Getting the best from your wedding pictures: candid vs. natural wedding photography

13 Apr 2016

London-based wedding photographer Ruth Allen offers her honest opinion on reportage wedding photography vs. posed portraiture 

When I have my pre-wedding consultation with couples, it seems that the hated words when discussing wedding portraiture are posed, stiff and unnatural. In contrast, everyone loves the idea of reportage, candid, natural photos. It would be ideal to tell the couples that as a wedding photographer, I intend to float around their wedding like a butterfly, just capturing little moments as they unfold, affecting nothing.

By definition, candid photography should really mean that there is no interaction between the subject and the photographer. However, the demand is for every shot to be captured by a wedding photographer.

Don’t get me wrong, a talented photographer with good equipment will no doubt capture some lovely moments like this throughout a typical wedding day. They will know where to be at the right moments and will use their experience to cover some touching incidents. However, they will be relying on the right lighting, correct positioning of people, and being in the right place with their camera poised to capture that exact moment. That seems a lot of risk for a day of such importance.



Not all moments do unfold naturally if left to chance. You may get that confetti shot but it might be incomplete and uninspiring. Similarly, if you want that classic shot of you with your mum as she adjusts your veil, looking teary-eyed before you leave home together, then this will likely take work and intervention from the photographer.


Equally and unfortunately, the bride and groom don’t take an impromptu walk into the sunset just after the ceremony, hand in hand and look at each other in a fit of giggles. These moments just don’t happen. It is necessary to take the bride and groom off for 30 minutes alone with some directing from the photographer to achieve these idyllic pictures which everyone wants.  


Yes, as a wedding photographer, I am by your side a lot of the day and I often ask for you to position and pose. However, there is a skill to this that makes for candid images that feel natural and capture bits of emotion that may have been missed otherwise. Also, in my opinion, it is possible to intervene but still to remain unimposing. Through experience, I have found that it is actually more about relaxing your subjects and that shouting, ordering and demanding poses does not work anyway. 

I have actually never been the kind of photographer to be far in the distance just capturing. For me, photography provides an opportunity to use a bit of magic to create a more perfect version of reality; to add a little energy and sparkle to a real-life moment. Photographs are like pieces of artwork – still-lifes capturing the essence and emotion of an important moment in someone’s life in a creative way. In order to achieve this, I prefer to orchestrate a shot.


Let me be clear, though, weddings are not photoshoots and getting excellent photographs shouldn’t be the main purpose of the day. The skill is making a planned portrait appear natural and spontaneous through the expertise and patience of the photographer.


1. Hands

Giving the couple something to do with their hands is vital to avoid the impression of tension. At a wedding I will often place the groom’s arms around the bride’s waist and encourage the bride to pose with her bouquet.   


 2. Leaning or sitting 

Leaning or sitting can also help create a good image, perhaps leaning up against a tree or being seated by one.


3. Eye contact

I always encourage eye contact. I often ask people to look at each other, whether this is the bride and groom or the groom and the best men. This might feel weird and unnatural to begin with, but in my experience, it always creates a natural photo as when they catch eyes it releases tension. Looking down, away or past the camera makes the subject look as though they have been caught off-guard. Looking away can create a detachment and impression of spontaneity. 



4. My positioning and composition

As a photographer, knowing where to be is vital. Often having a second photographer can really help get these candid shots. The same shot can yield completely different results from two vantage points. The front-on shot can look stiff while the voyeuristic side shot can feel natural. Otherwise, I ask models to imagine they are walking towards somewhere different. This can depend on the imagination and commitment of the subject though.

Another trick is in the composition by the photographer. Placing the couple at the bottom of the frame can make the shot feel more relaxed and less obvious. They are in their own world. 


5. Two photographers

At a wedding you don’t have long to experiment and warm into shots and I want to keep direction to a minimum as people are often tense and nervous anyway. Often using two cameras is the best tactic – ask the couple to pose for one camera, while the key shot is being taken from the side, on the other camera. 


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