why there are different kinds of photographers and people to choose from. Having the foresight to kind of figure out what inspires you is going to be the biggest help in finding a photographer who’s going to give you images you’re going to love forever.”

Here are a few high-level definitions of basic photography terms that could help kick off discussions with your photographer. Going beyond “I just like this” as you explain what you admire about an individual photograph or the photographer’s work in general can empower you both.

Backlighting – Illumination of a photograph’s subject by light positioned opposite of the camera, behind the subject

Balanced composition – An image arranged for a harmonious distribution of objects, tones or patterns

Contrast – The measure of the rate of a photograph’s change of brightness. This can include color or tonal (i.e., brightness/darkness) contrast. A high-contrast photograph has a big spread of color variation or dark-to-light tones, and a low-contrast photograph’s spread is much smaller.

Depth of field – The distance between the nearest and furthest point of a scene that can achieve acceptable sharpness in a photograph

Golden hour – The best time for natural light, which can refer to the hours directly following sunrise or the hours leading up to sunset

Leading lines – A composition technique in which lines—usually architectural or geometric shapes that occur naturally in the scene—draw attention to the main subject of the photograph by “pointing” toward it.

Source: Nikon USA; Digital Photography School

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