Since the title of this blog has the word "wedding" in it twice, one might think it is about weddings, but it really isn't—not only about them anyway. It's really about any event in which a number of people are involved, many of whom are likely to be emotionally invested in, or affected by, what's going on. Other occasions are Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, engagements; and, of course, funerals and associated ceremonies.
In what follows I'll ignore the kinds of events more suitable for photojournalism, such as demonstrations, protests, parties, and so on.
The question I'd like to address is this:
Which medium is more likely to capture the emotions at events like weddings or Bar and Bat Mitzvahs: photography or video?
Why should this be of interest? Well, maybe it isn't to some, but what we're really also asking implicitly is: What is more likely to be able to invoke the memories of those emotions, possibly many years later?
Because, why else would someone hire a wedding photographer and/or videographer and pay what may seem like ridiculous amounts of money, to have the event recorded—if it isn't for the memories?
Yes, there may be other motives. One might be that it's expected, for all sorts of reasons. Others? Who knows? But I think that underlying it all, and for the vast majority of people hiring wedding photo- and videographers, it's about capturing memories; and that buried deeper underneath that reason is another, which as to do with capturing the emotions of those attending; especially of those at the focus and their families.
Said emotions will express themselves in many forms; mostly actions that find visual expression, even though some of the people concerned may be trying to hide them. Still, if you look closely...
I've written about the nature of photography here, but for the sake of context will summarize the points I made in that other article.
Photos are like single frames in a movie. Or, to look at it the other way around, a movie is nothing but a series of photos taken so closely together, and/or shown so closely together, that we can't tell them apart.
A movie is about 'process' and 'narrative'. A photo is about an instant in time. That instant is preceded by a series of events, and followed by another. We may or may not find out what came before and after. Usually we don't—at least not in the immediate sense, like we do when we watch a single frame in a movie flicker past our vision. The past and present in a photo therefore is implicit, something to be guessed at, supplied by the viewer, rather than provided by, say, the movie of which that photo is a single frame.
The necessity for the imagination of the viewer to be involved in interpreting this frozen instant and its connection to the context in which it is placed, endows a photo with completely different properties to video/film. For one it makes a photo more intimate, particularly if it was well taken and 'captured' emotion and context, all at the same time.
One critical factor here is 'imagination', because a photo requires the viewer to make the same kind of mental effort that's involved in reading fiction—as opposed to being presented with a narrative in a movie.
In addition, and because a photo captures a moment, it is possible—and this is important!—to linger on it. If you keep looking at it, it doesn't go away, like a moment in a video does. Your attention isn't taken away by whatever is subsequent to that instant. But in a film that instant is lost almost immediately afterwards in 'process' and 'narrative'.
In that sense photos are like words in books. A sentence, a paragraph, a page is essentially static. You have the choice to pause, linger, re-read; and maybe even not read on at all. Or to jump to another page altogether, and linger on something you want to. You can skip the whole narrative and just go to the end if you want to; and forth and back.
Of course, you can also do that with a video, but it just isn't quite the same.
The static nature of a good photo, especially if it is printed rather than viewed on a screen, actively encourages deeper involvement with that instant in time and the people depicted at that moment. And you can do this again and again, just with a glance if you want to, as when you hang the picture on your wall or stand it on your mantelpiece and make it a part of your living environment. You just can't do that with a video.
So, what's a video good for? Well, it shows process in a more or less continuous stream of images. As such it makes explicit and provides, without as much need for involving one's imagination, a narrative that a photo can't.
For example, you may end up with three really good shots of the happy couple walking down the aisle after having been wed. But that's it. With a video you can have the whole sequence, nicely edited together; with, more likely than not, a whole series of moments being recorded that the photographer will have missed—unless he or she was shooting in spray-and-pray mode, but even then you'd still end up with a few selected images.
Video, however, will capture moments that the photographer misses. But in order to see these moments, you have to watch the video. And you're not going to put in on your wall, right? The way you frame and display a picture. I mean, nowadays you could, technically speaking; and maybe that kind of thing will become unremarkable one of these days soon. But it's very different, isn't it? It would be like having a TV permanently turned on in your living space. Which is distracting; for movement attracts attention and diverts it from other things. Of course, in due course you would habituate to it and blank it out. But then what would be the point of having something like that in your living space at all?
Of course, video also will have sound. And let's face it, no photo will capture what was said in the speeches; the music played during the ceremony; the vows spoken by the couple; the readings from the Torah. For that, only video and the associated audio will do the job. Which is an excellent reason to engage a videographer. When I was still doing wedding videos, most of the footage was about speeches and other components where audio was significant.
Bottom line: every medium has its uses, strengths and weaknesses. Together they complement each other—and that looks like an excellent reason, for those who can afford it, to have their wedding recorded by video and photography alike.
But as far as the questions I started off with are concerned—and I say this as someone who has a foot in both camps—I think the answer is "photography"; for a whole range of reasons, psychological and practical, not all of which I've touched upon for fear of boring readers.
It's strange, what life does to us—and, among many other things, what it did to me.
Here's a classic 'landscape-style (film) picture from years back. I discussed this a little while back, but what matters here is that it summarizes pretty much what attracted me in my environment and caused me to raise a camera to my eyes and take a shot.
