The Art of Directing

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Words and Photos by Dominique James

Every time i meet a couple who just got married, i ask them, “are you happy with your wedding photos?” more often than not, they end up answering, “No.”

And the inquisitive me would throw a follow-up question: “Why not?” and they will most likely respond with “it wasn’t what we were expecting” or “the important moments weren’t captured at all.” and with frustrated finality, they’d say, “the pictures are ugly.” (Translation: “We look ugly in the pictures.”)

 

Not content with their answer, i ask them another question: “how much was the budget you spent for your photo wedding coverage?” and this is where the realization sinks in. the couple would often say to themselves, “We should have signed up a more expensive (more talented or more experienced) photographer.”

What if a couple cannot afford a more expensive wedding photographer? Or, what if they don’t have any other choice? What can they do? The solution is to hire an art director. Hiring an art director to coach wedding photographers and shooting teams makes sense to a lot of couples who are going to get married. Simply because there really is a need for “creative” eye that will provide input and guide the shooters in order to orchestrate a gorgeous set of photographs.

The job of the art director in a wedding is to make sure that the excitement of re-living the moments of their precious day with photographs is not replaced by a big disappointment. The art director helps both the photographers and the subjects of the photographs turn the pictures into a series of “cinematic” images. The value of poetic moments captured in still images is priceless. Yes, well worth the price of hiring an art director.

Here, we offer a few essential tips that a professional art director can do before and during the wedding day shoot without getting in the way of the wedding:

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The key to a successful art-directed wedding shoot is preparation.

To effectively prepare, one of the things that an art director must do is to get to know everyone, and to talk to everyone, several days ahead of the wedding day. Work closely with the wedding planner. And to get their attention, ask if you can visit and meet them in person, and offer to help them in any way that you can that will allow them to do a good job or an easier job. Getting to know them builds rapport, and help in establishing a great working relationship during the ceremony and reception.

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Meet and talk with the couple, and if possible, the members of the wedding entourage, a few days before the wedding for an hour or two of prep-talk (preparatory talk).

Lay down the groundwork of easy “photogenic” techniques on how to act naturally and what to do in a “photo session” such as a wedding. Tension, worry and chaos are the normal and typical agenda of any wedding. Among the many things that the art director of the wedding’s photo shoot can share, the most important is to convince everyone to let go, to take it easy, to relax, and to enjoy the wedding. Setting their mental framework in this manner can do wonders. There is no other way for a wedding to begin looking good in pictures than to have everyone start believing in the idea of living the beautiful moments of the wedding. Banish from their minds the rubbish thoughts of negativity. Infuse them with positive thoughts. Encourage everyone to live the moment as it happens.

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During the day itself, the couple and the wedding party must be reminded every so often to have fun or to live each and every moment to the fullest.

In any staged or planned event, the unexpected is bound to happen. Whenever something goes wrong that quickly turns the mood into something serious, you can help do something about it. As an outsider looking in, help counter and lift the mood by being bright, perky and happy. If there’s anything you can do to help alleviate the situation, untangle a problematic moment, or prevent something untoward from happening, do not hesitate to take the initiative in taking the right and corrective action. Do what you can, take things with a grain of salt, and carry on as if it’s just one of those little things.

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A week before the wedding, prepare and print, and then freely distribute on the day itself, a foldable pocket- size guide that lists your photo reminders, techniques, and instructions.

Make sure that the guide is brief, helpful, friendly, easy and simple to understand. Since you cannot keep giving out verbal instructions during the entire event, this is a good way to remind the wedding party and guests as your shooting team’s cameras hover about them. Some of the gentle reminders you can write on the guide may include your standard instructions— from the way they smile to the way they act. And since the pocket-size guide can also serve as your marketing and promotional tool, do not forget to write the shooting team’s official contact information.

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Be ready with a comprehensive shot list that the photography team should capture.

On top of the list of essential (and obligatory) wedding shots, you may include in this shot list all the other quirky images that will make any wedding you shoot memorable and unique. In this list, you can include: the candid interaction taking place among people, such as in-laws talking to each other or kids playing among themselves; the close-up and wide angle pictures of the venue juxtaposed with members of the wedding party set against floral arrangements; rows of lit candles; the fantastical facade and tableau of the church; repeating patterns of pews; expanse of glowing stained glass; the tiniest of details such as things that are worn by everyone from brooches and rings to belts and shoes. The key to capturing these observable moments is for the photographers to keep looking around. Watch these things unfold right before your very eyes and be ready to snap them all up for posterity.

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Art directing a wedding shoot involves a lot of interaction not just among the members of the professional shooting team (through the unobtrusive earphone walkie-talkie), but possibly almost everyone in the event.

This means that the art director must be particularly comfortable communicating instructions to the couple, members of the wedding party, the two families, and their most important guests. This means that, for a day, the art director must not only act but be the best friend of the bride and groom, as well as a trusted member of the family. It is therefore often necessary to get to know the members of the family prior to the wedding day. Likewise, the art director must know how to interact and communicate with the various suppliers who have been contracted for the event from the wedding planner and down to the hair-and-makeup artist, fashion designer, cake designer, caterer, florist, videographer, contact persons from the wedding and reception venues, security personnel, among others. The smooth behind-the-scene and on-the-spot interaction among so many different people is essential in directing the scenes as they unfold to create beautiful and memorable wedding images.

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Comfortable familiarity with the technical nature of the camera and lights system and all other equipment being used by the photography team is essential to an art Director.

Art-directing is not just knowing about styling the scene. It also means translating these stylish scenes into actual and real photographic images through the technical language or jargon that the professional photographers understand. To be effective, the art director must intimately know and translate into precise mathematical terms such things as: shallow depth of field, white balance, rule of thirds, macro/micro shots, shutter speed and f-stop, high-key and low- key lighting situations. The art director is constantly framing the shots in his mind and therefore constantly communicating these framed conceptual shots to the team of pro photographers while at the same time making the subjects do what they are supposed to do, or better yet, anticipating what they will be doing next.

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It used to be that the photographer was the one who does it all—from directing to shooting. Nowadays, the roles are becoming more and more specialized. Modern weddings demand modern methods. Hiring the services of an art director is one of the newest trends to create far more interesting, memorable, and unique wedding images.

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