Expressions. Part one of a series of articles on what I look for in a wedding photograph. 

a very smiley and happy bride on her wedding dayExpression
1. The action of making known one’s thoughts or feelings
2. A look on someone’s face that conveys a particular emotion.

A number of elements make up a great wedding photograph including light, composition, emotion and expression, if all of these come together in one image I know I am onto a winner. I spend a lot of time on the wedding day looking through the viewfinder and waiting for the moment of peak expression, timing is really important in capturing the best image. I want my photographs to convey a feeling, for the viewer to understand the emotion and moment. Luckily weddings tend to be full of emotion and expressions.

As humans we learn to recognise facial expressions at a young age and they play an important part in our social interactions. Expressions often only last a few seconds so as a photographer I have to make sure I have the composition and lighting in mind when looking for moments to photograph. I do not pose my subjects or ask them to smile, so what I am looking for are the natural expressions that tell the story of the moment. Expressions can make or break a photograph.

The photograph above shows the bride and groom sharing a moment together away from the wedding guests. The bride’s happy expression says a lot about how she is feeling and the groom looking at her while smiling shows he is part of this happy moment. The photograph also includes the other essential elements of good composition and good light, the sun is lighting their joined hands. Use of a wide aperture has removed distracting background elements.

wedding photography expressions
Sometimes expressions and emotions come together to tell a story, in the image above the groom was overwhelmed with emotion as the bride and her father walked up the aisle for the start of the wedding ceremony. I do not want my presence to interfere with the moment, so I use small quiet cameras. I work fairly close to my subjects rather than standing back with a long lens as I find this is less obtrusive – I am not a stranger on the outside looking in.  This image was taken with a wide angle lens so I was no more than three or four feet away from them. Recently I was sat in a hotel talking to a couple about their wedding when a photographer arrived and started photographing another wedding taking place at the hotel. We watched him stand back with a big white Canon 70-200mm lens and flash, it was interesting watching the reactions of people around him as rather than being unobtrusive his choice of a long lens drew more attention to him as the photographer.  I find getting in close and being friendly makes people feel more at ease and results in natural expressions.

expressions on a black and white wedding photographExpressions are not always about laughter, in the image above the bride’s expression speaks volumes about how she is feeling at this moment during the first dance. You do not need to see the groom’s face as this photograph is all about the bride and how she is feeling as she dances with her new husband.  Despite being surrounded by wedding guests the couple are in their own little world. Black and white removes the distraction of colour elements and distills the image down to the basics of composition and expression. The photograph is a glimpse into a private moment between bride and groom, so I didn’t want photography to interfere with their moment. Taken with the available light without the use of distracting flash, the couple were not even aware I was there. I am always looking out for these sort of moments on the wedding day, her smile is gentle and caring which makes us feel the moment.

expressions in wedding photographySimilar to the previous image this one is all about the bride’s expression as the couple are announced as married. The bride’s father looks on in the background with a happy expression which helps tell the story. In this case colour works and isn’t a distraction because the background is uncluttered and plain and there aren’t bold colour elements to the image. The bride’s facial expression conveys the joy of their moment together.

excited bride arriving for her weddingThe focus of this image is the bride in the centre of the photograph, her expression shows excitement and elation as she arrives at the church and waits for late arriving wedding guests before getting out of the car. I could have photographed this much tighter on the bride, but leaving everyone else on the image leads your eye into the centre and the bride, and they are part of the story.

I specialise in reportage wedding photography capturing genuine expressions from moments as they happen and to do this I use my vast experience in wedding photography and my background in press photojournalism. Looking through my weddings you will see lots of examples where expressions have really made the photograph work.

In part two of this series I will discuss how important composition is to a great wedding photograph.

expressions in wedding photography, reactions to a moment



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