I have no ambitions to be a formal wedding photographer, so at first I was not all that interested in the article 50 Brides reveal what their Wedding Photographer could have done better which has apparently gone viral. But then Scott Kelby wrote a post reacting to it in which he said:
If you had the opportunity to tell 50 potential brides what would help you, as a wedding photographer, to create the type of wedding images they’ve always dreamed of, what would it be? I would insist if they hire me that it is an “unplugged wedding” where the Bride and Groom ask the guests in advance to leave their cameras at home and their cell phones in their pockets or purses, and just enjoy the wedding day as guests. Rather than having them experience the wedding through a glass screen, let them know that you have hired a team of photographers who will make sure everything is covered, and so they won’t have to come as journalists, they can just relax and be a part of a moment instead of trying to chronicle it. The bride and groom at the last wedding I shot agreed to do this, and it really made the day a pleasure for everyone and the guests actually got to be guests again.
Which is kind of interesting when many of the 50 brides were saying that they wanted more candid shots. more shots of details of the DIY touches, more party shots, more photos of friends and family…
The bridal car
However good a photographer is, they can only be in one place at a time. Even if the couple have the cash to hire a team, they cannot be everywhere. Which is why my habit as a wedding guest is to take many, many photographs and then make them up into a special book as a thank you for the invitation. This used to involve, if the wedding was early enough, a late afternoon dash to Max Spielman’s and a stuffing of hot-off-the-press photos into a boasting album for the bride to take away with her on honeymoon. More recently I opted to do a full hardback blurb book and send it on their return.
Obviously my photos are never going to be as good as the Pro. And they certainly weren’t going to be when I was making do with my old Bridge camera. Indeed it was knowing that my photos could have been so much better at this wedding that inspired me to upgrade my gear and my knowledge. But, in a way, that’s the point. I want to tell a different, more informal story of the wedding to go along side the formal album. I want to show what it was like for the guests and how good a time we had.
As you know, I am no expert, but here are some of the things I have learned about doing this that work for me:
1. Stay away from the official photographer
Not only do some get tetchy when guests are in their space ( understandably if they are interfering with the lighting or distracting the posed groups) but there is no point shooting over her shoulder. You just get inferior copies of her shot. Try a different perspective. To get this I had to balance in very high heels on a slatted park bench in a most undignified way but, it’s a photo of the confetti throwing no one else got! ( Shame it wasn’t sharper. This didn’t make it into the book in the end for that reason, but the family asked for all my rejects on a SD card anyway).
2. Watch for the moments in-between
This shot was taken at forty-five degree angle to the official photographer and some way back from his position. It was while he was in-between formal shots of the family group and the parents relaxed from their poses. You would have to know the bride’s father to know that this captures his relaxed happiness and personality perfectly, despite him being shy in front of a camera.
3. Scope out good positions in advance.
I have no shame in arriving early and ‘saving’ a seat for the ceremony by putting my bag on a seat. It is fine for an official photographer to be moving about in the ceremony. It’s not fine at all for a guests, but an aisle seat half way back allows discrete shots of the couple. I love this one of the groom as he turned towards his friends ( and away from the official photographer) moments after exchanging his vows. ( But oh how I wish I had owned the 45mm f1.8 portrait lens I now have to blur all that background foliage!). I didn’t even know about ‘bokeh’ when I took this in July!!
4. Make it your mission to show the couple what they missed.
At most weddings the photographer arrives just before the bride having been at her home for the set up shots. The bridal party never see all their friends arriving and the informal fun that takes place before the ceremony. Nor do they see the caterers setting up, the small child sitting under the church pew or the guests who sneaked outside for a quick smoke. I try to make it my gift to expand their experience of the day. This couple printed old photos of all their guests to use as place settings. The groom’s mother made her own bottles of elderflower cordial as wedding favours.
5. Use telephoto and crop, crop, crop.
Guests at weddings expect people to be taking photos so its rare people get shirty at a camera appearing. But go too close and they start to pose. Taking photos from a distance works best for me. My husband is a good decoy. I stand him to the side and a good few feet in front of what I am really photographing and people assume it’s a portrait of him I am after. He doesn’t seem to mind that it’s not!
6. Go for details
It’s the small and insignificant things that formal albums often miss out. The only photos I have of the back of my wedding dress ( which, in the fashion of the time, was extremely ornate) was taken by a guest. That’s what inspired me to start doing these gifts. Guests shoes, canapés, piles of gifts, close ups of the bridesmaids lace, all end up in my photos. In the book, I grouped these details together in a collection of smaller photographs by colour for better effect.
7. Keep the orders of service and record the speeches.
I added the words of the readings and a quote or two from the speeches to the book. I matched the font chosen by the couple for their stationery. My iPhone was perfect for discrete audio recording of the speeches so I could get the wording down later.
So what do you think? If you were getting married again would you prefer guests to take photos or just have one professional album?