How Do I Get Cinematic-looking Wedding Photos?

Consider A Filmmaker-Turned-Photographer

Why would a filmmaker-turned-photographer take the most cinematic and timeless wedding photos? This blog entry will answer that question, and guide you through selecting the best wedding photographer for you. (Note: I use the term “filmmaker” here mostly to refer to directors, or directors with experience working as a director of photography. Also, please know that I'm not arguing that photographers without filmmaking experience can't be good photographers, or that that every filmmaker is a good photographer.)

Yes, there are many talented photographers with a cinematic eye, and yes, not all filmmakers can take cinematic photos. But as a filmmaker-turned-photographer myself, with years of experience directing and shooting narrative and documentary films as well as taking still photos, I want to highlight the five benefits of having a filmmaker-turned-photographer take your wedding photos.

Benefit 1. Bringing out Your Best: The Hidden Talent Of A Narrative Filmmaker

Bringing Out Your Best

A narrative filmmaker knows how to bring out your best for the camera, because that’s a big part of their work with actors. Aren't you tired of following the order of "smile!" to squeeze out one that you know you won't even like in front of the camera? Do you really wanna pay hundreds of dollars for that kind of experience at a bridal or engagement photo shoot?

We all know that fake smiles just look fake. A narrative filmmaker has the skills to “direct” you to bring out your real emotions. They are also good at directing scenes for you and your partner to interact with each other – which you’re most likely pretty good at – so that the camera can capture your genuine feelings for your partner. SNAP!

Using Colors, Lighting, and Framing

A narrative filmmaker also understands how to use colors, lighting, and framing to create the desired mood. Each photo has a story to tell. For wedding photography, the story of a photo can be loving, joyful, touching, romantic, dreamy, fun, cute, elegant, etc. A narrative filmmaker can ensure the photos tell the right story. The same photo of a couple opening a bottle of champagne during sunset can look both fun and romantic with a wide frame, where the couple are framed against the gorgeous backdrop of the sunset, with every drop of the champagne in the air back lit by it, and we see the beautiful golden light sketching out their figures as part of the gorgeous scenery. We also got the precious candid emotions on the couple's faces!

Benefit 2. Capturing Significant Moments: The Hidden Talent of A Documentary Filmmaker

You can wear a nice dress, a beautiful make up and hairdo, and pose in front of a camera any day. What is absolutely precious and can never be replicated is the genuine moments and candid emotions you, your significant other, your family and your friends feel on your wedding day. It’s a photographer’s mission to keep your memories fresh by capturing those moments for you.

A documentary filmmaker is well-practiced at capturing just such moments. On a wedding day, it may be an important moment such as when the groom kisses the bride; an emotional moment, like the father of the bride tearing up as he watches his daughter get married; or maybe an unexpected moment, say, when the adorable little flower girl hands the bride a small gift at the reception of a flower she just found. Any moment that can bring back your sweet memories of your wedding day and put a smile on your face is a significant moment. 

Documentary filmmakers have three skills that help them capture these moments: (1) Good instinct for when and where these moments will happen; (2) the ability to not be intrusive with the camera; and (3) the ability to maneuver available lighting and setting to create beautiful shots.

Good Instinct

Of course every wedding photographer is familiar with the detailed schedule of each wedding ahead of time. Where documentary filmmakers may differ is their intuition in understanding people that helps them anticipate genuine moments—like the bride’s reaction to a surprising toast from her mother before the wedding—and decide where they need to pull their camera focus on in a second or two before it happens. 

Not Being Intrusive

Let’s be honest. Cameras always feel a bit intrusive. A documentary filmmaker is trained to make the people they film feel comfortable, by either making themselves almost invisible, or by building trust with the people in front of their cameras to create a comfortable space for them.

Maneuvering Available Lighting and Setting

Unlike narrative filmmakers, many documentary filmmakers don’t have the luxury of setting up perfect lighting before capturing a shot, so they’ve been forced to learn to efficient and creative decisions with whatever is available on location, whether it’s magic-hour lighting at an outdoor ceremony before sunset, or colorful Christmas lights at a funky indoor reception.

Benefit 3. The Comprehensive Qualities of A Filmmaker

Finally, there are four other general qualities of a film director that make them great candidates for wedding photographers. 

They Build Mutual Trust

Filmmakers understand the importance of trust. Both narrative and documentary filmmakers need to build mutual trust with the people they film before they can comfortably and efficiently work with each other. Only a photographer you trust and feel comfortable being around can bring out the best of the real you with her/his camera.

They Stay Calm under Pressure

Yes, there’s pressure in being a wedding photographer because the photos I take are very important for the couple I work with, and because I want them to look great and I want the couple to love the photos. Honestly though, after working on independent films, the amount of the pressure for wedding photography is just right to get me excited.

Wait. Should I choose a calm or an excited photographer? My answer is a calm photographer who’s still excited about your wedding. Most people get a little nervous before and on their wedding day, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. That’s why you need your photographer to be calm. (Remember how I mentioned unexpected moments can be golden? A calm photographer won’t let those moments slip away.) At the same time, though, you don’t want your photographer not to be excited at all about your wedding. I don’t believe a photographer can take photos with a soul when they don’t really care or when they are just going about their routine. 

They Have Good People Skills

Most films are made with a crew and cast. It takes a lot of collaboration and coordination to finish a film.  A filmmaker-turned-photographer will work well withother wedding professionals you choose, and be a delight for your family and friends to interact with when necessary.

They Have A Big-picture View of Your Wedding

Filmmaking is comprehensive work. Ultimately, filmmakers tell stories with a compilation of shots that make scenes, and scenes that make stories. While many people always have some favorite photos from their wedding day, don’t you want to have a nice storyline with all the photos, especially when you choose to have a wedding album? Each wedding tells a unique story, though they may all be love stories. We have a romantic film genre, but each good romantic film is unique in it’s own storytelling. That uniqueness is golden. A filmmaker’s grand view of your unique story helps them make a creative decision every time they snap a shot.

To summarize, the benefits of hiring a filmmaker-turned-photographer are:

  • A filmmaker-turned-photographer is good at “directing” to bring out of the best of the real you.
  • They are good at using lighting, colors, and framing to build the mood for each photo.
  • They have good intuition and are non-intrusive, so they catch all of those great emotional moments.
  • They are experienced at making the best use of available lighting and setting at the wedding.
  • They will spend time to build mutual trust with you because that’s an important foundation for their work.
  • They are calm, but they also care about your wedding enough to feel excited about it.
  • They are good with people.
  • They have a big picture in their mind when they take photos for your big day. They’re creating a complete narrative of your unique story.