Lyndsey Goddard describes herself as a documentary wedding photographer – that might not sound very different to simply being a wedding photographer, but her approach is fresh and candid.
The London-based photographer's intimate, off-guard shots seem to have been taken by an invisible onlooker, totally in sync with the unique atmosphere of the day. "I aim to get under the skin of the wedding," says Lyndsey, "and to tell the honest story of it, not just by capturing the big moments, but also by photographing all the little moments in between."
Lyndsey's wedding photography career started in 2003, when a family friend gave her carte blanche to cover the big day. She shot it analog, and cross-processed the prints [the deliberate processing of photographic film in a chemical solution intended for a different type of film] and, while the hyper blue skies and green and yellow bridesmaid's dresses weren't exactly a hit, they fuelled her fire to document weddings in unique, creative ways.
Here, Lyndsey reveals her eight best tips for making forward-thinking documentary wedding photography.
1. Find your identity
"In the early days, although I was quite sure what type of wedding photographer I wanted to be (one who tells the story of the day without orchestrating or influencing proceedings), I wasn't booking the clients who wanted that style of photography. I had the odd wedding where I wasn't the right photographer for them, and they weren't the right clients for me. I'd get booked, maybe because I was cheap, and then get sent images that had been screen-grabbed online, with a request for me to 'shoot like this'. I'm now quite upfront about my style, and what couples can expect – it weeds out the people who want me to be somebody else."
2. Read the situation, and always accept tea
"Often, the first time I meet the couples is on their wedding day. I'll arrive in the morning, say 'hi' to everyone in the room, unpack my camera bag, and always accept the inevitable cup of tea. I think the people in the room – usually bridesmaids, the bride, occasionally parents – then get used to my presence. Once the tea has been drunk, I'll start shooting. I'm really aware of being 'the photographer' at this point, so I'm careful to not be overbearing, or too close, too soon. I think being female can help – you're often walking into a room full of girls, and adding another one to the mix doesn't unbalance the vibe.
"As far as the bride getting ready is concerned, I get a feel for whether she's shy or confident enough to get dressed with me there. If I have a huge open space with a lot of natural light, I may try to get a nicely framed silhouette of her getting into the dress, or use a lot of negative space from, say, a white wall. If the room is cluttered, or just aesthetically rubbish, I'll expose for the highlights and just photograph a bare shoulder going into the strap, for example. Or I'll focus on a certain moment, such as the bride stepping into the dress."
3. Hide in plain sight
"This is perhaps the opposite of what you'd think. For me, it's not standing at a distance shooting at 85mm or longer – it's being right up close to the people you're photographing. If you're darting in and out of bushes, you'll be spotted, and then people will start to feel self-conscious, as if you're trying to catch them out. At the drinks reception, I'll mingle with the clusters of people chatting, listen to their jokes, then raise my camera at the punch line. I also chat to people a lot on the day – it breaks down barriers and they accept your presence a lot more. I'm nearly always asked how I know the couple because it's assumed I'm a friend rather than the hired pro – it's great because it means I'm remaining unobtrusive."
4. Be spontaneous
"Some of my favourite shots have happened at completely unexpected moments. A lot of the clichéd wedding images you see have had a lot of input from the photographer – the subject will have been guided, posed or told what to do, or shot several times to get it 'just right'. What may have been unique to that photographer when they first took that type of image becomes a bit of an Achilles' heel for them, because future brides then start asking for that same shot again and again. If you always put human interaction at the forefront of every image, it's difficult to repeat yourself, or create clichés, because you never know what people are going to do."
5. Wait for the small moments
"I make sure I get the safe shot – the 'big moment' – then keep moving and shooting to get a different angle, or to capture the moments afterwards. An example of this would be my shot of the flower girl staring intently at the bride's bouquet (above). It was taken during the signing of the register, after I'd taken the safe shot of the couple from the other side of the table. With the safe shot in the bag, I went around the back of the table so that I could focus on the parents and the bridesmaids, and got this picture."
6. Plan key shots in advance
"I always schedule a phone call with couples in the week leading up to the wedding, to discuss finer details – group shots being one of them. It's important to do them as soon after the ceremony as possible. If the reception starts and the group shots haven't been done, it's difficult to focus 100% on the documentary shots because you're keeping one eye on the time. If the call for dinner comes and you haven't got the group shots done, you're in trouble! I look for an area of open shade, preferably with a darkish, uncluttered background. I'll place my groups a good distance from the background, and myself a good distance from the group, and then shoot them on an 85mm.
"In some instances this is impossible. For example, Islington Town Hall – a venue I work at a lot – has steps at the front and is the logical place to get your group shots done before heading off to the reception. But it's so busy that if you try to do them on an 85mm lens, you'll just have people walking between you and the subjects. So you need to shoot wide. To my mind it's less pleasing, but it's the best approach for the job in this instance."
7. Work with the available light
"For the above photograph, we'd been travelling in the car for the bride's February wedding and the light was all over the place; mostly very dark, but with the occasional shaft of sunlight now and then. I exposed for the highlights where the sun was hitting the side of the bride, and then just waited until the moment was perfect – the light on her face and her looking out of the window. It was a more controlled way of taking the picture, rather than having to keep changing the camera settings in order to accommodate the changing light, which ultimately could have resulted in missing the moment while being too engrossed in the technical side of things."
8. Use a second body for speed
"I shoot with the camera on manual, rather than on shutter priority or aperture priority. So for example, when a couple is leaving the church, I may shoot them walking down the aisle on the 85mm lens with the camera set up for that: no slower than 1/160 sec and no wider then f/2.8, with whatever ISO I need for the light in there. I will have the 24-70mm lens on my other camera with the predicted settings already dialled in, having seen how light it is outside. I'll choose my shutter speed and f-stop, then just adjust the ISO if necessary once they are outside."