Photographs Versus Moments

January 29, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

One of the more important lessons I've learned since taking up photography nearly ten years ago was the significance moments.  Photography, as I understand it and as it relates to me, is nothing more than the attempt to visually capture moments and memories in the best way possible.  It's why we all cling to our cameras whenever we travel: those many pictures we've taken at a lake, mountain or beach takes us back to the moment when we took them.  When we look at them years later, they transport us to that time and invoke whatever feelings or emotions we happened to have felt when we took them.  It's why we rarely enjoy the travel photographs of others as much as we enjoy sharing and looking at our own.

What I'm trying to get at is this thought: our most important photographs are not necessarily our best photographs.  While I'm all for making things pretty and polished, it must never come at the expense of photographing a true moment.  To use an example, here is a photo I took of my cousin's family a few months ago:

This is not a perfect photo, but it's a perfect memory.  

Why do I say that?  

Well, I had very little time to work as the day was cold, my cousin's family couldn't stay long, and I had just spent six hours shooting for a real estate listing and was exhausted as a result of the long day.  I was in such a rush I didn't even get a chance to properly setup my lighting (no light modifier here, just off-camera lighting coming directly from my flash).  Then there's the attire of my cousin's oldest sun, who must have missed the weather report and ignored his mother and decided to show in shorts (not going to lie, the thought of photoshopping pants on him did cross my mind).  Finally, we tried for several minutes for the youngest one to stand with the family or be held by her mother.  But no dice.  She wouldn't sit still and became quite fussy.  So we just rolled with it and I was able to snap off an image that says more about my cousin's family than your standard family composition.  Years from now, after the youngest has grown up, this photo will remind them of a time and place in a way that a perfectly composed picture would not have.  

This takes me to wedding photography.  Every photographer is different, which is why anyone looking for a wedding photographer should shop around.   For me, pictures that capture how the lucky couple are feeling that day are more important than posing them for a magazine cover type shot.  As I said before, I'm all for making things pretty and wedding magazine worthy if that's truly what the couple wants.  It's always great to having pictures of ourselves looking our best, especially for years later when we're a little older and softer.  And if the couple has time and is willing to go through the strain of being posed for fifteen to twenty minutes under a multi-light setup kind of a shot, I'm game.  

Yet those images won't be the ones that will matter.  Because when they look at them years later, those images will take them back to the time when they weren't with their families and friends.  The emotions these photos will evoke will not be overwhelming happiness or delight but more likely how awkward, uncomfortable, and tired they felt as their photographer tells them to move their chin one way and their right hand another.  If you're the model or the subject, highly posed photos aren't the most fun to take.  

Each person is different, but for me, it's the photographs of the groom seeing his lovely bride for the first time, or the tear in the father's eye as he walks his daughter down the isle, or a quick snap of the ring bearer looking overwhelmed (or bored!) during the ceremony proceedings that will matter the most.  At a recent wedding, this photo I took was one of my favourites.  It's not even of the bride and groom, but a dynamic between the groom and his groomsmen that I think captured who they all are as individuals and as friends:

A photograph that captures a memory or feeling will always be fare more important and memorable than the highly stylized composition.  

So if you're in the market for a wedding or event photographer, try to get a sense what kind of photographs they prefer to capture.  If they demand at least 45 minutes to a couple of hours of your time on your big day to take highly stylized shots, ask yourself if that's for you.  Maybe it is, and if so then they'll be the right photographer for you.  But if you prefer a photographer who will adapt his or her schedule to your time, then perhaps such a photographer is not for you.  Choosing the right photographer to fit your own attitude and perspective on photography is essential to get the kind of photographs that you want and will matter in the long run.  You can get a sense of this by looking at their portfolio, but a face-to-face conversation is recommended to get this type of information.  Everyone is different, which is great because otherwise everyone's wedding photos would look the same (which is boring).  

For me, an image that captures a perfect moment will always take precedent over the perfect photograph.  


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