Today we’re looking at perhaps the most quintessential style of wedding photography with some extraordinary visual aids provided by a man who is without doubt one of the most sought after and respected photographers in the world. His elegant portraiture and skilled, delicate capturing of the wedding day have long established him as one of the finest practitioners of his style and we’re thrilled he’s agreed to let us share some of his images with you today. That photographer is the brilliant Brett Harkness, and today he’s here to help to show us what Classic wedding photography is all about.
Look up the word classic in the dictionary and you’ll get a pretty accurate idea of what this style of wedding photography strives towards:
[adjective] – judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind
[Noun] – a work of art of recognised and established value”
Classic photography is not really subject to fashions or trends, it’s aim is to create timeless, perfect imagery by the use of highly skilled and generally well established techniques. It’s about capturing perfectly posed imagery where every element is carefully considered and balanced to create an almost hyperrealistic world within the image. A wedding should be a perfect day and classic photography sets about ensuring that every detail really is absolutely perfect when you look back upon it – the sky, the background and of course most importantly the couple themselves.
When we think about wedding photography in general terms classic is probably the style that springs to mind. Many of the most iconic wedding images of the last century have been captured in a style reminiscent of the modern interpretation of classic photography and are considered as poignant and powerful today as the day they were taken. Although an extremely skilled and delicate art form it is perhaps less influenced by individual artistic interpretation than, for example, the Contemporary or Alternative styles, but focusses more on perfectly and stylishly capturing those quintessential wedding shots.
Where a vintage photographer might look to take the couple away from the archetypal wedding environment and look for a more unusual location, a classic photographer would look to use those elements – the venue, the car, the perhaps more traditional places to take a photo, and would find the most flattering framing and what might be professionally considered technically perfect composition to show each element in the best possible light. Classic photographers look for strong rather than quirky angles and generally prefer to show images full framed and symmetrical rather than using unorthodox crops and stylised imagery.
Classic photographers tend to be influenced more by traditional film photography techniques than digital tools and (although they are no less likely to be masters of photoshop than any other photographer) generally prefer to keep their post-processing to a minimum and capture most of the look they want using in-camera techniques. Although each photographer may apply their ‘signature look’ to the images, they generally prefer to keep them quite ‘clean’ and are often predisposed towards keeping colours quite natural rather than the faded colours typical of Fine Art or the bold colouring often prevalent in contemporary wedding photography. By doing so much of the work in the composition and balancing of the image in camera, Classic photographer’s final images often appear closer to the one originally seen through the viewfinder than many of the other, often slightly more processed techniques.
Classic posed images tend to carefully balance the exposure (effectively the amount of light) on every part of the image to enhance each element. Flash is often utilised off-camera and commonly using reflected light to increase the balance and ensure that no part of the image is put into shadow. Using these techniques (and by moving the flash away from the camera itself) the photographer can ensure the sky looks perfectly blue, the trees look luscious and green and the wedding party have exactly the right skin tones. The result is a very natural looking photograph, even though in reality those perfect lighting conditions scarcely exist in nature.
Classic wedding photography is perhaps typically associated with quite traditional weddings, although its timeless style can be equally effective with all kinds of celebrations from the most grandiose to the most unorthodox. Whilst grounded in firmly established photographic principles classic wedding photographers continue to push the boundaries of their art form and find new ways to create the perfect image that they seek.
Classic is not a title that is easily earned, and to create such powerful images without searching for the unorthodox and without manipulating the context is one of the most difficult challenges in photography. Your wedding photos will stay with you for the rest of your life and stir memories in your old age long forgotten. Every one of them deserves to be a classic.
“Photography is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.”
― Alfred Stieglitz
Many thanks to Mr. Brett Harkness for allowing us the use of his classic images. To see more of Brett’s fantastic work or to find out about his photographic and lighting masterclasses check out his website at:
You can find out more about the different styles of wedding photography by viewing the rest of the series here: