I’ve pondered this shot since TSOT aired. I kept wondering why we were shown the hug from this angle. At first I thought it had to do with John’s private nature, especially his private feelings about Sherlock: so private he can’t admit them to his therapist after Sherlock’s “death,” so private he makes sure Mrs. Hudson’s not watching before he touches Sherlock’s headstone. Here, he hides his face behind Sherlock’s before hugging him, and we get a private glimpse of his face full of adoration for his friend, but the guests do not.
Then I realized I had it backward. This shot isn’t about John hiding his face from the guests. When I don’t know how to understand a choice of cinematography, I usually think “What would I have meant by that choice?” And I realized that my wedding photography experience could indeed answer this question. It took me a long time to come up with because I don’t usually go behind the altar during the wedding ceremony, but I have done it enough to know that this is the kiss shot. This is the shot I do when the couple kiss. It’s one of the most important photographs to get of the wedding day; couples always, always request it. The usual way to do it is from the perspective of the guests, from the angle that most of Sherlock’s speech is filmed in TSOT, but this is a foreground-background connection: this is the shot I do when I want to show that the couple are celebrating their love in front of everyone they know.
That’s what this shot is. It’s John showing how much he cares about Sherlock, in front of God and congregation, in front of and family and friends. Just because his face is hidden doesn’t mean he’s not demonstrating his feelings for all to see, here, for the very first time.