Six Cinematic Techniques for Wedding Photography

Many wedding photographers now refer to themselves as Storytellers or say that they are Cinematic Wedding Photographers. It’s one thing saying it and it’s another thing to apply some of the techniques of narrative based cinematography intentionally and consistently to your work. If you want a masterclass in how to do this, we would highly recommend that you look at the films and blog posts created by the very wonderful Scottish Duo, The Kitcheners.

We also covered this topic on a recent Clubhouse, hosted by Lisa with the talented Neil Thomas Douglas. As a result, we have these six cinematic techniques for wedding photography that can be employed to layer the narrative in your coverage.

1. Story

Shoot with the story in mind. There always is a story and it can be your role as the wedding photographer to record it and relay it. You choose the frames and the moments and then you edit them into a final selection. So intentionally shoot with the story in your mind. Many films open with an Establishing Shot, it conveys the setting for a story – it’s a wide shot that reveals the surroundings, sets the tone and the context. Where is this story taking place and how can you inform us of that in a frame? Throughout a film, wide shots are used multiple times to reset the scene. As you move through the new scenes of a wedding, include new establishing shots. Next might be Full Body Shots. These include more of the action and more detail on the characters. Finally there are close ups and extreme close ups. This is when the emotion in a story can be revealed more. Using a mixture of these shots adds visual interest to your story and can piece together to put across a detailed narrative tapestry.

2. Continuity

Having great continuity allows your viewer to concentrate more on the story as they are less distracted by any unnecessary factors. To achieve this in photography, carefully frame your shots so that they only contain relevant elements. You might need to move objects or reposition yourself to do this but it allows the focus to be on your subject more. One method that Neil uses to create a consistent result is to leave one lens on one of his cameras for an entire wedding. He considers this to be his ‘story-telling’ lens. Keeping that same focal length throughout all your scenes is reassuring and familiar. Hitchcock’s preferred lens was 50mm as he liked the realism it brings due to its lack of distortion. Neil most often uses his 35mm or more recently his 28mm which adds a cinematic emphasis to images. He also maintains the same aperture on this lens throughout the day, again for consistency. The images shot on this camera could be considered to be your B-Roll – supplementary shots that support or reiterate your main images.

3. Mixed Lightning

In many moody films, mixed lighting sources are used to create interest. It is usually a combination of warm and cool lighting. For us this could be mixing daylight with tungsten which could be window light with a lamp for instance. Although to the eye there isn’t so much of a difference, to the camera the colours will register at very different ends of the colour temperature chart. This can make blue and orange which are complementary colours. Assess your scenes for what light is available and don’t forget that you can add some in with your flashgun as well. I often carry a stash of coloured gels for my flash which can alter the colour to either clash or match what is already there.

4. Depth

Photographs are in two dimensions whereas cinema is in three. In our scenes, there is a flattening of the elements to consider. So think about how the viewer’s eye will travel around your frame. You can use lines to draw the eye wherever you want, from left to right, front to back or vice versa on either. Deliberately place your points of interest on lines – these could be physical or they could be focal lines – where the important parts are on the same focal plane and therefore in the same focus.

5. Their Perspective

For impactful moments in film, the camera is often positioned to shoot the character’s view. It might be as if through their eyes or it can be shot over their shoulder. At a wedding, maybe it’s the view of a window they look out of or the ceremony room from their perspective. You will often see multiple characters mirroring each other’s perspective and shot in this way. So for instance, if possible I will get a shot of the bride over the groom’s shoulder in a ceremony and vice versa. At these highly emotive parts of a wedding, the couple can feel like it went by in a blur, so be the person that brings it back for them.

6. details

Shooting the details is something you probably already do but could you be thinking about them more as a cinematographer? Drawing emphasis to an object that may become more significant later. A great example of this is in the movie Misery. The camera zooms into a small ceramic penguin that later in the film plays a significant role. Another rule that Hitchcock loved is that an object’s size in the frame should correlate to its significance. So yes, maybe you take a close up of the rings or a shot of the dress hanging up but how can you inject more narrative into the scene. For me, I do shoot the objects on their own but I also shoot them being interacted with. The more expected shot might be a wedding dress hanging up but I always prefer a shot of the bride handling it before she puts it on. Yes, I will take a shot of the confetti in its containers but I prefer the shot of it scattered about the couple’s feet. These moments to me are more ‘mise-en-scene’.

The beautiful thing about being a wedding photographer is that you extract the story and present it in a way that you control. It’s a privilege to be trusted to do this for someone. Photography tends to be more linear than film-making. To document something we start at the beginning and finish at the end and indeed this is how most of us present our galleries and our blog posts. Film Makers will play with a timeline in order to prioritise the story and to evoke emotional responses. Many films begin with the end and then reveal how the story got to that point. I’m not sure how we can utilise similar methods in our photography but it’s something we could certainly have fun exploring.