It doesn’t matter how fantastic a photograph looks. What matters is how well it tells the story. I am constantly asking myself, How does it feel? Does it make me want to connect with it? In my opinion, that kind of engagement largely has to do with how you light, compose, and capture the moment. When I’m capturing a moment or making a posed portrait of a couple, it’s my intention to tell a story that is impactful and moving. When you’re deciding how to light a scene, start by considering the direction, mood, and style of light you want. As far as composition is concerned, say as much as you can within the context of the photo rather than relying on a caption or description to carry forward the story. In other words, show, don’t tell.
These images show how I was able to use the elements of composition and lighting to tell the stories I intended to tell.
For this wedding (above) we had been given access to a stately home in south London. There were so many interesting architectural details, including saints portrayed in stained glass windows. The light beaming through the colored glass was stunning. I noticed that in one of the rooms, if I were to set my exposure for the light coming through the window panes and square up my composition, I would be able to have both panes in symmetry. Notice the saintly characters looking toward the center of the frame to create natural leading lines for the placement of the subjects. This composition also achieves the rule of threes balance by having a pane on each side and the subjects in the middle of the frame. The groom held my video light directed at the wall for background light to silhouette the couple. This light creates the separation effect you see in the photograph.
I went further to create another image in this room (above) by simply concentrating on the area of the most light, that being the figure in the window pane on the right. The bride prefers her left side for portraits, and the light coming through the window on the right was strong enough to illuminate the couple’s faces. Using a tighter composition and keeping the exposure the same as in the previous image, I was able to show a more emotive side in the portrait’s story. Again, I employed the rule of threes in this composition.
Whenever I notice patterns and textures in a location, I start thinking of how they can work in a portrait composition. I work with the camera angles, finding different perspectives and settings where I can place my subject, which in this case is the couple (above). I walked into a bar in a chic hotel in New York City and noticed the ceiling’s interesting sculptured lighting that was arranged in waves. I observed the design and saw the little arch. Not only did it reflect the mood I was going for—like a starry sky for a romantic evening—but I would be able to find a composition simple enough to bring all the attention to the couple. This is what led to the choice of viewpoint, shooting from the floor level, up. I had the couple tilt the top half of their bodies toward the camera and lit them with a simple LED video light.
I love using negative spaces in my compositions (above). You can create visual impact by placing a subject in the positive space of a simple scene. Usually, that’s one of the corners of the frame. New York City has a beautiful skyline, made even more suitable during the evening when window lights accent the buildings. Couple that with the color gradient during sunset graduating from burnt orange to dark blue. I wanted to incorporate the evening romance of the city in a portrait and came up with this idea. I underexposed for the sunset to form the silhouette of the buildings, then backlit the couple at the bottom corner using my speedlight flash. Again, I have the groom holding the flash.
Jide Alakija is a wedding photographer based in Brooklyn, New York.