Reflections : How to Shoot and Style Detail Photos


After a wedding or an engagement shoot, it’s usual for me to reflect on the things I did. What I liked, what I could have done better. Heading home from this weekend’s wedding in Sonoma, I went through the same process and dissected my decisions to, hopefully, make me better in the future. Then I got an idea. Why don’t I blog about this process? Share my ideas, ways I can improve, how to rethink situations.

Basically, these Reflections posts will be along the lines of: This is what happened, and this is how I addressed it.

I’m working on this weekend’s wedding, but until then, I thought I’d start this series with a question I’m commonly asked about photographing wedding details. Specifically, the How. For me, styling the details is just as important as the technicality of the shot. Because, really, anyone can learn the appropriate camera settings, but the idea behind the photograph is what sets photographers apart.

The minute I start a wedding, I immediately figure out what the theme/idea of the day. Essentially, what was the bride trying to convey on her wedding day. Subtle? Vintage? Organic? Modern? Basically, the types of words you see in most wedding magazines. Once I know what it is, I try to shoot the day to reflect this vibe. Specifically, I try to shoot the details in such a way that will help tell her wedding story Organically. Subtly. And so forth.

So what happens if setting isn’t organic and the bride wants to showcase her story organically? Well, you simply find ways to make it happen. Or least try to. Today I’ll be using Kristin and Brandon’s wedding to navigate my thoughts…

It’s quite common for me to start the wedding day in a hotel room with the bride. Kristin, however, prepared at her mother’s beautiful Orange County home. A newer house with contemporary light fixtures, colors, and appeal. The wedding theme, however, was vintage with a natural appeal. How could I shoot the details according to her wedding theme given the environment I was given? Stage it.

After saying hello to everyone getting ready at Kristin’s home, I immediately asked for permission to walk around the lower portion of her home (where they were getting ready) and looked for light and details I could use to help me stage. The only light available to me was the front door (which I opened) so I decided it was best to shoot all the wedding details in the doorway. So I started with the garter…
50mm f/1.2 1/200 640 iso

I found sewing kit and a jar of buttons, so I placed them on a mahogany table (more on that in a minute) with the doorlight illuminating the details, and I’m standing off to the side so I don’t block it. I decided to shoot both the garter and the wedding purse within the same space because I thought it’d make a fluid spread in the album later on…
50mm f/1.2 1/200 640 iso

Remember the mahogany table? Well, it wasn’t really a table. It was a sewing machine…I simply shot it at a different angle as to not reveal I was working within the same space, and maximize my photo options in limited light. Here I decided to stage the jewelry as the gold accents played off each other well…
50mm f/1.2 1/200 640 iso

Like I mentioned before, I was working within the doorway of the house, which was about four feet by four feet. I prefer to illuminate the wedding dress with natural light, so that left me with one option: The door. I asked Kristin if she was okay with me hanging her dress and when she said yes, I asked her mom for cleaner and paper towels. I cleaned the door, then placed the dress hanger over the top.
Dress: 50mm f/2.0 1/100 400 iso
Something Old, Something Blue: 50mm f/1.2 1/125 500 iso

Then I felt stuck. I had used/shot in every crevice the doorway allowed me and I still had a few things to photograph…like the veil. I walked into the backyard and then the porch. I decided to move a potted plant and a chair to reveal this stick formation…that looked like a heart (which I thought played well with the heart paperweight I snagged from the livingroom in the previous picture)…
50mm f/2.0 1/320 160 iso

Now onto the shoes…now, I love photographing shoes. They reveal so much about a person’s personality. I love it. Initially, downstairs, I was not finding the right spot for the shoes, so I waited to photograph them. I believe if it doesn’t feel right, don’t try to make it work. When Kristin and the girls when upstairs to dress, I entered a new room…which meant new options. With very little time to work, I saw a chair and I knew it’d be a safe shot. A traditional shoe photo that would work just fine. I thought I was finished until I saw an old suitcase filled with vintage items…and I felt like I hit the jackpot. I placed the shoes just outside the box and snagged a few photos. I later found out the suitcase belonged to Kristin’s grandmother and was filled with numerous memories, which works for the photo in ways I couldn’t have foreseen, but was very happy…
Left shoes: 50mm f/1.2 1/320 250 iso
Right shoes: 50mm f/1.2 1/200 400 iso

Ugh. I think this blog post got too long. My bad. I’ll try to taper them in the future, but I hope this post was helpful. If for no one else, simply writing my thoughts down help me rethink my approach and hone my craft. Hope you’re having a fabulous Monday!