In photojournalism there is a beloved idea: it’s called the decisive moment. It’s the one magical capture where every piece of the story comes together in one frame that tells the complete story. The absolute master of this is photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. He said, “The Moment! Once you miss it, it’s gone forever!”
I have seldom seen a truly decisive moment. But in every photo shoot, either for newspapers or weddings or families or portraits, I am looking for something magical. I want one shot that really stands out. One shot where I can feel it down to my toes. And the calm and certainty that comes from knowing, “I got it!”
Last weekend I went to photograph a wedding in St. Louis. I had never visited that city before, so I didn’t have a list of favorite known places I wanted to go to for photos. But I knew I wanted to use the Gateway Arch in at least one photograph. I wanted the iconic. After the wedding ceremony and all the family group photos we realized we had just under two hours until the reception. Lucky for me, I had an adventurous bride and groom, so when I suggested that we take off and just go see if we (and Siri) could find the Arch, they were up for it.
Stepping outside the church, it was immediately obvious we wouldn’t have much time. The storm clouds were gathering in fast. As we drove the skies continued to darken and as we neared the structure we realized the entire area was under construction. Nothing ruins scenic photographs like chain link fences. But I knew if we could just get those elements out of the frame the shot would work.
This is my first image of the Gateway Arch. I photographed this as we parked illegally shooting almost straight up at the sky out of the back seat window of their SUV.
This gets rid of all the junk at the bottom, but how to do this with the bride and groom? I’ve decided to share a few SOC (Straight Out [of] Camera) images that show my process for getting the shot at this wedding. There are some beautiful images from this day, but for me, this is the ONE.
So, here is the finished version. This is how I envisioned it in my mind as I was shooting it. I knew I needed to balance the light between the couple and the clouds. I knew I could darken the sky down to get the drama I wanted. And this first test shot above, that let me know that the Arch would have this slightly golden tone against the dark grey sky. The images that follow this one are SOC until we get to the start of my editing process.
I have so many more photos from this day that I am working on. Beautiful moments. Great dancing at the reception! (I love to photograph dancers!) An amazing ceremony at a Maronite Catholic Church with a crowning ceremony the likes of which I have never seen before. But when I think back on this wedding, this is the image that will come to mind for me. The soldier and his bride beneath the Gateway Arch. I’ll think back on this, and smile…
This was a very good day.
Congratulations to Robert and Ashley. May God bless your lives.