As photojournalistic wedding photography becomes an increasingly popular choice, photographer Judah S. Harris shares his personal approach and explains how couples can explore a more artistic rendition of their special day.
“Black & White or color?”
That’s a question I ask couples when meeting with them to discuss my photographing their wedding.
For some the choice is obvious. Color, of course. That’s what they’re used to (after all, we see in color). Or there’s a color scheme to the gowns or even the chupah, or the table settings, that they want to have documented in color. Some ask, “Can we have both?” And yet some other couples, though not the majority, are interested in only B&W.
There will be ample color at their weddings too, but classic B&W is how they’d like to evoke the emotions and events of their celebration, of the ceremony, of one of the most special days in their lives. They want to remember the drama and see it again and again in a way that only B&W allows. This is not to say that color can’t evoke the human drama. It absolutely does. Think of National Geographic. It’s all color and one of the best surveys of the richness and diversity of our planet. But it’s precisely because we live in a world of color, every day we experience our whole world in color, that B&W photography is able to get us to look, pay closer attention, and show us things that color pictures can’t (at least not as easily).
In the digital age, it might not seem to matter. One can always take out the color later on, and turn any picture into B&W. It’s real easy. But true B&W photography is not simply an image devoid of color. It’s a way of seeing. If I want the viewer to see differently, I have to see differently. If I’m shooting B&W, I’m thinking differently when my camera is in my hand. And it might just be a film camera loaded with a B&W film of my choice.
A rule I sometimes use (but not always – there are a lot of other factors in deciding between color or B&W): If I want to take pictures of something less familiar, I choose color to make it more real, to stress or convey its reality. But if I set out to photograph something that we’re all familiar with, or so we think, I might choose B&W. My goal is to show the subject in a “less-realistic” way. Actually, a “less familiar” way… to remove the trappings that people confuse with reality and to allow the true essence to be discerned, appreciated. It could be a place, a person, a situation, and it can be an event like a wedding.
At a wedding, it’s really not about the color of the dress, the gowns or the tie or the tablecloth or even the flowers. They add, and they’re important (don’t get married without them). It’s much more about the stories, the people, the gestures, the shapes, the setting, the light, the moods. B&W forces us to look closer and to examine the goings-on in the picture. It doesn’t let us say, “Oh, I’ve seen that before.” Especially if we’re used to always seeing color wedding photography, or have attended three weddings in the last two weeks. B&W holds our attention, and in our mind’s eye, so to speak, we get to color in the pictures. In order to do so we put ourselves into the setting, we experience it, and if we were there at the time, relive it.
Truth be told, photographers like weddings. For journalistic photographers, who thrive on documenting life and especially people, weddings are replete with all the elements that good photography is made from. We make time between our other assignments and projects to photograph these events, and a more journalistic, less formal approach to wedding photography has become quite popular. Look at the range of bridal and wedding magazines to get a sampling of what’s out there. Look at your friends’ wedding albums and compare it with what you envision for yourselves.
If I’m busy at work photographing the wedding, do I get to experience it? Yes and no. I miss the soup and salad, but I definitely experience the wedding, as I do anything I photograph. Glance at any photographer’s work and you’ll see what they experienced. You can’t take good pictures from the outside. You have to care and you have to understand what’s going on, or be extremely curious to find out. At a wedding, I’m always looking, often intensely and often by moving about, trying to put myself in a position where I can find moments and unique perspectives, something that makes me want to click the shutter. There’s a lot of responsibility in photographing a wedding. I miss shots, for sure, but I’m not there to only follow a checklist – “OK, got that, let’s move on…” I know what to look for and also know why the couple invited me in the first place. They’d like me to contribute my vision and to record their wedding in a special way. They’re asking me for my artistry. I’m asking them to be a part of their experience.
So whom does a photographer hire to photograph his own wedding? I’ve given that a bit of thought, and when the time comes, I might just invite two or three photographers, each bringing their own distinct style to record this special occasion (there will still be more guests than photographers at the wedding.) Of course, by then I’ll have another person to confer with regarding choices, but I’m sure she’ll appreciate, and presumably also share, my commitment to the photographic medium. (I may even have to explain nicely why we can’t have four photographers.)
I’ve actually thought that I might bring a camera to my own wedding. That’s right. Why not? It’s a special moment – very special… And wouldn’t I as a photographer want a chance to document it too, to preserve memories of my wedding as seen and experienced from my perspective, my physical and emotional vantage point?
The idea of photographing one’s own wedding might sound different (unusual, perhaps), and I’m not suggesting that I’d spend extensive time taking pictures. But for me having a camera somewhere within reach seems rather appropriate. The logistics would have to be figured out, and it might be picked up only eight or ten times during the afternoon or evening. But that would be enough. With wedding pictures, it’s really not about quantity. I would be happy with a few nice ones that bear my signature. As for B&W or color? I really haven’t decided yet. Word has it that I might be able to have both.
The OU is presenting its sixth annual Marriage Retreat, July 15-17 at the Woodcliff Lake Hilton in New Jersey. To learn more, please visit: OU Marriage Enrichment Retreat
Judah S. Harris | Photo Journalistic Wedding Photography, New York is a photographer, filmmaker, speaker and writer. He photographs family celebrations and a wide range of corporate, organizational and editorial projects in the US, Israel and other countries. Judah’s photography has appeared in museum exhibits, on the Op-Ed Pages of the NY Times, on the covers of more than 40 novels, and in advertising all over the world. His work can be seen in a frequent email newsletter that circulates to thousands of readers who repeatedly praise the quality of Judah’s photography and writing. To learn more about Judah S. Harris, please visit: http://www.judahsharris.com/visit.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.