Or there's this kind of thing, taken with a 7Mpx Sony Cybershot point-and-shoot; my first digital camera. Like the image above, this one was shot in New Zealand (South Island West Coast). New Zealand is one of those places where the countryside, the coast and what drifts up on the beaches—and what people do with it!—caters for my penchant for this kind of moody shot.
Now, living in Australia, things have changed. It isn't like the misty green New Zealand South Island. So, themes have changed with it. Since I try to keep it moody, I really like the stormy season in Queensland.
And, since I live in south-eastern Queensland, and have spent bouts of day-job work-time in the Brisbane CBD and environs, there's what you might call 'urban' stuff.
And, mixed in with that, some sneaky melange of the inanimate and people. (I'll never be able to publish that shot in any commercial context, because I really didn't have the nerve to walk up to these people are ask them to sign model releases! Something told me that wouldn't be a good idea.)
That never was an issue with this shot, of course.
There was a time when people had a very clear place in my photography:
They had to be family or friends.
They didn't really belong into my—well, let's call it 'environmental'—photography.
When I took a picture of driftwood, the subject was the driftwood, and people please keep out of it. I'll happily take a shot of you as well, but not posing with the driftwood, thank you very much.
Except sometimes, like below. This was actually shot where you end up when you get to the end of the path in the photo at the top. But while the subject of the first image was a path through a misty cathedral-like canopy of Macrocarpa trees, here it is the person; who is very close family, so she's firmly in category 1!
I still shoot 'environmental' stuff—landscapes, urban, weather, animals, plants, night skies—as this picture, taken this morning at 5 a.m. outside the back of my house, attests to. When you have a bunch of screeching Rainbbow Lorikeets hanging in droves from the young seed-pods of a palm tree, then I whip out my D610 and shoot them. I took almost 100 shots, occasionally in 3-frames-per-second spray-and-pray mode, because these critters were just all over the place. I still can't decide which of all the shots is the one best capturing the whole madcap event, but I'll figure it out. This is my favorite at the moment. That may change.
But you know what? The thrill is gone. Kinda. Not out of photography, because that's in my blood—just like writing fiction—and always has been since I was an early teen; and that's a few years back now.
But I've shot just about every sunrise and sunset I can shoot. When along comes another one, then maybe out of reflex I shoot it, but it's kinda...well, just another sunrise or sunset. While these may have profound significance for me from what you might call a 'philosophical' point of view, photographically it's kinda "meh."
I don't think I'm 'over' mist rising from forests, fields or bodies of water, because they have a strange deep way of touching me.
And I love fog, because fog is like life. And if you can't figure it out, feel free to read my novel Seladiënna, which kind of explains it all.
I guess a part of me goes into fairytale land; and besides, I have a thing for forests. Or maybe I'm just hoping to take a snap of something coming out of those mists. Reading and writing too many fantasy stories, I guess.
But as for the rest of 'environmental'? It's lost significant luster. And when I see another super-pretty picture of a pier reaching into the distance of overly-long exposed waves into an overly-saturated and maybe HDR-ed evening sky... I don't even look at it anymore. I know where the people who took the pictures come from; I really do. Been there; or somewhere close.
This new thing has been sneaking up on me over the years though, quite without my knowing. I've been trying to figure out why for a while now, ever since I noticed it; and maybe I have. I think it's because of all those novels and screenplays I wrote over the last twenty years or so; and even though I'm currently taking a break from doing it—mainly because there's only so much time in the day, and writing is an extremely anti-social activity—I have been affected in ways I never anticipated. That this should feed into my photographic interests I never expected. But it has.
Stories are always about human beings, because those are actually the only creatures in the whole wide universe that we can truly relate to, and whose troubles and joys we'll ever connect to. A story about something inanimate is not really a 'story' in the sense that a story about a person is one. Neither are stories about animals—or non-human aliens from outer space or wherever—unless we anthropomorphize them.
Which is how I became interested in human beings as subjects in my photography. Which is why nowadays I'm much more interested in shooting portraits, PJ and events that involve people, rather than sunsets and maybe even mist rising from mysterious forests on mountainsides.
And I nowadays I think that photos with human beings in them are just so much more meaningful. As a matter of illustrating this, consider the two images below. The first was shot in the lift lobby of a building I used to work in during a contract assignment. The focus here was on shape, symmetry coldness, with the only object disrupting it being the the lone green Exit sign in the top left.
Next time I took a picture there—about two months later—I asked the young guy who cleaned the lobby every morning before people came in to the offices to pose for me. He didn't mind. We usually chatted briefly whenever we happened to be there at the same place. So, we get this.
Which, do you think, is a more interesting picture? Which one has more meaning and content?
Remember that driftwood up there? Well, nowadays I'd probably be much more interested in using it as a contextual element to take a photo of a person; that is, use environment as a backdrop. For example, look at the shot above with the people sitting on a bench outside a closed adult-shop. Take the people out, and it would still be a cool picture. The sharp shadows and colors themselves make for an interesting composition. But without the people in it, the whole thing would be soul- and pointless; a exercise in composition and not much else. And somehow that's not enough for me anymore.
What happened? As I said, blame it on the storytelling—even though photos don't actually tell stories (something I wrote about at length here).