I received some great news this morning, I am a This is Reportage Award Winner! That’s the third in a pretty decent recent run of awards which started in August last year when I won my first Fearless Award which was followed in November by winning Best Wedding Photographer in the East of England in The Wedding Industry Awards. I really am chuffed with this most recent wedding photography award. This is Reportage is the brainchild of my good mate Alan Law who wanted an awards for purely unposed reportage moments. All of the photos featured on the This is Reportage site are documentary photographs, no posing, absolutely no portraits allowed. As much as I love creating cool portraits and family group photos for my couples it’s capturing these documentary photos where the true skill lies in wedding photography. I love seeing this type of work showcased and am honoured to be in such great company as the other winners.
Now, the winning photo. It’s from Hannah and Steven’s wedding at Dungeness Lighthouse. This wedding was so damn good and is scheduled to be hitting the blog in the coming weeks. After the ceremony Hannah and Steven served everyone cake and champagne. I spotted that Steven’s little nephew was particularly enjoying the chocolate cake. Because who doesn’t love chocolate cake, right!?
Warning, from here on the post might get a bit geeky. I’m writing mainly for photographers but hopefully you’ll all find something to enjoy. Below is the “contact sheet” for the award winning photo. Not that contact sheets are relevant for me, they were for film and I don’t shoot film, with digital you’re justing viewing thumbnails but I’m sticking with the classic terminology. I truly believe viewing and analysing your contact sheets, especially for your favourite or most successful shots, is one of the best self training tools we photographers have at our disposal. There’s something to be learnt from every single shoot you do.
Now is probably a good time to mention the process of choosing the best photos. The photographers reading will know that with unposed photography taking a lot of photos of a scene but only delivering a few key images is totally normal. I shoot a lot of frames, it’s part of my process, it’s how I work a scene, making minor adjustments as I go. Shooting through moments from start to finish is how I ensure I get the best possible image from any particular scene. They’re the ones I deliver to my couples.
I use my contact sheets to assess what I did right and what I did wrong when approaching and documenting a scene. I considered how I moved, the lens I chose, how I framed the shot and the decisions I made as I shot the scene. In this case, I’d already photographed Hannah and Steven enjoying champagne with some of the adult guests and then turned my attention to the kids.
I was keeping a close eye on the eldest of Steven’s two nephews who was sat with his dad digging a big plate of chocolate cake. I took a few shots of them but there wasn’t much happening so decided to turn my attention to the younger of the nephews looking very cute and got a nice portrait of him. Then it was back to the cake scene where I got myself lower than before for a better composition and waiting for the scene to develop and a moment to happen. That’s when the little guy picked up a champagne flute, he obviously needed a drink to help wash the cake down. Things were getting interesting. Even though I knew it was only water in that glass (I wouldn’t let a child drink alcohol just for the sake of a good photo) I could see the potential for an amusing shot. When the boy’s Mum started to moved towards the frame I started shooting, hoping something would come together. And it did. I got my reward. A chink of glasses with her husband and a little kiss whilst their son drank champagne behind their backs! Yes, it was water, but let’s not let the truth get in the way of a good story. The frame I chose was the kiss, it had to be.
My choice of lens for the whole sequence was my usual Nikon 28mm f1.8, my favourite documentary lens. Wide enough to be the only wide lens I need for the whole day but not so wide that distortion in the corners starts to become too much of an issue. For this scene the light was good so I was shooting at f8 for plenty of depth of field.
Processing the Original RAW File
Now it’s not often I show my original RAW files straight out of camera on my blog but it’s a good learning point. The image below is exactly how the photo looked when I started processing. It’s under exposed but under exposed for a reason. The camera I use for weddings, the Nikon D750 is excellent at enabling photographers to draw extra detail from the highlights and shadows in post production but I’ve found that works best as long as you don’t blow out the highlights. So I purposely exposed to keep plenty of detail in the highlights and give me what I needed to work with in post.
The processing was pretty simple. Adjust white balance, highlights to -60, shadows +60, increase the overall exposure, add contrast and my usually tone curve and I was almost there. Just needed to crop and straighten a little then a bit of localised dodging on the parents kissing to even out the frame. Done.
The This Is Reportage Award Winner
Below is the final version of the photo, the shot that won a This is Reportage Award. My only remaining self critique is the framing. I wish I could have straightened it to make the fence level but that would have meant losing the little guy’s hand off the side of the frame. An absolute no in my book, I’d rather the slight slant.
Everything else I love and I really am proud of this one. It’s not flashy, it’s not perfect with the empty glasses, wet wipes and bottle on the table. But it’s real, it makes me feel something, it makes me smile. And I really hope the family i’ve photographed here love it and I hope it makes them smile for many years to come.
Nikon D750, 28mm, f8, ISO800, 1/800th sec
You can see all of the This is Reportage Awards Collection Two winners here.