Wedding Photography for Dummies – a self-test

Wedding couple kissing in a field of violet stuff I have no name for

12 Years of my life as a (more or less) professional photographer I avoided the topic of wedding photography like the devil the holy water. But some requests cannot be refused for one reason or the other, and so I had to give in. And had a pleasant surprise.

I really, really enjoyed the job. The people, the process, the results – everything was nice. It helps, of course, that the undertaking happened in the village where I was born with people I have been knowing for a rather long time (I am old). But still: a wedding is a wedding.

As I am not a professional wedding guy the following tidbits are just about the approach and how it worked. Do not take any of this as advise of any sort, it is just a report.

My idea was that a wedding shoot needs three bits:

  • The hard action in the church. Foreseeable issues here: bad light, limited movement, and absolutely no possibility of a reprise.
  • The before and after – getting the bride and groom dressed, tension building, games and party afterwards. Foreseeable issues: the light will change a lot, stuff happens indoors and outdoors, basically a reportage.
  • Staged shoots. Foreseeable issues: people expect stuff they could not do themselves and the “models” are no models. They are in love though, so no faking is necessary.

It seems obvious to me that (1) requires the most preparation and will be the most stressful situation of the gig. There is no way this can sensibly done without knowledge of the location and of what will happen when. Thus, I decided to be at the church an hour before to find out about the angles, the light, and peculiarities. A wise move, because no church is like the other. This one for example has no “central aisle” between the benches, but only aisles to the left and right. That changes everything for the bride being led into the church. There also was a baptism font made of stone and un-moveable right in front of the main stage on which the couple was sitting. So, no central perspective. And so on. Had I not known these things beforehand I would surely have failed.

Number (2) is in a sense easy. Apart from a few things (bride throws the bouquet, wedding cake being cut etc.) there is no hurry, rush, or stress whatsoever. Plus, the photographer will be well fed and have access to lots of (non-alcoholic) drinks. A bit of changing lenses was required though, but mostly I could work with two bodies and a 24mm and a 90mm lens.

The staged shoot in (3) requires a few stage tricks, but that is something the photographer should have in his or her toolbox anyway. It does help, however, if the weather, light and such things work in your favor and if you did some location scouting beforehand. In our case of a wedding deep in the country in June I decided that a meadow of field during the golden hour would be appropriate, as they look awesome and transport a certain romantic mood that is fitting for a wedding. The main task here is the timing and to free the couple from the party for an hour or so. This requires some planning, but other than that the whole undertaking is craftsmanship, not art.

In the end I found that the project was not all too demanding in terms of my photographic skills. I could master every situation I encountered, there was nothing happening that overwhelmed me. What was demanding though was the communication surrounding all of that. I talked extensively to the couple two times before the event, and to their credit they took the time to explain all their plans and even listened to some suggestions I made (when to do things slowly, how to stand, which time-slot to free).

The shoots also required lots of talking and explaining, sometimes simple begging, to the priest, the families, and sometimes the guests. I found that if requests were made in a polite way and with a short explanation, people were very happy to do me a few favors in terms of where not to stand and similar things.

The upshot is that I feel rather relaxed about weddings now. Maybe a bit too relaxed in a way, all this could be due to beginners’ luck. Time will tell.

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