Photo Prose

By Gary Rabenko

How will you choose photos after your event? Knowing what the final criteria might be seems like a good first step in choosing your photographer.

“My number one criterion was that they be visually pleasing!” someone recently explained. That sounds obvious, but during the shopping phase, it is easy to be impressed with backgrounds and overlook the subjects. Pretty scenes, even in a photographer’s portfolio, often show undesirable expressions or body positioning that is distorted, distracting, and odd.

Some couples want to make their own decisions in hiring wedding vendors. A wedding is all about traditions. Most young people do not have the life experience to value the things that will become significant years later, when they will be looking to their wedding album for poignant and meaningful photos of grandparents, parents, and even themselves. Posed shots are often superficial or not posed in a skillful and stylish way so the subject’s positive features and personality can speak to the viewer.

Today’s photojournalistically trained photographer simply does not have the lighting, posing, and communication skills needed to produce meaningful portraits. Society has aged, but photographers are more juvenile.

So, what will please you later? What will be important then? Forget the backgrounds. They are not you. They are nice to have and add to the mood and feel of the shot. But what you should be looking for is a feeling from facial expressions that are real, honest, and sincere, and that come from the heart, not from the teeth! They should also be flattering. Subjects should look like they are in the moment of your special day, not just posing or doing as directed in a bored, lifeless manner.

Clothing, hair, and body language should look good and flatter.

Candid moments are major criteria, too. It is wonderful when you can really feel the moment. It is terrible when the photo merely reminds or proves that the moment occurred, but does not contribute feeling due to ineffective lighting, bad composition, weak perspective, or missed expression. In those cases, sensitive and emotional persons will actually feel pain. They will be reminded of that powerful moment and be forced to dig deep for a mental image as the photo is superficial and weak.

Today, family photos are rarely great. Few photographers have the wherewithal to finesse a beautiful pose, and often must find a balance between perfection and impatience. Subjects are so often the makers of their own photos that they have little patience to be fussed with. They think they know it all. Or that the photographer knows little more than them. And sometimes that is so. But they become more irritable by the second and actually are impressed with speed over skill.

True skill includes speed. The experienced portrait photographer who goes beyond school-yearbook-type posing, and actually has talent, can produce in little time a family portrait that looks good. Making it a great photograph requires more time and effort than today’s subjects often will allow. So it is a dying art. A great family photo should show personality in each family member. Expressions should not be saying “cheese,” but should be welcoming you, the viewer. They should be as pleased and excited as if they were meeting a dear friend after many years. There should be an internal joy in the eyes and a seeming agreement of everyone that they are celebrating a family milestone.

A great photo should be pleasing to view. The shape of each element should contribute to the shape of the group. Years ago, people would love watching as the group photo was being built. “Turn slightly this way, shift that way, lean more, switch with that gentleman, and let’s add a seat over here.” Clothing, feet, and hands also had to be impeccably arranged. All that took time. And the photographic artists had captive audiences getting respect for perfecting each shot. Today everyone is in a rush and photojournalists do not have any training in posing. What a perfect match! This is a recipe for weak subjects and strong backgrounds.

Cheaper unskilled photographers are doing most of the events today. The public has been educated to expect groups that are simply thrown haphazardly or amateurishly together. Groups often grow. Smaller groups are built into larger ones. This is an effective approach. But often core subjects should be repositioned and spaces need to change. No one has patience for this, and trying to do something nice can be risky if the crowd does not appreciate it. So even better photographers can get out of practice on this. Who enjoys seeing subjects roll their eyes and shift their weight because you are trying to do something nice? People spend hours in the beauty parlor and getting fitted for a perfect suit, but another 60 seconds to make ten people look good? That is too much!

Photos of the couple are important and clients seek photos that show a relationship that would cause others to simply say, “It’s bashert!” There are so many posed shots, yet how many are overly contrived, stiff, or just flat?

Contrasting emotions and images juxtaposing ages and personalities are other popular shots.

On many websites, the samples that are seen often miss the mark on many of these criteria. It is easy to find pretty pictures, different pictures, and even shock-value pictures. What do they mean? How do the subjects really look?

What would be most meaningful to you later, long after the wedding, when the photos will be so very important to so many? The subjects might very well be much more important than the backgrounds then. Ultimately you will most value meaningful photos–ones that are appropriate, tasteful, and flattering. Will they be as beautiful as possible? Those should be your criteria now in selecting your photographer. v

Gary Rabenko can be reached at Rabenko Photography & Video Artists is located at 1001 Broadway in Woodmere.


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