It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter.
Eisenstaedt is a German photojournalist responsible for one of the most iconic shots celebrating the end of World War II.
The shot famously named, “The Kiss” has quite a story behind it. That day Alfred was running around Times Square with his Leica in hand. He witnessed a sailor frantically buzzing around grabbing any girl in sight. Lost in the ambience of celebration the sailor went from young, old, stout, thin, and without a care on his mind kissed as many women as he could.
The sailor was dressed in his navy attire in dark colors. Suddenly, Alfred was struck by the contrast in clothing as the sailor grabbed a nurse draped in her classic white uniform. As Eisenstaedt turned to catch the moment he clicked as the kiss happened.
Almost like it was taken from a movie ending-the emotion, the moment, and the symmetry in composition are almost too perfect to be spontaneous. Even the angle at which the sailor bends the nurse back as she kicks her leg out is something I wish all my wedding couples posing for a dip would fall into. It’s the perfect example of great photojournalism.
An image isn’t much without the emotions. There has to be a story. It has to drive interest and create questions for the viewer. Photojournalism has been a staple of my arsenal and I’ve continued to work the craft to improve this part of my photography. Here are 5 ways you can improve your photojournalism shots.
1. Know Your Settings
Being comfortable with your gear is the most important thing. If taking a picture spontaneously isn’t automatic, work at familiarizing yourself with your gear in order to snap the shutter effortlessly.
Settings are one thing…make sure you snap at the correct shutter speed-high shutter speeds for fast action, slower shutters for low light situations. Do your best to shoot in native ISOs and always make sure you are aware of what settings your camera is set to.
REWIND: [ OPTIMAL ISO SETTING ]
For example, if you’re outside and your ISO is set to 100, then quickly go inside or you should automatically switch your ISO to what’s appropriate. Your eyes and your mind should always be ahead of the camera. Putting yourself into a situation where you miss a shot or an emotional moment because you forgot to change your settings can be frustrating.
2. The Big Picture
The surroundings, the atmosphere and the ambience are all extremely important in capturing an image. Sometimes one image won’t tell the whole story and it’s fitting to shoot a wide and a tight shot.
Sometimes when I have my Canon 70-200mm mounted on my camera I get lost in shooting and I have to quickly remind myself that some wide shots would be great to show the moment as a whole. I force myself to shoot with my Canon 24mm prime to focus more on composition when a zoom lens might be more forgiving when framing my shots.
For Eisenstaedt’s image above, we can see that his choice to shoot wide was the perfect decision. Whether or not he had a bag full of lenses on his shoulder, I’m not sure, but the wide shot shows us the happiness in the people, the buildings that set the scene and the full body image of the two people kissing.
3. The Small Details
Much like capturing the entire atmosphere, don’t forget about the small details. Sometimes little pieces of memories can be lost because they are so small and are often times overseen.
Our couples spend lots of time selecting the most perfect details that we need to spend time to make sure we capture them. The food, the candle holders, the edible flowers that end up dressing up the cocktails, and the cupcakes Dad ordered from New York from the Bride’s favorite cupcake shop. Be aware and Shoot them!
When shooting weddings, I always make sure to ask if there are any sentimental items that need to be captured. Even after our initial meeting and after the client provides us with a must-have-shot-list, there might still be items given the day of the wedding that don’t make that list. Those are important in telling the story. Both the giver and receiver have an emotional attachment to that object and you never know if those items end up being family heirlooms in the future.
This goes hand in hand with #1: know your settings. Anticipation is key, but if you can’t effortlessly take a shot without thinking about settings you’ll miss ‘it’.
Here are some things I keep in mind when I anticipate: I do my best to think through the lens. What I mean by that is know what type of shot you are trying to achieve. If you have a wide angle, remember you’re telling the story from a scenic standpoint so don’t forget to include the room’s architecture or the location’s features. When you have a long zoom or are shooting tight know how your bokeh will look. Anticipate the image before its shot.
Then, preset your settings. On my Canon 5D Mark III, I know that when I hit my joystick I can make my focus point return to center. By knowing that, I can preset my composition by clicking my joystick according to where I anticipate my subject to be in the frame. This technique has really helped me grab the moment as it happens. Most people aren’t use to a camera in their face so they won’t act like themselves when you’re hiding behind the lens. Get use to quickly drawing your camera and firing.
Also, when I first encounter the family, I study their emotions, I pay attention to who the players are. Now I sound like I’m turning it into a sporting event, but really I’m trying to understand the personalities in the room. Dissecting which aunt or uncle is the comedian, which parent is going to be more emotional, or which bridesmaids are closer to the bride. That way I know where to focus my attention.
Most people don’t act like themselves when a camera is in their face. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and someone is overly charismatic when the lens is pointed in his or her direction, but it’s more likely that the room is uncomfortable because you are the elephant in the room holding a camera. Womps! In those situations, we need to be a catalyst.
Personality is key. Don’t be afraid to encourage emotion when necessary. Sometimes we see the emotion bottled up in families during a wedding day. We realize Dad is holding it in, and there’s a good reason Mom has been holding on to that pack of tissues all morning. Bring out those feels.
When I have this opportunity I take advantage of it. One of my favorite things to do with a Dad and Bride is to pull those emotional strings. When Dad sees her daughter for the first time during the morning of her wedding day, it’s a special thing. Sometimes so much is going on that the people involved don’t realize how significant of a moment it is.
Right before Dad walks into the bridal room, I make sure to stop him, I look him right in the eyes and ask, “Are you ready to see your daughter for the last time before she gets married?”
That usually does it. I ask the question in a variety of ways depending on how much I’ve gotten to know the family, but usually it’s a buffet of shutter clicks as he walks in! I pray I didn’t set myself up for delays because of a makeup malfunction, but even then the moment, the images that end up being captured, are all worth it.
You’re capturing a special occasion in someone’s life. The responsibility is on you and your team to immortalize the day. The images you deliver will become memories shared with generations and the moments you witness are being told through your eyes, their story. If your client can look at the image and remember exactly what happened, exactly how they felt and what they were thinking, they’ll thank you for it.
Do you have other tips that you keep in mind when snapping for photojournalistic shots? All of us are always looking to improve, so I’d love to hear them below.
“The Kiss” story via photoventure