Chapter 5: Styling Details
When I first started in wedding photography and ”stalked” some of the world’s best fine art wedding photographers such as Jose Villa and Eliabeth Messina, I was stunned by their ability to style and curate their images to create a seamless collection of photographs. It took me many years to realise that all of those photographers I admired so much worked with talented wedding stylists and planners who laid everything out for them. That does not by any means diminish their talent as photographers, but instead of beating myself on the head for not being able to create images that were just as beautiful, I set out to learn everything I could about styling details.
In this chapter I share my best tips as well as lots of photo examples of how I set up my detail shots, both under time pressure on real wedding days and when I do creative styled shoots. This section is mostly for those who wish to attract detail oriented brides or if you are looking to have your work published on blogs. But it is also for photographers like myself who don't shoot that super-styled type of fine art photography, but who also want to be able to move stuff around and create something aesthetically pleasing that still stays authentic and true to the atmosphere and style of the day and the place where the couple chose to get married. I'm gonna show you examples of how I ”styled” detail images to fit into the overall feel of the couple’s wedding day, and read my tips on things to consider if you want to start creating a more harmonious set of images that help tell your clients’ stories in the most beautiful and consistent way possible.
1. Practice at home
I am sure you have a nice couple of shoes somewhere, or a piece of jewelry. And it is easy and relatively cheap to order an invitation suite sample on Etsy.
Be very aware of your background. Either choose one that is very simple and neutral so it doesn’t distract from the details in the foreground. Or better yet, search the room or location until you find a background/surface that helps convey the style, colour story and mood of the day. I have used everything from a carpet or bed cover, to the bride’s dress, a table, a royal china plate, a shrub and a window sill.
The photo below which is kind of a combination of the two above ended up being my favourite and the one I used on my blog and in the client's album design:
The background or shooting surface is an excellent way to emphasise the story of the wedding day using colours or textures that speak to the overall visual style or setting of the day. Either way, I always like to keep it simple:
When I shoot wider details (such as a whole invitation suite, the dress, shoes etc) I always shoot at around 1.8 with my 50mm (The only exceptions are when I am capturing a diamond or ring inscription up close, very small earrings or cuff links, or dress details. All of which I shoot at 4.0 with my 100mm macro lens)
4. Prepare the client
In the pdf guide I send to my couples when they book me (which you can find in the Bonus section), one of the chapters deals with the things they can do to help me get better detail coverage. I ask them to keep the room relatively tidy. I ask the bride to have her florist deliver a few extra flowers as well as an extra bit of ribbon that match the bouquet to the place where the bride is getting ready. And I always ask both the bride and the groom to have all their details gathered in one place when I arrive so I don’t have to bother them 10 times every time I need a new object to shoot.
5. Horizontal vs Vertical
There are three main reasons why you should try to capture both a vertical and a horisontal version of the same detail: once you have it all set up nicely:
1. If you are looking to get published you want the editor of the blog to have as many options to put together the post as possible.
2. If the client want to order a book from you later, the orientation of a few images can make or break the page design and how easy it is to make their story fit into a limited amount of pages and still look coherent.
3. All studies show that vertical images do much better on Pinterest and Instagram than horisontal images. But for your website horisontal photos are usually more versatile and powerful.
Consider every angle for an object. Both how you can move around it as well as how you can turn the object. Most womens’ shoes look great both from the front, the back, and the side. But if the most important feature of the shoe is the bow in the back, or the pattern on the toes, then focus on that. Below you can see 4 different shots of the same pair of shoes.
7. Groupings and Singles
Make sure you have both detail shots of every object alone, as well as ”clusters” or groupings of objects. For example the groom’s shoes, belt, cuff links, and bowtie all in the same frame,, as well as shots of each key object alone. I will rarely shoot his belt on its own unless it's a super special one with his initials in the buckle or something.
Even if you shoot dark and moody or prefer to play with light and shadow in dírect sunlight there are ways to create beautiful detail shots while staying consistent and true to your personal style of photography.
Now go practice and create on your own. Find objects that you already own, or buy vintage jewelry or invitation suites on Etsy. Shoot the heck out of every detail at every wedding (even if you have to show up 30 minutes or one hour before you are paid to, just to make sure you have time to get what you need for your own portfolio.) Over time you will hone your eye and be able to get a variety of shots in a very short time, but until then, do what you must to get the shots you want without getting stressed. Shooting details properly is both a great way to learn how to read light, sharpen your brand, create strong consistent wedding stories, as well as an opportunity to attract your dream client.