We can learn about photography composition techniques and we can learn about wedding photography, but how do we combine the two lessons into real world application?
As a wedding photographer, it’s easy to be so focused on capturing all the photos of all the things that you forget to compose the photo. Composition means putting together the photograph and arranging the elements in the scene.
It can be hard to imagine how you are going to arrange a photograph in a situation where you have very little control such as a wedding. And I’m not going to suggest that you try to control anything. Instead, you’re going to reposition yourself and your camera until the elements in your photo appear where you want them to.
Let’s dive into some of the popular composition techniques and how you can utilize them in your wedding photography. It’s both simple and challenging but one thing is for certain, being able to intentionally create photographs will turn your snapshots into art.
Photography Composition Techniques
We are going to learn to apply the following photography composition techniques to wedding photography. You might challenge yourself by picking one at a time to intentionally focus on until you find yourself naturally and instinctively utilizing them. Composition techniques will improve your photographs simply by causing you to be more intentional.
- Leading lines
- Negative space
- Fill the frame
- Depth of field
- Rule of thirds
- Repetition and pattern
I’m choosing to start with leading lines only because it’s one of my favorite techniques. I loved learning about perspective in art class, there was something magical about drawing a road that disappears into the horizon. Leading lines can add more depth and movement to a photo and they can point to your subject and draw the viewer’s eyes wherever you want them to go.
Leading lines are very visually satisfying to me and fairly easy to utilize in your wedding photography, all you have to do is start to recognize them. Roads, bridges, railings, walls, windows, and doors can all become leading lines that point the viewer’s eye to your subject. One of the most obvious wedding leading lines is the ceremony aisle.
Use leading lines such as the ceremony aisle to point the viewer to your subject and add depth and movement to your images.
Another easy composition technique that can drastically improve your photos is negative space. Often wedding days are busy and cluttered and if you’re not careful all of your photos will end up busy and cluttered too. Maybe a busy scene is ok for a cocktail hour shot but sometimes a clean backdrop and negative space around your subject will make the image more impactful.
Leading lines draw your eye to the subject, negative space leaves plenty of breathing room around your subject so the view has an undistracted viewing experience. If you find that your wedding photos are too cluttered or busy, creating negative space will help you instead create clean undistracted images. Sometimes, creating negative space is as simple as changing your body position so that instead of seeing all the stuff on the table the subject is photographed against a blank wall.
Use negative space to give your subject more breathing room — change your angle so that instead of seeing clutter, the viewer is given an undistracted and clean image of your subject.
Fill the Frame
Sometimes negative space will create breathing room and simplicity in your images. However, it is possible for a photo to feel like there’s too much space and that the subject is too distant. When you want an image to feel more intimate you need your subject to fill the frame and be a bigger portion of the overall space.
Luckily, this is another cure if your photos often feel too busy or too cluttered, get closer to your subject and use them to block the clutter while also allowing them to fill the frame. Filling the frame is especially effective in photojournalistic wedding photography because when you’re telling a story of emotion and connection, being closer and more intimate with the subject really brings the story alive.
Especially when capturing intimate moments, get closer and fill the frame with your subjects so that your viewer feels like they are in the moment.
Depth of Field
Depth of field is another one of my favorite techniques that again goes back to when I was first learning about art and photography. There’s something so beautiful about sharp focus on a subject while everything else is blurry. Depth of field is a fantastic way to include a wider scene without making it feel cluttered or busy.
With the sharp focus on the subject, the blurred-out aspects of the image become the foreground or the background. They become valuable context for the photo without distracting you from the subject. All you need to do is shoot with a low aperture lens and make sure your subject is sharp as you choose what to include in the scene.
Use depth of field to isolate the subject while telling a wider story.
Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds is a classic composition technique that’s timeless and reliable. Sometimes I overlook this one because it feels easy and straightforward to me. But the reality is that anytime we’ve asked a stranger to take a photo of our family somewhere on vacation, this simple rule could have made the photo significantly better.
It seems like sometimes people just don’t know where to put the subject in the photo. So let me help you out. The rule of thirds has you break your image up into thirds both horizontally and vertically and then place your subject on the left or right third. It’s just a better composition which you’ll see immediately when you compare it to a photo that looks like the photographer didn’t know where to put the subject so they’re just floating awkwardly in the frame or cropped in a painful way.
Use the rule of thirds as a reliable starting point for where to position your couple in the frame.
Now we’re going to advance our composition by adding drama and magic to our photos. While I love soft and even light as much as the next girl, there are times when a high-contrast photo is more likely to get the job done. Contrast means we’re using differences to tell a story such as something really bright next to something dark.
Contrast can be used to make something unpredictable, dramatic, or impactful. Sometimes using contrast is about taking harsh light and making it do something productive by having it hit your subject at the right angle. Other times contrast is about letting the background fade to black while you focus on your subject rather than having everything balanced.
Contrast is a technique that you can utilize to add drama and dynamism to a photo by highlighting and showcasing extreme differences and using them to your advantage.
Repetition and pattern
The last composition technique I’m going to address is repetition and pattern. I find this to be one of the more difficult techniques which might be why the results seem so powerful. Patterns are everywhere if you train yourself to look for them, and utilizing them in your photography can create an interesting image that is dynamic without being distracting.
Repetition and pattern allow for more interesting photos that hold the viewer’s attention. One strategy is to identify a location that has a strong pattern and then anticipate when something interesting might happen to break up the pattern or move through it. Even more challenging might be noticing when a dynamic pattern is happening, perhaps layers of hugs can form a pattern if you position yourself properly.
Repetition and pattern can make your photos more dynamic and hold the viewer’s attention, training yourself to see patterns can help you utilize them in your images.
Applying Photography Composition Techniques to Wedding Photography
I can’t wait to hear how you apply these photography composition techniques to your wedding photography. Sometimes when we set constraints for ourselves and intentionally try to accomplish a certain thing it eventually leads to a creative breakthrough. If you find rules and techniques stifling, give it a try and you can always go back to ignoring them.
However, if you practice remembering how to see and applying it to your photos, you might find yourself creating rather than simply reacting on a wedding day. Taking a photo and composing a photo are two different things. Challenge yourself to apply some of these techniques to your wedding photography and see how it changes your work.
About the author: Brenda Bergreen is a Colorado wedding photographer, videographer, yoga teacher, and writer who works alongside her husband at Bergreen Photography. With their mission and mantra “love. adventurously.” they are dedicated to telling adventurous stories in beautiful places.
Image credits: Photographs by Brenda Bergreen